Berlin: Introductions

As I chug along to Vienna, I am going to attempt to remedy some of the holes in the blog. I have been thwarted in my look at the beautiful countryside as I chug along partially by some rather rude rain, so instead my faithful readers who are still with me despite the infrequency with which I post will theoretically have something to read.

Berlin. This city is huge and has a lot going on. The first day I was there I literally just wandered, having no real idea where I wanted to go. I even, *gasp*, used one of those round-the-city tour buses just to get my bearings. Over the course of the 5 days I spent in Berlin I went to art and history museums, monuments, and explored the ways in which Berlin has acknowledged its history. I am going to break Berlin up into a few different posts by topic, not by day, so that my slightly haphazard investigations of Berlin will make more sense to other people.

A pretty walk, but a bit long in the dark.

First, I want to point out where I stayed in Berlin. The center of Berlin is a massive park called the Tiergarten that functions a lot like Central Park in NYC, massive, beautiful, impossible to get to know in a few days and central. To the east of the park is the historical and present center of Berlin or the Mitte. This is where most of the important monuments are, the Brandenberg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the Museum Isle etc. Once, the Berlin Wall split this section from the other half of Berlin. On the other corner of the Tiergarten is a Zoo, one of the best in Europe and I was assured truly worth visiting. I got the sense that it was really worth it, but did not really have the time. The transportation hub next to it however was my personal lighthouse for getting anywhere. You see, I waited a bit too long to book a hostel and so I ended up a full hour’s travel from the center in a sweet hostel in the depths of a park. Yes, a park. The poor taxi driver and I (I came into the Berlin train station at 10:30pm, not the best time to test the public transportation of a new city) were initially baffled by how to get there and then regarded with rising apprehension our progress into the dark forest. However, the hostel itself, despite questionable showers and a lack of a kitchen, was a very nice, affordable hostel with strong internet and great common space. The 20 minute walk through the dark forest is why I have a headlamp…To actually reach the Zoo from my hostel involved walking through the forest to a bus, to a subway and changing trains at least once. To reach the center or Mitte involved at least 2 train changes. I do have to give kudos to the transportation system however. It was reliable, my Berlin Pass covered all the public transportation I could ever need and quite clean.

Berlin overall feels a lot like NYC. I got the distinct sense that like a good Brooklyn man such as my grandfather who does not venture casually into the City, most Berlin residents happily stick to their neighborhood, period the end. At the same time, the city has a much more convoluted recent history than NYC and it was only 20 years ago that this bustling city was split in two and desperate GDR residents made daring, inventive escapes over, under and around the wall. Today the former location of the wall is generally marked only with a row of cobbles, but the monuments of the city create a cohesive, tragic, and faithful narrative of the city’s rollercoaster of the past century or so.

Look closely at this bench from a U-bahn (subway) station and you will see why this would not be seen on the NYC subway.