I really enjoy Germany. This love began when I first visited Dusseldorf, and was lucky enough to spend a day there.
This time, however, I found myself with several days in the German capital. Berlin is one of the most stimulating, creative and cultural centres in Europe. It’s a city of rich history, numerous landmarks and plenty of interesting activities. Recently, I went to Berlin for the TechCrunch Disrupt conference where we presented our latest Together service. As usual, I’ve made a short video introduction for Berlin visitors, which will give you a sneak peek of the city.
The first thing to spring to mind when you first get to Berlin is its sheer order (Germans are very organized), the Third Reich, the Cars. After some time getting through the city, though, you will quickly realize that there are many more interesting features waiting to be discovered.
It is impossible to cover even the most important Berlin spots in one blog post, so I’ll make two. This time I’ll tell you about our cycling experience from the very center of Berlin through Charlottenburg to Spandau and back to the Brandenburg Gates. The second article will be dedicated to the city’s central landmarks – And some time later I’ll write about my time in Potsdam.
Bicycles aren’t as popular in Berlin as they are in Amsterdam but there are still a lot of cycling lanes, spacious streets and numerous parking slots throughout the city. Considering that Berlin is a huge city with landmarks spread all over, it is a good idea to commute by bike. We rented bikes at the “Take a Bike” shop which, while not offering the most stylish of bikes, provided us with fully functional modes of transport for our time there. They have an office near the Brandenburg Gates, which that was very close to our apartments – so they offered a convenient option too. (By the way, apartments in Berlin are very cheap and usually pretty big, so, for me, made for the best option.) The view from out apartment was directly focused on one of the city’s landmarks – the Foundation Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Tiergarten behind. I must say – it was a real pleasure and honour to have such a view.
Our journey was scheduled to take a little bit longer than half a day and was tightly packed with landmark-spotting.
We started at the Brandenburg Gates, which are one of Berlin’s most famous landmarks. Brandenburg Gate was built at the end of 18th century to enhance the approach into the Boulevard Unter den Linden. The design was inspired by the Athens Acropolis. Pariser Platz right in front of Brandenburg Gate is usually very crowded with a lot of fun activities and tourist attractions. Passing the Gate is a very symbolic act. Some time ago the Gate was closed and divided Berlin into two parts.
Right after the Gate, we moved further north to Spree river embankment – but it was a short run, almost immediately, we approached the Reichstag – another major city landmark. Reichstag offers tours to the top glass dome, which are said to be a great experience. I personally do love climbing to the top of new cities to have a great view but we were pressed for time and the demand for this attraction was very high so we decided to skip it and satisfied ourselves with exterior glazings instead. I was surprised to learn that Hitler’s bunker wasn’t underneath Reichstag, as I had originally thought, but was actually, directly underneath one of the apartments we rented
Cycling alongside the Spree river could bring you a lot of pleasure. Beautiful tourists boats pass very often, almost all bridges are named and their history engraved on plates. Obviously, all the bridges were restored after World War II. One of the most important bridges during the final days of WWII was Moltke Bridge. It is a really nice bridge with statues, ornaments and great views in all directions. If you find yourself there, don’t miss Hauptbanhof – the central railroad station in Berlin – a huge glassy building demonstrating German transportation power. I would recommend trying Berlin’s mass transit system (at least S-Bahn), it goes above the ground and it’s an easy way to spot interesting things. Having seen all the interesting spots here, we moved on from the Spree river embankment to Schloss Bellevue – the German President’s office. You are unlikely to be able to enter the palace but luckily there is a virtual tour available on the website.
The central spot in the Tiergarten Park is occupied by Victory Column – the tall monument erected to commemorate Prussian victories at the end of the 19th century. One of the greatest things here is that there is a spiral staircase inside the column. For a small fee, you can get up there and have a spectacular view over the city. It’s almsost unbelievable the think that this monument was moved across a distance of about 1.5 km (about 1 mile) during the nazi reign, wasn’t damaged during the WWII and its demolition by France was vetoed by US and GB. So, luckily the great city landmark has survived till now.
Our onwards route took us straight through the Ernst-Reuter-Platz, after which we turned slightly right and straight on to the Charlottenburg Palace. I would mention Charlottenburg Gate just at the end of Tiergarten and Rathaus Charlottenburg just before Charlottenburg Palace.
The palace was built at the end of the 17th century and after that, many improvements were made. In my opinion, this place is a must see for any Berlin visitor. There is a metro station nearby, bicycle parking and a lot of interesting things around. A huge part of my video featured Charlottenburg Palace and a garden behind the palace. For me, the gardens and a pond were the main attraction. It feels like Versailles there and with good reason – the palace architects were impressed and taught by Versailles masters. Take a tour through the Palace; walk through the forest and spacious garden. It is a very peaceful place. It was heavily damaged during WWII but now it is very well restored. Having spent an hour there, we moved further to the west to Spandau.
The route from Charlottenburg to Spandau was a relatively long run and we pretty much wore ourselved out on that trip. But it was worth it. Not only did we get to see the lives of ordinary Berliners passing nearby but had the pleasure of getting off the crowded tourist routes into the city’s real environment. When I saw a huge district of small grounds with small houses they reminded me of my childhood. There are so called dachas, which are very popular in Russia. It is a huge area divided into a large number of small grounds (500 square meters each) with very different houses built on each ground. These fields were used by Russians as a field to grow extra food and to live during the summer time. I thought it was only a Soviet kind of culture. No. Germany has the same!
If, by any chance, you follow our steps, then don’t miss the Ruhwald Park. It’s a very quiet place just in the middle of the journey.
Spandau itself is well known for its now-demolished Spandau Prison. Nowadays, the main attractions are the Altstadt and the Citadel. We didn’t have much time to see Altstadt, though, and quickly processed to the Citadel. From my perspectiv,e Spandau Altstadt is the missing medieval part of Berlin and I would recommend that everybody spends half a day there. But for us, this time, the main attraction was the Citadel. It was built at the end of the 16th century on an island created by the meeting of the Havel and the Spree rivers. Throughout history, this fortress was conquered only once by Napoleon and was seriously damaged during that time. When Soviets sieged the Fortress, its captain surrendered after negotiations and that saved many lives and the Fortress itself.
The Citadel reminds me of Izmaylovskiy Island in Moscow which I’ve written about in this blog. The sightseeing is free and you’re able to walk almost anywhere through it. There are many nice views and spots for photos. There is even a wedding agency with Rolls Royce. So, many things to see and do here. We spent the whole evening there and went back home only after dark.
Getting back to the apartments was an interesting story. In fact, it is very rare for business to work during non typical working hours and during weekends in Germany. I heard that such businesses have to get a permit for that, even supermarkets. So, we were late to get the keys from the apartments manager. They told us that we were late and could get our keys tomorrow but knowing that we are just absent-minded Russians they agreed to wait a little bit despite being prohibited from work. It, thus, goes without saying that we were not able to find a working supermarket late in the evening
Finally here is my list of Berlin’s hot spots with great views. Don’t miss them next time you are in Berlin:
- Panoramapunkt – open ground on two top floors of the business center
- Victory Column – balcony on top of the column, a lot of steps to go
- Furnturm – TV station – really huge queues, register in the morning
- Reichstag – register through the Internet
Have a good time on your travels and make great videos using Together to show your experiences.
=== May 4, 2016 addition ===
Here’s another inspirational post for those who would like to cycle in Berlin.