Wow, just where to begin? Berlin still has to be one of my favourite places we have visited (which I know I say often but its true). Just the sheer scale means that you could never do or see everything in one go.
We were there last October for our standard four day holiday and I feel there was still so much we didn’t see, although we made a good go of it. While we just missed Oktoberfest we did manage to time it very well for the light festival. When I started writing this blog I knew it would be a long one, so much so it now has two parts and one all about the festival of lights as it deserves its own special mention.
Walking was our vice this holiday with countless steps each day, as most nights we would end up walking all around the city to follow the light festival trail. Not to mention the Brandenburg gate was at one end and Alexanderplatz was at the other.
The journey into Berlin from the airport couldn’t have been easier as well with train to and from the airport only 3.30 euros each way. A day travel card was 7 euros, which is what we chose for our second day when we decided to go to Tier park.
Which brings me nicely to our hotel, which I’m slightly ashamed to say was the reason we came across the idea to visit Berlin. Despite being high on my list, it had just not happened and had not occurred to suggest it before. Nick, while in Tescos talking about wanting a holiday (as per), found a picture for the Berlin Aquadom inside the Radisson Blu Hotel and we were sold. What better way we thought to wake up and see all the fishes swimming about in the aquarium plus if we were going to do Berlin, we may as well go all out and stay in the hotel we want.
It was amazing, just waking up each day and opening the curtains to see the giant aquarium was so unique, if not a little odd. It was on the second day when we realised that we didn’t have a window, which also meant no way to tell what the weather was doing, so a little bit of a guessing game. Especially so, given that the weather while we were in Berlin was rather wet and rainy while also being cold. To be fair though it didn’t stop us doing anything we wanted, it just meant a coat was essential!
Each night after walking around we would come back to the room and just turn the chairs around and face the Aquadom. The lights were on all day but it was only at night that they really made the difference. It was also the only part of the day where people weren’t going up and down the lifts from the Sealife Centre. We became very good at ignoring them or waving while they try to look in rooms secretly while pretending they’re not.
Day 1 – Walk walk walk
Berlin has an astounding amount of history and a trip here would not be complete without truly experiencing the various museums, statues and of course the Berlin wall. With this in mind we wanted to make the most of our time so after dropping out bags in the room, we headed straight out. Our first stop was the Brandenburg gate and the Reichstag building, both of which we took the obligatory photos. We then wanted to go up the glass dome on the top of the Reichstag building however this requires your passport to get through the security measures. After a quick search we found that you can book online which then secures your slot later on.
From here we walked round to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This was one site we knew we would want to visit.
Both Nick and myself, since school, have always been interested in and wanting to learn more about the war. This said we almost missed the information centre underneath the memorial as it was at the other end to the road and the one entrance. I am glad however that we did spot the entrance as it was a very moving experience, I don’t think you could ever know just how moving it would be until you walk around and read just a few of their stories and see the faces of the people.
While walking around we headed towards Checkpoint Charlie, which was a guard house with many tourists taking photos with the ‘guards’ outside. We didn’t spend too much time here although we did cross the road to a small exhibit opposite the Checkpoint Charlie museum with a piece of the Berlin Wall and then headed back to the hotel.
Walking back and throughout our stay we spotted a few of the Buddy Bears, although we didn’t make a point to seek them out, the ones we did see made our short journeys better.
Tip: There was a map online to show you where to find them all.
After booking most of our information online, we then ventured out that evening for our time slot at the Reichstag building. Earlier that day we had seen the two buildings, the first on the other side of the road, for which you registered and second step, the building next to the Reichstag was how you entered through security. Once we entered the large door we were guided towards the lift, on the top floor you could purchase an audio tour and more. From the warmth of this room you walked across the forecourt to the dome. In the rain and cold this was a short walk/run!
Walking up the sloped sides you could see straight down into the plenary chamber, which for me was the worst part! I struggled nearer the top due to the drop on each side, my fear of heights was in full swing, even children were walking faster than me. A quick grab of Nick’s hand and we eventually made it to the top, from here you could see across Berlin. I would probably recommend either visiting in the day or on a clearer day as the rain did limit what we could see.
Day 2 – Animals, heights and cocktails
After reading some reviews online and walking past the day before to scope out the queues, we thought it safe to assume we would have a wait to visit the Berliner Fernsehturm. We therefore chose to wait until the second day and get up earlier to hopefully miss the worst of the queue. To be fair the wait wasn’t as long as we thought to get to the desks to purchase tickets, as later on the queue was out of the door. Tickets are available to book online or the ticket machines inside but these do require a credit card.
Once you have your tickets you are instructed to wait for your time slot – if it is soon or you can choose a later slot and go back later on knowing you have secured your place. There were a few chairs and tables and a small gift shop which meant the wait didn’t feel too long.
Through security and X-ray scanners you are taken to the lift to head up. The lift was an interesting part as on the screens it shows you just how high you are each step of the way. At the top you are greeted with people and lots of them! The 360 degree views were amazing once you got to the front and the handy diagrams below each window meant you could see and read about everything in your sight.
While we were up there we thought what better time to have cocktail hour, our standard White Russian and Sex on the Beach and a view over Berlin – what more could you ask for?
From here we headed on the train to Tier Park, as we only had time to visit one we chose this over Berlin Zoo as overall it had more animals we wanted to see, mainly the Polar bears! At only €10.40 (Now €13) each it was slightly cheaper, checking now the Berlin Zoo is currently priced at €14.50 without the aquarium.
We even made friends with one of the snakes as it was following us as we moved our heads and watching. The majority of animals were in good exhibits but it was the Sun bears which bothered us. They were tucked out of the way and only in a concrete floored cage, we can only hope there were plans to move them in the near future and this was a temporary place.
Other than this all the other animals had quite large enclosures and seemed happy, we even caught a glimpse of the Polar bear before it headed in for food. The manatees were especially active as they had just been fed their lettuce which meant they got extremely close to the glass. One part I was super excited with was that on the map I saw … moose! I was disappointed however that they were so far away and I couldn’t get close enough.
READ PART TWO HERE.