So, a long weekend in Germany! Like I mentioned, I only found out that we were heading to Berlin a mere 12 hours or so before the flight took off. Not much time for planning, nor for packing-but then again it’s not that hard to pack for three days away. Jon, having gone to Berlin before at the young and drunk age of 19, had a few things planned for the trip, but it was largely open and free, just the way we like to do things.
We packed a small bag each and left the house just after 6 am on Friday, dropping Bruce off at the in-laws on the way to Gatwick Airport. Our flight was delayed a bit, but by 11 am we were in those fluffy white clouds, heading over the Channel and east, onward to Germany. We touched down at Berlin-Schoenefeld, which is a surprisingly tiny international airport, breezed through passport control then muddled our way through buying our tickets from ancient machines in enough time to get on the S-bahn and into the city. We checked into the Hilton (that husband of mine gets fancy on occasion and a 30th birthday is a serious occasion for fanciness). We looked around, we breathed it in, it was all very lovely.
But. Day one was a walking day. All first days should be walking days. That’s how one gets acquainted! So we walked. We walked up the surprisingly wide boulevards on a surprisingly hot Friday in October and eventually found ourselves at the Platz der Republik, right in front of the Brandenburg Gate. For those who know little about Berlin (as I did, and still do, although now I know just a little bit more!) the Gate is a 18th century neoclassical arch that has been at the forefront of quite a bit of tumultuous German history. The Berlin wall blocked the East Berliners from the Gate and, consequently, West Germany for the better part of two decades, for example. Here’s a fascinating history of the wall with appearances by JFK, Reagan, Hitler and Napoleon). On the day we didn’t know it, but the 3rd of October is actually German Reunification Day, so all the shops were closed and the square was full of people.
We walked through the Gate to carry on to the Parliament building-known as the Reichstag-but were pleasantly surprised to have stumbled upon an Oktoberfest celebration, or maybe a Reunification celebration, and who are we to walk away from that?
We were forced to take a beer and waffles break. And I got to test out my less than rudimentary German! If you need to know how to say “one waffle with cherries and cream”, I’m your girl.
After shooting the loop of the festival we headed on to our original destination, the Reichstag. Unfortunately, times have changed since Jon’s last visit, and now you have to pre-schedule in a time to go inside for a tour, rather than just queue up and stroll in. And double unfortunately, the website said they were full up for the whole week, which meant there was no chance of going up the seriously cool glass dome. I was disappointed, even though I hadn’t even known about the whole thing 24 hours previously. But look at this building! You can see the dome peeking out behind. And there is a conspiracy theory around who set fire to the original structure itself back in 1933-the Communists, as the Nazis claimed (which led to a ruling that really set the Nazi ball rolling) or the Nazis themselves, in order to blame it on the Communists and have their way). I would have loved to go inside. C’est la vie.
Unable to get into the Reichstag, a sunset walk along the river running through the city seemed like the next best thing.
By the time the sun had disappeared, we’d ensconced ourselves on some outdoor seating at one of a string of bistros along the river, a bottle of wine on the table and blankets around our shoulders. Side note: every bar every where should provide blankets! They are so much cozier and more romantic than those heat lights that everyone crowds around like hypnotized moths.
Yes, as you may have noticed, we found ourselves at a French-German bistro. Which is like how we ended up at a German-French bistro the last time we were in Paris. It’s a gift for accidentally tracking down these things.
Don’t trust those grumpy looking faces-we stayed for hours and only left in search of food late into the evening. Even that was because we’d become so enamored with watching the touring river boats go by, analyzing which seemed like any fun, and how the one with the raver lights was obviously the best party on the water.
On the walk back to the hotel, we stopped in front of the Konzerthaus and became part of the crowd watching an art installation that consisted of booming orchestral overtures coordinated with flames, hieroglyphics, flappers and a mix of ever-changing images, all projected onto the concert house. It was creepy and beautiful.
Then, it was finally off to bed in preparation for a full Saturday of bike riding, war era explorations to break the heart of humanity, an afternoon in an abandoned airfield, and a raucous evening at a traditional beer hall. But…that’s for later.