Beautiful and Brilliant Berlin
The Germans are celebrated for their punctuality, attention to detail and engineering marvels alongside harnessing a rich historical tradition – a trip to Berlin was another moment to participate in this grand Deutsche discourse.
During my flight to Frankfurt from New Delhi, as I sat and decided my four-day itinerary for Berlin, I decided to go beyond the obvious choices of museums, gardens, palaces and castles. Alongside, I picked up some German, knowing the restricted use of English – Danke (Thank You!) turned out to be a rather helpful word.
Stepping out of the Tegal Airport in Berlin, the first impression is of a clean city. Well-laid expressways with clear road signs and numbered cars are a relief from the crowds back home. The robust public transport system, which I used in the next four days, encourages people to opt for it reducing the congestion on roads. The Berlin transport system consists of four forms of transport – bus, tram, U-Bahn (underground train) and S-Bahn (above-ground train). What makes public transport a preferred mode in Berlin is its affordability, punctuality and being friendly to specially-abled persons. It is fairly cheap to ride the train, for a little more than 7 euro a day, a person can ride unlimited across all types of transport. There are also tickets for groups of up to five people for only 17 euro a day! Berlin is also known for its transport running through the late hours of the night. On the weekends, the trains run 24/7 and during the week they run till after midnight.
Another thing that gets your attention on Berlin roads is the extensive use of cycles. Everyone rides their bike in Berlin. The variety of bikes used by the people in Berlin is amusing – there are women's bikes, men's bikes, Dutch bikes, children's bikes and many more. The city has dedicated bikeways offering safe and convenient travel routes for its two-wheeled commuters.
Among the tourist attractions, the Berlin Wall still remains the most prominent destination. It is a memorial to the countless men, women and children who died while trying to cross the wall. Erected in the dead of the night on August 13, 1961, the Berlin Wall was a physical division between West and East Germany. When the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, it was celebrated around the world. It now stands as a stunning piece of public art, brightly painted by international artists.
I dedicated my next day to the famous river cruise of Berlin. Berlin has two large rivers – Spree and Havel – along with several lakes and canals where ships and boats cruise. The Spree river flows in arches through the centre of Berlin and south of it runs the Landwehr canal. All boat tours through the inner city follow the same route over the Spree river and the Landwehr canal, only the length and the duration of the boat tours vary. If you want to pack many sites in a short span of time, the river cruise on the Spree is the ideal way to experience this bustling city.
I opted for the one-hour excursion which covered some of Berlin's landmark monuments like the Reichstag (German Parliament Building), the Government Quarter and the House of World Cultures. After turning at the Luther Bridge, you can look at the Bellevue Palace, the civil servant housing and the Victory Column. The Central Station, Berlin Cathedral, Museum Island, and the oldest residential area in Berlin are also covered during the cruise. You can also get an audio guide on the cruise to learn about the city in eight different languages. As we sat at the front of the deck, we got an excellent view of the river.
Spree Island is better known as Museum Island. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, here, you'll find many of the city's oldest and most important museums, including the Old Museum which houses the Crown Jewels and other royal treasures. The New Museum serves as the home of extensive collections from the Egyptian Museum, the Papyrus Collection and the Collection of Classical Antiquities.
Potsdam was the next destination we visited around Berlin. It is a bordering city, around 25 km from Berlin. Potsdam was a residence of the Prussian kings and the German Kaiser until 1918. Around the city, there are a series of interconnected lakes and cultural landmarks, in particular, the parks and palaces of Sanssouci, the largest World Heritage Site in Germany. The Sanssouci Palace is not as big as the other palaces of Europe, but each room was beautifully decorated with inlays and carvings. There is an extensive garden in front of the palace, where one can spend hours wandering in absolute wonder. The small café just below the Sanssouci Palace on the northern (entrance) side is the best place to refresh yourself with a cup of hot coffee. Near the café is a big historic windmill, which is much older than the palace. The windmill has an impressive size and still works!
After this, we spent some time beside the Wannsee Lake, the most popular recreation spot in Berlin. Yachts and rowboats cruise through the shimmering waters of the lake. It is a most popular spot for people to sunbathe and swim. The mesmerising view of ducks wading through the waters and the beautiful garden surrounding the lake make it picture perfect.
A trip to Berlin is not complete without a visit to the fascinating city, Munich. Sprawling Munich is one of Germany's major cultural centres, second only to Berlin in terms of museums and theatres. It is also one of Germany's most festive cities, and its location, at the foot of the Alps, is idyllic.
We took a one-hour flight to Munich from Berlin and toured the city on a hop-on-hop-off bus. The city has many attractions like the Marienplatz and the New Town Hall of Munich, Cathedral of Our Blessed Lady, Dachau Concentration Camp, Residence Palace of Munich, Deutsches Museum, Olympic Stadium of Munich and the BMW Museum.
But, the most noteworthy attraction of the city is The English Garden. One of the largest urban parks in the world, the English Garden is Munich's most popular green space, boasting over 48 miles (78 km) of walking and cycling trails. People were relaxing, playing, sunbathing, swimming and even surfing in a man-made river called the Eisbach. Despite being many hundreds of kilometres away from the nearest ocean, the artificial river in English Garden has become a surfing hotspot. Soon, I was taught about the history of this unique surfing spot by people standing on the banks and applauding the surfers.
The water in artificial Eisbach's river comes from the nearby Isar River. In order to slow the flow and create the necessary serenity in the English Garden, engineers submerged concrete blocks just beyond the bridge. This was intended to slow the water but it also created a rapid. Soon people learned to manipulate the wave and started surfing on the rapid.
Though my travel plans were limited to Germany only, I was tempted to try a train journey from Munich to the beautiful city of Salzburg in Austria, which takes you along a picturesque ride of two hours. You can't keep your eyes off the large glass windows of the train, else you may miss the stunning views of the countryside landscape. The lush rolling fields in different hues of green, clusters of wood and the red-roofed houses with hills in the backdrop were unforgettably beautiful.
Tourist friendliness is the forte of European cities. There are information centres across all locations to guide you around the city. English was the accepted language for foreign tourists. We didn't come across any dry patch. The entire area was green and manicured. The trains are clean and almost empty, but never compromising on their frequency. There was no piling of debris, sand or granules around the construction sites. The undergoing construction didn't cause pollution or hindrance to the movement of traffic and pedestrians. Cleanliness was everywhere – the public places, the buses, the trains.
The memories of the trip may fade over time. But few impressions are everlasting. I may forget everything about the trip but I will remember Berlin for its bike rides, its kindness to specially-abled persons, and of course, the river cruise. The beauty of the English Garden of Munich, the artificial river and surfers dancing on the waves will always tug a string at my heart.