Trip report - 4 Fabulous days in Berlin

Dec 10th, 2009, 03:58 AM
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Trip report - 4 Fabulous days in Berlin

We arrived in Berlin at noon after three flights and a sprint through the deservedly infamous CDG airport. Within 20 minutes of touching down at Tegel, we had our bags and were in a taxi (pre-arranged transfer from bound for our hotel. Our driver was delightful and pointed out sights of interest along the way. I had been to Berlin twice previously, once in 1974 as a student and again in 2001 as a brief stop on my way elsewhere.

Our hotel was Melia Berlin, chose, based on positive experiences with other Melia hotels around the world and consistently good reviews on this and other travel boards.
The hotel is modern and quite new and well positioned on the River Spree. We had a room facing the courtyard which was quiet even though we slept with the windows open. Our room was very spacious and well appointed with lots of storage and a large bathroom equipped with deep tub and large walk in shower.

Melia Berlin is very well located with public transport within a three minute walk which provides access to all parts of the city. Museum Island is a 15 minute walk. Many dining options are within easy access of the hotel as extensive shopping.

Our room was ready so we dropped our bags and freshened up and headed out to enjoy the sunshine and explore the neighborhood. We walked for several hours, detouring to visit the Brandenburg Gate and stopping for lunch at the lovely Christmas market at Gendarmenmarkt, of the nicer Christmas markets we were to find in Berlin.

I wanted to visit Checkpoint Charlie as my memories of it from my first visit were still vivid. I had been there as an exchange student with a group of about 100 other students and will never forget the impact the wall had on me. It was bigger than life to this teenager who was on her first overseas trip and the shards of glass and razor wire lining the top ledge, the sentries armed with guns, the line separating the free part of Berlin from the Communist sector and the blood that stained the sidewalks from those that had tried to escape were still vivid in my mind. At that time, five of us were pulled out of line and denied access to East Germany while the rest of the students were escorted across for a visit. Our chaperones were informed that we would not be allowed entrance and there was no real explanation given other than that our surnames indicated to the East Germans that we were not welcome. So we sat at the wall and waited for the others to return.

Checkpoint Charlie in my opinion deserves more than what it has now become, a parody of what it represents with a “soldier” dressed in a dress uniform selling the opportunity to have a photo taken with him for one euro. Some sandbags and a sign indicating that one was entering the “Amerikan Sector” was all there was. I was very disappointed. We walked a bit beyond Checkpoint Charlie and then returned to our exploration of Berlin. This time we passed our hotel and crossed the Spree, checking out options for dinner along the way.

We showered and dressed for dinner and then went to the concierge lounge for a glass of wine. We had made reservations for dinner prior to arrival but then decided to opt for something closer to the hotel as we had been awake for over 36 hours and knew we should get a good night’s sleep to be ready for the next day. The concierge recommend “Cavallino Rosso” or The Red Horse, so we walked about 15 minutes to the restaurant and enjoyed an appetizer of salmon carpaccio followed by venison osso bucco for me and a filet of wild board for my husband, both accompanied by sautéed fennel, carrots and polenta. Freshly baked breads and a bottle of Montepulciano and we were sated and sleepy and made our way back to our hotel to get some sleep.

We awoke early on our first full day in Berlin to what looked to be a fairy dreary day and fortified ourselves with strong coffee and a good German breakfast. We had booked a day with Jeremy Minsberg and were very much looking forward to a personal tour of Berlin. When we travel to a city as large and diverse as Berlin, we opt for a personal tour guide as we have learned this is what works best for us. I had been in email contact with Jeremy for a few months and discussed with him our particular interests so he could structure our time accordingly. What a great day we had! We purchased day passes for public transport so that we had unlimited use of the S Bahn, U Bahn and bus system. Public transport is excellent in Berlin and I would suggest the transport pass to anyone who intends to really explore the city. It is offered in various options but we bought a one day pass knowing that it worked best for our plans.

