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Trip Report Music, Hippos, Alchemists and More: A Berlin/Prague Trip Report

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Background: My mom (50's), me (30's) and daughter (13) decided on a trip to Berlin for the last week of June, first week of July to visit my cousin who is studying there. We added on a few days in Prague as well. I like to have a daily plan of things to do as a framework and then go from there. It was a challenge to incororate everyone's interests, but it went pretty well overall. DM wanted museums, both history and art, and a smaller town side trip, and DD wanted beach, castle and zoo. I wanted Philharmonic and a good exploration of the Nikolaiviertel, where my family is from.

Apartment: We rented an apartment for this trip. Located on Gartenstrasse literally right behind the Nordbahnhof S Bahn station, it was a good location for us. Close enough to several restaurants and cafes, and right across the street from the Berlin Wall Memorial.

Tickets/Passes: We opted for the 7 day transit pass plus the 3 day museum card. This worked out very well for us.


Day 1: A Long day with a lovely ending

We arrived in Berlin at 2 pm from Boston after connecting through Heathrow. We arrived to find no luggage. The British Airways luggage office had a large sign that said on strike. Great. I went into the Lufthansa office where I was told by a very nice man that there had been a shut down of the luggage system at Heathrow for 2 days and that Tegel currently had 14,000 missing bags. In other words, find a store quick and buy everything you'll need cause you ain't getting your bags. Not a great start.

The driver was very nice and we easily checked into the apartment. We decided to hit the grocery store first to pick up things like soap and shampoo. I also wanted to make sure there was food in the apartment right away., very important If any of you know teenagers you know what I mean.

We had tickets for the Berlin Philharmonic at the Waldbühne for 6:00pm. I knew this was not going to be an easy time. Jet lag, a long flight, it was late. etc. But I really really wanted to see the Philharmoinc and this was my only chance as this was their last performance in Berlin for a while. I suggested I go alone but everyone wanted to come. They thought that before hand of course….

We made our way to the Waldbühne and had to wait about an hour in an enormous crowd to go inside. It was hot. We were standing. People were pushing. It was a challenge to keep the kid happy. We finally made it in and there was not one seat available I mean not one. We had open seating tickets. It's set up like an ampitheatre with just rows of bench seats. There were so many people!!! We couldn't find anywhere and the ushers told me to just give up it wasn't going to happen with 4 people. So we sat along the edge of the steps. I was pretty deflated. I was tired, hot, frustrated, feeling bad for dragging my family. And then, the music started. It was just so magical. The sound of that magnificant orchestra playing out into the night sky. It was just beautiful. It made it all worth it. We stayed for most, but not all of the performance. You have to know when to fold em sometimes.

We left around 10 and had a late dinner of pizza on the way back and fell exhausted into bed. Up tomorrow: Peacock Island and swimming on the Wannsee!!

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    Day 2: Peacock Island

    Woke up late and headed to Peacock Island. It took about 40 min on the S Bahn and then a short bus ride followed by an even shorter ferry ride - less than a minute! The small island is a nice outing. It has a small castle, peacoks roaming free and nice walking paths with gardens. The island has an interesting history. Inhabited for over 2500 years and developed by Friedrich Wilhelm II as a retreat for his lady friend, it is very peaceful and a nice change from the city.

    This is a great outing with kids. Lots of room for them to run and explore, not crowded, and my daughter loved the peacocks. Spent the rest of the afternoon leisurely by the Wannsee. We had planned to go to the beach, but since we didn't have our luggage we had no bathing suits, etc. Gotta go with the flow when travelling!

    Once back in Berlin we headed to Gedarmenmarkt. Checked out the churches and then we had to check out Fassbender and Rausch of course!! So much chocolate! The chocolate sculptures of Berlin landmarks are especially cool (how they keep them from melting?!? We loaded up on sweet treats and then had dinner at Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt. Good beer and decent German food. As it was in the midst of the World Cup, it was packed and buzzing with excitement.

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    Day 3: German History Museum Followed By the Hippo Visit!

    This morning we went to the German History Museum. Since we had been to Berlin a few years before and did a lot of the WWI/WWII history on that trip, we focused on the top floor, which traces German history from, well pretty much the beginning, to just before WWI. This museum is so well done. Lots of interactive exhibits so it''s gret with kids.

