An Ever Evolving City – Berlin

A few days after the Anastasias visit, we were off and running again.  Like I said, April and May were crazy months for us.  A bit too crazy once we looked back on it.  We’re getting too old for being so over scheduled with travel and guests.  I can’t believe I just said / wrote that because I love travel and having visitors.  But 6 straight weeks of it was a bit much!  Our last trip for a bit was a quick visit to Berlin. 

We’ve been living in Northern Europe for a while now and somehow we still hadn’t been to Berlin.  We figured it was “only” a 6 hour drive so we would drive instead of taking a plane or train.  Probably not the smartest move.  No one in our family enjoys being in a car that long, though I have to say, everyone was pretty well behaved considering.

Initially assuming that we weren’t leaving til after Josh finished work (turns out he took the day off), I had arranged for a hotel in Bielefeld which was about halfway into our 6 hour drive.  For those that haven’t been to Bielefeld. I can save you some time.  There’s not a heck of a lot there.  We stayed in the only decent hotel in the area which was a business hotel in the middle of no where.  It was clean and the area was cute with a lot of farmland, but a tourist destination it is not.

We headed out early the next morning to do our 3 hour drive to Berlin that ended up more like 5 with all the traffic.  The autobahn isn’t very effective when you have a million tractor trailer trucks that aren’t able to go over 80/90 km/h.  We finally made it to Berlin and it was a city that really isn’t hard to navigate with a car.  We found our apartment and while the flat itself wasn’t much to look at, the location was great in the Schöneberg district which was out of the main tourist areas.

I wasn’t sure what to expect in Berlin.  Would it be a sad, haunted city like we had experienced in Budapest?  Or would it be full of vibrant energy, renewed from it’s tragic history.  I’m happy to say it was the latter.  This was a city that constantly amazed us at every turn.  Learning more about the history only fascinated us more.

A friend of ours lives in Berlin and while we didn’t get to meet up in the end due to conflicting schedules, she was a great resource on where to stay as well as giving us a recommendation on a tour company where we arranged a private tour of Berlin.

The private tour was quite interesting and our guide, while not German himself, was very knowledgeable about the history of the city and was able to adjust the tour to our interests (ancient history, modern history, etc) and needs (keeping it interesting for the kids).  We decided to focus on WWII and beyond which we figured would be of more appeal to the kids who likely can’t rationalize anything before that.  I can’t speak for the kids, but Josh and I found the tour guide engaging and the information to be really interesting.

While Berlin is a city that is constantly evolving, I admire the fact that there are elements of their history, even at it’s most unpleasant that are still erect in the city such as portions of the walls pictured below.  For years, the true history of the Nazi regime was not taught in schools (not unlike the way we teach US history unfortunately) but in recent years, it has become mandatory for schools to teach what really happened in the hopes that history will not repeat itself.

What fascinated us both the most was the ipad full of before and after pictures of Berlin.  It’s amazing what this city has been through in a matter of decades and how far it has come – it is constantly changing and evolving.  Even up til 10 years ago there were massive empty spaces in the city that are now filled with beautiful buildings and cultural centers.  It was hard to picture the city with so much empty and open space as there was not long ago.

I also have never really given much thought to where Berlin sits in Germany.  Before the unification of the country, Berlin was actually located in East Germany.  Then Berlin itself was separated into East and West Berlin.  So in order for those with freedom of movement in West Berlin to actually go to West Germany, they had to fly there.  It wasn’t like the country was actually divided along the city limits.

It’s also hard to believe how short of a time period that it has been where the country (and city) has been unified.  Like I said before, looking back at images from 10, 20 and 30 years ago, the city was completely different, especially when you look along the no-man’s land that stretched along on either side of the Berlin Wall – huge swaths of land with no development until recently.  To see how this country has become unified in such a small time frame is nothing short of amazing.

I think for us, one of the most interesting tidbits was about the Soviet memorial which was intentionally placed in West Berlin as opposed to East Berlin.  Our tour guide said that several elements of this memorial were meant to be a slight against the Nazi regime.  For example, the materials used to build the memorial actually came from Hitler’s home.  It was also erected less than 6 weeks after the war ended – so quickly that there was no time to stop where it was erected.  It was also built where Hitler planned to build Welthauptstadt Germania – part of his plan for the city’s renewal after the war.

To throw a little history and fun in there together, we saw a lot of these street crossing signs with little guys in hats in them.  We asked about them and it turns out they are AmpelmännchenThey were a part of East Berlin starting in the late 1960s as a way to help reduce traffic deaths amongst pedestrians who were at the time using the same signals as the cars.  There you go, one last little fact before we leave Berlin behind.

While we spent a few days discovering Berlin, we also know that we have kids traveling with us.  After a few days of history, they were ready to move on.  And while we tend to be spontaneous travelers, sometimes you have to book one or two special things in advance.

One of the fun things that we did book in advance, however, was a trip to Tropical Islands.  Tropical Islands is an indoor (and outdoor during the appropriate time of year) water park that is set inside an old airplane hangar.  I must admit, it’s quite cool.  I think it’s probably even better in the summer when the outdoor park is open and there is more to do but even the indoor part of it was fun for the day.  Liam especially enjoyed the wrist band that he swiped wherever he went and was able to get ice cream, cookies, and more for “free” (hahahaha as our credit card explodes in charges).

We had to leave Berlin one day early because of an injury to Josh’s shoulder.  We still don’t know what it was but he was concerned our insurance wouldn’t cover us in Germany (it would) and so we arrived back home just before midnight and I had him do a drop and roll at the emergency room door so I could get the kids home to bed after the 6 hour drive back.  His shoulder is fine now and it’s one more memory from our great trip to Berlin for us to think back on!

Knuffels en kussen,

Julie

 

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