Jeremy took us to visit many parts of the city that day including The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche or Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, still damaged from the war and really beautiful at night; the dazzling government quarter; the Reichstag building; two of the old Nazi buildings where scenes from the movie “Valkyrie” had been shot;, the very interesting Chamber of Commerce building with its view from the top floor; a model of the city as it has been before the war; West Berlin with its wide avenues reminiscent of the Champ d’elysee in Paris; the Brandenburg Gate, the American Embassy, and much more. We saw the area where they are now excavating torture chambers recently discovered after demolishing a hotel which served as accommodation for the officers of the Third Reich and which will be open to the pubic upon completion of the restoration.

Jeremy had photos of many of these places as they looked then which really helped us understand what Berlin had been through during and after the war. He brought history alive and was high energy (a style which works well for us), informative and fun to be around. I cannot recommend him highly enough and he made our Berlin experience come alive.

One of the highlights of the day for me was a visit to the Holocaust Memorial, a site the size of three footballs field and containing 2700 stones. It is impossible to describe the memorial as one must experience it to understand, but it was very moving and the simplicity of the design when first observed was misleading in terms of the actual experience of walking through the memorial. Once one enters the mazelike series of stones, time seems to stand still. It is a tribute to the architect of this memorial that one walks away having experienced more than expected.

We said good bye to Jeremy after a wonderful day and spent a couple of hours walking through the Christmas markets, stopping to warm ourselves with a mug of Gluhwein and some food from the stalls. It began to rain quite hard so we decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel for a hot shower and a glass of wine. Earlier on one of walks, we had spotted a cozy restaurant on a side street near the hhotel called “Vapiano” that offered fresh pasta and salads at reasonable prices. We asked the concierge about it and she said the food was good and it was popular with locals so we decided to try it. I ordered parpadelle with spinach and fresh tomatoes and my husband had ravioli with duck. With two glasses of Chianti and a liter of Pellegrino our tab was 28Euro. We headed back to our hotel, tired and content with our first full day in Berlin.

The alarm went off at 6:30 on our third day in Berlin as we had plans to take the 8:30 train to Dresden. We were using German rail passes for our trip and had pre- booked seat reservations so we walked to the Hauptbahnoff, a beautiful building and the transport hub for this city, and boarded our train. In 2 hours and 16 minutes, we arrived at Dresden. My impressions were that Dresden is a city very much under construction, with cranes and construction sites everywhere. It was packed with people and tour buses and we had to work our way through the crowds and find the old part of the city, which is what we were interested in. The core of the city is quite beautiful and we spent several hours exploring the churches and. We opted not to wait in the long lines to enter the Frankenkirche and instead climbed 253 steps to the tower at and then stopped at a coffee shop to fortify ourselves with a cappuccino and a slice of Dresden Stollen, a confection made at the Christmas season.

Our train back to Berlin was scheduled to depart at 5:02 so we stopped at a charming wine bar for a light lunch of prosciutto and parmesan cheese and a glass of lovely Italian red before heading back to the station. We were a bit worn today so we opted for dinner again at Vapiano and were again pleased by the quality of food for the price as well as the local experience. We walked back to the hotel, crawled into our comfortable bed, pulled the down coverlets up to our chins and were quickly asleep.
Sunday was our last day in Berlin.

We decided not to set an alarm, allowing ourselves to catch up with sleep if needed. After breakfast, we headed to the Pergamon Museum on Museum Island, about a 15 minute walk from our hotel. There was a public market extending several blocks in the area and we enjoyed looking at the old books, photos and assorted items offered for sale. We paid our 10E admission, checked our coats and backpacks and headed for the main draw of the special exhibition, the restoration of the. Wow! Words cannot describe the amazing work that was done to recreate the Pergamon Altar. Having been previously to Greece and Italy, it was very impressive to experience the sense of space and history they had recreated and we totally enjoyed our time there. We spent about an hour in the museum and then headed out for a walk. With no particular plan, we spotted a large dome in the area and decided to check it out. This turned out to be the Berliner Dom and we paid our entry free and entered the cathedral. It was smaller than it appeared from the outside but in. Perfect condition and we enjoyed the artwork and overall design of the Dom. We saw a sign advertising concerts in the cathedral and regretted that we had missed the two the night before as surely these would be an unforgettable experience in this space.

