For Berlin, we debated between booking train tickets on our own versus booking the ship’s “Berlin on your own” excursion. We decided on the latter, mainly because the timing to make the express trains between Warnemunde (where we docked) and Berlin wasn’t perfectly aligned with the ship schedule. We were pretty sure we’d net more time in Berlin with the excursion, and the price was not very different.
In the morning, we tromped over to the nearby train station along with the rest of our group. All the Berlin excursions from the ship were on a private train, with each excursion group in separate cars to make it easy for the tour guides to keep up with us. We had hot water and instant coffee and tea packets at our seats. Since we were on our own, our guide gave us a map and a quick orientation to where we’d be dropped off and where to meet up to leave. They also gave us an apple, a water, and a cookie, which was a welcome snack on the long train ride.
The train did not have wi-fi, but we had spotty mobile coverage during the trip that was mostly sufficient. I had brought my 3DS and Kindle to keep me busy, and we both had podcasts. We got to see the suburban and rural areas of Germany from the train, including lots of windmills. On every Europe trip I’ve been on, I’ve been impressed by the infrastructure in Northern and Western Europe. Throughout Europe, there’s train service that is easy to use. Sustainable power is prevalent, with wind, nuclear, and hydro plants. Power plants are integrated into urban areas and are designed to be appealing both visually and environmentally. Even though this part of Europe has much older urban regions, they’ve managed to keep things modernized faster than the US in some ways. That having been said, accessibility still lags behind the US, in just about every conceivable way.
The combination of Berlin being early in the trip and us each having very different interests in Berlin meant we struggled with a game plan. DH was more interested in war history, whereas I was interested in classical museums. We both wanted to visit the holocaust memorial, and lunch was high on the priority list upon arrival. We were transferred from the train to a coach bus that dropped us off a few blocks from the site of Hitler’s bunker. We walked by the bunker and to the Holocaust memorial, and there was a convenient restaurant nearby where I got some schnitzel, and Scott had currywurst.
Hitler’s bunker is an intentionally unimpressive site. It’s basically in the parking lot of an apartment complex, with a very basic sign describing what used to be here and giving a rough layout of what the bunker was like. The government did not want to glorify the site in any way.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
By contrast, the holocaust memorial is striking. It is a city block filled with giant pillars of varying heights. It reminded me of the cemeteries in New Orleans. The pillars aren’t gravestones, though. The number and varying heights are simply based on what would fill the space. It feels somber and creepy as hell, though. People disappear between the pillars and then pop back out. (In the photo, you can also see the US embassy in the upper right. It was flanked by a ridiculous and ostentatious amount of security.)
Below the pillars is a museum. It was notable to both of us that this memorial and museum was titled so directly, to remember the murdered Jews of Europe. (The criticism I’ve read about the memorial, that it isn’t clear enough about its purpose, seems to ignore the presence of the museum beneath. Perhaps the museum was added later?) The museum documents the story of the holocaust, and it does so with so much candor that it hits you like a bucket of ice water as you read each bit. The first room, a long hallway, has a year-by-year history with photos and descriptions. The second room has letters from Jews that were imprisoned and eventually killed projected on the floor, along with a synopsis of what happened to each of them. There were letters from children and adults. They were all killed, horribly. One letter was a father talking about how he was trying to keep his son from understanding why people disappeared and didn’t return, but he was pretty sure the son understood. The third room had large displays for various Jewish families, by family name. I recognized so many of the names, and then it hit me as I read about each…the families I knew, someone had survived, usually by escaping. The families with names I didn’t recognize…they hadn’t survived. Entire family lines were destroyed. And the fourth and final room was more documentarian, or perhaps I was just too overwrought by the time I got there. It was mostly about locations and had media reels and maps about each camp location and what happened at the camps. Both DH and I were broken up by the time we were done with the museum. We were glad for the quiet walk from the memorial to the Brandenburg gate, as we needed time to process.
Walking in Berlin
From the memorial, we walked up the Ebertstrabe to the Brandenburg Gate. The gate was crowded with tourists and tourist-trap type tour guides. We snapped a few quick photos and then started walking down the Unter den Linden toward Museum Island, which was my next stop. DH had planned to head off to the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie, but reading the guidebook had convinced him to instead visit the German Museum, which was convenient to the classical museums I was visiting. Admittedly, I was no fun on this walk. I had decided to “be good” by wearing my Kuru shoes for this trip. And here’s the thing, they’re fine for a mile, but after that, the “support” that is meant to help my plantar fasciitis starts to hurt my arch like I’m walking on sharp stones. I kept having to stop because my feet were killing me. I’d had this problem in Seattle with my orthotics and with these special shoes, but I’d chalked it up to needing a break-in period. Nope, this trip convinced me to give up on special support. For future touring, when I switched to my nearly support-free wool lace-ups, I was fine. Since I got back, I’ve blown off the orthotics and the special shoes, and my PF is nearly gone entirely. Now, it’s not possible the supports were causing it, since it pre-dated them, but they clearly weren’t helping. (My opinion – Birkenstocks, including boots by Birkenstock, are magic. Ironically, I hadn’t brought any with me to Europe, and I didn’t want to spend tourist time doing that kind of mundane shopping.) Anyways, it sucks, because I spent literally hundreds of dollars on a custom orthotic and special shoes.
The walk down this major thoroughfare was a very nice way to see the city, even if it was miserable walking for me because of my stupid shoe choice. Below is a map showing the various areas we visited (the gold/yellow stars). We started at the Hilton, middle lower portion of the map. We then walked west and north to the memorial, walking by the bunker (unmarked) along the way. Then north to the Brandenburg gate and then east to the museums.
Since we both had mobile service (yay Google Fi!), we split up to visit museums. I continued to museum island, leaving DH at the German museum. Because the Pergamon Museum was under construction when we visited, with most of the major exhibits closed, I focused on the Altes and Neues museums.
With all the museum walking and the parts of the city we walked around in, I walked around 7 miles. I’d say at least 2-3 miles of that was within museums. At each museum, I had to check all bags, so I was hand-carrying my camera, check tag, and museum map around. Duffy had to stay with the checked bags, as much because I only had two hands as anything. (Tip for Berlin visitors – wear clothes with pockets!)
I actually did some pretty thorough captions for photos of Berlin, so I’m going to post a gallery here. Click into the images to see the captions and detail.
When I got tired of walking around the museums, I headed for the main train station that we were going to take to the meet-up point to return to the ship. There was a McDonald’s under the station that had some unique items. In particular, they had three varieties of McRib. They also had a pie that was chocolate cream and berry. I hung out at McD’s while I waited for DH to finish up and meet me.
We took the city train to the meet-up spot without incident, even running into another “team” on our city train. (It’s a good sign on The Amazing Race *and* when returning to your cruise ship.) After a long day of walking, we were both pretty zapped. We stretched out in our block of seats on the train for a post-tourist nap.
Did I mention we visited Berlin on my birthday? Our cabin steward and butler had left me a birthday cupcake in the room. It was a wonderful sweet treat to end my day.