It is over a month now since we visited Berlin, I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed. I intended to write about out trip last month – but real life can quickly get in the way. However, the memories are still fresh in my mind, so I want to get them down in writing whilst I can.
Before we travelled, I wrote this post here explaining the details of who we had booked with, the main costs and our basic itinerary of what we wanted to do whilst there.
As we were travelling between Christmas and New Year, and we were unsure what the weather was going to be like, we decided to book a night in a hotel near Heathrow Airport. We got a really good deal at a Travelodge which was only £40 for the night, for all four of us, including breakfast the next morning.
Before we could leave for the airport, there was the small matter of attending our local football team’s league match! We left home at around 6 pm and made really good time down to the hotel. After unloading our bags, checking in and setting up in the room, it was time to pop down to the bar for a quick drink. It was a really nice hotel; spacious, modern and clean. Soon it was time to head off to bed, as we had a fairly early start in the morning.
We woke and headed down to breakfast. We were not really sure what to expect. We had previously stayed in a Holiday Inn Express at Luton Airport prior to another flight and they didn’t start serving the cooked breakfast until 7 am, so we had to make do with continental. The Travelodge, though, did not disappoint. Breakfast was from 6 am AND it was the lovely hot, cooked breakfast. There were other options, of course, but I just can’t resist a cooked one!
With full tummies, it was off to Heathrow Airport. This hotel was ideally placed. It was literally only 10 minutes down the road. Our main problem was finding the right entrance. We were looking for signs to Terminal 5 but the signs were only giving us directions to Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 4! We decided to turn in anyway and eventually managed to find the correct entrance (even if we did drive past it once and had to turn around)!
We had pre-booked our airport parking but I always feel really nervous as we drive up to the barrier. The sense of relief when it greets you by name and the barrier lifts is always welcome. Anyone else feel like this?
It is many years since we have travelled from Heathrow, preferring slightly more local airports. However, with our great drive down, the addition of a night in a hotel prior to the flight, it certainly makes Heathrow an airport we would consider in the future, especially as a lot of the really good travel deals usually fly from here.
The airport was great. The kids loved being at a larger airport. There were plenty of seats for everyone, lots of shops, restaurants and coffee shops and loads of charging points for your tech should you require it – we always carry our favourite portable chargers, just in case. Talking of portable chargers - I spotted Poundland were selling them last week for £1 - has anyone tried them?
Our British Airways flight was on time and the boarding and flight went smoothly. We were a little disappointed with the in-flight ‘snack’ we had been promised - the only things on offer were dried fruit, nuts and crisps and by the time the trolley reached us they only had crisps left.
Berlin has two airports and we flew into Tegel. This is the smaller of the two. Where Schonefeld, the largest, has train links into the Centre, Tegel only has buses or taxis. We opted for a taxi and asked the driver to head straight to the Brandenburg Gate, which was one of the top places to visit we had listed when planning the trip. This was a hive of activity and very much a focal point. It was great to see such a famous landmark – even the kids recognised it from the ‘telly’!
We walked from the Brandenburg Gate, around the corner to the Holocaust Memorial. This was bigger than I had imagined, having only seen it in the guide books I had been studying prior to visiting. You can walk around, up and down and through all the pathways that criss-cross through the whole installation and it even gives you a sense of confusion and fear as you descend into the lower areas.
We decided to head off for a bit of an exploration. First stop, across the road, was the site of Hitler’s Bunker. This is now a car park, but there are information signs in different languages with plans and explanations of how it would have been.
Checkpoint Charlie was the next stop on the list. It was extremely busy here as there were lots of different tourist spots in the same area. We had originally wanted to visit the Checkpoint Charlie museum but time was not on our side and we were hungry. We dived into the nearest McDonalds, which also happened to have a view of Checkpoint Charlie and signs on the doors (as you exited) informing you that ‘You are now leaving the American Sector’!
