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Trip Report: 5 nights in Berlin in April 08

Trip Report: 5 nights in Berlin in April 08

Apr 26th, 2008, 05:41 AM
  #1  
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Trip Report: 5 nights in Berlin in April 08

Quick overview of our 5-night stay in Berlin with thanks to all who have helped us with our stay. In general, we had a wonderful time. In the words of one of our tour guides, in Berlin “history is so close you can touch it.” And indeed the layers of history in practically every step make this a fascinating location. The cultural opportunities are also vast and I know we barely scratched the surface of what is available in this city.

It was hard to research this trip: Berlin seemed so overwhelming that every time I read a trip report or picked up a guide book I would get instantly exhausted. Once we were in the city, though, everything took shape and it was easier to understand. The guidebook I found the most helpful was the Rough Guide to Berlin, mostly because the edition I purchased was published in April 08 and the information was more up to date. The maps weren’t the greatest, though, and we relied on the maps provided to us by our hotel.

We also had: art/shop/eat Berlin and the DK Eyewitness guide. The latter was just too heavy to be useful and I found the layout confusing. The former was helpful as well, but not as up-to-date as the rough guide.

HOTELS:

Louisa’s Place: 160 Ku’damm. We did not stay here, but my in-laws did and we spent Sunday in their room napping as our hotel couldn’t guarantee an early check-in and we wanted to nap. The suite they had was wonderful—a little entry, small kitchen and living room and separate bedroom. It faced the back for perfect quiet.

I did laps in their beautiful and completely empty pool. The “gym” is tiny with a few lonely pieces of equipment (i.e. two treadmills). This entire area is incredibly warm and it is like swimming in bathwater.

Not so sure that this location would have been for us. Probably a 5-10 minute walk from the heart of the Ku’Damm and about a 20 minute walk to KaDeWe. But we felt it was just a little out of the way from what we wanted to see. However, the staff we met were very polite and helpful. About 16E to get from Tegel to this hotel by taxi.

Mandala Hotel: 3 Potsdammer Platz. Wonderful hotel with a modern feel and very able staff. Originally we wanted to be close to the Tiergarten so my husband could train for a marathon. For various reasons he is no longer doing the marathon, but we decided to stay with this hotel anyway. So glad we did! About 20E to Tegel in the morning.

We had a “management suite” on the 6th floor. Plenty of room for two and tons of closet space. Full tub in the equally large bathroom. The bed was a double made from two twins, but I honestly couldn’t feel where they joined up. We each had our own personal duvet, which my husband (who calls me a sheet stealer?) really appreciated. We also had a little terrace with a side view of the Sony Building, facing the Daimler Chrysler building. We could also see Haus Huth, which was the only building left standing after WWII.

The location could not be beat, just about perfect. We were 5 minutes away from the Tiergarten museums and the Tiergarten itself, of course. The Brandenburg gate and Reichstag were 10 minutes away. And it was a nice 25-30 minute walk to Museum Island along Unter del Linden. We also walked along the embassies that line the Tiergarten. Weren’t we fortunate to have such nice weather the entire time?

The gym was small with one bike, two treadmills, two "wave" machines, and a small weight room. I only used it once and it was empty. Towels and Evian are available.

We would highly recommend this hotel to anyone. Total for 5 nights was about 840 Euro—not budget accommodations, but we thought it was worth it for the quality of the accomodations and the location.


RESTAURANTS:

I cannot believe the portion sizes of the restaurants we went to in Berlin. Enough for two in practically every case! Wine lists were on par with what we pay in New York. We were also fortunate that it was the beginning of “Spargel” season (white asparagus). I sought this out everywhere I could.

Breakfast:

Our first morning, we went to Café Josty. One standard breakfast was huge enough to share with a lot left over. We definitely overpaid for this meal (13E for the classic breakfast of egg, cheeses, bread), but we were still happy with the quality. The egg was so much fresher than anything we eat at home. We also enjoyed Salomon Bagels in the Arkaden.

Lunch:

Kafer (Reichstag): Thank you all for the advice to get a reservation here—the line was truly huge! The entrance was a little hard to find. It’s on the same side as the long line. Facing the Reichstag, it will be on the right hand side, down a little ramp that is hidden by a hedge. There you will be greeted by guards and a security checkpoint. The restaurant is across the terrace after you get off the elevator.

