I’ll be honest. Our track record when it comes to Thanksgiving travel is a bit on the sketchy side (Tokyo 2006, anyone?). We generally just stay home and enjoy our turkey, pie and football…’Murica for the win! Being in Europe has given us vacation amnesia…Thanksgiving = 4-day weekend = travel! After much careful consideration, hours of research (lies), we came down to our decision. Result of the coin toss? Berlin. Aside from very brief history of the Cold War, bad decisions by the German-He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named and Jason Bourne movies, Berlin would be a learning experience for us.
(*NOTE: Because our Girl Child is rather sensitive (we couldn’t make it an hour into the first ‘Hunger Games’ before a massive flood of tears were shed), there were a lot of sites that we omitted. We would have liked to have gone, however, out of respect for Girl Child, we did very, very basic WWII history with her and focused more on the Cold War era.)
Our track record came into effect again, as Boy Child managed to contract Hand, Foot and Mouth disease. Seriously. I think this kid needs to have bubble around him during Thanksgiving week. Luckily (?), it was confined to his throat and the doctor said that by the time she saw him, he’d probably already passed it on to whomever would get it next and was no longer cooty-rific. She gave us the go-ahead to go…so we did.
Thanks in part to the road trip to Garmisch, we decided to leave the driving to someone else. We took the ICE (Inter City Express) train. ICE trains are Germany’s answer to the high speed train. We had one transfer, but it was awesome to not have to worry about driving. It took roughly 6 hours by train, which is the same it would have taken us if we had driven.
Trip Win #1: The hotel. The hotel we stayed at was the Mondrian Suites am Checkpoint Charlie. It had everything we needed…kitchen, bathroom, separate bedroom and pull-out sofa for the munchkins. It was centrally located and the staff sprechen sie Englisch. That was super helpful, as I really didn’t want to butcher phrases in my kindergarten-level German.We dumped off the bags, took a look at the map and decided it was time for some exploring. We were within walking distance of the Brandenburg Gate, so we figured we’d hit that up first.
History Lesson #1: Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) was built between 1788 and 1791. It served as part of the customs wall for Berlin and also marked the beginning of the road between Berlin and the city of Brandenburg. In WWII, it was damaged, but it was still standing. After the war, when the Berlin Wall was erected, Brandenburg Gate ended up inside East Berlin territory…cutting off West Berlin access to it. Eventually, the East constructed another smaller wall which cut off access to the East Berliners as well. When the Berlin Wall came tumbling down (literally and figuratively) and the country reunited, the Gate was renovated back to what it was prior to WWII.
You know those monuments that look really big in pictures, but then completely let you down when you see it in person (looking at you, Alamo)? I guarantee you, this is not the case with the Brandenburg Gate. This thing is imposing and grand. At night, I think there is a special kind of magic, as the lights enhance its majesty (wow…that’s was kind of flowery, wasn’t it?). As we walked up to it, we noticed that there are a few foreign embassies that neighbor the Gate; including the British, US and French embassies. The French embassy was very sobering to see. There were flowers and memorials lining the sidewalk in front of the fence.
After we ran back and forth through the Gate (because really, you can’t be there and NOT do it) and took our obligatory family selfie, we decided to keep walking over to Potsdamer Platz. We could see the twinkling lights of the market stalls. Yes friends, it’s that time of year. Christmas markets galore. Gluhwein, hot chocolate and goodies, ohhhhh myyyyyy! The market in Potsdamer Platz is awesome because it has a tubing hill and a mini-curling lane set up next to the tubing hill. You read that right. Tubing. Curling. In the middle of the city. Because it makes total sense.
Potsdamer Platz is also where got our first glimpse of the Berlin Wall (apparently, we walked right past a section at our hotel and didn’t know it until the next morning). They had several sections of the wall on display. When we looked down at the sidewalk, we noticed that they had left the footprint of the wall in the cement with brick. It reminded me a lot of the Freedom Trail in Boston. Since we weren’t (okay…I wasn’t) sure of our bearings, Husband (being the brilliant man he is) suggested we walk along the wall footprint. The footprint would eventually cross Checkpoint Charlie, which was 2 blocks from our hotel. We made it back to the hotel and called it a night.
We woke up and Husband headed over to the bakery on the corner for some breakfast goodies (pretty sure Girl Child is going to sprout into a walking pretzel at some point). We broke out the map again and decided on our game plan. It was our first full day and the weather was on our side. We jumped on the U-Bahn and headed out.
Our first stop was Alexanderplatz. Sadly, no Jason Bourne shenanigans. But we did happen to run into two different Christmas markets on either side of the street. There was a really cool astronomical clock on the other side of the U-Bahn station. The first thing I noticed about the Alexanderplatz area was how different some of the architecture was. Yes, friends, Alexanderplatz was located in the former East Berlin. It’s amazing how you can tell what part of the city you’re in just based on the architecture. The walk/don’t walk signs are also another way to tell how you’re in the East side.
We started walking back toward the middle of town, and decided to stop in at the DDR Museum. The DDR Museum is a quirky (and slightly spendy), hands-on museum that documents what and how life was in East Berlin. There was a Trabant virtual driving experience (didn’t get to try that one since there was a line), info movies showing interviews of people living in East Berlin and different artifacts of life on that side of the wall. By far, the best part of the museum (according to Girl and Boy Child) was the Berlin Wall simulator. They have a screen set up with a graphic of the wall. There are ‘spray cans’ that dangle from the ceiling. You grab a can and spray graffiti on the wall. Pretty sure my kids might have a bright future in tagging.
Right next to the DDR Museum is the Berlin Cathedral. We didn’t actually go inside, but the outside is just as stunning.
History Lesson #2: The Berlin Cathedral was heavily damaged during WWII. The dome was obliterated and an incendiary liquid bomb landed on the floor of the church, causing a massive fire that was impossible to put it out. After the war had ended, the cathedral belonged to the DDR (East Germany). They erected a temporary roof a whopping 13 years after the initial point of destruction. Then it just sat there. They began reconstruction in 1975, but the church remained closed and off-limits until 1993. Final reconstruction was completed in 2002.
At this point, Girl Child was getting a
lot little hungry, so we decided to meander back toward Alexanderplatz. We shamefully found a McDonald’s for Girl Child, but made up for it by enjoying the delicious eats at the nearby Christmas market. Win for everyone!
After lunch, we made our way back over toward our hotel, but decided to get off the U-Bahn a couple of stops early. By this time, it was late afternoon and we could tell that the kiddos (okay, and us) were starting to get a little tired. What better way to perk up than chocolate? In the Gendarmenmarkt area is a Ritter Sport Store. This place is AWESOME. For 3.40€, you can make you own chocolate bar. You tell them if you want milk or dark chocolate and then you choose whatever goodies you want inside of it. They make it in front of you and then throw it in the chiller for about 30 minutes. You come back and VOILA! Your very own chocolate creation. Boy Child made his with some cookies, crispies and pop rocks (say what?). Girl Child went for gummi bears, marshmallows and gold stars. They were…interesting…
Once we were good and loaded with sugar, we went back to the hotel. We were all pretty much done for the day and Boy Child was having some issues with his throat–because, you know, pop rocks are an excellent idea for a cooty-rific throat. Husband walked down the street and grabbed some delicious take out for dinner. Great ending to the day. On to the next!