We picked kind of a crappy weekend to visit Berlin, as it seems everything is being renovated. Everywhere we turned was scaffolding and/or cranes, but we still managed to see pretty much everything we were hoping to. We left early Friday morning and arrived in the city around 2:00. We checked into the Novotel at Potsdamer Platz and then headed out on foot to see some sights.
The Berlin bear is a symbol of Berlin because it is on the city’s coat of arms (although no one is really sure why). As you enter the city a bear sculpture sits on the median between coming and going traffic, and you can find tons of Buddy Bears, life-size, hand-painted plastic bears, hidden throughout the city.
We decided to grab some food before heading out to see stuff and found a wonderful Indian restaurant called Amrit close by. We actually ate there both nights because it was so good.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
We walked toward the Brandenburg Gate and passed by the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It does not cost anything to walk through the memorial, which is 19,000 square meters (4.7 acres) of 2,711 rectangular concrete slabs in a grid-type pattern. From the surface the blocks look uneven but not too varied in height; however, the ground sinks and rises unevenly, so in some places you feel like the concrete is caving in on you. It can get quite claustrophobic, which I’m sure was the intent. Underground below the memorial is an area that holds the names of 3 million Jewish Holocaust victims.
U.S. Embassy and Orlando Memorial
We passed by the U.S. Embassy, which displayed support for the recent massacre in Orlando by wrapping its Statue of Liberty bear in a rainbow flag. A memorial for the victims has also been set up along the street in front of the Embassy.
The Brandenburg Gate
Unfortunately, the Brandenburg Gate was obstructed a little by dividers put up to block off a space for watching the soccer games (I think). But, we still got to see it so not complaining!
The Ampel Men, the pedestrian crossing symbols of East Berlin, were created by Karl Peglau in 1961. They became very popular because of their cartoonish look, but during the reunification period were replaced with the more standard versions found in the West. In 1996 the Ample Men were reintroduced, and the response from Berliners was huge. In the coming years merchandise was designed around the Ampel Men, and they soon had a large cult following. Now you can find them more in the eastern areas of Berlin, although a few can be found in the west. We passed by the Ampel Man store, which was full of t-shirts, magnets and all kinds of souvenirs featuring the beloved traffic symbol.
We finally made it over to Checkpoint Charlie, and my oldest son got his passport stamped. It’s 5 Euros to get one passport stamped, but you get six stamps, which is pretty cool! Before leaving I tried to explain to him the significance of the places we would be visiting. Thankfully, there were many areas close by that showed photographs and explanations in both English and German so he could see exactly what had happened there.
We saw many Trabants around and even passed by a little museum devoted to them. The iconic Trabant was manufactured in Communist East Germany from 1957-1990 and was extremely popular during that time. But because of its poor design and inefficient engine, manufacturing stopped. But they sure are cute, aren’t they?
The Berlin Wall Monument
The Berlin Wall Monument is 200 meters of the western Berlin Wall that has been preserved. This particular part sits just above the Topography of Terror, a museum of the Secret State Police, the SS and the Reich Security Main Office that was located here during the Third Reich. Part of the museum sits outside below the wall, which people are free to explore.
Things got a little weird as we walked into downtown. We noticed there were TONS of police starting to congregate. Police with helmets and armored vehicles. We were crossing a street when a police car sped down the street with its siren on and then swerved to block off the road real quick. We started hearing some shouting and some of the police began moving. This is where I started to slightly freak-out, as it brought back some disturbing memories for me. I heard a pop and then a group of police started running in the direction that it came from.
Thankfully, there was a Haagen Dazs right there, so we went inside and my husband began looking up what was going on. After doing some searching we believe it was all due to a large Nazi protest that was taking place, as we saw a group of people marching along the main road before that, but we are not 100% sure. But it was all over by the time we finished our ice cream, thankfully.
I don’t know if its like this everywhere, but this Haagen Dazs was like a restaurant. They asked us to have a seat and they gave us menus that contained all kinds of fancy ice cream treats. There was even chocolate fondue that included ice cream balls that you dip inside!
We headed back to the hotel and called it a night. The next morning we got up and ate breakfast at the hotel and headed out again. Our first stop was the Pergamon Museum.
