Friday, December 2nd 2016 – Berlin, Day 1
We set off at a slightly silly hour from our friend’s house in south London to get to City airport for the 08:20 to Berlin Tegel, and although it only takes around 27 minutes at that time of day there began one of the themes of the weekend as it was less than clear from the signage where we were supposed to meet the valet parking person who would take my car away. After some toing and froing the vehicle was finally handed over and we coasted through check in and security and settled in for a coffee and toast, while waiting for the flight to be called.
I was using up Avios points so we were going Business Class which made a nice change, and had snagged the front row emergency exit seats, thus ensuring I could stretch out my legs and relax. All went smoothly, and British Airways supplied breakfast, which meant lunch was no longer on the plan for the day. Landing in Tegel was on time and taxis proved plentiful so we blew €20 on a ride to the hotel. We could have got the bus and U-Bahn but didn’t really want to given the suitcases.
However, we were welcome to store our luggage and go and use the Club Intercontinental (one of the perks of holding an Ambassador card as I do) for lunch or a drink should we wish. We decided to do just that and grabbed a coffee while we tried to figure out where we were in relation to what we wanted to see.
The Lonely Planet Guide provided a walk through Tiergarten, which is just behind the hotel so we decided we’d start there and head towards the Gemaeldegalerie and/or Potsdamer Platz, whichever we found first. What we found first was the Aquarium, which is a wonderful building from the outside (and may well be wonderful on the inside as well but we didn’t stop to look), and the gates the Zoo and the Tierpark, which are also pretty stunning, with elephants (but sadly no turtles – though there were some on the Aquarium walls)!
We rounded the corner past Zoo Station, now considerably less forbidding than it used to be and capable of creating a terrible case of the earworms in both of us as we’re U2 fans.
From there we found our way into the massive park along the Landwehr Canal, and through the sadly neglected Gas Lamps Museum, which could do with some care and attention though may look much better once it gets dark.
From there we were led past the Neuensee, a small lake, where there was a lovely looking cafe, a couple of mulled wine/pizza stalls and some men freezing the ice on a curling rink which would presumably be in use during the weekend.
A walk from there to the Siegessäule (Victory Column) also known as Goldelse (Golden Lizzy) was interesting in particular for the rather gruesomely lifelike hunting statues.
This was followed by the the sighting of some rather particular local wildlife in the shape of the Trabi safari, perhaps appropriate for a former hunting ground.We did the Trabi Safari tour in Dresden some 10 years back and it’s great fun, but we didn’t feel the need to repeat it in Berlin.
The history of the park is somewhat chequered and given that there was not a single tree left at the end of WWII, it is now in remarkably good shape, much used in the day time hours by runners, walkers, cyclists and small children with an attraction to mud! There was also some more conventional beasties, especially a rather stately heron who happily ignored me as I tried to get a good photo.
We eventually emerged from the park just by Potsdamer Platz, having decided that it really was time for one of the items on Lynne’s “It’s German, it must be…” checklist. We needed coffee and cake, and with that in mind we wandered through the impressively modernistic Sony Centre, admiring their superb Christmas decorations.
After a certain amount of cartographical confusion (and yet more lack of helpful signage) we located the Panoramapunkt where a rapid rocket upwards in Europe’s fastest lift delivered us to the cafe on the 24th floor, with its superb views over Berlin. There is a viewing platform all round on two levels, but first we needed sustenance.
A healthy portion of hot chocolate with rum later, and a slice of cherry strudel and one of apple cake, and we were ready to step outside. It was a clear if cold day, so the views were well worth the effort and certainly worth the entry fee. There’s a very clear set of historical information and photos up there, including this little gem which fascinated me.
It was helpful to get our bearings as well, and we quickly located our hotel, the Tiergarten, and landmarks like the Fernsehturm, which appears everywhere, no matter where you are, in much the same way the BT Tower does in London, though without the latter’s rather peculiar habit of apparently vanishing from view as soon as you get close to it.
From there we decided we should head into the TV and Film Museum, as we were keen to see the Marlene Dietrich collection which includes letters, costumes, and a variety of fascinating paraphernalia owned by her.
It was well worth it for that alone, though there’s also a rather wonderful room where they display a range of TV programme material through the ages, where I was able to relive my childhood holidays in Hamburg and Frankfurt watching programmes like Das Sandmännchen/Unser Sandmännchen, and seeing the Mainzelmaennchen again. It was all a bit odd to see them now and it made me wonder what – it having been the 1960s – some of the programme makers were on! Oh and for no apparent reason there’s a red Dalek on one of the landings. No, I don’t know why.
We suddenly realised we’d been in the museum rather longer than we’d intended so we sprinted out, snagged a passing taxi and legged it back to the hotel to unpack, clean up and head out. We had an appointment with the Fernsehturm.
Another taxi ride later and we were on the rather less than prepossessing shopping centre that is the Alexanderplatz, where we were able to sidestep the queues for the TV Tower lifts because we’d pre-booked. Our intention was to have a drink in Bar 203 (at 203 metres up – this up thing was becoming a theme) and admire the night-time views of Berlin.
It was slightly more complicated than it might be as the bar doesn’t have much in the way of a seating area, and you can only reserve seats if you pre-order a drink/food option, but we did manage to grab a small table just as we were about to give up altogether and go back to the hotel. A salted caramel martini (Smirnoff vodka, salted caramel syrup, lemon juice and apple juice plus a garnish of cinnamon bark – dleicious), a glass of sekt, and views of the Christmas markets all lit up like sparkling children’s toys made for a good pre-dinner relaxation, before we returned to the hotel to dine at Hugo’s restaurant.
First however we had to find our way into the underground to get to the U2 line back to Zoo Station. Not as easy as you might think. We seemed to walk miles, going down stairs, then coming back up, repeatedly, all while having to hunt the signposts. We made it eventually and were back with 10 minutes to spare. Of Hugos, I have so much to say that it’s going to have to have its own post!