I'm going to go on a very short rant for a second. We as Americans need more vacation time. Everyone we have met while out in Europe gets 4, 5, 6, sometimes 10 weeks of vacation. I just want more time on this trip. Rant over. Sadly today is already our last full-day in Berlin and we had to get a lot accomplished in order to see everything we wanted. To do that we booked a 5+ hour E-Bike Tour. But more on that in a bit.
I may have jinxed us yesterday when I said "we" are on the European timezone. I probably should have clarified that the person writing these posts (Joel if you weren't sure) is on the European time zone, my lovely wife not so much. She had a tough time sleeping so when I went out to run this morning at 7:30 she barely moved or acknowledged my departure. We did however make our way out of the room a little before 10AM to make our 10:30 tour.
To avoid the near disaster on the Metro yesterday (there's just a ton of construction all over Berlin) we jumped into a taxi to take us to the infamous TV Tower towards the center of Berlin. When we arrived we saw the flag for our bike tour but still had fifteen minutes to kill so we walked around the square and took in the sights. From there we walked over to the tour to grab our bikes, helmets, and meet the rest of our small group tour.
I mentioned earlier our tour was on an "e-bike" which is just a fancy way of saying electric bike. All it does is give you an extra boost every time you pedal. You still have to do some work but not as much as you would on a normal bike. When we had researched Berlin this was one of the top tours to do and seemed like a good way to take in as much of Berlin in a day as possible. We started out with our group of 5 (3 Aussie's from Sydney and Jenn and I) and our tour guide from the UK and were off.
The tour guide would lead the way and usually John from Sydney who's an avid cyclist would follow alongside the tour guide, then it was me, and then it was Jenn and the two ladies from Sydney a kilometer or two back. That's generally how the 4+ hours would go. One second Jenn would be riding next to me the next she was nowhere to be seen. As we left the TV tower we made our way throughout the busy Berlin city streets.
From there we made several stops starting with Museum Island which is literally an island in the middle of Berlin that's made up of five different museums. The buildings themselves were absolutely stunning. From there we went to the Library in which the Nazi's famously burned all books that they deemed necessary. In the square next to the library is a brilliant art piece with a clear glass pane looking down in the ground that just shows lines of empty book cases. It was ominous to say the least.
We hopped back on our bikes and continued to go through the city of Berlin and back over to the Gendarmenmarkt where we went on our first day in Berlin. Here are two cathedrals which we learned were built to appease both the Germans on one side and the French on the other. In between the two buildings is the symphony hall for the Berlin Philharmonic.
At this point we made our way to the city center of Berlin near what used to be known as Checkpoint Charlie. Our tour guide drew a rough sketch on the ground using chalk of how Germany was divided post-WWII and then how Berlin was divided and the wall eventually went up. We were then given some time to go over to the Checkpoint Charlie memorial and got to see pictures of how it looked while the wall was still standing. There was also a section of the Berlin wall still standing in remembrance of that time around the corner that we stopped at to learn more about life during and after the wall.
From there we made our way to the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe which was built in the early 2000's. This might be the single most stunning piece of artwork I've ever seen. I'm not sure our pictures will do it justice. There are 2,711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid. The artist (Peter Eisenman) did not leave his interpretation of what the memorial was to represent. Our tour guide gave us a couple. The one that stuck with me was that at times walking through the memorial can feel isolating, but there are always paths to get you out and to reconnect with those you lost. But having done a little Google research after the tour there are hundreds of interpretations on it.
We then rode to Brandenburg Gate probably the most recognizable landmark in Berlin. If you've seen a picture of Berlin you've probably seen a picture of Brandenburg Gate. The area was swarming with people but once we got off our bikes we were able to snap some photos and learn more about the area. From there we made our way to Republic Square where the German parliament building is. Our last stop before lunch was to the Berlin Victory column another well known Berlin landmark.
After this we had a reprieve from the stops and it was time to ride our bikes. We had about a half hour ride from the Victory Column to our lunch destination. We rode through the streets of Berlin and then through two different parks to reach the beer garden. This was some of the most relaxing riding of the first half of the day and was a nice way to unpack everything so far from the tour.
We stopped at a beer garden called Schleusen Krug. There we went up and ordered our food and met at a table with the rest of our tour-mates. I started off with a Erdinger Hefe Weizen (love my Hefes) and another German pretzel. Jenn went with pasta (watch out this isn't the only time) and I had their schnitzel which Tom our tour guide said was there best item. Luckily for both Jenn and I lunch turned out to be really good. Both of us were so hungry at this point (a little after 1PM) that anything would have been fine but luckily lunch hit the spot.
What Tom did warn us was that the second half of the tour was more riding and less stops. He wasn't kidding. For the last two hours I would say we rode for at least 85-90% of it. We rode through another park, through a zoo, and off to another park before stopping at a scenic point. He joked that there was no other reason then to give everyone a breather and a chance to take some good pictures.
From there we were off to the Berlin Tempelhof, the first airport in Berlin. It was closed in 2008 and after much controversy they made the entire airport and surrounding area into a park. It's gorgeous now, grass and trees everywhere the eye can see. It made for some of the nicest bike riding of the day. From there we had about a 45 minute ride back to the TV Tower. About half of that was through more parks and the last part was through the heart of central Berlin.
We've never taken a bike tour before but we both absolutely loved it. I was extremely skeptical of this tour, it's probably one of two things on this trip that I wasn't sure if it was worth doing. By lunchtime, Jenn and I were laughing about how wrong I was. It was a relaxing and engaging way to see the city. We rode through all of Berlin and felt like we got to really breathe the city in. It was incredible.
After we dropped off the bikes we were both getting tired and stopped in a Starbucks. Jenn got her normal hot chocolate and I had my normal cappuccino. We even picked up our second Starbucks mug of the trip for Berlin to add to our collection. From there we made the eleven stop metro ride back to our hotel.
We didn't stay at the hotel long, we left a little after 6PM to go to Jenn's pick for dinner this evening (you can guess what that was), Ristorante La Sardegna. We've heard from multiple sources that Berlin has some very good Italian food and Jenn was craving it so that's where we went. We got a really nice table inside looking out on the street. Jenn had a great class of red wine (didn't catch the name) and I stuck with water feeling a little dehydrated from the bike ride. For Jenn's main course she went with the Spaghatti al Polmodoro and I went with the hot salami pizza. Both items were really good verging on great.
After dinner we were back in our hotel room re-packing to get ready for our train trip to Prague tomorrow. I will say there is one thought that stuck with me throughout Berlin. I can see why it doesn't attract as many tourists as other major cities in Europe. Don't get me wrong it's a fantastic city but you can still feel a lot of the recovery still taking place for Germany. There is a real fear of forgetting the past, and trying to find the right balance of keeping things to remember the atrocities not only of the Nazi's but also post WWII and moving forward. That makes it even more concerning when almost every German we talked to seem deathly afraid of someone like Donald Trump. I mean if Germans are afraid of someone like Trump we might want to pay attention to that.
As our time winds down here in Berlin I'm so grateful we got to experience the city and its vast and terrifying history. It is becoming such an interesting melting pot of cultures that I can only imagine that if it stays on course it will continue to attract more and more tourists to it's beauty. But for now we say goodbye to Berlin and look forward to our next stop on the Ultimate Europe Trip 2016, Prague.