The Pergamon Museum
Let it be known that this is not the best time to go visit this museum! They are in the process of doing serious renovations on both the outside and inside of pretty much all of the museums on Museum Island, but mainly the Pergamon (they will not be completely finished until 2025/26! You can read more specifics on the renovations HERE. ). They have an alternate entrance at the moment and the Pergamon Altar is completely closed. But we went anyway for a little bit to see the Ishtar Gate and the Market Gate of Miletus, both very impressive and worth the trip. My oldest son loved the museum and wanted to listen to every entry on the headset. But with the toddler in tow, that just wasn’t a possibility. He did like the headset, though. He pretended it was a camera and “took pictures” of various things and tourists the entire time.
The Ishtar Gate is a fully reconstructed gate from Babylon. It was originally constructed by order of King Nebuchadnezzar II in 575 BC and served as one of the eight inner city gates to the city of Babylon. It was dedicated to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar and covered in lapis lazuli. Leading up to the gate ran the Processional Way, which was lined with walls depicting over 100 lions, bulls, dragons and flowers. The gate itself depicted the gods and goddesses Ishtar, Adad and Marduk. Archaelogists excavated all of the pieces and then they were reassembled meticulously to recreate how it would’ve looked in its prime. It stands 46 feet tall. Other pieces of the Processional Way are found in museums all over the world such as the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Model showing how the gate once looked:
The Market Gate of Miletus was also beautiful to see. Miletus was an ancient Greek city in what is now the west coast of Turkey. St. Paul actually stopped there on his third missionary journey, and it was even mentioned in Homer’s The Iliad. However, the Market Gate was not built until the 2nd century A.D., and it was destroyed in an earthquake in the 10th or 11th century. In the early 1900s it was rebuilt and put on display at the museum. It was damaged during WWII and underwent restoration in the 1950s. Not all of it is original, as little of the floor and base survived.
From the Pergamon we walked over to an art market that was happening and bought a few souvenirs. We always try to find art wherever we go, and these photo collages by Tim Roeloffs are rad. He’s actually from Ohio but has lived in Berlin for eleven years. Super nice and talented guy. You can find more of his work HERE.
We crossed the beautiful (yet heavily constructed at the moment) Palace Bridge to the other end of Museum Island (yes, Berlin has a little island with five museums on it!).
Berlin Cathedral and Lustgarten
At the end of the bridge is the Lustgarten (Pleasure Garden), which sits in front of the Altes Museum and the Berlin Cathedral, the most beautiful building in Berlin, in my opinion. Lustgarten is made up of large grassy areas where both visitors and locals sat to relax and enjoy the sun. The Berlin Cathedral is something to behold. It is massive and absolutely stunning.
This area also provided great views of the Berlin TV Tower (Fernsehturm Berlin). This tower was built in the 1960s and is the tallest in Germany and 2nd tallest in the EU. If we had had more time I would’ve definitely tried to go up to get some great views of the city.
We decided to take the train over to a food market to eat lunch. If there is a food market, our family will find it, and this one was awesome. Markethalle Neun is quite the popular place, and just walking in it was evident why. The market is all inside, which was a must since it was somewhat rainy the days we were visiting. They have every kind of food and drink you can think of plus a Kik AND a Lidl inside. They even have a small play area for kids! I would eat here every day if I could. We ordered some ribs and pulled pork, which was superb. Little man fell off the bench we were sitting on and split his lip, but he was okay. I swear this kid can’t go anywhere without getting hurt.
Of course, Berlin is known for its graffiti. It’s everywhere, from the spires of cathedrals to the sides of monuments. Some of it’s ugly, some pretty cool. It’s just one of those things that makes Berlin Berlin.
The East Side Gallery
We walked over the River Spree along the impressive double-decker Oberbaum Bridge, which links two areas that were once divided by the Berlin Wall.
You can see the East Gallery wall in the background:
Across the bridge is the longest piece of the Berlin Wall that is still standing (1.3 kilometers long). The murals painted on this side were all done in 1990 by artists from all over the world. However, most of them suffered from erosion, vandalism and graffiti, so a restoration project began in 2009 to repaint the commissioned pieces. Today most of the wall is surrounded by a fence and is to be until sometime this summer until other murals are restored again.
“Vaterland” mural by German artist Günther Schäfer
And these words were spraypainted on steps leading down to the water from the wall. Apparently the Oracula Project is found all over the world. I thought that was pretty cool.
After seeing the wall we were completely exhausted, so we headed back to the hotel for the night. I would’ve loved to have done a river cruise or taken the boys to the DDR Museum, but my toddler was D-O-N-E and everyone was just ready to rest. I am happy with what we saw, but I would love to go back someday to see more. I am so glad we finally got to see this incredible city!