Traveling from London to Berlin was a long, puzzle solving day. We left our London hotel at 8:30am and arrived our Berlin hotel at 5:30pm (w/ 1 hr time change). The journey included the London “tube” to the train station, a train to London Luton airport, a bus from the airport train station to the terminal, a flight from London to Berlin (easyJet) and a taxi from Berlin airport to hotel. We figured it all out, step by step!
Day one in Berlin was a bit of a ‘down’ day, only in that we didn’t have anything planned. We needed to find new SIM cards for our phones so we could be able to communicate outside of WiFi. We also needed to square our transport to Warnemunde for the cruise on Friday. Thankfully, the hotel staff was able to point us in the direction of the grocery store across the street from the hotel where we could find the best price. We walked a few blocks of the city, into 3 cell phone stores, just to check that the grocery price was the best. It was. While at the grocery we picked up some food for lunch, which we ate in the hotel lobby while researching the Berlin to Warnemunde travel puzzle. Google Maps has been a best friend of ours. It does a great job of helping us get from ‘point A’ to ‘point B’, including underground train name, bus number, foot path, time of travel, time of next bus/train, etc. It’s a wonderful tool and we use it everyday. The travel to Warnemunde was the most complicated thus far primarily because of the language barrier. We tried working with the concierge, a nearby travel agent, and the website (which couldn’t hold it’s English translation) and still couldn’t get the tickets booked. I also tried calling the customer service number but couldn’t get through. We worked on this all afternoon, Monday. It was overnight in the US, so we couldn’t reach out to any of our friends. I sent an email to Patrick who responded early his Monday morning. By the time I saw his response I realized I was misdialing the customer service number by using the country code. <sigh> What an idiot! The customer service rep was very helpful and, by the end of the call, we had our round trip bus tickets to/from Warnemunde.
Tuesday we ventured out to the city. We stuck with our typical M.O. of a “Hop On Hop Off” bus, this time a 2-day ticket. We found the stop just around the corner from the hotel and started our tour. The full route was just under 2 hours. The tour recording points out specific historical landmarks throughout the city. Tours in Britain & Ireland identifies historic landmarks hundreds of years old. The history in Berlin is more recent, specifically 1933-1945. Berlin approaches it’s role in the Second World War very apologetically. The language used is humble and with shame. It’s quite remarkable.
The places of interest on Tuesday were the Brandenburg Gate and the Holocaust Memorial. The gate is one of the most popular sites in Germany and was once the main entrance to the city. On this day, however, we were unable to get too close to the gate. A large fence wrapped around it with a large staging area was set up behind. Unbeknownst to us when we established the itinerary, we are in Berlin on the 500th anniversary of The Restoration, also known as National Church Day. Also unbeknownst to us, President Obama spoke at the ceremony along with Angela Merkle. This explains the staging arena also set up across the street from our hotel.
Because there wasn’t much to see at the gate site, we walked over to the Holocaust Memorial site. I had no idea what I was seeing when we walked up. Vickie had been here before and she knew. It was the kind of thing you don’t see right away. It sort of unfolds the more you look at it. A full square block of concrete blocks in various heights. A very powerful site commemorating the tragedies that took place in this country. Beneath the ground is a bunker-style museum that unfolds the timeline of 1933-1945 in Germany. Facts, photos, and personal stories are on the walls, floor and other structures throughout the maze. It was so quiet in the museum. No one spoke in a regular tone, even the many high school kids that were clearly there for a school event. Powerful.
We reboarded the tour bus with the intent of riding it back to our hotel. We didn’t realize, though, that the tour ended at 6pm, regardless of where the passengers boarded. At 6pm, the bus pulled into the nearest stop. The driver spoke through the speaker on the bus and told us, in broken English, ‘the tour has ended. get off the bus. see you tomorrow. thank you.’. We were in an instant ‘adventure’ in trying to figure out how to get back to our hotel. Another puzzle we were able to accomplish. We both think it’s fun. And, we made it back in time to Skype with my Gram.
Our Hilton “Diamond” status has really paid off this week. Not only do we have a very nice room, we have access to the Executive Lounge where we’ve eaten dinner every night. It’s usually some sort of soup, finger sandwiches, and bread along with beer, wine, and mixed drink ingredients. In addition to dinner in the Lounge, we get complimentary breakfast in the hotel restaurant. The food and savings have been great.
We decided that Thursday’s points of interest would be Checkpoint Charlie and the Wall. Both were within walking distance of the hotel. We took our time, walking along the bricked path where the Wall once stood reading all of the information displayed. Seeing and standing this place where so much happened is surreal. At the place where the actual wall remnant stands also stands the remains of a brick wall originally built for an elementary school in 1905 but then used by the leaders of the Gestapo. The site is appropriately called, “The Territory of Terror”.
When we’d taken in all that we could take, we found a little Turkish cafe and had a plate of Currywurst and a plate of Schnitzel. Currywurst is simply a hot dog with ketchup and curry powder. Schnitzel is a flattened mean, usually chicken or pork, breaded and fried. I love schnitzel and this place did it well. After lunch we found the tour bus and hopped on for another ‘spin’ around the city. When we boarded the bus, we were thinking of about an 1-1.5 hrs for one more look at this beautiful, historical city before being dropped near the hotel. However, because of the holiday and dignitaries in town, we spent 3.5 hrs on the bus only to be dropped again at some random location left to fend for ourselves back to the hotel. Another adventure.
We had planned to do laundry on Thursday so we could start the cruise with a clean slate of clothes, but after the craziness on the roads on Wednesday, we began to rethink the decision. The laundromat was 1.5 miles from the hotel but I was worried we would spend an hour in the taxi with the meter running. We thought maybe we’d just have the hotel do our laundry instead but then found out that, because of the holiday, there was no laundry service on Thursday. Of course, they would be happy to send it out for us… for double the cost. Um… thank you… no. We had already confirmed that the laundromat would be open on Thursday, so I decided to be there very early, before the city was awake, and save on the taxi cost. It worked. I hailed the taxi in front of the hotel at 6:15. No one was on the streets. It cost less than 10 Euros to get there. I was the only person in the laundromat for the first hour or so. I took the opportunity to call Kerry and catch up. It was so awesome to hear her voice. It felt like home. I was back at the hotel by 8:15. We spent the day listening to the foot traffic from the crowds attending the events in the square across the street, watching tv, packing and getting ready for the cruise.