TRAVEL GAZETTE – GERMANY, Berlin
Twenty years after first visiting Berlin in the aftermath of the fall of the wall, NATHAN MORLEY returns to the city to discover much has changed in the German capital.
On my first visit to Berlin, back in 1990, the city was in the early stages of adapting to re-unification, after being crudely cut apart by that monstrous wall in 1961. Much of the eastern sector was completely derelict, with some buildings left untouched since the end of WWII. Many of them still showed the scars of bombing and were potholed with bullets and the debris of old war machinery.
So it came as something of a surprise to find on my visit there last month the past 20 years have seen the city redeveloped by unrecognisable proportions.
I was booked into a suite at the five-star Adlon, the city’s most exclusive and sought after location, which commands a vast corner of Unter den Linden, once the grandest boulevard of Imperial Berlin and now beautifully restored to its pre-war glory.
The lime trees that gave Unter den Linden its name, torn down and replaced by Nazi totems in the 40s, have been replanted and my suite on the sixth floor overlooked the Brandenburg Gate, which has also been restored to its former glory.
The suite boasted a sunken bath, reception room, office and day room filled with luxuries such as plasma TV, internet and a button for instant service. Unsurprisingly, the hotel was packed with celebrities, even Brad Pitt was there promoting his latest movie and several bigwigs from the EU were also well-set up in their suites.
The Adlon even attracts visiting royalty (the Queen and the Prince of Wales have stayed), politicians on state visits and it was from a balcony at this hotel that Michael Jackson infamously dangled one of his children. I hate to admit that his was the suite we were staying in.
However this trip was a voyage of rediscovery, there was no time for hanging about hotels – I had a list of sites I wanted to revisit during my four-night stay.
Eating in this city is an absolute delight, even though I am a great fan of German cuisine (so there was no shortage of Bratwurst breaks during the day), we found some fabulous eateries, all serving delicious food at realistic prices. It is true that you can enjoy a meal for two here at a classy restaurant and the cheque is cheaper than the average in Ayia Napa.
We obviously spent some time at Checkpoint Charlie, this location, which now houses a museum and many tourist gimmicks, was where you could officially pass from East to West Berlin during the cold war. I was snapped with two actors dressed as GIs wearing a German border guard’s hat; this however was confiscated by Mrs Morley who promptly told me to grow up.
The first time I came here the street was still a hotbed of political activity, with guards and policemen to be seen all around.
For 28 years the Wall divided the city. Today you can still find same traces of the building; the best way to find remaining segments of the wall is to stop at any souvenir shop, all of which stock the ‘Wall Tour’ book for about €5.
Getting around Berlin is easy and cheap; there is a fantastic underground network, an efficient bus service, trams and reasonably priced taxis (costing about €12-20 for a trip anywhere in the centre of the city, a single trip on the underground costs €2.10). And even at night there are no limits on your movements, with numerous night buses and trains.
If you are taking the kids, then Berlin Zoo (Berliner Tiergarten) is a must, it is Europe’s biggest zoo and recently became famous once again through the birth of Knut, a polar bear cub.
The Reichstag, which is a stone’s throw from the Brandenburg Gate, is the very visible symbol of democratic parliamentary power, which was rebuilt after the war, and now boasts a glass dome. From the dome, you can watch parliament working but be prepared to wait in a queue as it’s popular.
During the day, shopping is available around Zoologischer Garten and along Kantstrasse and Friedrichstrasse. Charlottenburg is recognised as Berlin’s premiere destination for antiquing, and, for sightseers it boasts a castle and stunning green space. I spent a couple of hours here and ended up with a bagful of antique bric-a-brac (all for under €50).
Meanwhile, the Pergamon Museum, Alexanderplatz and the Guggenheim are located in Mitte. At Potsdam, the German equivalent of Versailles, visitors find Park Sanssouci and Schloss Sanssouci, the royal retreat of Frederick the Great.
All in all, we had a fabulous time in Berlin and have now booked up for a trip to Bavaria next year. Who would have thought Germany would be so cool and so easy to get to from Cyprus?
HOW TO GET THERE
Hotel Adlon Kempinski
Unter den Linden 77, 10117 Berlin (0049 302 2610; www.hotel-adlon.de)
We flew to Berlin with Lufthansa, via Frankfurt. There are regular flights from Larnaca. The flights were booked online at www.lufthansa.com
The Berlin Travel Office is a fabulous organisation and happy to assist you in planning your stay and finding the right offers for your needs. Call Centre +49-(0)30-25 00 25 or just visit one of their BERLIN info stores throughout the city.