    We headed towards the zoo with a stop at the Kaiser Wilhelm church for what I was hoping would be a highlight. I had given my daughter the task of planning the zoo visit. Well, in researching on the zoo's website, she found that at the Berlin zoo it is possible to do a favorite animal visit. For about $100 this means your group can go behind the scenes at a particular animal exihibit. She pleaded with me for us to do this, and since it was her outing I said ok. I wired the money to the zoo and was told to meet the zoo keeper at the door in between the two hippos tanks.

    I was curious what we would get for a hundred dollars. Well, it turned out to be fantastic! The zoo keeper was very nice, although worried his English wasn't good enough (it was). We got to go into the back area where the swimming areas for the hippos are and go up on a platform above the tank. My daughter got to through bread into the mouths of these very large hippos (if you remember the game hungry, hungry hippos - they are just like that with their mouths wide open waiting for a deposit). She then got to help bring them into the inside enclosures where they would eat their dinner (behind a gate most of the time, she was always safe!) As they walked by we got to touch them (very slimey) and the zoo keeper told us many interesting things about them. All in all a well spent $100.

    The rest of the zoo was nice. I'm not a huge zoo person, but we saw the lions being fed which was pretty cool. They also have a tiger, jaguars, a polar bear, some other form of bear along with usual suspects - elephants, giraffe, tons of birds, monkeys, etc. They have a cool playground and decent food.

    Day 4: Reichstag, walk through Berlin, Nikolaiviertel

    We had an appointment to see the Recihstag, which is a quite impressive building. Nice views from the top. We then walked in the direction of Brandenburg Gate (covered with a screen for the World Cup), had a look at the Jewsih memorial (which is very well done) and made our way to Alexanderplatz. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Nikolaiviertel. There was a book festival going on yay! People were invited to write the name of their favorite book on the sidewalk with chalk or to write a favorite quote or book on a paper and hang it in a tree. This neighborhood was of particular interest to me as our ancestors were baptized and married in the very old church there. Also got a look at the street they lived on, very interesting.

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    nice report, kalnalcl. we loved the 3 days we spent in Berlin a few years ago particularly the Gendarmenmarket and Nikolaiviertel. it's always interesting to read about visits to places that have a special significance for the participants, so keep it coming!

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    I am glad you liked Berlin. It is such a fascinating city and there is so much to see and to do there! You could spend weeks and weeks there and never get bored.

    And the riddle of the hippos in the headline is solved.

    Now I am waiting for the alchemists.

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    Thanks for the replies :)

    Day 5: Daytrip to Schwerin

    One of the requests from my fellow travelers was a day trip to a town and a castle. My DM also is very interested in gardens, so I thought Schwerin would be a good choice. We rented a car for the day and after an easy 2 hour drive arrived in Schwerin.

    The castle there is really beautiful. Situated right on the lake, architecturally interesting, and spectacular gardens. We did a tour of the interior, which was ok. DD liked the folklore about the boy ghost that supposedly inhabits the castle. The gift shop was, however, odd. The items for sale were typical of a gift shop, but at the cash register there were 3 people. I handed them a trinket my daughter wanted and a few postcards. The 3 appeared to try the math in their heads and each came up with a different number. They then said a price roughly the average of their 3 guesses! Um, no, how about I do the math in my head and pay you what the items cost. Thanks. So weird, but they took the money I gave them without complaint.

    We spent about two hours looking around the town and having some lunch. There are some really cute and interesting shops here. For example, a yarn shop, a shop dedicated to cats, a lovely shop with books and teas, a shop dedicated to the local honey, and a cute chocolate shop to name a few. I liked that in spite of its quaintness, it did not feel very touristy. There is also a nice lakefront area where you can hang around, enjoy the view of the castle, feed the many, many water fowl.

    After an ice cream break we went on to explore the castle's gardens. These are definitely worth a visit. There are a few planned gardens, really beautiful, a grotto, and paths with many kinds of interesting trees and plants. We really enjoyed them. After a game of hide and seek, we hit the road back to Berlin. We had dinner at a fantastic Indian restaurant near Potsdamer Platz (sorry I'm terrible with writing down the names).

    All in all I thought Schwerin was a great daytrip from Berlin. Easy drive (or train ride), and enough to see for a day but not so much to see you end up regretting only going for a day (how I felt in Potsdam).

