Several years ago, I read “Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson. I finished it while I was traveling in South America with two very good friends. It’s based in Chicago at the time of the World’s Fair (late 1800’s), and I couldn’t stop talking about it. My friends got the play by play while we were traveling, and they often bring up “the fair” when we’re together. As silly as it is, the Fair comes up in conversation WAY more often than you might imagine. Okay, maybe I’m the one bringing it up, but the point is that the book was really good.
When I learned that Erik Larson was releasing a new book, I had to read it. The new book was called “In the Garden of Beasts,” and it was set in pre-WWII Berlin as the Nazis were coming to power. The book left me wanting to visit Berlin, and I moved it to the top of my list upon arrival in Europe.
On Saturday morning, I made a beeline for Museum Island. I knew I needed a timed ticket for one or more of the museums, and I didn’t want have to wait until the afternoon to enter. As it turns out, I was able to stroll right in. Perfect. Museum Island is home to several large museums in Berlin. I visited three of them. (The beauty of buying the “Museum Pass” is that you can walk in and see the most famous exhibit and then leave – perfect for impatient museum goers like myself.)
Museum #1: Pergamon…home to a couple of impressive things:
[Ishtar Gate – a reconstruction of one of the entry gates of Babylon during the time of Nebuchadnezzar II. 575 B.C.]
[Market Gate to the ancient Roman city of Miletus. Destroyed by an earthquake centuries ago and rebuilt in Berlin]
[Pergamon Altar. Modeled after the Acropolis in Athens, this temple comes from the 2nd century B.C. city of Pergamon in Greece]
[Gigantomachy Frieze depicting Athena taking on the giants]
Museum #2: Neues Museum. No photos allowed of the most incredible item…the 3,000-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti, the most famous piece of Egyptian art in Europe. It really was beautiful.
Museum #3: Old National Gallery. This was my favorite. Some sculptures, but mostly 19th century paintings.
After so many museums, I was hungry! I went to a tiny little spot to try a dish unique to Berlin – Currywurst. I didn’t know what to expect, but I liked it so much that I ordered it again for dinner. It’s basically like it sounds – a bratwurst sprinkled with curry powder and some kind of special sauce.
After the yummy lunch, it was on to the Berlin Wall Memorial to see a remaining portion of the wall. I realized I know very little about the Cold War and the Berlin Wall, so I took advantage of the free videos in the Visitor Center to learn about it.
In the former East Berlin, the crosswalk figures are these funny red and green men – Ampelmannchen. I think they are hilarious!
Keeping with the theme of the wall, I took the train to the East Side Gallery. This is the biggest remaining stretch of the wall, and it is now “the world’s longest outdoor gallery.” It runs for nearly a mile, and the entire thing is covered with murals.
The sun was setting as I made my way back to Museum Island. And every couple of blocks, I was stumbling onto a Christmas Market! I can’t seem to get enough of them. I roamed through four or five of them during the course of the weekend…eating snacks, buying a present for my Connect Group gift exchange, looking at Christmas decorations, and even spotting Santa in his sleigh!
[This guy is an impressive one man show! A portable bratwurst griller.]
[A stable complete with a fake Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, but live barn animals]
[Santa flew overhead in his sleigh to wish us a “Merry Christmas!”]
[And then he hit the turbo button and sped off]
In the evening, I went to a Christmas concert at the Berlin Cathedral. The setting was incredible, and I loved the performance. Choir & Orchestra performing Handel’s Messiah. It was all in German, but beautiful none the less.
I was completely exhausted after so many things, but I knew I needed to walk by the Brandenburg Gate at night to see it lit up. The walk up Unter den Linden was lovely. Berlin clearly LOVES Christmas. So many lights!! And as you can see, the Brandenburg Gate did not disappoint – spectacular!
[The Brandenburg Gate was built in 1791. It was one of the 14 gates in Berlin’s old city wall. Just as spectacular in the daylight.]
[The Reichstag – Germany’s Parliament building]
[The dome on the top of the Reichstag. I walked up to the top attempting to see the city through the rain.]
[I read that Berlin is constantly under construction, and I think this picture illustrates the point well.]
[Victory Column sits in the middle of the Tiergarten]
[Holocaust Memorial. The number of gravestone-like pillars (2,711) doesn’t represent anything. Rather, it’s how many fit in the space.]
I spent the afternoon at the Jewish Museum Berlin. And since one can’t visit Germany without having some streusel, I stopped at a cute, little bakery for a snack before heading to the airport.
When I got into the cab at the airport on Friday night, I realized the only German word I know is Danke (thank you). As it turns out, knowing only one word isn’t a deal breaker. It’s still possible to have a weekend full of history lessons, Christmas lights, beautiful music, art, and currywurst. Success.