I visited Berlin for the first time in 2007. It was a different world back then.
I remember experiencing the Berlin Wall Memorial with solemnity because of its historical significance but also optimism for the tremendous change we’ve all witnessed in our lifetimes.
Scorpions’ song “Wind of Change,” from my MTV days, remained stuck in my head for the whole trip.
Fast-forward 15 years, the advent of social media, a global pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and my second trip to the German capital had a decidedly different mood.
Of course, I was looking forward to seeing the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag Building, Alexanderplatz, Berlin Cathedral, Holocaust and Berlin Wall Memorials.
And on the cultural side, checking out Berghain / Panorama Bar (“The World Capital of Techno”), Museum Island and experiencing a couple of restaurants with impressive wine lists that my partner had researched (more on that later).
We stayed at the Linder Am Ku’damm, a convenient and comfortable hotel located a couple of blocks from the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (“The Hollow Tooth”), one of the most important sights of the city.
The hotel lobby’s “care corner” with complimentary water, juice and snack food for Ukrainian refugees was the first reminder of our geographical and symbolic proximity to the conflict.
That feeling made the Berlin Wall Memorial and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe more relevant than ever.
“This town knows,” I thought.
Berlin has an outstanding infrastructure, public transportation and one of the fastest Uber services, which made traveling from sight to sight a “brise.”
First, we took the S-Bahn from Zoologischer Garten to Hackerscher Markt to check out Museum Island where the main museums, Altes, Neues, Nationalgalerie, Bode and Pergamonmuseum are located.
Do yourself a favor and book these tickets in advance.
We didn’t. As a result, we scrambled to see what we could instead of what we would.
Nonetheless, Nefertiti at the Neues, the Greek and Roman collections at the Altes, Marx and Wagner at Deutsches Historisches Museum and “Berlin Global” at the Humboldt Forum were lovely.
I guess the Altes Nationalgalerie will be for the next time.
From Museum Island to the Reichstag is either a 7-minute ride or a 30-minute walk, which could be delightful on a beautiful spring day like the ones we were lucky to enjoy.
Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, and Alexanderplatz—which we reached after passing the Russian embassy—were another nice walk away.
It’s good that all that walking made us work up an appetite for the whole weekend.
There are no words to describe the wine and the food.
So, I will show you the literal cherry on top that were Claudia Schoemig’s porcelain dessert trays at einsunternull resembling tiles of the Berlin Wall.
And on that other Wall, If during my first trip I couldn’t get out of my head Scorpions song, on this one, I couldn’t stop thinking about one of my favorite quotes.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetimeMark Twain
It’s one thing to read history books and another different one being “in the room where it happened.”
Past tragedies have a way of coming alive when one steps on the same soil where they occurred. It’s the closest thing we have to a time machine.
And The Berlin Wall Memorial encapsulates time through an open-air exhibition: a 70-meter stretch of the checkpoint strip directly on Bernauer Straße, showing how the border was in the late 1980s.
From there, one can peak through narrow sections of the wall and get the oppressive feeling of what it was like for East Germans trapped on the wrong side of the city, dreaming about escaping one day.
Or, as some Slovenian college kids did when visiting the memorial, carrying on each other shoulders and trying to look over, horsing around and laughing about their peers’ half-joking warnings: “be careful. They’ll shoot you.”