    Next up: Potsdam, and an attempt to link to pictures

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    I've wanted to visit the Baltic coast cities for a long time - thanks for your report of Schwerin. Lots to look forward to!

    Like traveler1959 I am waiting for the alchemist too!

    Lavandula

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    Day 6: Potsdam

    We drove to Potsdam since we had the car anyway (got a free day and had rented it for Schwerin the day before). In retrospect, this was foolish. It would have much easier to take public transport, but it's the way it went. By Day 6 I find myself bracing myself a little for the 'so what are we doing now' questions, the expectation that because you like to research and plan a trip you then know everything it is possible to know about a place - every restaurant, every shop, the history, interesting facts (I got that question - don't you know any interesting facts about this building? - um no, I have no idea what this building is!

    I digress, sorry about that. Potsdam was lovely, and in the future I hope to be able to stay there for more than a daytrip. We parked and walked towards the palaces where we immediately saw - the horse and carriage. If you have children I will guess you know how kids would like to do this every time they see it. At least my daughter does. I usually limit her to one per trip, and she had already said she wanted to use her horse pass for Prague.

    To her credit she did not ask me, she just admired the horses. Well, she gushed over the horses. Then of course the driver tried to convince me. This was a tour around the town with a large carriage that fit maybe 20 people. The driver said that most of the people already booked were Russians and had a Russian tour guide, so if we went he would charge us half and we could sit up front and he would give us the tour in English. So I agreed to the delight of my daughter.

    It was fantastic. Thomas gave us so much information about this lovely little city. He explained why some of these magnificent houses in Potsdam were restored and some abandoned and falling apart. He said after the unification of Germany there was an attempt made to return many of these properties to their rightful owners from before the war. But, some of these families are no longer around or cannot afford to take on these properties. It's so sad. But, it was really interesting to hear about the city from someone who lived there both pre and post unification. Plus he told my DD a lot about the horses, which she loved.

    Potsdam has, of course, the palaces, but the entire town is just so lovely. We had lunch in the middle of town at a place recommended by out buggy driver. It turned out to be a French restaurant (menu only in German). My daughter proudly ordered with her elementary German what turned out to be a pork dish with a mustard sauce. The reason I mention this is because I never saw a kid more completely clean their plate. She asked for the recipe! This may be one of those yeah lady that's great you're the only one who cares how much your kid loved her lunch, but it's a strong memory from the trip for me hahaha.

    We decided the day before to skip interior tours and stuck to walking the grounds of San Souci. The grounds are amazing, lots of great places to explore. We made our way back to where we parked stopping in the windmill on the way. Just a side note - we climbed to the top of the windmill and I have never been afraid of heights, but that deck-like flooring with space between each board was a little disconcerting for me. Not for the faint of heart IMHO.

    We headed back to Berlin right around dinner time and had dinner close to the Friedrichstrasse S Bahn stop and walked around for a while absorbing the World Cup hysteria atmosphere.

    Next up: Prague and finally the Alchemists!

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    Kalnalcl, i had always wanted to go to Potsdam to see Sans Souci and finally got my chance a few years ago. We did stay overnight, but had just the night and half a day to spend there, which as you way was nothing like enough. i think you missed out a bit by not going into the palace but for me the highlight was the garden with those wonderful terraces and mirrored walls - fantastic.

    we however missed out with the carriage ride which sounds terrific.

    the meal sounds good. On the recommendation of the staff at the hotel we were in, we walked down to the Branderburger Tor and ate in the old Weinstube there. We had an absolute feast - pork and venison - for not very much. personally I enjoy german cuisine - which is just as well as we're heading back there for 10 days in September.

    keep the TR coming!

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    Day 7: Museum Island

    We started the day at the Pergamon. We got there right as it opened, no line, no crowds. When we left 2 hours later the line was to the street (very long). The Pergamon is of course spectacular and my daughter and I had read about the alter and Ishtar Gate before going there and also learned about some of the greek myths. This made it more interesting for her as she responds to see if you can find xyz, it keeps her engaged which is nice. We saw the biggies and spent some time with them and then I let DD lead the way. I let her set the pace and this works well for us. As a parent I accept I will not see a museum the way I would like to with a child along and that's ok. It's great to see it through her eyes. After about an hour we were ready to go.

