For Thanksgiving this year, we took a train trip to Berlin.  We’ve now mastered the intricacies of public transportation in Stuttgart—caught the 0607 bus from the stop around the corner, to the Böblingen station to catch the S-Bahn to the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof, and on to the train, where we discovered it is indeed easy to make a very short connection at the Hannover train station.  We arrived in Berlin in early afternoon, about seven hours after leaving our house.Our hotel was the Best Western Hotel President, and it was quite nice.  The room was a decent size even by American standards—I think it was actually a “business class” room.  They had a coffee/hot chocolate/hot water machine a few steps outside the room (sadly, there wasn’t any coffee while we were there, but Rebecca had some hot chocolate).  We dropped our bags and went out to find something to eat.

img_4381The hotel was just a few blocks from the Kurfürstendamm (aka the Ku’damm–a big shopping street in Berlin).  We made a brief stop at KaDeWe, a huge department store, supposedly bigger than Harrod’s (in London).  Unfortunately, its six enormous floors of stuff didn’t hold anything we wanted to eat.  As we walked down the Ku’damm, we came upon one of several Christmas markets in Berlin—this one surrounding the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.  The remains of the church, which was largely destroyed by bombs in World War II, is now a memorial site.  The remains of this once lovely building stand in stark contrast to the somewhat blocky new church building.

Further down the street, we found a nice little restaurant and had our Thanksgiving dinner of schnitzel and pommes frites.  After dinner, we continued our walk, turning the corner at Uhlandstrasse to visit the Berliner Kaffee Rösterei.  They roast their own beans, using a huge coffee roaster which stands right inside the door.  You can also buy coffee beans there, roasted or green.  We bought a couple half kilos of beans to roast at home, and of course had a café latte (Rebecca had kakao) from the Berliner Kaffee Rösterei restaurant, right next door.

img_4412Before returning to the hotel, we visited the Kaiser Wilhelm Kirche.  You can still go inside a portion of the structure that remains, which holds some of the sculpture that used to be inside the church.  We also walked through the Christmas market surrounding it.  Roy and Rebecca shared a half meter bratwurst, which seems to be one of the special Christmas snacks in Berlin, and we also sampled the local Glühwein.  Sun sets early in late autumn in northern Germany, so it was pretty dark by the time we got back to the hotel.  We decided to call it a day and rest up for the following full day in Berlin.

img_4443Our first morning in Berlin, we caught the bus around the corner toward Mitte, kind of the “city center”.  When we got off the bus at the Brandenburg Tor stop, it was already raining.  We grabbed a cup of coffee and a quick bite at a Starbucks, where we sat at a window with a view of the Brandenburg Gate—from the former east side.  After breakfast, we walked through the Brandenburg Gate over to have a look at the Reichstag (which is the German Parliament building; its dome is one of Berlin’s famous landmarks).  There was already a long line of people waiting, we assumed, to get in to see the dome.  We didn’t wait; instead, we walked back through the gate, partly following the path of bricks that marks the former location of the Berlin Wall, toward Checkpoint Charlie.

Checkpoint Charlie is now marked by a museum, a lot of little shops and kiosks hawking “You are now leaving the American sector” T-shirts, a rather large number of beggars, and a booth in the middle of the street manned by two young men in Army uniforms, who you can take a picture img_4461with for 1 Euro.  I told Roy it didn’t look much like what I remembered back in the early 80s.  The museum (which, I hate to say, is overpriced at E 12.50) holds the original border sign and a piece of the original white border line, along with some exhibits showing how people escaped through the border and a number of pictures from the beginning through the end of the Wall.  I did see one picture that looked very similar to the platform I remember standing on, looking over at the Berlin Wall.  From the window of the museum, you can see more of the line of bricks marking the path.  Pieces of the wall are mounted along the side of the building, and are located in several areas throughout the city.

