Where to start… hmmm?
I'll just get this out of the way. It was very cold in Berlin, about 5 degrees celsius during the day. Also there are some things that can make you almost wish you didn't go at all, things like getting back at 23:15 and having to wait till 00:07 for a train in the cold on the platform.
Okay, now that that's out of the way, I had a great time. It was very short and one definitely needs more time in that city. There is sooo much to do and see. I barely even scratched the surface. I mean really, one needs a whole lot more time than 48 to take in a city. There is so much history to take in.
I arrived at Berlin Schoenefeld 21:35 Berlin time, walked out of the plane and was temporarily in shock because of the cold. Had to show passport control my credit card and proof of my outward flight (as my Schengen visa expired today). Collected my luggage and made the fairly long walk to the S-bahn. Figured out how to buy a train ticket, got on the train for the S9 line and thought, wow, I'm in Berlin.Who would have thought? It was never a city I planned to visit.
At first there were not many people on board, but as we went in more central, it got much busier on the train. The impression I have of the younger people who boarded (who I assume were teenagers) are quite hard-core, aggressive (in their groups) carrying their beers and large coca-cola bottles (with alcohol for sure). Not much different to the hoodies/chavs/yobs in England.
Got off the train at Hackesche Markt, found the hostel easily which was City Stay Mitte. Quite a decent hostel compared to many other's I'm sure. Great location, very central, 5 min walk from the S-bahn and tram station and all the shops/restaurants/cafes. Staying there though made me realise that I am over my hostel days and should stay in a hotel in future if I can afford to. The ear plugs I bought at Luton airport came in very useful especially when sharing a room with 3 others who are in and out of the room at all times of the night.
On Saturday morning I bought a day travel pass and made my way to the Starbucks on Unter den Linden across from the famous Adlon Hotel which has been host to many famous people such as Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Einstein, Nelson Mandela and recently Michael Jackson who dangled his baby from the balcony of his room in 2002. Only £8000 per night.
Joined the mass of people gathering waiting for the New Berlin free Walking Tour (which has guides doing the tour in English, Spanish, Deutsch and French).
Our guide Jared was very informative and entertaining with his very unique style of telling a story (quite an orator), an American with a lot of Americanisms which the Europeans/Asians/Australians found amusing. Some of the places that stood out for me during the tour was the The Brandenburg Gate,
the new Holocaust Memorial (which consists of a 19,000 square meter site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field), the Berlin Wall, the Former SS Headquarters, Checkpoint Charlie, Gendarmenmarkt (a square surrounded by the Konzerthaus with a French and German cathedral on each side), Neue Wache (which now houses the sculpture of Mother with her Dead Son). The statues in the Lustgarten are strange.
A girl (Cynthia) joined the tour soon after it started. She was on an old bicycle. Figured she was a local so I asked her why she's on the tour. She said she was passing by and heard the American guide's voice and it sounded interesting so she tagged along. I ended up wandering around with her for the rest of the afternoon after the tour. Turns out that Saturday was her last day in Berlin as she was moving to another city. She's really cool and I was lucky that I chatted to her. We briefly checked out the Sony Centre at Potsdamer Platz, "Seven steel and glass structures and a light-flooded plaza spanned by a spectacular roof". It is amazing and an extreme contrast to the buildings and architecture seen earlier in the day.
Later that night I went back to the hostel to ask the staff if they knew a place that I could watch the rugby final. Luckily a newcomer to the 4-sleeper room, Amy (an Australian living in Dublin) was also intending on watching the game somewhere. We invited David to come with us (an Australian living in Australia travelling through Europe for 3 weeks) who was asleep but we hadn't noticed till he poked his head out from underneath his duvet. We checked out several places around Hackesche Markt before we found a German restaurant with a big screen willing to change the channel from poker to the rugby world cup final. The service & food wasn't great but we were glad that we had comfortable seats and a good view of the game, compared to if we squashed in to the Irish pub around the corner from there. Amy and I were the only people cheering when the South African team scored and then finally won the game! I missed home a lot at that moment but was glad for the good company. I didn't find the game all that exciting compared to a few others that I've watched before. Both teams seemed really nervous and were making mistakes. We won and that is what matters. Woohoo!!!
Sunday I woke up a half hour before check out time. I wanted to do the Concentration camp tour but was late for it. Instead I decided to wander around Alexanderplatz, Oranienburgerstraße and Rosenthaler Platz. I took random buses, trains, trams. Went on a mission to find the "world's best waffle" at the 'Kauf dich glücklich' (on recommendation from Cynthia) in Oderberger Strasse which I found to be a very cosy coffee shop/ice cream parlour, the furniture is all mismatched, every chair/seat/couch was unique. I'm glad I went there because that waffle (with chocolate ice-cream) was the best food I ate in Berlin.
At some point I was on bus 100 which takes you through the Tiergarten, past the Haus der Kulturen (House of Cultures) a popular venue for exhibitions and festivals of world culture, Schloss Bellevue (Bellevue Palace), the official residence of the German Federal President and the Siegessäule (Victory Column) with the golden angel. Bus 100 stops at the Zoologischer Garten in the centre of West Berlin. I didn't really like the western side. By the afternoon I was exhausted and cold from being outdoors and just needed to sit somewhere warm. Found a coffee shop and sat there for 2 hours or so, just watching people and journalling a bit.
I got on the S9 train back to Schoenefeld airport at about 19:15. Arrived there before 20:00. Checked in, went through security, sat in the busy departures lounge till about 21:00, then for another hour at the boarding gate. The feeling at the airport was very former GDR in terms of the buildings/ deco/ airport staff. At one point when I went through the security check I felt like I was in an old film. Plane left Berlin at about 22:15. Touched down at Luton airport at 23:05 London time. Got home at about 01:15. It was cold in London last night waiting on that station platform. Geez!!!
Travelling alone is very liberating. It's great being away from everyone you know, being in a foreign city, being anonymous but it does get lonely 'on the road' and its nice to share a meal now and then and have a laugh and chat with someone familiar. I hope to be travelling with someone when I do a longer trip.
Photos will be posted later this week on flickr.