Photo set can be viewed here.

As you prolly had read, I was in Berlin last month to catch Pearl Jam live. This was my first ever visit to Germany. Germany was never really a place that was on top of my Euro vacation list[1]. Spain has Andalucia and her history, France has Paris, Austria has Mozart and Holland has… well, those were the ones that I had visited anyway. In my to-go list would be Italy for her food and history, but Germany? I don’t drink beer nor I eat pork sausages. As for scenery, I wasn’t really into castles that look like the one in Sleeping Beauty. When I was in primary school, I learnt about steel and arang kok (coke) in the Ruhr valley. Goes to show how limited and stereotypical my view was of this country. I did, however, think of Berlin for quite some time as a place to visit in Germany just because of friends who did architecture at uni seemed to have this city as one of their destinations when it came to course-related trips. So, when Pearl Jam chose to play Berlin in the summer… off I went.

As usual, I did some reading about the city and its environs from the usual sources on the net, as well as buying the latest edition of the Lonely Planet series on Berlin. I downloaded a couple of apps which came recommended – the Visit Berlin app which I ended up not using at all because I did find it redundant as I already have my Lonely Planet book, and the Berlin Subway app which is superb. As a semi-luddite of a traveler[2], I admit that the advent of the smartphone this past decade had helped a lot[3]. Of course, there is the romance of getting lost and all that jazz, but when I only have two and a half days to focus on selected sights to visit, I like some degree of accuracy when it comes to navigating an unknown city as a solo traveler.

This trip was nice weather-wise – obviously because it was July, but despite the heatwave that Europe was enduring this summer, it was somewhat bearable. Luckily I was there before the summer break for schools, so it felt like there weren’t that many tourists. When I was in Paris (a long time ago), it rained so much that I had to seek refuge in museums. Berlin has a few really good ones that are on Museuminsel, an island on the Spree[4] that is a UNESCO heritage site. As ancient Egypt was one of my childhood loves, I chose to visit Neues Museum which housed the famous bust of Nefertiti. The ancient Egyptian relics were spread out onto three floors. I was happy to see just these anyway and started off on the ground floor. Bags were not allowed so I had to leave them at the cloakroom. Photos, however, were okay except in some areas.

The most interesting of the artefacts in their collection were from Amarna, were you get to see items from the time of Akhenaten, the pharaoh that worshipped the sun god Aten. Images of the sun with its rays shining onto the pharoah and his family were a common theme. Akhenaten was also the father of the famous Tutankhamun (one needs to be in Cairo to see this) and the husband of Nefertiti. The room that solely housed the bust of Nefertiti was off limits to photography, but it wasn’t an issue at all. You want a pic? Just Google.

The sculpture was breathtaking, just as I remembered her in my first ever Ladybird book on ancient Egypt that my late mom gave me. She was indeed beautiful, with her sharp cheekbones and slender neck. A few other sculptures of her and her family could be viewed and it was interesting to not that Akhenaten had instructed the artist to forsake the traditional Egyptian method and go for realism. There was even a mock up sculpture of Nefertiti with black brush strokes on the facial aspect indicating corrections needed for a better result. The entrance to Neues was 12 Euros and despite buying the 4-day Berlin Welcome Card, there was no discount[5]. Apart from the Neues, I was advised by a friend to check out the Pergamon Museum which houses the Pergamon Altar and the Ishtar Gate. Not been big on Babylonian history but I’ve been told the Pergamon is impressive. Time was unfortunately a factor but the main reason for not visiting was that the Pergamon is undergoing renovation. It is open but apparently the renovation is affecting the presentation of the altar. It’ll be 2023 if I would want to do a return to Museuminsel.

Traveling around the city was pretty easy. My hotel on Uhlandstraße was close to both the S-bahn and U-bahn lines[6] which was very convenient. The first touristy site I visited was the famous Brandenburger Tor, and I thought to myself arriving at Pariser Platz at sunset would be great for photography. As expected, there was a large number of tourists, which I didn’t really mind but the major snag was that the gate was fenced because of the Fanmalle event that stretched from the gate westward through Tiergarten for 2 km for the World Cup. There was no match when I visited but it would have been a spectacle to see all those people. Pariser Platz is a square which would be the spot to go to get the best view of the gate. During the Cold War, the square was pretty much wasteland with the return/rebuilding of the surrounding structures (the American Embassy and Hotel Adlon, to name two) after reunification.

