A city so different from Rome, Paris, Barcelona or Prague. A city with a strong message from history: how division can destroy and unification can bring peace.
We have been to Berlin a couple of times now, first time was in the early 90s. This post shows you a couple of highlights of Berlin. Things to do when you are in town for just a couple of days. I do focus on traveling with children, but hey, when we travel we all are eager to discover and become kids again, don’t we?
1. Meet the Ampelmann!
Have you ever paid attention to pedestrian traffic lights? You should! That little man turning green and red differs in each country all over the world. In Berlin the guy has become extremely famous! Meet Ampelmann (which is German for traffic light man). He originates from East Berlin and is a real hero in town!
There are dedicated gift shops with Ampelmann goodies and there is even an Ampelmann restaurant. I have to admit, it’s awesome marketing. The goodies are great and we couldn’t leave Berlin without one as our children adored the Ampelmann. No traffic light will be the same ever again… ”Ampelmann!!”
The main Ampelmann shop is situated in the lovely Hackescher Höf (take S or U train to Hackescher Markt station)
2. Rent bikes!
You can rent bikes throughout the city, we used Fat Tire Bike Tours. The main part of Berlin is not that big and can easily be managed by bike. You can cross Berlin from East to West in 20-30 minutes.
Cycling the Nikolai Quarter (Nikolaiviertel)
As in many places, cycling is the best way to experience a city. You can easily hop on and off when you see yet another interesting shop or building. There are enough places to leave your bike to go for a short walk. Just make sure to lock them…
As we did in Bangkok and New York, we rented bikes for one day. We discovered Prenzlauer Berg (see below) and the Nikolaiviertel (the historical quarter, part of the historical heart of Berlin). With our bikes we circled the German Reichstag (parliament) and even passed straight through the famous Brandenburger Gate! Bikes can go anywhere you want in Berlin, really!
Right through the Brandenburger Gate
You can find Fat Tire Bike Tours at the Alexanderplatz (right under the TV Tower) or at the Zoo Station (Zoologischer Garten). Prices are € 12 per bike for 24 hours. Guided tours are also available. Want to try something different? Try their Segway tours!
3. Up the Reichstag!
The parliament building called the Reichstag is impressive. It was heavily damaged during World War II but fully renovated. The main dome has been replaced by a futuristic piece of architecture. You really have to get inside the Dome where you can walk in circles to reach its top. There is a small opening where you watch the clouds pass by and the views on the city are an extra benefit.
There is one thing to take into account though: you have to ask approval prior to your visit to the Reichstag! Due to security reasons, nobody is allowed inside without confirmed approval. Go the Reichstag website and ask for approval at least 3 days in advance. Don’t forget to bring passports because you still have to identify yourself before entering the building. It’s worth the effort though!
The closest subway station is Bundestag (only one stop from Berlin Central station – which is by the way an interesting sight-seeing spot on its own).
4. Write on the Wall and relax on the beach!
I think I don’t have to explain you about the Berlin Wall. It came down in 1989 and scattered through the city you will find pieces that were left to remind us all. There is one longer piece of the Berlin Wall however that is left as it was in the past. This place is called East Side Gallery.
East Side Gallery is a great way to show your kids (and to see for yourself) how big and massive the Wall was. On this part artists have left their messages on the Wall in text, drawings and even sculptures. The other side of the Wall is covered with graffiti and you can write your own name if you want. Although now just a piece of concrete, it used to divide people physically and mentally. And yes, there is something special about writing your name on the most famous piece of massive concrete in the world.
A great place to take a rest around this area is the so-called Ost Strand (East Beach). They have created a beach-like area in the middle of the city, close to the river Spree. On the river they have boats with relaxing chairs…
Another great detail is to be found on the famous Oberbaum Bridge, close to East Side Gallery. The bridge used to be on the border of East and West Berlin. When you cross the bridge you will find numerous locks fixed to the bridge. Evidence of couples that were about to get married and wanting to show the world their eternal love.
The East Side Gallery is situated close to the train station Ostbahnhof. Look out for great ice cream shops and bakeries here!
Wow, that’s a lot of pictures! And there is so much more, but let’s save that for part 2 of this post. Part 2 will describe Prenzlauer Berg, the Holocaust Memorial, German Food, street art, statues, Potsdam and more! Want to read more about Berlin already, please go to Berlin – Poor and Sexy or Remembering Berlin.