Our day started super early as we had to catch a flight to Berlin scheduled at 8:15am from Brussels. Since we were flying with a budget airline and it was an international trip – we had to check in by 6:15am. As we were a bit sceptic about the area around our hostel Brxxl 5 – we had booked a taxi to the airport from the website www.taxi2airport.com . It was a 30 minute ride from our accommodation. We were aiming to reach by 5am and since we didn’t know the reliability of the taxi arrival in the middle of the night – we left an extra extra buffer and called the taxi at 3:30am. We also received the direct mobile number of the driver who was picking us up and we did contact him directly to ensure he will come and pick us up. The ride cost us €40 as opposed to roughly €15 it would have cost us at the max if we took the train from midi station. All in all we were happy with our decision of taking the taxi considering frequency of night trains and the safety at a metro station at 3am.
The taxi arrived on time at 3:15 am and we were ready waiting for it at the reception. TOP TIP: If the area around looks dodgy, don’t disclose your checkout time to anyone! Since we were not confident of the reception administration – considering they couldn’t find our booking at arrival – we did not ask them to arrange the taxi. We were pleasantly surprised when the taxi arrived as it was a Mercedes and a swanky one. We both were feeling good travelling in a plush car! Anyhow! We had prepped our bags for the flight IE removing aerosols etc from my bag which was going to be a hand luggage and packing the belts on Jay’s bag as it was going to be checked in. The taxi was prepaid on the website so we just popped out and went straight in. We reached super early and checked in at the Ryanair counter. After check in we still had a couple of hours before we can start walking towards the gate. So we found ourselves a comfy sofa spot in the waiting lounge and wrapped the handles of our bag around our arms and slept for a good 2 hours! Joys of travel! This was a classic example of us a team when it comes to punctuality! It is better to reach early and rest than to rush and go through that stress, after a good sleep we woke up and were now zombies looking for our coffee shot! We went to this café which is like a chain and we had seen it on multiple locations. It is called Pana. We took the croissant and coffee combo breakfast and then headed off to the gate to board our flight. The area was crowded and for the first time ever we lined up on the tarmac to board the plane! It was a short 1.15 hour flight. The worst thing about taking an early morning flight is the disgusting smell! Since everyone’s ‘routine time’ is disturbed …a stinky atmosphere is generated! We just wanted to get out of the plane…the short ride did feel quite long!
We reached Berlin Schonfield airport (this is not the main airport of the city) and as per prior research it was well connected by metro. We collected our bag and went straight out. As we had travelled within the EU – there were no immigration checks or passport stamps! It was a bit weird that we made an international journey and walked out like after a domestic flight. We then started walking towards the exit following the metro sign. We were super excited to have reached Germany and couldn’t wait to explore the country and its culture!
The metro station was a fair walk from the airport exit. With our backpacks on…we continued to walk and we finally reached the entrance. The entry was underground and there were multiple machines for us to purchase the tickets. Google maps came in handy to determine the train and the platform we should be going to. We bought the tickets and waited for the train. The crowd was building on the platform and finally the train arrived. We did not want to stand with our backpacks on the relatively long train ride. Thus, we rushed in and found ourselves a spot. The train was jam packed – which is a fun time to people watch – especially if you have a comfortable seat J. On the way there was a lady who put up a fight with a local as that person had picked on her son regarding…don’t know what! She was standing right next to our seat and was ranting her anger! With all this chaos and chitter chatter we reached our stop – AlexanderPlatz – the main hub for all transports in Berlin CBD. Our Hostel – Wombat’s Berlin was a 15 minute walk. We didn’t realise our tickets would be valid for us to take the connecting train and reach in 5 minutes or so to the station just opposite the hostel – Rosa Luxemburg. However, it is always nice to walk in the city as it is the best way to get the feel of it. No Regrets! The place was buzzing with activity. We were already hungry for an early lunch and decided to get Asian at the station. The person on the counter was super rude and thus we skipped the place and decided to find something near our accommodation. We reached our hostel and checked in. As usual the rooms weren’t going to be ready till 3 pm and we had a Segway tour booked for 2:30pm with FatTire Tours (https://www.fattiretours.com/berlin/tours/city-segway-tour) and thus decided to keep the luggage in the storage room. Before we head out, Jay had to charge the camera a bit while I ran to the common bathroom to iron my untamed mane! Wombats usually has like a guest room which they offer on first come first serve basis to guests who would like to freshen up in case the room isn’t ready. Someone had already snapped it so we had to make do with the common areas. The hostel had an awesome vibe and we were pretty pumped to see our rooms as well as from this point onwards we had booked private rooms – most of them with ensuite. And yes, they had loyalty cards and because we were going to stay at 4 out of their 5 hostels – we took one each. The breakfast wasn’t included at these hostels and the loyalty card would save us the money for a day’s brekky each. Why not!
