On Tuesday the 29th of March, I went to Ostend with a friend from University in Edinburgh. We are the only two exchange students in Leuven from Edinburgh, so after 7 months of living in Leuven, we decided to go for a day trip to another part of Belgium together. Lo and behold, by midnight that evening, we booked a trip to Berlin leaving in only 5 days time!
Berlin, surprisingly, has never really appealed to me. I've visited Germany several times and although I love the country, I wasn't really sure of what Berlin had to offer. Luckily for us, Ryanair were selling flights from €20 each way and was by far the cheapest destination at the time... we were definitely in for a treat!
We met at Leuven station early Sunday morning and headed to Brussels Charleroi airport. Our flight was due to fly from Zaventem, but after the terrorist attacks, all of the flights were diverted to Charleroi airport. We had to take a train to Brussels Midi/Zuid, a train to Charleroi Sud, then a bus to the airport. It really is a palava getting to Charleroi from Leuven. You'd pay between 60-80 euros for a taxi straight there, which is preferable if you're travelling in a large group, but as it was only the two of us, we decided to endure the 2 hour journey.
We arrived at Schönefeld airport in Berlin at 2.30pm and got the S-bahn to our hotel in the Zoologisher Garten area. As we booked our trip pretty last minute, I wasn't expecting to find a hotel in the center of Berlin for a reasonable price, but we managed to come across the 'Upper Hotel Kurfürstendamm', costing us only €20 each for our two night stay. Although we didn't have high expectations, the hotel was actually really nice and we even had breakfast included in the price.
We dropped our bags off at the hotel and decided to head to Alexanderplatz, where the famous Fernsehturm (TV tower) is situated. As we were wandering around, we came across the Berlin Cathedral, the Reichstag (Parliament) building, a number of embassies and various churches. I was a little bit confused about the architecture in Berlin. The city looks pretty un-done and mismatched, and for me, this was a feature that made it so memorable. Apparently 80% of the city was destroyed during the second world war. Every building looks different and looking past all of the construction work, the city really does have a lot of character.
As the sun was setting, we found the Brandenburg gate. I'm really terrible at names and called this the 'Battenberg Gate' numerous times before actually realising it was in fact the 'Brandenburg' gate and not some pink and yellow sponge cake!
I expected the Brandenburg gate to have walls to each side of it, like the Cinquantenaire in Brussels. Also, we were surprised at how the Quadriga (sculpture on top of the gate) was facing the square as opposed to the gardens leading up to it. Initial reactions aside, the gate is beautiful, so we decided to sit outside for an hour and have a drink in front of it.
|Dem Deutschen Volke|
The Reichstag (Parliament) building is situated next to the gate. We saw people climbing up the glass roof in the middle of the building and we were interested to visit. Unfortunately, we didn't expect the trip to be as hectic as it was and didn't have time to go inside - I'll definitely love to come back some time again in the future!
We decided to walk along the Tiergarten by the Brandenburg gate, totally underestimating how long the walk would be! We walked by the Siegessäule (Victory Column) and, as it was starting to get dark and we didn't have the energy to walk any further, decided to get the S-bahn back to our accommodation.
For dinner, we had currywürst in the Ranke 2 restaurant next to our hotel. We were on the hunt for a sky bar and found the Monkey bar pretty close by. The bar was completely full, so we settled on a cocktail bar on the ground floor of our hotel.
On Monday, we took the U-bahn to Charlottenburg palace. To our disappointment, the palace is closed for visitors on Monday. We managed to walk around the grounds and take a few photos. Hopefully I can pay the inside of the palace a visit and take a photo of the palace without construction works next time!
|Olympic Stadium Bahnhof|
As our morning plan was cut short, we decided to take the S-bahn to the Olympic Stadium. Originally, we said we wouldn't make going to the Olympic stadium a priority as it's quite far out from the center, but I'm so glad we visited it in the end as it was definitely a highlight of the trip!
The Olympic Stadium in Berlin was built for the 1936 Summer Olympic Games. When Hitler came into power, he decided to build an Olympic stadium for propaganda purposes during the Olympic Games. It's quite surreal how much the stadium really does look like its from the Nazi era. I've read a lot about the goings on of WWII, but it was definitely an incredible experience seeing a building created by the Nazis in real life.
