Karie on Mar 16th 2008 07:10 pm
I learned more in Berlin in 2 days than I learned in all my years of schooling combined. What a fascinating place, AND, to top it all off, the best things in Berlin are FREE!
If you remember one tip out of everything I share from our entire year here, let it be this: take the New Berlin Free Walking Tour. If you are ever in Berlin, or anywhere near Berlin, please take this tour. If you have been to Berlin and did not take this tour, go back and take this tour. The company, New Europe Tours, now offers free tours in several major cities, including Paris, London, Amsterdam, etc., but the history of Berlin made this one of particular interest to me.
The philosophy of New Europe Tours is that every person deserves a high quality informative tour, regardless of status or income level. The reason it works is that the tour guides are extremely enthusiastic about history, and they have to be good at what they do because they work solely on tips. So while it’s nice that the tour is free, that’s not necessarily why I recommend it. In fact, make sure you take money with you because you will want to tip your guide generously.
When we arrived at the tour meeting point, Starbucks (aka, the American Embassy) across from the Brandenburg Gate, the crowds were starting to gather. By the time the tour began, there were at least 200 enthuasiastic but poor tourists. We were getting kind of nervous that we were going to get exactly what we paid for (nada). However, they first split the group based on language, which pretty much cut it in half, then the remaining 100-or-so English-speakers were split into 2 separate groups.
I never would have guessed that a group of 50+ people could really be that enjoyable or informative. However, our guide had great voice projection and was a master at organizing the group so everyone felt a part of the experience. I’m sure all their guides are great, but Dave from Manchester is amazing. When you go to Berlin and take this tour, look for Tour Guide Dave and follow him around as long as he’ll let you. I honestly believe that if every child had a history teacher like him, it would change the future.
What was supposed to be a 3 ½-hour tour turned into over 5 hours, as Tour Guide Dave got carried away in sharing great stories, and we were all too captivated to notice the time. We spent quite a bit of time at the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe”, which would be expected on a tour of this sort, but we also spent some time at some less descript areas. For example, at one point the guide stopped the entire group in the middle of a parking lot, and went on to explain the events surrounding Hitler’s suicide in the Führerbunker directly beneath where we were standing.
All 5 hours were packed full of interesting facts that we otherwise would have never known. It really gave us a better understanding of the history, as well as its lingering impact on today’s society… and possibly tomorrow’s. Seriously, I can’t stress it enough – just go.
The second free & fabulous thing we did was touring the Reichstag building, which houses the German Parliament. I’ll spare you the building’s extensive history (although it’s quite interesting if you ever want to look it up), but in 1999, a glass dome was added to the top of the building. It offers wonderful views of the city, but the best view is looking down inside the building directly onto the floor of the Parliament. The architecture is a representation of democracy, with the people reigning at the top, and the government below – fully transparent to all – serving to support and uplift its citizens. It’s beautiful, but be prepared to wait in a long line. When we were there, the line extended down the stairs and toward the expansive lawn, and the wait was about 1 ½ hours. However, I’ve heard that in peak season the line can wrap all the way around the building.
Now there were a few things we did that weren’t free, one of which was the Story of Berlin, an interactive, multi-sensory type of museum. I got the impression that it’s targeted at younger audiences, perhaps around the age when children/teens are learning this history in school. However, considering I must’ve missed that day at SCS, I still found it quite interesting. It also included a guided tour of a bunker, which was probably worth the 9.20 Euro admission on its own.
Oh, and we also saw one of the 7 Wonders of the World – the Ishtar Gate to the inner city of Babylon at the Pergamon Museum. Well, actually it is no longer on the list of wonders, but when we realized we were that close to something that was once considered one of the most magnificent things on earth, we had to see it. We heard “7 wonders” and we went… at the time, we didn’t even really know what we were going to see.
We ended up going through the museum backward (because we took the most direct route, not caring about anything else in the building… the wonder, take us to the wonder), so we experienced the gates as if we were leaving Babylon. However, if you were to make this visit as it was intended, the journey would lead you down a long corridor housing the Processional Way, building up to the grandeur of the gate itself. The vibrant colors make it hard to believe that this gate was built in 575 BC, by order of King Nebuchadnezzar. Anyone remember Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?
I don’t mean to downplay its significance by putting it at the bottom of the list (and long after the free tour). It was quite spectacular, and it’s not every day that you see something commissioned by someone that you learned about from Bible stories in Sunday School. However, the fact that when you say “Berlin” I think “free tour” tells me that this wonder has been overshadowed by the many amazing things that we saw & learned in Berlin.
Certainly every bit of history makes an impact on today’s society, but what I experienced in Berlin is tangible. We have family members that fought in World Wars, and we remember watching the news as the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. As much as I am continually blown away by really really old stuff, this trip reminded me that we are still writing history – some beautiful & heroic, and some dark & tainted. Some day, perhaps many years from now, someone might walk where I walked and be just as enamored with the stories of 2008 as I am with the stories of 575 BC, 1492, 1942, 1989…
Maybe I’m starting to say this about every city, but I really wish we had more time in Berlin. We barely scratched the surface.