After doing the essential bits we headed out in search of some FOOD! As we had super early brekky we were looking for a nice sit down lunch place. The hostel had a bistro which hadn’t opened yet and the place round the corner didn’t appeal to us. And we are so glad we didn’t take the next door option as just a few blocks away was this hidden gem – Soy (http://soy-berlin.com/)! It was a vegetarian Vietnamese joint with delish food! The food was fresh and the place was buzzing with local traffic! After having a happy tummy we started walking back towards AlexanderPlatz as that was our meeting point for the Segway tour. On the way we stopped to enjoy some street performances of a drummer who uses trash to make his music and it was fascinating to watch him. On reaching they checked our driving licenses and registered us. We still had some time to kill before the tour started. We felt like having an icecream after that sooper lunch and so started wandering around the square to look for it. We found a super market tucked away from the square so peeked in to get an ice cream. Turned out to be an Asian supermarket! We bought our trets and walked to the square and found a spot in the shade to savour it. Soon it was time to start the tour. Our guide Walid was waiting for us. We were a group of 10 and most of them were there trying on the correct helmet size for themselves. We had taken our bandanas to shield us from the multi-used helmet. Walid was an elderly man (hope he doesn’t get offended by the word ‘elderly’ – if he reads this blog) with a great sense of humour. He had migrated to UK from Bangladesh and eventually shifted to Berlin. There were 2 other couples and few others on the tour. First of was a brief training session. Neither Jay nor me had got on a Segway before this so we paid particular attention to how this worked. The Segway works on a very basic principle of centre of gravity. Doesn’t really have a motor or anything to create the motion. It almost runs as if on your intuition. Say for example you want to go forward, you would sub consciously put pressure on your toes and that would drive the Segway forward. Likewise for turning right, tilt your body towards right and there it goes! The trickiest part was getting on and off and you would want to shift your gravity centre quickly on the Segway rather than half on the ground. After a crash course we were each given our own rides and asked to practice in the area. We both felt pretty comfortable after a couple of rounds in the area and we were now ready to explore Berlin on our new ride! So, Berlin has a Museum Island which has a cluster of museums at a stone’s throw from each other. Our first stop was the main square on the island and that’s where Walid explained the brief history of Germany starting from the Prussians to the world war and onto the present day Berlin. I will list the exact itenary down below for the history bugs! After the quick history run down Walid offered to take photos for us on our swanky rides to show off later! After the photos session we headed off to the other major rides an soaked in the vibe of the city! It was so awesome to ride on the roads on a Segway and the best thing about it was the fact that riding it felt like a breeze sans the off balancing here and there. Once when we had to go from the main road to the cycle path – there was slight bump and Jay lost balance and fell from the Segway. Luckily he was okay and we moved forward. We breezed through the leafy Berlin city and stopped at Check Point Charlie for a quick break where everyone in the group sat down together and chatted randomly about ourselves and thus making friends on the way. Every time we had to get on and off, Walid would help us and it wasn’t allowed to do it on our own. There was a good reason behind it and soon enough we knew why! Once Jay tried to get on without anyone’s assistance and the Segway went buzzerk! As he was standing behind me I tried to help him and in that process I lost my balance and Jay’s Segway bashed with my left leg leaving a dent on it! I was laughing uncontrollably as didn’t understand what just happened there.
Moving on we discussed many topics on our way, stopping at various places. Themes discussed during the tour: Berlin’s founding, Prussian Berlin, The rise of Hitler and the Nazi years, wartime Berlin, post-war Berlin and the division of Germany, and the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall.
After a wonderful start in the city of Berlin…we came to an end of our Segway tour. We returned the segways and the helmets and were already hungry again after that 3.5 hours tour! The first place we could find was Subway at AlexanderPlatz. We went in and had our subs before heading back to Wombats!
We picked up our keys from the reception and they also handed us a welcome drink voucher, We went to our room and freshened up. Decided to check out the roof top bar at our hostel and make use of the drink vouchers. The roof top bar was a delightful place with a spectacular view of the Berlin TV tower. We spent some great time on the terrace…ending a long eventful day in the most perfect manner.
Day 2 (The actual day two was spent going to Potsdam, this is day 3)
Our day started quite early at around 7am. We freshened up and went to the rooftop for our breakfast. We wanted to make sure we get the prime view spot on the rooftop so we wanted to go on time. The spread was quite good with bread, fruits, veges, eggs, cheese and hot drinks. After a hearty breakfast, we got ready and started the day.