A word of warning to those who might require a WC while visiting the Berliner Dom. It is down the stairs and once you leave the main church to head to the WC, you will not be allowed re entry. I overheard a conversation in German while I was waiting in line to use the facilities and realized that I would have to exit. Indeed, I had to leave the cathedral and find my way back to the main entrance. I was concerned that I would have to buy another ticket for re-entry but the guard was gracious and allowed me to go back in and find my husband. I suspect this is a common occurrence at the Berliner Dom.

Our next stop was to be KaDeWe and their famous gourmet floor so we consulted the map to find the correct S Bahn station and were on our way. We took the S 75 to the Zoo stop and walked through the busy Christmas market there and towards our destination. We recognized the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church at the square there and this time we were more clearly able to see the destruction wreaked by the bombings of WW2. The steeple is partially missing and many of the large windows show the ravages of the war. This is a consistent in Berlin, the blending of the very modern new building in the city right next to buildings still showing the scars of WW2. Bullet holes are common place and when one looks at picture of the city before and after the war, the amount of devastation that took place in Berlin really sinks in. Much of this city was decimated by the way and the Berliners have found a way to never forget, while very much moving forward. This is a city full of contrasts and architectural design which is quite breathtaking. After pausing to once again take in the historical significance of this area, we continued on our walk.

We arrived at KaDeWe at about 3pm and the streets as well as the store were full of holiday shoppers. We admired the carousel and beautiful decorations on the main floor and then made our way to the gourmet floor, curious as to how it would compare to Harrods’s of London. It turned out to be quite something and we made a full circle before settling in at the fish cutter’s counter for a bite and a glass of wine. The foods here were of top quality and priced to match. After our snack here, we made our way to the coffee bar and got our caffeine fix with a double shot and a piece of dark chocolate. Then it was time to head to Potsdamer Platz and check it out so we made a quick stop at our hotel to drop camera gear and headed to the S1/S2 station and the next train.

The first thing we saw upon arrival was the spectacular Sony center, architecturally stunning. There was a small Christmas market set up in the center and the decorations were beautiful. We took note that there was to be live entertainment later in the evening and headed out to explore, not knowing what to expect. There was, of course, a Christmas market set up in the square and we wandered through it, pausing to admire the craftsmanship of artisans along the way. This was a higher quality market than most we had seen so we enjoyed checking out the various stands.

We spotted a large building and made our way there and this turned out to be a mall, beautifully and expensively decorated. We walked through the mall, stopping for a sample of stolen, and then headed out to walk some more. My husband spotted – or perhaps it was the aroma that called to him – a stand where the sign said “Salzburger Alm” and where two gentlemen were carving slabs of steaming meat and piling it on dark rolls, then slathering the meat with dark mustard and cabbage. He decided he had to try it so pointed to one of the choices and placed his order. A minute later he was holding a plate covered with this sandwich which smelled heavenly. We found a small table and stood and enjoyed our treat along with several other like minded folks then made our way out of the market.

We walked past the chain restaurants and big hotels, looking for somewhere else that looked interesting but ended up back at the Sony Center, just in time to catch a live performance of a young quartet who sounded like a cross between Charlie Daniels and Mannheim Steamroller. Holding our mug of gluhwein, we stayed for about half an hour, enjoying the performance and ambiance.

After exploring this area a bit, we were so pleased that we had opted to stay in Mitte instead of in the Potsdamer Platz area, which felt quite commercial and where there were more Americans than we had encountered during our entire stay. That was another nice thing about Berlin; there was a very diverse mixture of tourists with a large portion being German, followed by the French and Italians. It was actually very unusual to hear American accents, unlike many other major European cities we have visited.

