Arriving in Berlin was fun, I had hardly any idea where I was, and I’d forgotten to do any research into where my hostel was, how to get around or basically anything at all. Thankfully the Berlin transport system, and a cheeky bit of roaming data got me to my hostel (after a nice detour to where google maps incorrectly listed my hostels location). Just in time to meet some other travellers for dinner and an early night.
We’d planned the night before to hit a cycling tour, and as I still had no idea what to do, jumped onto this. Another slight problem meant my phone alarm was slept through but again the efficient German public transport system did me proud and I barely missed a thing. With Berlin being the size it is, I was very glad we did the bike tour, the same distance on foot would have taken well into the evening. In fact the bike tour is a great way to get a feel of the city, and thanks to the routing you don’t see anything more than once. Our guide was a friendly guy from New York, who did a great job educating us as we rode around, and we got to see all of the historic German highlights in a single day. It felt good to tick so many off, even though I ended up walking past many of them again later on the trip. It’s also nice to have had the tour, and actually understand what you’re looking at.
It was great to see the sites of so many historical events, and it certainly adds a certain realism to the idea that such things happened less than 100 years ago. Places like Checkpoint Charlie, which are now tacky tourist stops are incredible when you realise the transformation of such a significant landmark. As the guide quipped you can see who won the war by looking at the shops around – MacDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC etc – Capitalism won. Other locations are less spoiled, places like the Reichstag (Government) building, or Bebelplatz the University courtyard that hosted the monumental book burning by the Nazis with it’s thought provoking tribute under the ground.
We also cycled through Tiergarten, a large park to the west of the city centre, which broke up the tour, and gave us a rare chance to see such a part of Berlin. It’s a little out of the way, but if you’re craving some greenery it’s well worth a look. It’s also host to the Berlin Zoo, which if you’re a fan of Zoos is supposed to be one of the best in Europe.
After the tour we decided to check out the Topography of Terror, a history of the Waffen SS and Military Police used by the Nazis. While an amazing piece of history, it only covers that one specific topic, not deviating into the war in general, and it has a lot to read, which makes it rather dry, and trying to get through it all becomes something of a chore later on. Just read the bigger signs or you’ll be in there for days.
We joined the bar crawl from our hostel that night, which was interesting as we were pretty much the only folks on it. The guides were nice though, and some of the bars were very cool, although we did start and end in some pretty rubbish venues. The eastern end of Berlin has two districts fighting to be the coolest, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, the bar crawl was in the northern of the two (Friedrichshain) and I was impressed by the alternative style of many of the bars and clubs. Hearing music from NOFX and other punk-rock bands was very cool, as was the friendly and laid back attitude of many of the venues. The live gypsy-folk band in one of the bars was very entertaining as they got the audience bouncing and dancing with some very odd moves. Overall the crawl is not worth it for the drinks, but having a bit of structure and going to a nice variety of bars (and one terrible club) was pretty cool.