While we explored Berlin on our segways on the first day we also saw ample of bicycle riders. Our hostel also rented them out. We had decided then that we will hire one today to explore berlin considering all the tourist points were located at a distance from each other. Walking would tire us out on this hot day and also we won’t be able to cover all the major spots. However, on the day we decided against it and made our way to AlexanderPlatz on foot. On reaching, the heat started to get over us and so we reverted to our decision to get the bikes from the Fat Tire Company. We paid €12 for 24 hrs from 11am. They even gave us a map to chart out our route and had an option to store excess things we had. Since we weren’t sure of hiring the bike, we didn’t get our GoPro…so missed a good opportunity to use it then. But we did record the experience from our natural camera…our eyes and stored it on our unlimited brain storage. Riding the bike was so awesome! We tried to roughly follow the same route as the Segway tour so we could stop for photo ops and also spend time at spots which we drove past the other day. We started going towards the museum island on the way we stopped at fountain and parked our bikes there, explored the area and moved on. Further down we stopped at a nice garden for a gelato and enjoyed it while soaking in the sun and the great vibe of the city. The museums were beautiful buildings and since weren’t keen on exploring the Egyptian antiques stored in Berlin, we just went to their courtyards and surrounds. The key spots we wanted to spend some time at were the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, Holocaust Memorial and Berlin Cathedral and Berlin Dom. For a good part of the ride, we rode through the lush green parks within the city centre which was amazing and refreshing (read – away from the scorching sun). As per our guide the other day, Berlin had much less number of people that it could hold and as compared to any major capital cities around the world, area per capita. We could actually feel this because if you minus the tourists from the city centre, it would look pretty empty!
On our way to the gate, we were already hungry as it was lunch time and so peeled our eyes for a nice spot to try some traditional German cuisine. We spotted a patch with a cluster of few restaurants and decided to dock our rides there. We went across the road going through the line of restaurants’ menu and settled for the one with a German menu! The wait staff dressed in traditional German outfit added to the vibe. After a nice lunch with some local beer and wine, we explored the nearby souvenir shop and got our postcards and the fridge magnet.
We resumed our journey towards the Bundaberg gate with our stomachs fuelled up. The Bundaberg gate is a beautiful site from afar. Traffic wasn’t allowed near the actual gates but lucky we had bikes so could go all the way. We stopped at a little distance to take in the view and click some photos. We took some photos with our bike too. Next stop was Soviet Memorial. It was just a quick stop and we caught a breath before we moved onto the victory column. Victory column was erected to celebrate the victory of Prussians over Danish in a war in 1864. One can even choose to view the golden lady up-close from a viewing platform for which a ticket is required. The monument is a centre piece for a huge roundabout. We rode our bikes around to get a 360 degrees view of the victory angel. At this point, I would like to make a small mention of the public toilets around this place! I had to answer nature’s call and had no choice but to use the public toilet near this place…..I still can’t erase the stink of the toilets and definitely would win award of the yuckiest ever on my entire Europe trip!
Next stop was a bit of a ride and one of the most awaited for both of us… the holocaust memorial. We rode through the parks and that way enjoyed our extensive ride. Took some videos and tried to grasp the essence of the design of the memorial. It is built on a sloping/uneven surface with different height concrete blocks. Walking within the memorial, the idea is to understand the way Jewish Holocaust victims must have felt when put through concentration camps. It was s a very different experience and also a must when visiting the place to pay homage.
Both of us caught a quiet moment and reflected on our “taken for granted” attitude towards freedom and spared a thought for the victims. While on our way to Checkpoint Charlie, we stopped to view the standing section of the Berlin wall and the Holocaust Museum. I was already quite over whelmed by all this so chose to sit in the waiting area while Jay visited the museum. Moreso, as the heat exhausted me and I didn’t mind a bit of cool rest up before heading off. Then we rode onto ‘Checkpoint Charlie’. This landmark is portrayed multiple times in many Hollywood movies. On our Segway tour we visited a location but didn’t spend much time then as we knew we were definitely coming back to this place. We queued up to click photos with the actors posing as American soldiers (5 euros each). It was fun. We also saw the pink pipes which pump out the water from the city’s foundation. Berlin was founded on swamp land and the word ‘berl’ literally means swamp in ancient Slavic lingo. The water level in the city is quite high and requires regular pumping of water to keep the foundations safe. The mystery of pink pipes thus stands resolved.
After a fun photo shoot, we headed towards our last stop before returning our bikes. The last stop were the twin churches – one French & one German. The intriguing history of the twin churches was narrated to us by our guide on the Segway tour. Both of the churches were never the seat of the bishop but rather built as a show of political stand in the city’s west. The right hand side French church was first to be built and the German’s built the same design on a higher platform to state superiority. Both the monuments are a mirror image from a commoner’s eyes. During WW2, both suffered major destructions and heavy restoration works were done.
A special mention to an interesting thing we saw while at Gendarmenmarkt (twin churches). There was pull bike with a bed for sightseeing. On googling, I found their website – Horizontal Berlin. We both were amazed with the concept of exploring Berlin in a very unique manner. Check it out on your next trip.
At this point we were flabbergasted and returned our rented bikes. Took the excess things we kept in the locker and started walking towards Alexanderplatz. To our pleasant surprise, there was festival and market in full swing at the square. We were starting to feel a bit hungry so we decided to comb through the market and explore. There was a stage in the centre and local performers were charming the audience with dance and music. We perused through some souvenir shops etc. and ended up buying a cheese and vege pretzel (and a beer) to enjoy sitting on the steps and watching the performances with the locals. The pretzel also ended up being our dinner.
After a fulfilling and tiring day we headed back to the hostel and called it a night. What a day!!
Date Visited: 11th August 2017, 13th August 2017