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Brandenburg Gate (July 2012).

During my family’s trip around Scandinavia, our trip to Berlin was somewhat of an anomaly: considering the fact that it was neither a part of the Nordic countries nor even a port city, it made for an interesting break during our week-long cruise along the Baltic Sea. All the same, it is a popular tourist destination, and we were keen on seeing what the massive German capital had in store for us.

Home to nearly four million people, Berlin is the largest city in Germany. It has made a huge name for itself throughout history, especially during the Cold War and the infamous Berlin Wall. Although the country has been reunified for nearly 30 years, one can still see traces of its socialist past: aside from parts of the Berlin Wall still intact, there’s also Checkpoint Charlie and plenty of abandoned buildings of the Eastern Bloc scattered throughout the city today.

It’s also said that one can see the difference between East and West Berlin through their electric systems, with the former still using nuclear-powered from its Soviet days. At night, the eastern side of Berlin lights up an amber color while the west is a light-blue due to renewable energy. The city has taken notable steps over the years to replace the nuclear-generated electricity with renewable, and soon enough, it can be said that the city is “completely reunified.”

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Source: The Telegraph.

Despite its tumultuous past, Berlin today has rapidly grown in its politics, economy, and culture. It is home to plenty of high-tech industries, air and railway traffic, and tourism. The capital is also a notable university city, with highly-ranked institutions in the country and a thriving, young scene, e.g. bars, shopping, nightlife, for students and visitors to revel in. Berlin has just about everything in its city center, and one could spend easily a week taking it all in.

That said, my family and I only had one day to visit, since we were on a cruise with other destinations to go to. It was a full day in the city center, as we merely saw the highlights of its sprawling metropolitan area. Even though we were on limited time, we at least saw a bit of Berlin, which was enough to pique our interest to return some day in the future.

As I mentioned, Berlin is not a port city, as it’s located about 240 kilometers (150 miles) inland. That required us taking a three-hour train from the port city of Warnemünde, which we did early in the morning upon docking. Our “guide” was a young, college student who didn’t necessarily take us around in Berlin, but rather gave us city maps and general information about what to see and do on our own time.

Upon arriving at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, we were given a time to return for the day and then we were given the rest of our day to explore the capital. Even if we were armed with a city map, my family and I got a little lost trying to navigate the numerous streets, many of them chaotic with locals and tourists.

We ended up first stumbling upon the Humboldt University of Berlin, one of the largest and prestigious in the country. It has seen both triumphant and notorious times, from its scientific breakthroughs by Albert Einstein to book-burning during the Third Reich. Today, it’s a leading institution for knowledge and research, and our visit to a part of its campus was a treat in seeing its long and notable history.

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Humboldt University of Berlin.

After reorienting ourselves, we reached the iconic Brandenburg Gate, constructed in the neoclassical form (inspired by Greek architecture) in the late 18th century. It was originally-built to commemorate an old city gate that’d connected the capital to Brandenburg an der Havel, a town about 85 kilometers (53 miles) away. The gate was extensively featured during the tearing of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and it has since become a huge tourist attraction. Considering we were visiting in the summer, it was almost-impossible to get a solid photo of the Brandenburg Gate among the flocks of people– somehow, we succeeded!

My family and I decided to head to the Berlin Wall. It was about a two-kilometer walk over in the sweltering, midday sun, but we soon made it. To be honest, we were underwhelmed, as the wall was short in stature and, aside from some graffiti on it, we found our time at the Berlin Wall to be a disappointment.

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Berlin Wall.

We returned to the city center and spent some time at the Berliner Dom, the city’s cathedral. We didn’t go inside, but rather we took a few photos and wandered around the area surrounding it– as it’s located on Museum Island, there were clusters of museums nearby, including the Altes Museum (“Old Museum”) and Neues Museum (“New Museum”), both of which house antiquities and archaeological artifacts. As we aren’t fervent museum-goers, my family and I forgone those places and merely enjoyed being outside the Lustgarden, a charming garden-park which once housed an outdoor kitchen for the city palace– today, it’s a spot for people to lounge around and enjoy the good weather under the sun.

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Berliner Dom.
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Altes Museum.

By afternoon, we were starting to feel an energy slump, as we had been busy running around Berlin and didn’t take the time to eat. We’d been recommended to try currywurst, so we came across a small stand which sold it and bought some to share. As its name implies, it’s essentially a sausage drenched in curry-ketchup sauce and a popular take-out dish in the city. The meat was tender, but I didn’t find the sauce to bring out much in flavor: it was okay, but then again, maybe I’m not a huge fan of wurst.

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Currywurst.

Our time in Berlin was coming to an end: just before we had to reconvene with our group, we stopped by a chocolate shop that’d piqued our interest with its mouth-watering display of artisan chocolates while walking by. I tried a chili-pineapple and a white chocolate truffle, both which were tasty and a sweet end to our visit of the German capital.

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Chocolates.

We met up with our guide and passengers in the late afternoon, ready to take the three-hour train back to the port. However, we were delayed by 30 minutes, as there were a few passengers who returned late, much to our annoyance. In any case, we took the train back and returned around 21:00 to our cruise. Overall, it was an exhausting, 13-hour visit of Berlin. Quite the whirlwind, and although we barely scratched the surface, it was a good introduction to the city. I’d hoped to return while in Europe for work, but it never came around: perhaps one day it’ll happen again!

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Berliner Fernsehturm (TV tower).

Thanks for reading– more adventures coming up!

 

— Rebecca

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