Sorry for the delay all, I’ve spent the weekend in Berlin (lucky for some, I know). I’ve returned home now and whilst most of my friends have exams, the beauty of the Humanity subjects means that I won’t have exam stress for another few months – so instead I’m tucked up back in my uni room for my first full day back, sitting in bed drinking some tea – life could be worse.
SO, Berlin? Well I went with university friends on a trip that was organised by the History Society (basically a social club for all history students which organises events such as Christmas meals and trips etc). We went by coach. Now, given that I paid for this trip back in November, I can’t imagine that flights were that expensive. Usually to most places in Europe if it’s not a peak time (I’m fairly sure that Germany in January isn’t the most popular destination) and you book in advance, you could be looking at £40-£60 return flights. We paid £150 overall for a return coach, two nights stay in a basic hostel which included breakfast, and that was it. Now I know that covered the basics, but I still think with good organisation £150 could have bagged us some flights – so if you’re planning on hitting mainland Europe on the cheap, yes the coach is often the cheapest bet but not always by miles – sometimes just £20 more for a flight will buy you a whole extra day.
We left on Thursday evening and after waiting around for the ferry, we finally made it to Berlin at 2.30pm having traveled for 18 hours. Safe to say we were pretty tired (coach seats don’t make the best beds unfortunately) but when you’re only there for one and a half days (and you’re a bunch of history enthusiasts/geeks) you want to make the most of it. We left straight away and headed for the East Side Gallery – for those who haven’t visited Berlin, this is the last remainder of the infamous Berlin Wall from the Cold War years which has now been turned into the largest outdoor gallery in the world. It’s pretty amazing to see, not only the different and unique types of art, many of it relating to present day political issues and areas of controversy such as Palestine, but also just seeing the wall – something relatively thin and not high at all – yet it wielded so much power of suppression.
Unfortunately weather conditions weren’t on our sides, it was -6 degrees and many of Berlin’s main attractions are outdoors. Within hours it had started to snow which made us even more freezing, three layers was not enough. After taking a guilty break in McDonalds to defrost we then made our way to the famous Brandenburg Gate. Although the snow meant taking pictures was a lot more difficult, it also made the gate look even more striking in the night with snow falling around it. If you’re hitting Berlin any time soon – make sure it’s your first stop, because it is conveniently situated in the middle of all of the other main attractions which I’ll get onto just now!
One of the weird things about Berlin is how different it is to other major cities in Europe like Paris, London or Barcelona. There didn’t seem to be many people around (true, the cold weather and time of the year may have been a quiet time anyway) and also it was not as commercial as other European cities. Right next to the Gate you will probably see the most souvenir shops you will anywhere else in Berlin, and even then that’s probably a maximum of three. The Gate itself is surrounded by office blocks either side, and places to eat are infrequent. It seemed in a way very bleak and empty, and especially after having read about it’s recent history for the past 100 years, this makes a lot of sense – essentially it’s recovery has only begun in the last two decades and thus its development is still a process in progress (sorry for the tongue twister).
The next day whizzed by in a blur of rushed sight seeing – back to Brandenburg Gate in the daylight, followed by the striking 7 million euro Holocaust Memorial situated only a couple of hundred meters from Hitler’s bunker (there are no remains, in fact it is now a car park for a block of flats and the only reminder is a plaque outlining the history of the bunker). We then went on to pass a few palaces, the famous university in Berlin which Einstein & many other notables attended (it has the record for most number of noble prize winners…) and the square in front of the university is where the famous Nazi book burning took place. We went up the Reichstag building (the German government building) which has a massive rooftop dome with free entry to the public (if you’re planning on going to Berlin soon, you must register before you go, even though its free, you can find the registration here: https://visite.bundestag.de/BAPWeb/pages/createBookingRequest.jsf?lang=en) it’s definitely worth it as you can see most of Berlin and the free audio guide gives you a brief background to some of the most historic German buildings.
After the Reichstag it was reaching the evening, so we walked back through the B. Gate all the way to Checpoint Charlie – again another highly famous area in which the Allied forces and the the USSR faced off during the Berlin Wall era. Now the sign indicating the American zone remains, and there is an amazing museum just a few metres down from this sign where you can learn in detail about all of Berlin’s recent history through the World Wars and the Cold Wars (nb: leave a few hours, as the museum is bigger than it looks and has so much interesting information you’ll want to read most of it). Opposite the museum was a perfectly situated restaurant and amazingly priced – pizza & pasta main courses from 5 euros (very student friendly) and a nice ambience, with quick service.
There were still things we missed out, I was fairly disappointed we didn’t journey up to the famous TV Tower but with one and a half days – I think we did pretty well. I would recommend 3 whole days (at least, obviously you can spend longer, although there’s not that much to see) to fit everything in nicely, as there are lots of parks and little unique things to visit too. A guide book is also essential – it will tell you bits of quick history so you don’t have to read pages and pages, and history is a massive part of Berlin so it wouldn’t be the same if you hadn’t read up about it a little bit.
In the evening we went to The Weekend club – at 12 euros to get in, it was a bit steep, but it wasn’t awfully priced inside (a shot was 2.50 euros – and given that I come from London where you can pay up to £11 for a double shot, it didn’t seem so bad), but still not exactly student friendly. It was very dark inside, darker than most clubs I’ve been too, but it was high up, you had to get a lift up, and the whole club was surrounded by windows so it had amazing views – quite cool to be dancing when you’re opposite the Berlin TV Tower & can see a sea of lights in the surrounding city.
Our journey home was a bit less fortunate. Most people were tired & hungover having only managed about 2 hours sleep max before having to be back up at 7am to get the coach. We had to wait half an hour for three boys who had failed to get up, only to find half an hour in that in their rush one of them had left his passport and wallet. He decided to stay on the coach anyway to try his best at immigration, and he was lucky – after a few forms he was on his way with us again. We had been split into two coaches and unluckily for my coach, we were the last car to miss the ferry (the other coach were already on) and so we had to wait for 2 and a half hours before we could catch the next one. When we finally reached Dover, our coach wouldn’t turn on again. So we painfully sat in the ferry service station waiting for news. After about an hour at 1am we were told we could get back on, and I finally (after being dropped at the station, finding a taxi, hauling my bag up 3 flights of stairs) made it back to my halls.
And here I am now. I won’t say much more as I’m aware this is a long post – but if you have any questions – how much to bring, how expensive it is, what the highlights are etc, comment and I will get back to you straight away!