German capital Berlin is perfect as a Pointless short holiday destination!
- Credit: Archant
PAUL GEATER told viewers that if he and his daughter won Pointless he’d take his wife to Berlin. Three days after the programme was screened they were on the plane from Stansted. But what’s the German capital like for a Pointless break?
I’ve had a secret hankering to go to Berlin ever since I was unable to travel there in the 1970s because of problems travelling with my British army friends to West Berlin.
So this was a trip I’d waited 40 years to make – but it was well worth it when it came. And we’re already hoping to make a return trip in a few years’ time.
Today’s Berlin is very different to the place I missed out on visiting in 1977. It is the third largest capital city in Europe and while the wall remains a feature of the place, it is very much a feature of the past that really does not affect the city today.
Because Berlin is very much one city. There are ways of telling whether you are in the pre-1989 East or West Berlin, but there is really no gulf in culture or attitudes – some of the most desirable parts of the city are now what were in the east (including the American embassy).
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The sights that everyone has heard of are the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag building which is the home of the German parliament.
Neither disappoint – the Brandenburg Gate is now shown off perfectly at the end of Unter Den Linden without the need to look over the wall to it.
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The Reichstag was restored rebuilt in the late 1990s to a design by Norman Foster – the architect behind Ipswich’s Willis Building – and features a glass dome at the top of the building.
If you apply in advance for security clearance (it is the parliament building) you can go to the roof of the building and into the dome. The views are fantastic. The commentary (in English) is very informative. And it’s free. For me that visit was the highlight of the trip. Just Google Berlin Reichstag and you will find it’s tourist office and a form to fill in.
We flew from Stansted to Schonefeld Airport (which was the airport for East Berlin). It has trains direct to the HauptBahnHof (main rail station) every half hour.
We stayed at a modern hotel near this station, which was only completed in 2006. The area is quite sterile – it is one of many redevelopment areas in the city and is still the home to many cranes. It is within easy walking distance of the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate, however.
The hotel we stayed in was comfortable and functional. We had a travel pass for the rail, underground, tram and bus services in Berlin which gave us the chance to easily get around the city.
The S-Bahn is superb. We used it every evening to get out to some superb, and good value, restaurants in the Hackscher Markt and Savignyplatz as well as travelling around the city.
On our first visit to Berlin we did the normal tourist things – a trip on the hop-on, hop-off open top bus and a one-hour journey on the River Spree – both are great ways of seeing the heart of the city.
But you cannot beat walking for yourself – you see so much more.
We visited the main Lutheran cathedral, the Berlin Dom which was restored by the East Germans in the 1980s. Opposite that – at the opposite end of Unter Den Linden to the Brandenburg Gate – stood the former royal palace.
That is being rebuilt as the Humboldt Institute, Berlin’s answer to the Paris Pompidou Centre, and is due to open in 2019. A new U-Bahn link is being built along Unter Den Linden which means that is currently something of a construction site. We’re already planning to return in 2020 to see these “new” attractions.
The Second World War had a devastating effect on Berlin’s architecture, and the partition of the city also helped create what it is today.
Alexanderplatz was the main shopping area in East Berlin. Today the Communist heritage can be seen in the architecture – but it is a major retail centre for the whole city with international branded stores and street markets.
The Berlin Wall memorial at Bernauer Strasse is fascinating, and moving, for anyone of my generation who was brought up knowing about the existence of the scar across the city.
At the other end of the city is the former royal palace of Charlottenburg. It was bombed during the war, but has been lovingly restored,
Overall the impression that Berlin gives today is of a young city at the heart of the Europe – and a city that is still waiting to reach its full potential.