One thing that came to mind when I was at Brandenburger Tor was how innocent my view on WW2 was as a kid, especially having grown up on a staple of American TV series like Combat!. From my perspective as a lil’ kid, in war you get the good guys and the bad without understanding that the war in Europe was more than just rat-ta-ta-tat and te-BA-BOWW!!!. Thus, a naïve penchant for German military during WW2. Apart from the telly, think pocket war comics and films. Also, somewhat inappropriately, der Königgrätzer Marsch that I first heard in the third instalment of Indiana Jones came to mind[7] and for some stupid reason it was playing non-stop in my head. I kinda told myself, “Don’t hum the Marsch… don’t hum the Marsch”. Until I alighted the U-bahn and saw the font for the Unter den Linden signage on the platform:


Talking about the Cold War, I never planned on it, but the trip saw me staying and visiting quite a lot of what used to be West Berlin. On the way to the Brandenburger Tor, I made a stop at the Zoologischer Garten Bahnhof aka Zoo Station.

U2’s Achtung Baby was released when I was in med school and I remembered my housemate telling me about how Zoo Station (which was the title of the first track on said record) was the only main railway station that connects West Berlin with the outside world after the Berlin Wall was erected. Like Unter den Linden, I reminded myself not to mimic Bono’s epileptic fit of a dance when walking on the station’s platform.

Potsdamer Platz was another square I visited briefly that is of some interest. Decimated by air raids from Allied forces in WW2, the square remained a wasteland during the Cold War with the Wall running through it, and after reunification, the area contains some of the finest modern steel/glass architecture you can find in the city. Meandered into the Sony Centre which was a massive dome-like structure that also houses a plaza with surrounding eateries, a cinema, the Deutsche Kinemathek (a film archive) and, err… a Legoland Discovery Centre. Parts of the original Wall was erected near the entrance of one of the stations. Another Cold War-related have-to-see spot is Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstraße. Flanked by tourist traps selling souvenirs, the checkpoint house in itself appears to be the epitome of such traps, a far cry from its significance in the harsh day-to-day lives of Berliners during the Cold War.

I also took the bus at times and the number 100 is a pretty convenient one to get on as it has the same route as the open top tourist coach. I could see Der Große Stern in the centre of Tiergarten and Schloss Bellevue on the way back to my hotel. The only snag is that the bus is pretty much packed in the daytime, and the only time I could really have a look see out the window was at night. The 100 also goes to the Reichstag, where the seat of the German government is (which is the Bundestag, confused yet?). The Reichstag was the last sight I visited on my last day in Berlin. I actually took an S-bahn to Hauptbahnhof, Berlin’s central train station and walked to the Reichstag. Again, with any sights when playing tourist, I prefer visiting during dusk to get that light for photography, as blue skies on sunny days makes for plain photography. Or it’s just me that’s just rubbish at taking photos, I guess.

I decided to grab a cab to the airport at Schönefeld from the hotel as I couldn’t be bothered in gambling on whether the express train will run or not. The cab was a pristine Merc, equivalent to the limo that Emirates offers to its business class customers. The driver was friendly but his English wasn’t very good. So, the conversation centred on football as it was World Cup season. You can’t go wrong with phrases like “Harry Kane ist gut, ja?“.

This short trip to Berlin was surprisingly enjoyable. There were a few things I wish I could do more, like trying out coffee spots (will write about the food I had in another post), visiting at least one of them schlosses and seeing more of the old East Berlin. I’ll prolly won’t wait 5 long years[8] and also do the Pergamon in my next trip too. Bis dann?

[1]To my German friends, sorry!
[2]My travels to Europe of old were in the pre-smartphone era.
[3]Japan was super easy thanks to the mobile internet.
[4]Museuminsel on the map interestingly looks like Ile de la Cité on the Seine in Paris.
[5]Although some discounts are available for other attractions in Berlin, the Museum Pass is a better option should you want to visit the main ones like the Pergamon.
[6]S for stadt, ie city train, and U for untergrund, ie underground train.
[7]This military march was written after the victory of one of the battles in the Austro-Prussian War, and that was it. Nothing else.
[8]Hah. Prolly will. Spain was 12 years ago, and Paris was 10. Go figure.