So, after another full and satisfying day, we took the train back to Mitte and stopped at a Vietnamese restaurant in the area close to our hotel for a bowl of soup. Then it was on to our room to pack for our trip to Frankfurt on the early morning train.

We absolutely enjoyed our short visit to Berlin and fully intend to return one day soon and stay longer to experience more of what this fascinating and beautiful city has to offer. We would opt to stay again at Melia Berlin as we found it to be an ideal hotel in a perfect location. Next time we will buy a museum pass that gives unlimited access to the many state museums of Berlin which in my opinion are a true bargain compared to many other major European cities. And next time we will book another day with Jeremy and discover more about this most interesting city.
kfusto is offline  
Dec 10th, 2009, 05:42 AM
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Thanks for the fine report. It reminds me of my 4-day, November visit to Berlin last year. I even dined at the Cavallino Rosso on my last evening in the city--had a very good meal (wild boar!), and a lot of fun! It was only a couple of blocks from my hotel, the Arcotel Velvet on Oraniengburger Strasse. I also found the Holocaust Memorial interesting, moving, and thought-provoking.
Paul1950 is offline  
Dec 10th, 2009, 06:25 AM
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Thanks for the report; but, let's face it you stayed at the Melia because Thin always recommends it to people traveling to Berlin.

Tina from the Bronx
Pizza_Tina is offline  
Dec 10th, 2009, 08:12 AM
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Actually, no. I stayed at Melia because I am a big fan of their hotels in Europe and find them to be an excellent value.
kfusto is offline  
Dec 10th, 2009, 09:22 AM
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Thanks for the report, kfusto!
yk is offline  
Dec 10th, 2009, 10:59 AM
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This is a valuable trip report and I hope to use it's info on a return visit to Berlin. Thank you kfusto.

(Does anyone else think Pizza_Tina sounds like a Thin alter-ego?)

Pizza_Tina on Oct 23, 08 at 9:02pm
I am almost positive that Thin will be in Paris from November 14 to November 22. I could email him to find out since he no longer posts on Fodor's.

Tina from the Bronx
nyse is offline  
Dec 10th, 2009, 11:12 AM
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I am not Thin's alter ego. I came across his email address once on these forums and emailed him. He helped me with a trip. My family owns a restaurant in Paris (my mother is Sicilian--the restaurant is called Pizza Tina on Avenue Bosquet) and I told him he should eat there when he was in Paris.

His email address is in many of his older posts. You could email him too if you wanted to.

Yes, I am a Thin fan. I think he is hysterical.

nye, I think you are Jimmy Hoffa. LOL!

Tina from the Bronx
Pizza_Tina is offline  
Dec 10th, 2009, 11:14 AM
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I think it is very dysfunctional that you went through all my old posts to find out that information. You really should see a therapist. Lots of kooks here at Fodor's.

Pizza_Tina is offline  
Dec 12th, 2009, 06:08 AM
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Very good report. My DH wants to go to Berlin this too.
Judyrem is offline  
Dec 12th, 2009, 08:46 AM
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I stayed at Melia because Thin recommended it !
It is a very good hotel in a perfect location .

I agree with you re: Checkpoint Charlie ...
what a circus.
danon is offline  
Dec 12th, 2009, 09:08 AM
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I am NOT Pizza_Tina.

Tina is a Thin fan, I assume. You wouldn't believe all the stalkers I have, and I am not the only one. A well-known poster here had someone show up at her house after she gave out her address in an e-mail.

ThinGorjus is offline  
Dec 12th, 2009, 09:29 AM
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I'm glad to hear it --
This post was what made me think twice:

"Pizza_Tina on Oct 29, 08 at 2:01pm
111op is not ThinGorjus. I know Thin personally. He helped me plan my trip to Turkey 2 years ago after I emailed him when I found his email address on this site. I met him and his sister heidi in new york city and we had lunch last April.

Tina from the Bronx"

I would think not many on this site could boast of emailing or lunching with ThinGorjus.
nyse is offline  
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