BEAUTIFUL AND ACCESSIBLE BERLIN
The city of freedom.
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.