Neuschwanstein Castle has an awful reputation. You hear that it is too crowded, too expensive, not enough stuff to see inside for the hassle, and set up in a way meant to make you spend money.
Berlin is one of those cities that grew on me unexpectedly. I was jetlagged and overwhelmed when we first arrived in the city, but after a good night’s sleep I was ready to go.
The first thing we did was arrange to join a free walking tour. We took a Sandeman’s tour that began at the Brandenburg Tor led by a wonderful British guide named Rob. The tour gave us a pretty thorough introduction to the Mitte district and its historic sites, and served as a perfect orientation to those areas of the city. Rob did a great job of mixing historical flair with practical advice on what to see and do, and we ended up deciding to book another tour with him, which was not free. I am quite jealous of his public speaking skills.
Berlin is a great city to visit because its simultaneously a modern European city, and in living memory has gone through some drastic changes. The tour really brought that home for me. I actually fuzzily remember watching the news when the Berlin Wall fell, remember the adults in my life talk about what has happening in excited tones, and remember generally having no idea what was going on other than something about communists in Germany and that it was important. So it’s pretty cool to walk through Pariser Platz and the Brandenburg Tor and follow the bricks inlaid in the street that mark the boundary of the Wall. Maybe it’s just the American in me, but actually being in those places make everything feel more real. Intellectually you know it wasn’t just something on TV, but the full emotional impact is much more immediate when you visit a historical site.
The next day we went to Museum Island and climbed to the top of the Berliner Dom. There were actually a series of different building and churches built on or near the current site of the Dom, with the current one being built in 1905, and damaged during World War II. The building underwent many renovations from 1975 to 1990. It looks much much older than it actually is, since the architecture is Baroque style high Renaissance. The interior of the Dom is beautiful, and about as over the top as you can get without going Rococo. I’m talking marble everything and gold leaf murals, the kind of ridiculous opulence you don’t see often.
We also stopped at a lovely little overpriced outdoor cafe, which was right on the river and had a lovely view. I wouldn’t eat there, but the view was worth the pricey ice cream.
We also explored the Pergamon. The Pergamon Alter and the Market Gate of Miletus were both very impressive, and the museum obviously built around showcasing them. I have to admit that while the Pergamon had several huge and beautiful displays, I had been expecting something more comprehensive, like the British Museum. It seemed a little empty in comparison. This was a case of me not doing my homework, I didn’t know too much about the Pergamon before I went, so my expectations did not match up to the reality.
That said, how cool is this?
It’s called the Mshatta Facade and it’s so intricately carved its almost unbelievable. This piece sparked a new desire in me to research and visit places known for Islamic art in the future.
Because there are only so many museums I can take in a day before I stop being able to properly appreciate them, we decided to visit the East Side Gallery. This is the famous section of the Berlin Wall that still stands as a memorial, with 105 paintings from artists all over the world.
I actually really liked this area of Berlin. It’s rather obvious that it was once part of East Germany because of the difference in architecture and upkeep. This part of the city is dirtier and has more graffiti and abandoned buildings. Perhaps as a result, it has a more alternative bohemian vibe. People watching was lots of fun here, and if you like to shop you’d find the more unique stuff here in the East Central District. When I return to Berlin, I’ll be finding a place to sleep in this part of town.
The next day we took a day trip to Potsdam, which frankly deserves a post of its own, so I’ll skip over that for now.
My brother and I were informed before leaving the states that we had to try currywurst in Berlin. And we did. I have to say, the descriptions I was given did not sound like anything tasty, and even looking at the dish I was skeptical. But it was quite good. My brother had some kind of unidentified wurst, which was so disappointing in comparison. We kept a running tally of who “won” picking dishes this trip, which of course required us to choose two different dishes and then “sample” the other one. Sample being code for eat at least half of. It’s a good game to play when travelling.
Our last night in Berlin we took a sunset river cruise. It was not really set up to be a touristy sightseeing cruise (though I’m sure those exist), but instead more of a dinner cruise to eat and socialize. We were probably the only tourists on the boat. The views of the city were worth the mediocre food.