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Unread 21 Apr 17, 09:31 PM  
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#1
CrispyA
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Join Date: Oct 11
Bier, Bratwurst und Bahnsteige: Day 1

We all slept well and were showered and dressed without too much trouble. We had found the BBC World Service news channel on the TV, so got some English news and information.

There was a breakfast option at the Hotel Otto, but at 18 Euros per adult and 9 Euros for the kids, it was pretty expensive, so we decided to go elsewhere. We were heading out on the train, so called to the McDonalds at the nearby Zoo station. It was okay, nothing special and although it did the trick, we ended up wishing we hadn't bothered. Plus, you had to pay 50 cents to use the toilet!

After our breakfast, we headed to the station to buy a day travel group ticket. Up to 5 people can travel on the same ticket, so we did think about making a new friend to get full value but wondered if there was really someone that wanted to hang out with us all day.

We were starting off with a free walking tour that we had booked. It started from Alexanderplatz and we had a wander around, checking out the Easter Market. It was a Bank Holiday in Germany so a lot of the shops were closed but there was still lots going on. We found the Weltzietuhr, or World Clock and had a look at it.



We met up with our tour and were introduced to Ben who would be showing us around Berlin. First proper stop was the TV tower, a building from the former East Germany and the tallest tower in the EU. We didn't go up it, but Ben told us that you could get the same view for free from a nearby hotel!



Ben then took us to Unter den Linden and the buildings there, explaining which had been damaged in WW2 and since restored.



After this, we headed for the Spree river, where we learned about the Berlin wall and the attempts made to cross to the other side, using the Spree. Following that, we walked across Museum Island and saw the Berliner Dom and the Altes Museum, the setting for some of Hitler's rallies.



A lot of the architecture is neo classical and looks quite stunning. We decided against visiting the museums here as they are generally celebrating ancient history and our focus was German history. However, they are meant to be really good.

We then walked over to Humboldt University and Bebelplatz, the square where Nazi supporting students burned piles of books on 10 May 1933.



There is a very simple memorial there - a glass plaque set in the ground and as you look down, you can see a white room surrounded by empty bookshelves.

Next stop was Gendarmenmarkt, with matching French and German churches, Concert Hall and statue of Schiller.



We headed around the corner to the famous chocolate shop, Fassbender und Rausch, with it's chocolate sculptures of Berlin landmarks. As it was Easter time, some of the sculptures had been moved to make way for Easter displays, but we saw the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate, along with the Titanic and the TV tower.

Next stop was Checkpoint Charlie along with some more history of the Berlin Wall. We all thought Checkpoint Charlie was a bit tacky and Ben told us that the hut isn't even on the right spot and that the photos of the soldiers are just actors. It is quite the money spinner though!

We had a short break here and were pleased to go with Ben's recommendation of the Back Factory - a small bakery which did sandwiches and pastries. For such a touristy spot, it was really reasonable. Ben may be on commission for them, and most of the tour group ate in there, but it was still a good place!

Continued below . . .

Edited at 03:15 PM.
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Unread 21 Apr 17, 10:03 PM  
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#2
CrispyA
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Join Date: Oct 11
After the break, we headed past the Trabant Museum, pausing to learn about how difficult it was to get a car in the former East Germany. In some areas, parents put their kids names down at birth as the wait could be up to 17 years! We heard about how some people tried to cross the border by cutting the fibreglass body of a Trabbi so that as the gates came down, they would take the top of the car off but hopefully the driver could speed across by crouching down. It wasn't usually successful.

We also saw a small section of wall that is still standing and found out that more pieces of "wall" have been sold than could ever have existed. I remember the news footage of people sitting on the wall and bashing at it with hammers as the borders crumbled and it seems strange now to imagine a city with a great big wall dividing the people

Next was the Holocaust Memorial, or the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It is a field of concrete blocks, set on a undulating service so you easily find yourself with the blocks towering above you. It is a sombre and moving place, the simplicity of it emphasising the sheer scale of the deaths.









Unfortunately, some of the blocks are now starting to crack and crumble and are having to be reinforced with steel bands. There is a museum there also, but we had already decided to see it another day.

The tour finished at the Brandenburg Gate, just around the corner.



For a free tour, it was excellent value! I was concerned that there might be a fairly undignified request for tips, but Ben was very clear that he was completely relaxed about it and we could tip him or not - that was fine. We did tip and thank him - he was a really good guide with lots of useful information and happy to answer any questions that we had.

After the tour, we had a bit of a wait for our pre-booked trip to the top of the Reichstag, so we went into the Tiergarten opposite and saw the Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism, which is a single block of stone.



We also met this little squirrel and considered asking if it would like to join us for future train journeys as part of the family but it didn't seem to want to.



Then it was time for our Reichstag tour. We had our passports and had passed the security check which takes place when you book, so we were good to go.



The Reichstag is where the Bundestag or German parliament meet. It was damaged in the war, like so much of Berlin, but then the Dome at the top was rebuilt in glass, designed by architect Sir Norman Foster.

You get an audio guide that walks you around the dome, pointing out sites around Berlin. You have to be careful to pick up the right audio guide though, as they are not labelled and Hannah and me had to do a swap because ours were in German and that was a step too far!





Berlin is quite flat so it is easy to get a good view from a high point. You do have to book though, as you can't just rock up and get admission.

After the Reichstag, we were all pretty tired, so got the trains back to the hotel. We stopped off at a Supermarket to get a few beers and snacks on the way and enjoyed resting in our room for a bit before we went out for something to eat. The kids were keen to get hold of a bit of wifi (obviously) and me and Paul had a look at Tripadvisor for some meal options.

In the end, we settled on Good Friends, the "best Chinese restaurant in Berlin" and had a lovely meal in there. It was a short walk from the hotel and the food was really nice, with a good selection of veggie food for Hannah. We all ate well and then waddled back to the hotel to relax and think about our day.

Edited at 03:28 PM.
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Unread 22 Apr 17, 04:37 PM  
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Melbatb
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What a fabulous tour - you saw an awful lot!
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Unread 22 Apr 17, 04:54 PM  
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#4
CrispyA
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Join Date: Oct 11
Originally Posted by Melbatb View Post
What a fabulous tour - you saw an awful lot!
It was an excellent tour - a great way of getting our bearings and finding out about the city.
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Unread 22 Apr 17, 08:42 PM  
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Mortimer Mouse
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Sounds like a great tour. Really interesting.
We did the Reichstag too and enjoyed it, especially with the audio tour.

I kept expecting to have to pay 50 cents to use the loo, as I'd seen that in Princess Chazy's Berlin trippie, but luckily all the toilets we used were free.
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Unread 23 Apr 17, 02:36 PM  
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#6
CrispyA
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Join Date: Oct 11
Originally Posted by Mortimer Mouse View Post
Sounds like a great tour. Really interesting.
We did the Reichstag too and enjoyed it, especially with the audio tour.

I kept expecting to have to pay 50 cents to use the loo, as I'd seen that in Princess Chazy's Berlin trippie, but luckily all the toilets we used were free.
Same here - I was prepared for spending a fair amount on loos but it was only in McDonalds that we had to pay. The tour really was great - such a good way to see the city.
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Unread 25 Apr 17, 10:08 PM  
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katiebaz
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The walking tour sounds really good and a great way to see the city. Looks a fascinating place to visit
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Unread 4 Oct 18, 10:13 PM  
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smithlane
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That tour sounds fantastic, what a great way to see the city. Another thing added to the list!
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