From Checkpoint Charlie, we moved further into the former East Berlin, to visit Gendarmenmarkt, reportedly “the most beautiful square in Berlin.”  This square is framed by the Deutsche Dom (German Cathedral), the French Cathedral, and the Konzerthaus, home of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t quite get the sense of the archictectural beauty of the square, since it was filled with another Christmas market.  This one must have been something special; it had the normal booths around the outside, but to get into the middle a the market and the square, they were charging a Euro—we decided to skip it.  I did get some pictures of the buildings, and Roy and I had a curry at a little kiosk outside the Dom.  Rebecca, who doesn’t care for currywurst, had a buffalo wurst which tasted pretty good.

After lunch, we walked through the city toward Unter den Linden, considered one of the most beautiful streets in Berlin.  On our way, we passed another Christmas market, which we spent a little time admiring.  On the other side of this market was Unter den Linden, which we followed toward the Berliner Dom.

img_4509We walked around the Berliner Dom to Museum Island, which holds a number of museums.  It’s a really nice area, which is probably even nicer, but more crowded, when it’s warm and the sun is shining.  Although it was raining, we decided to pass on going inside the museums.  We walked a little way along the river back to Unter den Linden, and went toward Alexanderplatz—easy to determine the direction by following the TV tower, the tallest structure in Berlin.  The TV tower shared the skyline with a large lighted Ferris wheel, which graced yet another Christmas market.

img_4531The Christmas market at Alexanderplatz was really nice, and had a few items that we hadn’t seen in some of the other markets; we actually bought a few things there.  Of course, like all the others, there were numerous food stalls, so Roy and Rebecca had a little snack to tide them over until dinner.  I took a few pictures of the Rotes Rathaus and the TV tower, normally some of the big draws of this area.  For this trip, however, the lovely Christmas market was the sight to see.  The Neptune statue was surrounded by an ice skating rink, the children’s train ride went through a number of fairytale exhibits, the pony ride was not far from the Nativity scene, and when the sun set, the Ferris wheel definitely outshone the TV tower.

We left the Alexanderplatz Christmas market and went back to our hotel to drop our purchases before heading out again for dinner.  We found a small restaurant down a quite side street; they had Wienerschnitzel, so Rebecca said, “I’m good.”  We were very proud to successfully get through the meal with our “restaurant German;” Roy didn’t even ask for the English menu.  After the meal, we stopped through the Christmas market by St Wilhelm’s Kirche on the way back to the hotel, but we were all too full to eat any of the goodies there.  Rebecca was even too full to get a crepe.

img_4550We still had Saturday morning to see a little more of Berlin, so we went to Charlottenburg Schloss.  The sun came out this morning, so we got a good view of the palace.  Outside the front of the palace was yet another Christmas market, but this one was mostly closed while we were there.  We took the tour of the old palace; no pictures allowed inside, but the rooms were very opulent and there is one room in particular that holds a huge collection of porcelain, literally a fortune.  We walked around the palace gardens for a few minutes, but they are rather bare this time of year.

The food stalls in the Christmas market were opening up, but we decided to go back to the market close to our hotel to eat, so we’d be in a better position to pick up our luggage from the hotel and then leave to catch our train.  Roy and Rebecca each had a half meter bratwurst; I had a curry and brötchen.  Then we passed the suppe stand, and had to try the Kartoffelcreme suppe (potato cream soup, which has smoked sausage in it).  Then we passed the crepe and waffeln stand, so we had to have a strawberry crepe and strawberry waffle.  Roy still had a chocolate spot to fill, so he had a chocolate waffle cookie thing.  img_4578That filled up the rest of our time (not to mention our stomachs), so we went back to the hotel, picked up our luggage, and caught the subway to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof.  On the way back to the hotel, Santa passed us on a motorcycle—seems that’s the way he gets around in the busy traffic of Berlin!

As I write this, we’re on our way home.  We’ve made our connection in Hannover and are pulling into the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof; just a couple more stops until we make it home.  The train is pretty comfortable and has a power outlet in the seat, so I’m able to write up this latest entry in our travels (if only the train had WiFi).  Still, in spite of the rain yesterday, it’s been an enjoyable trip.  The cold and wet weather this time of year was definitely offset by the several beautiful Weinachtmarkts we had the chance to see, including the lovely one gracing an area where it wouldn’t have been allowed just a little more than twenty years ago.

See our photo album for Thanksgiving in Berlin.

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