We were seated in the glass “outdoor garden” after being told that we only had an hour and a half for lunch. We gladly took the seats and enjoyed the view, knowing that we hadn’t planned on a 3 hour lunch.

I had warned everyone that the food wasn’t going to be great based on what I had read here, but everyone (except me) was very happy with their lunch selections. I have a knack for ordering the wrong dish and the weiner schnitzel tasted so strongly of margarine, I couldn’t eat it. However, my in-laws liked the pork tenderloin very much and my husband enjoyed his veal meatballs.

The other outstanding thing about this restaurant was the 15E bottle of water! I hate buying water for so many reasons…this was the highest price we paid in our entire trip.

Potsdam: Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of this restaurant. It is located 400m from Sans Souci and was once the working farm for the royal family. The Spargel menu here was terrific, but the best meal was the “soldier’s favorite” of pig’s knuckle that my father in law enjoyed. I will look for the name.

Currywurst: Again, need to find the location of this place. Seemed like a local’s hangout where our tourguide knew everyone. Not an imbiss but a sit down café.

Dinner:
Qiu: The more “casual” restaurant in the Mandala Hotel. The food was fine, though pricey. If you are tired on your first night, it’s a good option. It would be a great place for an evening drink.

Facil: The one-star Michelin restaurant in the Mandala Hotel. Highly recommended for top-notch service and absolutely wonderful food. We are lucky enough to eat out quite a bit in New York in fine restaurants and we were delighted with this meal. My husband has a nut allergy and they had to rethink 3 of the 4 courses in our tasting menu, which they did with aplomb.

Started with two amuse bouche courses, one sardine/eggplant on pumpernickel bread accompanied by a small crisp. The other a carrot soup accompanied by a barley salad. Next up was our first course of pigeon. Then I had the monkfish cheeks in a light curry sauce while my husband enjoyed the sweetbreads, which were the best course of the night. Following was seared bison. Then dessert was served, a strawberry crème cake accompanied by a pistachio ice cream (for me) and a slice of lemon cake (for my husband). They let me take home the petit fours and brought separate chocolates out for the nut-allergic man.

There was a slight problem with the wine service for our dessert course and our sommelier was perturbed but handled it all beautifully. For most of the meal, they were careful not to fire any of our dishes before we ordered and received our wine, but the dessert was brought out too early. We were halfway through the course before we learned that they could not locate the bottle of dessert wine we had ordered. They offered us two glasses of the house dessert wine with their compliments which we gladly accepted. (As an aside, we had a bottle of Reisling and a glass of a house-recommended Bordeaux, which was tremendous. The wines by the glass here were terrific). They also offered an additional dessert which we declined (too full!).

What we really enjoyed about this experience was the subtle difference it makes when there is only one seating in a restaurant. We knew we had that table for the night so the slow and easy pace of the meal made for a relaxing and not-overwhelming experience where you can really savor and enjoy the food. We have not found this to be the case at every fine dining restaurant in New York—in fact, I have had to ask for courses to be brought out more slowly in one of the best restaurants in the city simply because it was just so rushed.

If you have the means and the time and the desire for a fine dining experience in Berlin, we highly recommend Facil.

Luttner and Wegner: We ate in the branch in Haus Huth. There was no room inside, but our waiter helped us move to a seat closer to the heating lamps (thank goodness!). My husband had the spargel with small schnitzel and I had the sauerbraten. Again, my instincts for choosing the wrong meal came in handy as I ate half my husband’s asparagus and a quarter of the giant schnitzel, which was really fabulous. The asparagus soup appetizer was also terrific.

Asia Pavilion: Our last night, hungry and tired we went to this little restaurant across from Salomon Bagels in the Arkaden. I was pleasantly surprised—I had chicken with vegetables in a garlic sauce that was so incredibly spicy it almost took my mouth off. Recommended if you need a easy, quick meal (and for me, Chinese food is my comfort food, so it was a nice break).

Will finish up directly once I find the pieces of paper that I am missing!
coolbluewater is offline  
Apr 26th, 2008, 08:28 AM
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Hello coolbluewater - just in case you think nobody has read your report, I have, and thanks. (I always appreciate the effort people make to do reports but don't always remember to post and say so.)