The stadium is used for international football games nowadays - it would be incredible to watch a game/concert there someday because the interior is absolutely stunning and I can't even comprehend what the atmosphere would be like!
|Olympic Stadium Grounds|
We walked around the grounds of the stadium, passing the running track, an outdoor swimming area and the Olympic Bell (with the Swastika badly concealed at the bottom, might I add!). For students, the visit cost €5.50 and I'd definitely recommend it!
We headed back into the city center and stopped for lunch in a Bavarian restaurant. I ordered boiled sausages and a pretzel - completely not expecting the sausages to come in a pot of boiled water!
After lunch, we walked to Checkpoint Charlie, the most well known crossing point between the East and West of Berlin when the wall still stood. Apparently you can get your passport stamped here, but unfortunately we didn't have our passports to hand and didn't have time the day after to go back.
On our way to Potsdamer Platz, we found the Holocaust memorial. It consists of 2711 slabs of concrete. From afar, you would think only the blocks vary in height, but the floor height actually changes as you walk through it. In the middle of the memorial site, I'm positive one of the blocks was double my height!
Unfortunately, I don't think the memorial is respected enough. There were a lot of children climbing on the blocks and some were playing hide and seek in the middle and making a lot of noise.
A short distance away from the memorial is the bunker where Hilter committed suicide. It's not meant to be a tourist attraction and has now turned into a car park, but we were aware of it walking past.
|Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer|
This part of the wall doesn't have artwork like the part of the wall in the East Side Gallery, but it was interesting to see how to wall would have looked paired with the people's stories we gathered from the exhibition.
|East Side Gallery|
With the Berlin wall in mind, we decided to go to the East Side gallery to see some of the artwork. Some of the pieces are incredible and I was really fascinated to see different pieces from artists all over the world. The walls are covered with artwork on both sides and I'd say the whole of the East Side Gallery continues on for a good mile.
|East Side Gallery|
We took the U-bahn to Alexanderplatz where we had currywürst (again!) for dinner at a restaurant called Mio next to the Fernsehturm (TV Tower). Afterwards, we attempted to hunt for a sky bar and headed out towards Potsdamer Platz.
The official sky.bar Berlin was too far away, so we tried to find the 40 seconds sky bar and unfortunately this was closed. We decided to walk through Potsdamer to find somewhere else to drink and settled with a drink on the third floor of a bar in the Sony center. Again, this building is another example of Berlin's beautiful modern architecture.
As our flight back to Brussels was at 7:30pm on the Tuesday evening, we managed to fit in another day of sightseeing on our final day. We planned to see the Unterwelten Museum (WWII bunkers) but annoyingly the tour was fully booked that morning.
On our way to the center, we decided to stop at Bellevue castle before getting the bus to the Brandenburg Gate.
|Topography of Terror|
As we couldn't visit the WWII bunkers we decided to do our own war-inspired tour of Berlin and walked along Wilhelmstraße, where most of the Nazi government buildings were during the war. Just off this street is the Topography of Terror, an indoor and outdoor museum about the second World War. It was 26 degrees on our final day in Berlin and I'm ashamed to admit my shoulders got slightly burnt as we worked our way through the outdoor exhibition. The Berlin wall runs alongside the museum and it's really worth paying a visit if you have an hour or two to spare reading all of the information - it's free of charge!
|Kaiser Willhelm Memorial Church|
After visiting the Topography of Terror, we headed back to our hotel to check out and pick up our suitcases. We had some time to spare so quickly visited the Kaiser Willhelm Memorial Church, situated right next to our hotel.
|The 'New Church'|
The church was badly damaged during the second World War. The old church is still open to view and is only one room on the ground floor. After it was destroyed, they made a new octagonal church opposite the old one. It is beautiful inside, but to me, I found the design to be a little unusual for a church.
We took our luggage to Henriette-Herz-Platz and had lunch/our final beer soaking up the last of the Berlin sunshine next to the Berliner Dom (Cathedral). Afterwards, we took a direct train to Berlin Schönefeld airport and made our way back to Leuven.
I thoroughly enjoyed our spontaneous trip to Berlin and although we managed to see everything we possibly could in the space of three days, I'll most definitely be returning to explore more of the city!