Sunday, August 2, 2015

Berlin

Prior research paid big dividends in Berlin. The first bonus was an app recommended by my cousin, Mike Theilmann. Ulmon CityMaps2Go is amazing. You download the maps for the cities you will visit while you have an Internet connection and then use them in the street without the hassle of finding a local SIM card or bothering about WiFi. So long as your device has a GPS function the map will show your position with a blue dot. We could have used Eve's phone (mine is so old it has no GPS), but decided that the bigger screen of a tablet would make life easier. What we came to call “the magic map” is brilliant We recommend this app unreservedly.

The second thing we did right was to get a Berlin Welcome Card. It's a reasonable price and it immediately removes all city travel hassles. We made sure that we had the right version for the Potsdam zone and we were set up for buses, trams, S-Bahn suburban trains and the underground U-Bahn. It can be purchased from the information office at the airport so you don't even have to stress about having small change for bus fares when you arrive.

The Hotel Adam was booked using booking.com. It was remarkably cheap for a hotel in Berlin at 40 euros per night for the two of us, including breakfast, but had a very high review rating. Do you smell a rat? Well, you are wrong. First, it is conveniently located West of the city centre in Charlottenburg with excellent access to all kinds of public transport. Secondly, the breakfast buffet is superb. Good coffee and all the bread, cold meat, cheese, etc. that you can eat.

On top of that, bus 109 takes you from Tegel Airport to the door. We used our new Berlin Welcome cards and followed our progress on the magic map so there was no chance of getting off at the wrong stop. The hotel is not easy to spot from the street. There is a sign, but you have to go through a little door into a courtyard to find the 'real' entrance.

We devoted a day to the unhappy history of partitioned Germany and the communist rule in the East. There is a Stasi Museum, which chronicles in what used to be their HQ the activities of the hated secret police, and a DDR Museum that describes the controlled lives in East Germany. Did you know that many East Germans holidayed in the nude? It was illegal and therefore a way of protesting. Most depressing is the Berlin Wall 'Museum', where a fragment of the old dividing line still stands. There are copious explanations of how it was built and developed and a memorial to the 120-odd people (including children) who were killed trying to escape to the West.



To cheer ourselves up, we devoted most of the next day to 'Green Berlin'. From a particular U-Bahn station you can ride a bus through the Grunewald (Greenwood) to Pfauerninsel (Peacock Island). The bus was a double-decker and we enjoyed the journey from the top deck. At the end of the route there is a ferry to take you the 80 metres or so across to the island, which used to be a holiday home for the local royalty. The gardens were well past their best, but the woods are a pleasant ramble and there is a wildflower meadow that was a picture. Roughly in the centre of the island is a large lawn with a cafe. We lunched on wild pork sausages in a bun. We ate quite a few sausages while we were in Germany and these were the best ones. The buildings on the island are sometimes quite eccentric. What the Prince probably thought of as a bach is a wooden building with odd bits tacked on to make it look (he thought) like a ruined castle.

A few of the wildflowers

At various points around the island there are concrete models of huge acorns.  Very odd.

Several buildings on the island are occupied.  One resident is enthusiastic about witch dolls.

A holiday home for royalty.  Do you think the 'ruins' are romantic?  Neither do we.
Potsdam started with a long walk from the station to the Park Sanssouci. The route took us past a cafe just at the time a coffee would be welcome. As we sat in the sunshine sipping our drinks a violinist was busking a little way down the street. He was playing Eine Kleine Nachtmusik extremely well. There are a couple of palaces in the park, but neither of us is keen on palaces so we skipped those and enjoyed the very extensive grounds, ending up at the Botanic Gardens. There our tired feet found a bus stop, and we could decipher enough of the information to discover the welcome news that there would soon be a bus back to the station.

Eve admiring some of the flowers in Park Sanssouci.


The Chinese House - a garish addition to the lovely gardens.
Waterlilies and a frog in the Botanic Gardens


In between times we managed to see Unter den Linden, the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie. We ate some good meals, especially the ones featuring chanterelle mushrooms and Vietnamese summer rolls. Good coffee is all around you in Berlin, but if you want a real treat we recommend Einstein Kaffee.

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