    We had lunch close by and stopped in the Berliner Dom, which was holding a service at the time. It was really a treat to get to hear the organ in tht huge space. DD and I climbed to the top of the Dome for some great views, and then down to the crypt.

    In the afternoon we went into the Neues to see, again the biggies and whatever DD wants. We went right to Nefertiti - I've seen her 4 or 5 times and i love her more each time. Nex we went to the Golden Hat. To my surprise DD totally loved this and spent a good deal of time reading every single word about it in that room.

    Before dinner DD got an ice cream and we relaxed in the park right in front of the Berliner Dom. We needed a little outside time. All in all a great and successful museum day.

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    Day 8 & 9 Prague

    Although we only had really 1.5 days for Prague, we did it anyway. We took an early train at 6:00am and arrived around 11. It was a pleasant train ride, nice scenery most of the way. We stayed at the Charles Bridge Residence, just steps from the Charles Bridge. It was a lovely place with a great staff, very clean and had a mini bar.

    We started with the Jewish Quarter and bought tickets to the synogagues and the cemetery. We spent the morning in this moving area visiting several of the synogagues and the cemetery. After lunch we did the promised horse and carriage ride which was so so. It was nice to sit for a while (those cobble stones are killers on the feet) as it was very hot that day. We did some shopping (DD used her money to buy her first ever expensive Italian bag, she really is a teenager now haha).

    After an early dinner we had booked a ghost tour, which my DM loves. We go on them in every place we visit. It began at 7, when it wasn't dark yet, so it wasn't too ghosty feeling. Our guide was ok, there were some interesting stories and we got to see some of the oldest places in Prague, which was interesting. It lasted for about an hour. On this tour the Alchemy Museum was pointed out and it caught out attention, so the next day we returned to check it out.

    Speculum Alchemiae is a very small museum right off the old square near the Tyn church. I had seen it on TA before we left but ususally these types of things are, for lack of a better word, cheesy. This was not at all. It is housed in the second oldest house in Prague. When the horrible floods hit Prague in 2002 the street in front of the house collapsed. When they went to clean it up and rebuild, there were tunnels discovered. These tunnels led to under the house and then out to other locations in the old town. When they brought in archeaologists to excavate they discoverd several rooms in tact that dated from the 16th century.

    Rudolph II had brought scientists, alchemists and others to Prague to work on the famous Alchemist pursuits of discovering the secret of eternal life and the turning of metals into gold. This sounds a bit silly today, but then they were serious about this pursuit. Since it was illegal under the church at the time, all their work was done underground. All of this was preserved, as these rooms had not been known until the flood uncovered them.

    This made for a very cool tour. You go into the back of the little store into a stone room. Then (this is for modern day effect) a statute on the book case is turned and the bookcase moves to reveal a passge down into a tunnel. You then tour these tunnels and underground rooms. In these rooms there was a glass making room, a room with chemicals and lab looking, and storage rooms. Many of the artifacts are original. Most interesting I thought is they discovered a book written by these men of their experiments and thought as well as several bottles of liquid concoctions they had made. These were found to have opium as a main ingrediant, no surprise.

    The tour guide was excellent. She had a fantastic command of the history and stayed away from dramatizations. You really got a sense of the period and the workings of this place. In the gift shop you can buy "potions" made according to the recipes found, minus the opium of course! Also other little trinkets. It was the coolest thing I had seen in a long time. Something very different and so interesting.

    The next day we visited the Tyn church and then did the Underground tour. This tour was really interesting. Led by an archeology student, you go underneath the Old Town Hall and see some of Prague's original homes, which are now a few level below the street. You learn a lot about how they were built, how the city ended up being built on top of them, customs of these early settlers, and the culture of Prague at that time. Highly recommended.

    After the tour we dashed back to the train station and back to Berlin for our last night. We had dinner again near Potsdamer Platz. The next morning we visited the Berlin Wall Memorial, which was across the street from our apartment, and then headed to the airport :(. All in all a fantastic trip!! Thanks for reading!

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    what an interesting way to spend your time in Prague, kalnalcl. i never heard of any of those tours when we went to Prague a few years ago - a good reason to go back I think.

    thanks for posting your TR which has been both entertaining and informative.

    Where next for you?

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