A short walk from Checkpoint Charlie and we found a remaining section of the Berlin Wall. This, for me, was the main thing I had wanted to see. There were also some remains of the SS Headquarters here too.
Enough sightseeing for one day, we decided to make our way to our hotel. Luckily, it was quite close to Alexanderplatz which has a very tall TV tower, which you can see from almost wherever you are in Berlin. It took us about 30 minutes to walk there. The hotel we stayed in was the Novotel. It was a great hotel and I would definitely stay there again. The staff were friendly and spoke brilliant English, the rooms were amazing and the bar and restaurant were fantastic. Breakfast was lovely and there was so much choice – they even had a waffle maker which I just had to try out. It made the most perfect waffles. Although my kids are older, I could see they had lots for the younger guest too. There was a children’s play area and even an Xbox to keep them occupied.
We unpacked, showered and changed and headed out to explore our surrounding area. Alexanderplatz is a large shopping area with many main roads and train stations, so a real focal point for that area of the city. On the way there we came across the first of many Christmas markets. We watched the ice skating, sampled some German sausage and had a go on the Big Wheel. After a wander around the shopping areas we headed back to our hotel and to our lovely, comfy beds. We all fell asleep really quickly - we could hardly believe that only a few hours earlier we had been in the UK.
As tempting as it was to have a lie in, when you are only in a city for 72 hours, you need to make the most of every minute, so it was up early and down for the wonderful breakfast, which filled us up ready for a full day of sightseeing.
First stop was Berliner Dom, the largest church in Berlin. Unfortunately, it started to rain, so we sheltered in the entrance for a while. We were heading to the Fernsehturm TV Tower but this didn’t open until 10 am, so headed into a coffee shop where we had the most creamiest of hot chocolates, before making our way to the Tower. There were two queues – one for people who had pre-booked and one for those who hadn’t. We hadn’t pre-booked this as we were not sure exactly when we wanted to visit. However, we didn’t have to wait too long. It was very well organised and we were soon at the viewing platform. Disappointingly, as soon as we stepped off the lift, a mist descended so the view wasn’t brilliant. I’m still glad we did it though but if I was to visit again I would pre-book and pay extra to eat in the revolving restaurant.
Then it was off towards the centre of Berlin again, with a quick stop to look at the site of the burning of the books. This was a bit ‘deep’ for the kids, but I thought it was a great representation.
Next stop was Potsdamer Platz, a shopping Centre with the most amazing Christmas decorations.
We had some lunch and checked out a couple of shops before heading around the corner to find the one remaining East German Watchtower. A very knowledgeable lady told us all about its history, informed us that it was now maintained purely on donations from tourists, showed us a map of its location during Nazi Germany and explained the lengths that the Germans went to, to ensure that people could not cross from East to West.
From here we headed off to a German Market that had recently been in the Headlines – the Christmas Market at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche - which was the scene of the terrible terrorist attack just before Christmas. We spent time at the memorials that had been set up at strategic points and there were flowers and candles and flags from all nationalities. This market was my favourite of all the Christmas markets we visited during our time in Berlin and we ate Currywurst and churros and we (adults only!) drank Gluhwein - actually I think we drank more than I thought. As I was writing this I couldn’t remember what it was called, so I called out to ask my husband and my youngest son gave me the answer!
