Well, last week may have been one of my favorite weeks ever despite how utterly fast it flew by! Tuesday William and I flew to Berlin for him to present at a conference. Honestly, before this trip I didn’t have a huge desire to visit Germany, but after this too quick taste, I cannot wait to return!
We flew from Salt Lake City to Amsterdam and from Amsterdam to Tegal Airport in Berlin. It was a LONG day of travel with us leaving the house about 24 hours before we landed in Berlin. The Amsterdam airport was incredible – easily the best airport I’ve ever experienced and I was so impressed with KLM airlines which was how we flew into Germany.
Our first stop after grabbing our bags was straight to the hotel to check in and grab a quick nap. Our hotel was a great home base for the week, situated in walking distance to most everything we wanted to see, surrounded by embassies and across the street from the Tiergarten. It’s also where Harry’s New York Bar Berlin is and that was a fun place to grab drinks from their extensive menu! The breakfast our hotel offered was also a great way to start each day; the two trips to Europe I’ve been able to take have me convinced that Europeans do breakfast so much better than America – at least in the hotels. My favorite breakfast options were the variety of breads, cheeses & meats available. I ate smoked salmon, Bavarian blue cheese & some kind of wurst almost every morning.
The night we arrived, we had tickets to attend the Berlin Philharmonic who are considered to be one of the best, if not the best, orchestras in the world. They were incredible! We made sure to get to the venue plenty early allowing us to grab pretzels & William to grab a beer prior to the performance. Before intermission was a string orchestral performance; the first chair violinist was extraordinary and you could tell the conductor was having so much fun with certain pieces. After intermission there was an Opera solo and a French Horn solo – both were outstanding! The rest of the performance was a fuller ensemble playing some Mozart selections. My favorite was when I could discern the oboe features in this portion of the performance. I love the way the oboe sounds and the two oboists were incredible!
Our first full day we planned to visit the Reichstag, Museum Island and meet up with William’s coauthor for supper. We started the day walking along the perimeter of the Tiergarten to the Reichstag and through security for a dome tour. Due to planning too late on my part, we were unable to go inside where the Bundestag meets, but were able to go the dome and enjoy the free audio tour. My biggest takeaway from the dome tour was how “green” the German government is – what an example to set for the world!
Following the Reichstag we walked through the Brandenburg gate, found the U.S. embassy, the Hotel Adlon and made our way to Museum Island – a UNESCO World Heritage site – where we visited the Neues Museum, the Pergamon Museum and the Berlin Cathedral. The big attraction at the Neues Museum is the bust of Nephertiti and there was a substantial amount of history about German archeologists and the patrons who began Museum development in Germany alongside the antiquities they unearthed in their digs. After the Neues Museum, we grabbed a quick snack of pretzels and colas before venturing into the Pergamon Museum.
Honestly, the Pergamon is a bit disappointing right now since so much is under restoration, that you don’t get to see much of what the Museum is world famous for. We did however get to see the impressive Ishtar Gate of Babylon from when Nebuchadnezzar II was King. It was stunning and breathtaking and I am so glad to have seen it, but this is a Museum I would like to return to if I ever made it back to Berlin to see the areas of the museum currently under restoration, such as the famous namesake of the museum, the Pergamon Altar.
Following the Pergamon Museum we walked to the Berlin Cathedral. While I found the architecture quite beautiful, I found the inside rather ostentatious. The cathedral was built after the reformation and pulled many of the ornate details the patron loved from Catholic cathedrals – too many for one building honestly. It was interesting to see statues of Protestant forefathers like Luther and Calvin surrounding an upper rim of the dome, to see the detailed stain glass depictions of the the only family behind the altar and the ornately carved wooden pulpit which stood out among all the marble and stone. It was also interesting to see which caskets were in the crypt and who just had a placard due to the history of Berlin being bombed and thus, certain things destroyed. We also decided to climb the stairs of the dome and were treated to a beautiful view of Berlin below despite the fog that limited the distance of visability.
On the way to our hotel from Museum Island we passed the Memorial to the Murdered to Jews of Europe which we stopped to walk through. It’s a haunting display with much of the representation left up to personal interpretation of what the viewer should take away. What I’d heard explained, and thus experienced, was that the various heights of the blocks, the gradual progression of size and the steady unevenness of the ground represent the gradual targeting of the Jewish population under the Third Reich. It started off small with people of Jewish descent being identified by wearing the Star of David as an outward symbol and rapidly progressed to the holocaust we all grow up leaning about. Obviously this is a simplistic interpretation, but one that resonated with what we experienced.
After the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe we walked back to our hotel to rest for a bit and meet William’s coauthor for drinks before we headed to a pub in the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz. A fun fact about Potsdamer Platz is that a portion of the original Hotel Esplanade is enclosed behind glass in the middle of the Sony Center, and we stayed at the Sheraton Grand Hotel Esplanade which shares a name with the old, storied hotel that was destroyed in WWII. This hotel is where the American diplomats would traditionally stay on their arrival to Berlin.
After supper we headed back to the hotel to rest after a long day of walking 11 miles according to my Fitbit.