What prompted your trip, anything special?

Sue_xx_yy is offline  
Apr 26th, 2008, 01:34 PM
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coolbluewater-- I'm so glad to see a report on Berlin-- it's one of my favorite cities.

You were very lucky with your weather! We were there in mid-March and it was so cold and rainy.

I look forward to hearing more-- Thanks!
Surie is offline  
Apr 26th, 2008, 02:27 PM
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bkmk
cherrybomb is offline  
Apr 26th, 2008, 02:34 PM
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I walked right into the Reichstag Building. I just had to wait to go through security. I think it took about 8 minutes.

I am so glad I did not have to eat in the restaurant to get in.

Thin
Proenza_Preschooler is offline  
Apr 27th, 2008, 07:14 PM
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yk
 
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Waiting to hear about the rest of your trip!
yk is offline  
Apr 27th, 2008, 07:39 PM
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Oh, coolbluewater, I am enjoying your report! We looked at staying at the Mandala near Gendarmenmarkt and may do that on our next trip, if I can tear my husband away from the Sofitel.

I will be interested to read the rest of your report. It's great that you had good weather - I did on my trip last March and again in September, but this March I had the weather that Surie did: freezing and wet. Still a fabulous city!

Was the transit strike over? It was scheduled to resume right after Easter, and I haven't been following the news over there.
noe847 is offline  
May 4th, 2008, 09:32 AM
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Thanks again for reading. Amazing how you can lose steam on these things. A couple of adds:

Forgot to mention the obligatory stop at the 12 Apostles for pizza. The business special was well worth it at 6.5E for a well-sized pizza. Would be ideal for sharing for two!

Sue: Thanks for reading! There was no special occasion. Our in-laws were planning a trip and invited us to join them.

Noe847: Yes, I think the transit strike was over. To be honest, on our short 5-night trip, we took cabs to/from the airport and our tour guides had cars so we never really had to take public transportation—especially as we just walked to most places.

Speaking of tour guides, we used the following.

City Guide: Jorg-Peter Scheller, [email protected]. He was booked by my in-laws through Louisa’s Place for a tour to Potsdam. Peter is very nice with perfect English and a terrific knowledge of the city, which comes from a deep love for the place. We enjoyed talking with him about his experiences in 1989. We went up the tower at the Olympic Stadium on our way.

In Potsdam, we visited Cecilienhof (where they signed the Potsdam accord) and walked around the Sans Souci palace without going inside. If you book with Peter, just make sure it is clear what places you want to see vs. your timeframe. We had him for 6 hours and I think that the expectations of what we could see in that timeframe vs. what was possible were not necessarily clear. Since I did not organize this section of the trip, I stayed out of it.

Berlin Insider Tour: I booked Nigel Dunkley ([email protected]) for a “Cold War” tour of Berlin. I would highly recommend Nigel—he has a lot to say, and has a fascinating perspective of the city stemming from the time he worked as a spy. You might also recognize him from his appearance on No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain.

For those of you who have been to Berlin, you will understand why the tour quickly became more of a highlights tour of Berlin rather than strictly focused on the Cold War. The layers of history go so deep, it is virtually impossible to single out one aspect of the city to explore and when he offered more information we eagerly listened. In addition to the tourist spots you might expect (Checkpoint Charlie, East Side Gallery, Karl Marx Allee, Hitler’s Bunker), we also went into Schinkel’s Church, a request of my mother-in-law’s.

Nigel also took us to a fascinating exhibit going on right now about Germania, Hitler’s end vision for Berlin. It is hosted by a group called Berliner Unterwelten (www.berliner-unterwelten.de). In this exhibit you can see a scale model of Hitler’s plans for Berlin, including the Hall that was meant to fit 180,000 people. Sheer madness. This exhibit is literally around the corner from the memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It is small, so you could easily pop in.

Pavillon Gertrud-Kolmar-Straße 14
(Corner Hannah-Arendt-Straße)
10117 Berlin-Mitte
Entrance: 6 E

If we had more time in Berlin, I would have wanted to do an underground tour of Berlin also organized by this group—where you can see bunkers, or anti-aircraft fortresses, or see how East Berlin attempted to keep its citizens from escaping via these underground tunnels. I mention this only because I really want to read about this tour and I hope someone will take it someday.

