In this post, I’ll share highlights of our visit to Berlin, Germany. Kidlet and I were joined by my long-time friend Elandria, who had met us in Prague. Not only was it great to see my friend again — she normally lives 2,500 miles away in Tennessee — but it was wonderful for Kidlet to get some quality time with her “Auntie E.”
After writing yesterday’s post on Prague I realized how much wasn’t said. Places to eat (and not eat), buying souvenirs, what things confused or perturbed me, history, culture, race and language, our accommodations, the arts scene — not to mention so very many more photos I wanted to share. If you have a specific question about Prague or want to know more about the experience, feel free to ask in the comments. (If you know me offline, of course you can ask me offline.)
Now on to Berlin, where we spent four nights in a one-bedroom apartment (Air BnB) in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood:
Sights We Saw in Berlin
Potsdamer Platz — Salvador Dali gallery — a wintergarten — shopping mall
Museum Island — Pergamon Museum
MACHmit! Children’s Museum
City bus routes #100 and #200
Story of Berlin museum
Berlin is enormous, flat and full of bicycles. It also feels young and vibrant, diverse and full of history, too. It felt like a place one could just slip into, if one were accustomed to cities and city life. Getting to experience Berlin with one of my BFFs was great, and she was a real help to Kidlet, too. We all really liked the city and its excellent transit system, and by the end I was trying to figure out if Hubster could be persuaded to move there!
Berlin is also where I realized I’m a selfish introvert used to getting lost in her own head; hence, I am not the best travel companion. That was a humbling experience and I often felt frustrated with myself. The one time in Berlin that I felt truly at ease was on our last night there — after a few glasses of wine (and uzo). Only then did I feel like a fun person to be around. For the future, I could probably address this problem by: doing daily relaxation exercises; traveling with more than one other adult (so that I can “tune out” as needed without guilt/anxiety); learning to ‘lighten up’ and be less serious/anxious; and traveling more frequently with another adult so that I can get better at it.
My own hangups aside, Berlin was great. It’s hard to list the highlights because almost everything was pretty cool (once we found it and arrived there).
Riding the #100 city bus — Elandria had read somewhere that this was the thing to do, and a much cheaper alternative to those sightseeing buses that charge 40 Euro to take you to the same locations. Many of the city buses are double decker, and we lucked out by boarding the #100 at its starting point, so we had front row, top deck seats. As the bus took off, E and I agreed that this was really nice and the only difference between this and those sightseeing buses was that we weren’t getting a running commentary from the tour guide. Well. Lo and behold! Seated behind Elandria was a Berliner in a burly coat, who appeared to be in his 60s, with a voice made for theater. He began pointing out every thing for us! As we rode down the main avenues, he told us about this and that museum and what sort of collections they held, this and that church and when they were built and destroyed and rebuilt, what that construction project was, and what types of events were held in this popular site. He told us about the previous night’s celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall falling. He was not condescending or overbearing in any way. We got the grand tour, he was very kind. I wish I’d been more bold and asked his name or at least his occupation. Thank you, man from Berlin, for the first day orientation!
Seeing the Salvador Dali gallery was another thing Elandria wanted to do, and I ended up really liking it! I’ve seen some of Dali’s more famous works, but this museum was focused on his sketches and lesser known sculptures and paintings. What I loved about it was getting more insight into his process as an artist, seeing the evolution of his ideas through sketches. I was happy that Kidlet got to see this, too, as she does mostly pencil and pen drawings. I left the gallery with a deeper appreciation for Dali’s brilliance as an artist – not just his famed imagination, but his actual, technical skill. I could have sat with some of his pictures for half an hour simply because they were so good. I also learned more about his life, like his 50+ year devotion to his wife, Gala, and bitter feuds with other artists, and for heaven’s sake, the man was burned in a tower that he’d retreated to after Gala died — in all, what a cinematic life. And he is not overrated.
The Checkpoint Charlie museum was more than I bargained for, in terms of information. First there’s the cheesy, touristy thing where you can pay a few Euro to take photos with young (non American) men dressed as American guards, then there’s this strange, deceptively small-looking private museum that declares its dedication to peace and human rights – CRAMMED FULL of text, photos, artifacts and videos. It’s old-fashioned in its presentation. But there is a wealth of information there, countless testimonies and photographs. The unabashed, passionate feeling about the fact that people’s lives were devastated by the Wall and and that the people who rose up against it were heroes was … kind of awesome. So many historical museums have a cold veneer of objectivity, whereas this one feels very much a product of the 1960s.
An eight-minute walk from our apartment, right in the heart of Prenzl’berg was the MACHmit! children’s museum. Kidlet was stoked to check this place out, as she’d been toted around for days looking at things that had belonged to dead people. Many Berlin museums are open until 6, 7 or 8 at night. As a tourist, this means there are things to do after dark in the wintry months. MACHmit closed at 6, so we were able to visit on a weekday when school aged children were there, and Kidlet had a blast.
The MACHmit looks like it was designed by Waldorf-obsessed storytellers who’d been given approximately a million dollars. I was taken aback at the exhibits and their high levels of sturdiness, simplicity and beauty. The downstairs was an homage to the way things were done in olden days and the Grimm fairy tales … with printing rooms and a recreation of an apothecary that I wanted to play in. Upstairs was more play-space, a story time area, massive tables for art, and a café. Prenzl’berg is a trendy area of town with lots of families with young children, and I felt at ease there. The way people dressed, ate and behaved was not that different than what I’m used to in Seattle, with all the emphasis on organic (called bio in German) foods, old-fashioned little dining spots, and probably many other insufferable bourgeoise obsessions that I have no business knowing about.
A final highlight for me was getting to meet a long-time online pal, whom I met long before I even knew Hubster. She is somewhat famous these days (there is a Wikipedia page about her!) and I was slightly disbelieving that she made the time to visit with us. I’m so proud of her and all the important work she does, and to meet her in person and see who she was and what she was like, face-to-face, just made me feel good.
When it came time to leave Berlin, I was not ready. Elandria had to return back to the United States, and Kidlet and I were expected in Munich. Maybe one day I’ll return, and if I do, I will definitely spend some time in the Tiergarten (a 520-acre city park). Every time we passed it, I’d feel my spirit trying to pull away and run in! In Munich, I was able to get in a bit of park ramble, but that’s for another post. A few more photos from Berlin: