BEAU­TI­FUL AND AC­CES­SI­BLE BER­LIN

The city of free­dom.

Woman's Era - - Contents - Prarthana Mishra

Dur­ing my flight from New Delhi to Ber­lin, as I sat and de­cided my four-day itin­er­ary for Ber­lin, I de­cided to go beyond the ob­vi­ous choices of mu­se­ums, gar­dens, palaces and cas­tles. Along­side, I picked up some Ger­man, know­ing the re­stricted use of English in that city – though it was not of much use as English is com­monly used by Ger­mans to in­ter­act with tourists. Danke (Thank you!), of course, turned out to be a rather help­ful word.

Step­ping out of Te­gal air­port in Ber­lin, the first im­pres­sion of a clean city was al­ready im­printed be­cause of my ear­lier vis­its to Europe. Well-laid ex­press­ways with clear road signs and very few cars gave me the usual sigh of re­lief un­like what we en­counter in our cities in In­dia. The ro­bust pub­lic trans­port sys­tem, which I used in the next four days, en­cour­ages peo­ple to use it mak­ing very few ve­hi­cles crowd­ing the roads. The buses were plying at short in­ter­vals even when few seats were oc­cu­pied in each bus. The buses can get you the clos­est to your des­ti­na­tion. What makes pub­lic trans­port a pre­ferred mode in Ber­lin is its af­ford­abil­ity, punc­tu­al­ity and be­ing friendly to dif­fer­entlyabled per­sons. It is fairly cheap to ride the train com­pared to taxis or car rental. For a lit­tle more than 7 euro a day, one per­son can ride un­lim­ited on all types of trans­port. There are also tick­ets for groups up to five peo­ple for only 17 euro a day! The Ber­lin trans­port sys­tem con­sists of four forms of trans­port – bus, tram, U-bahn (un­der­ground train) and S-bahn (above ground train). What makes these trans­port sys­tems unique is the friend­li­ness to dif­fer­ently-abled per­sons. All of these op­tions have wheel­chair ac­ces­si­ble ca­pa­bil­i­ties; each one is just a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. The trains have a flat en­trance into the train from the plat­form. So it is easy to roll right into the train with a wheel­chair. In case the train has big steps to board, there is a por­ta­ble ramp on each plat­form that can be used to get on the train. These ramps are lo­cated where the front of the train stops. The driver will get out and set up the ramp for you! You just have to wave to the driver so he knows you need the ramp. He then asks which stop you need and will help you exit the train with a ramp. This sounds a bit com­pli­cated, but the driv­ers are trained to do this.

Ber­lin is also known for hav­ing trans­port through the late hours of the night. On the week­ends, the trains run 24/7. Dur­ing the week they run till af­ter mid­night.

An­other thing that gets your at­ten­tion on Ber­lin roads is the use of cy­cles in city. Ev­ery­one rides a bike in Ber­lin. The va­ri­ety of bikes used by peo­ple in Ber­lin will also amuse you. There are women’s bikes, men’s bikes, Dutch bikes,

chil­dren’s bikes and many more. Women also use cy­cle-pram com­bos to glide around town with ba­bies, who con­formably nap in these at­tached prams. The city has ded­i­cated bike­ways of­fer­ing safe and con­ve­nient travel routes for its two-wheeled com­muters.

THE BER­LIN WALL

Among the tourist at­trac­tions, the Ber­lin Wall still re­mains the prom­i­nent des­ti­na­tion for tourists in Ber­lin. It’s a memo­rial to the count­less men, women and chil­dren who died while try­ing to get across the wall. Erected in the dead of night on 13 Au­gust, 1961, the Ber­lin Wall was a phys­i­cal divi­sion be­tween West Ber­lin and East Ger­many. Its pur­pose was to keep East Ger­mans from flee­ing to the West. When the Ber­lin Wall fell on 9 Novem­ber, 1989, it was cel­e­brated around the world. It now stands as a stun­ning piece of pub­lic art, brightly painted by in­ter­na­tional artists. These artists have ex­pressed the ideas of the time when the wall was erected or the feel­ing when the wall was brought down.

I ded­i­cated next day to the fa­mous river cruise of Ber­lin. Ber­lin has two large rivers – the Spree and the Havel – as well as lots of lakes and canals where ships and boats cruise. The Spree river flows un­der arches through the cen­tre of Ber­lin and south of it runs the Landwehr canal. There­fore, all boat tours through the in­ner city fol­low the same route over the Spree river and the Landwehr canal.

Only the length and du­ra­tion of the boat tours vary, de­pend­ing on the start and fin­ish points. If you want to see lots of things but only have a short amount of time, then this river cruise on the Spree is the ideal way to take in ev­ery­thing at the heart of this bustling city.

I opted for a one-hour ex­cur­sion which cov­ered some of the Ber­lin’s land­mark mon­u­ments like the Re­ich­stag (Ger­man Par­lia­ment Build­ing), the Govern­ment Quar­ter and the House of World Cul­tures. Af­ter turn­ing at the Luther Bridge, you may look at Belle­vue Palace, the civil ser­vant hous­ing, and the Vic­tory Col­umn. The Cen­tral Sta­tion, Ber­lin Cathe­dral, Mu­seum Is­land, and the old­est res­i­den­tial area in Ber­lin are also cov­ered dur­ing the cruise. You get an au­dio guide on the cruise to learn about the city in eight dif­fer­ent lan­guages.

As we sat at the front of the deck, we got an ex­cel­lent view of the river. While sail­ing, we saw peo­ple leisurely sit­ting in water­front restau­rants try­ing snacks with a glass of beer while en­joy­ing a re­lax­ing view of the wa­ter.

It is the Mu­seum Is­land which daws ev­ery­body’s at­ten­tion dur­ing the cruise. Spree Is­land is bet­ter known as Mu­seum Is­land, a UN­ESCO World Her­itage site. Here, you'll find many of the city's old­est

IT IS FAIRLY CHEAP TO RIDE THE TRAIN COM­PARED TO TAXIS OR CAR RENTAL. FOR A LIT­TLE MORE THAN 7 EURO A DAY, ONE PER­SON CAN RIDE UN­LIM­ITED ON ALL TYPES OF TRANS­PORT. THERE ARE ALSO TICK­ETS FOR GROUPS UP TO FIVE PEO­PLE FOR ONLY 17 EURO A DAY!

and most im­por­tant mu­se­ums, in­clud­ing the Old Mu­seum which houses the Crown Jew­els and other royal trea­sures. The New Mu­seum serves as the home of ex­ten­sive col­lec­tions from the Egyp­tian Mu­seum, the Pa­pyrus Col­lec­tion, and the Col­lec­tion of Clas­si­cal An­tiq­ui­ties.

Pots­dam was the next des­ti­na­tion worth see­ing around Ber­lin. It is a bor­der­ing city, around 25 kms from Ber­lin. Pots­dam was a res­i­dence of the Prus­sian kings and the Ger­man Kaiser un­til 1918. Around the city, there are a se­ries of in­ter­con­nected lakes and cul­tural land­marks, in par­tic­u­lar the parks and palaces of Sanssouci, the largest World Her­itage site in Ger­many. The Sanssouci palace is not as big as other palaces of Europe, but each room was beau­ti­fully dec­o­rated with in­lays and carv­ings. There is an ex­ten­sive gar­den in front of the palace, where one can spend hours won­der­ing through it.

The small cafe just be­low the Sanssouci Palace on the north­ern (en­trance) side is best place to re­fresh a cup of hot cof­fee. Near the cafe is a big his­toric wind­mill, which is much older than the palace. The wind­mill has an im­pres­sive size and still works!

Af­ter this we spent some time be­side the Wannsee Lake, the most pop­u­lar recre­ation spots in Ber­lin. Yachts and row­boats cruise through the shim­mer­ing wa­ters of the lake. It is the favourite spot for peo­ple to sun­bathe and swim. The mes­meris­ing view of ducks wad­ding in the lake and the beau­ti­ful gar­den sur­round­ing the lake makes it a pic­ture per­fect place.

VISIT TO MU­NICH

The Ber­lin trip is not com­plete with­out a visit to the fas­ci­nat­ing city Mu­nich. Sprawl­ing Mu­nich is one of Ger­many's ma­jor cul­tural cen­tres, sec­ond only to Ber­lin in terms of mu­se­ums and the­atres. It's also one of Ger­many's most fes­tive cities, and its lo­ca­tion, at the foot of the Alps, is idyl­lic.

We took a one -hour flight to Mu­nich from Ber­lin and toured the city on a Hop-on-hop-off bus. The city has many at­trac­tions like Marien­platz and the New Town Hall of Mu­nich, Cathe­dral of Our Blessed Lady, Dachau Con­cen­tra­tion Camp, Res­i­dence Palace of Mu­nich, Deutsches Mu­seum, Olympic Sta­dium of Mu­nich and BMW Mu­seum.

But the most note­wor­thy at­trac­tion of the city is The English Gar­den. One of the largest ur­ban parks in the world, the English Gar­den is Mu­nich’s most pop­u­lar green space, boast­ing over 48 miles (78 kilo­me­tres) of walk­ing and cy­cling trails. Peo­ple were re­lax­ing, play­ing, sun­bathing, swim­ming and even surf­ing in a man-made river called The Eis­bach. De­spite be­ing many hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres from the near­est ocean, the ar­ti­fi­cial river in English Gar­den has be­come a surf­ing hotspot. Soon I was taught about the his­tory of this unique surf­ing spot by peo­ple stand­ing on the banks and ap­plaud­ing the surfers.

Ac­tu­ally, the wa­ter in ar­ti­fi­cial Eis­bach's river comes from the nearby Isar River. In or­der to slow the flow and cre­ate the nec­es­sary seren­ity in the English Gar­den, en­gi­neers sub­merged con­crete blocks just beyond the bridge. This was in­tended to slow the wa­ter but it also cre­ated a rapid. Soon, peo­ple learned to ma­nip­u­late the waves and started surf­ing on the rapid.

Though my travel plans were lim­ited to Ger­many only, I was tempted to try a train jour­ney from Mu­nich to the beau­ti­ful city of Salzburg in Aus­tria, which takes you along a pic­turesque ride of two hours. You can’t keep your eyes off the large glass win­dows of the train

TOURIST FRIEND­LI­NESS IS THE FORTE OF EURO­PEAN CITIES. THE IN­FOR­MA­TION CEN­TRES ARE AT ALL LO­CA­TIONS TO GUIDE YOU AROUND THE CITY. ENGLISH WAS THE AC­CEPTED LAN­GUAGE FOR FOR­EIGN TOURISTS. THE ROAD SIGNAGES WERE CLEAR TO UN­DER­STAND DI­REC­TIONS.

oth­er­wise you may miss the stun­ning views of the land­scape of the coun­try­side. The green rolling fields in dif­fer­ent hues of green, the clus­ters of wood, and the red roofed houses with hills in the back­drop were un­for­get­tably beau­ti­ful.

Tourist friend­li­ness is the forte of Euro­pean cities. The in­for­ma­tion cen­tres are at all lo­ca­tions to guide you around the city. English was the ac­cepted lan­guage for for­eign tourists. The road signages were clear to un­der­stand di­rec­tions.

We didn’t come across any dry patch. The en­tire area was as green and man­i­cured as a car­pet has been spread around. The trains are clean and al­most empty, but never com­pro­mised over their fre­quency. Above all, you may take your bikes in trains as well.

There was no pil­ing of de­bris, sand or gran­ules around the con­struc­tion sites. The con­struc­tion was un­der­go­ing in such a way that it didn’t cause pol­lu­tion or hin­drance to the move­ment of traf­fic and pedes­tri­ans. It was spin and span ev­ery­where – the pub­lic places, the buses, the trains. We couldn’t find any slums, garbage, dumps or over­flow­ing drains. All the drains were un­der­ground or con­cealed.

The mem­o­ries of the trip may fade over time. But few im­pres­sions are ev­er­last­ing. I may for­get ev­ery­thing about the trip, but will re­mem­ber Ber­lin for its bike rides, its kind­ness to dif­fer­ently abled per­sons and, of course, the river cruise. The beauty of English Gar­den of Mu­nich, the ar­ti­fi­cial river and surfers danc­ing on the waves will al­ways tug a string at my heart.

A lady tak­ing along her child in a pram tagged with her cy­cle in Ber­lin.

Cruise on the move on Spree River.

Paint­ings on fa­mous Ber­lin Wall

Glimpse of Gar­dens of Ber­lin

Mercedes Benz Mu­seum

The coun­try­side view dur­ing the train ride from Mu­nich to Salzburg. Don’t miss the so­lar rooftops of vil­lage houses.

Ber­lin TV Tower seen from Alexan­der­platz, a large pub­lic square and trans­port hub in Mitte dis­trict of Ber­lin.

Horse stat­ues are ev­ery­where in Ber­lin Mu­se­ums to de­pict his­tor­i­cal events.

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