What else? Oh, yes, the museums. In addition to the Pergammon and Altes museums, we also went to the Kunstgewerbemuseum Museum in the Tiergarten museum. Our books translated this as “arts and crafts,” which I imagine is pretty literal and correct, but for me, it was decorative arts—furniture, porcelain, silver, etc.—which I happen to love. I highly recommend this beautiful collection well organized by timeframe with an easy flow. I also especially liked how there were a few pieces of period clothing in the rooms so you could get a more of a sense of the timeframe. My rubber-soled shoes squeaked like crazy on one of the floors, though, so I hope i wasn't too distracting to the other patrons!

We also visited the Bauhaus Archive. It is tiny, with a great bookshop. Recommended for those who love the Bauhaus style (as my husband and mother-in-law do) and maybe for those on a second trip to Berlin. About a 20 minute walk from the Tiergarten on Unter del Linden, passing all of the embassies, a nice walk!

All in all, I am glad that we visited Berlin. It has such a great spirit. Plus, I thought that it would be quite easy to visit economically, with a lot of budget choices for food and discount tickets for the museums.

Please let me know if you have any more specific questions. Thank you again for prodding me to finish!

coolbluewater is offline  
May 4th, 2008, 09:52 AM
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Thanks for your report! We are going to Berlin in June, so I'm especially appreciative of all your restaurant reccommentations... I'm sure we'll be trying a few of those you mentioned. Danke!
msteacher is offline  
May 4th, 2008, 10:51 AM
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hi, coolblue'

i just came across your report, which I enjoyed very much. unlike one of the other posters, we never got into the Reichstag when we went in July '06 because the queues were so long!

I wished we'd had lunch reservations then - now I'm not too sure.

we were there for the pilzen season -absolutely every restaurant featured sepcialities with these tiny fungi - fortunately we like mushrooms.


<<The cultural opportunities are also vast and I know we barely scratched the surface of what is available in this city.>>

your report brought this home to me - we had 3 action packed days and visited none of the things you saw, apart from check-point charlie.

regards, ann
annhig is offline  
May 4th, 2008, 11:07 AM
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coolbluewater-- thanks so much for finishing! I am very interested in the Cold War tour you took. How did you find Nigel Dunkley? I wish I had thought of that when we were there with our 22 year old son-- he is fascinated by that part of history and it would have been an organized and more interesting way to learn more about it. (as opposed to trudging around on our own in the rain!)

Thanks also for the tips on the decorative arts museum and the Bauhaus Archive. Great report!!
Surie is offline  
May 4th, 2008, 12:40 PM
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Thanks for finishing the report, coolbluewater! It sounds like you had good experiences with the guides, and I'm keeping the names for future reference.

I've eaten at Kafer three times and had a lovely meal each time. Our food has been delicious. It really has been a relaxing experience - great views from the glass windows and immediate access to the dome.

I visited the Kunstgewerbemuseum on my September trip to Berlin, especially the medieval, renaissance and art nouveau galleries. It is an excellent collection, and a great example of the many amazing museums in the city.

The Bauhaus collection looks like a great find! I'll check that out next time.
noe847 is offline  
May 20th, 2008, 10:04 AM
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I apologize for posting this reply weeks after your trip report but I just saw it. My husband and I are going to Berlin next year. I have been reading(from various sources) that the graffiti is really bad in Berlin. Since you have just been there, I would like to get your observations on this.
elizacat is offline  
May 20th, 2008, 08:06 PM
  #14  
DAX
 
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Coolblue: I also like the wonderful suites at the Mandala in Potsdammerplatz and of course Facil. Did you miss the incredible gelateria inside the Arkaden toward the Huth?

Noe: The Mandala in Gendarmenmarkt is not that nice, you'd be better off staying at the Sofitel. I absolutely wouldn't recommend it as I would recommend the Mandala in Potsdammerplatz.
DAX is offline  
May 21st, 2008, 06:16 AM
  #15  
hsv
 
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I can probably help with the Potsdam restaurant:
Sounds to me like you went to Krongut Bornstedt, backside of Sanssouci.

I never had lunch or dinner there, but can recommend the cake at their cafe Victoria.

http://www.krongutbornstedt.com/00_fset_03.html
hsv is offline  

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