We are in Germany! We just spent five nights in Berlin, and I have to say it is basically what I expected. Personally I don’t think it lived up to the hype that you’ll find on many travel websites, but I enjoyed our time there.
It didn’t start terribly well though. Our flight with Norwegian Air wasn’t bad – we had front row seats, therefore extra leg space, but no under-seat storage in front of us. And the seats were unusually slim. But when we landed, we went to take money out at an ATM, as we always do when we first arrive in a new country.
We tried both our cards. Neither worked. So the next step would be to call our bank to find out what the problem was. Except Andre’s phone wouldn’t connect to a network. Mine would connect, but wouldn’t make calls. Huh.
We did have €30 cash though, I think from mum and dad when they left. So after talking to a tourist info person and trying to get an internet kiosk to work (pathetically slow) we decided to just head to our hostel and use their Wi-Fi to figure out the problem.
Fortunately that all went off without a hitch. And within ten minutes of getting on their WiFi and checking the Barclay’s website, we found our problem: there’s a £300 limit when withdrawing from overseas. We had never come across this while in Turkey because their exchange rate is so good! So at least we knew our cards worked. Later that night I discovered my phone’s problem: I didn’t have credit. Sounds stupid, but I don’t need credit in the UK so had kind of forgotten about that. That meant Andre could call EE to find out why his phone wasn’t working (he’s a new customer so had to pay a £50 deposit to use international roaming).
Our hostel was kind of average. We stayed at CityHostel Berlin for about €45/night, with one night free. The room was large and clean, but my bed was quite hard (typically of Europe, it was two single beds pushed together), the pillows were lumpy and the walls so thin we could hear the key tones of our neighbour typing on her phone. The breakfast was not worth the €4,90 charged, so after our first morning we didn’t eat at the hostel. The tap in the shower was a bit stiff so it was difficult to get the temperature right, although we were never short on hot water and the pressure was good.
Our first day in Berlin was good though. We went on a walking tour with Sandeman’s, who we’ve also used in Paris, Edinburgh and Munich. Our Scottish guide was very good, and has even been to Townsville! The tour took us from Brandenburg gate to the holocaust memorial, the site of Hitler’s bunker, a remaining stretch of the Berlin wall, checkpoint Charlie, and Bebelplatz (the site of a Nazi book-burning) among other spots.
After our tour we visited our first German Christmas market at Gendarmenmarkt and had rostbratwürst und brioche (on a beadroll) for a late lunch. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the mall looking for snow gloves for Andre as he realised the day before we left that he must have left his in Australia.
On our second morning we went looking elsewhere for breakfast, and in short went the wrong direction to where we’d seen some bakeries on our first night. We ended up at Brandenburg gate but there is precious little breakfast-type food in that area. We ended up at Starbucks hoping they’d have the breakfast rolls they serve in the UK, but nope – so it was a muffin for Andre and cinnamon scroll for me with bananas from the supermarket. This was then followed by another call to EE because Andre’s phone still wasn’t connecting. Once that was finally sorted, we headed back to the Holocaust Memorial we saw the previous day to visit the information centre below (yes, below!) it.
If you are like us and already know a lot about WWII and the Holocaust it probably won’t teach you a lot more than you already know (and what a lot of the other museums and information centres tell you), but it was the first place we visited which focused on individual victims, mostly Jewish.
After spending a bit of time there, we were off to Charlottenburg Palace on the U-bahn. Like Munich which we’ve been to before, Berlin’s ticketing system seems archaic next to London’s and even Brisbane’s. You have to buy paper tickets from a ticket machine, then validate it by getting it stamped in a machine on the platform before boarding the train. No gates to pass through but it means unless you get checked for a ticket (which we never did, except for the airport train) it would be very easy to ride for free.
Charlottenburg palace was really like most of the other palaces we’ve been to. A lot of it was destroyed in WWII and has been rebuilt, often not as elaborate as the original. And you had to pay to be allowed to take photos! I’m not sure if it’s something I’d really recommend others do unless you’ve never seen a European palace before or really love palaces or Prussian history.
There is a lovely Christmas market in front of the palace though. We had more würst for another late lunch along with glühwein (Andre) and mediocre heisse schokolade (hot chocolate – me). By this point we were noticing a lot of the products being sold in the markets were clearly mass produced, although you would normally come across a handful of local artisans at each market. We found one especially cool stall that sold dried skeleton leaves electroplated in various precious metals.
That night we had a booking to go up the dome on the Reichstag building. You need to pre-book the date and time slot online, then take your confirmation letter, along with ID, to the Reichstag. It was a freezing cold night, but at least it wasn’t raining, so we got a good view and went out onto the roof for some photos too.