Despite protestations from the kids, we walked back into Berlin and arrived at our next stop - The Reichstag - we were booked in for 8.15 pm. You can enter the Reichstag and go up into the glass dome, which has amazing views over Berlin. This is one place that you MUST pre-book for security reasons. You can book online, it is completely free to visit and you must give the names and dates of birth of all in your party. Your application is then reviewed and you receive an email with the outcome. I had printed off the relevant forms they had sent and had carried them safely around with me since leaving home. Security was tight, as you can imagine and you had to present your documents and be checked off a list before entering and going through security checks that resembled those at the airport. I thought I would get my documents out and have a quick check through them before approaching the door. It was then that I noticed the words ‘MUST HAVE PHOTO ID FOR EACH MEMBER OF THE PARTY’! Damn, we had left our passports back at the hotel and we didn’t have time to go back to the hotel as we would miss our slot. I was gutted, we had been looking forward to this. I decided to just be honest and see if they would let us in. I wasn’t hopeful though, particularly since the terrorist attack had been just one week earlier. To our surprise they did let us in, but only after making us stand, for what felt like ages but was probably only a few minutes, whilst a Policeman checked us out and spoke about us in German. The only word we could recognise was ‘English’. Despite this, and the fact that the whole time we were in the building my youngest was convinced we were going to be thrown out, it was an amazing structure and I am so glad we’d booked this. We got an amazing view of the city at night all lit up. I imagine it would be lovely on a Summer evening as there is also an outside area.
Back to the hotel again and a quick drink in the bar (Gluhwein again!) before heading to bed.
Our last day started with another amazing breakfast (there’s a theme here – I love my cooked breakfast, although I don’t have them very often - honest). We packed our things up, checked out and asked the hotel to store our luggage ready for collecting later, so that we could go off sightseeing again without lugging our rucksacks around.
This time visited the Olympic Stadium, which the home ground of Hertha Berlin and also the location of the famous snub of Jesse Owens by Hitler. You could either have a guided tour or wander around yourself, we chose to go it alone. It was really good. You could wander all around and in the stands.
We headed back to Potsdamer Platz where my youngest son got to spend some of his Christmas money on some Nike trainers, from the smallest JD Sports shop we have ever been in. Our flight wasn’t until 20.35 so we made the most of the day and even visited our first ever Dunkin Donuts – I don’t think it will be our last, wow, so many doughnuts. It was soon time to head back to the hotel to collect our luggage. Our intention was to make our way to as close to the airport as we could using the underground and then get a taxi for the final stretch, thinking that this would keep the cost of the taxi down. However, this proved more difficult than we expected as there was little to no information around that wasn’t in German and no-one to ask. Time was getting on and I get stressed if I am not at the airport in plenty of time before my flight, so we ended up getting into the first taxi we found. We made it in plenty of time.
Tegel, as mentioned previously, is a small airport. As we were travelling with hand luggage only, we were able to make our way directly to the gate and go through to the Departure lounge. We were a bit hesitant as the ‘Gate’ was what looked like a corridor and again, there was limited information in English. We were also a little nervous as with British Airways you can only check in online 24 hours prior to your flight. For the outgoing flight we had been able to check in at home and print out our boarding passes. For our return journey we had decided to give the online boarding passes a go (the hotel we stayed in did have printing facilities in the lobby though, but we decided to be brave). All went well and I would definitely use the online passes again, although I would also like to have the paper copy too as a back-up. I wonder what they do if you lose your phone, or your battery dies?
Again, we were lucky that the flight departed on time and we were back at Heathrow my 9.30 pm that night. We had flown all the way to Germany and back with no problems. We made our way out to the car park and the airport and surrounding area was covered in thick fog! You could hardly see your hand in front of your face. It was a bit of a scary journey, particularly as we were trying to follow road signs that we couldn’t see due to the fog and we don’t have a Sat Nav.
We arrived home happy but tired. We really had made the most of our time in Berlin and it is a great city to visit with lots of history and places to visit. I did feel at a slight disadvantage not being able to speak hardly any German, as unlike other European cities I have visited, they didn’t seem to cater for those ignorant people like me who can only speak English and I got a bit fed up of having to constantly ask what something was or what was in a certain food, although it was much better in the more touristy areas, obviously.
I would certainly recommend Berlin as the ideal place to spend a weekend or a couple of days.
That’s it for holidays until July, as our eldest son has his GCSEs this year and he needs to get as much revision done as possible, including during the school holidays. We will be having a few day trips to places though and then in July we will be travelling to both Rome and Barcelona.
Do you have any trips planned this year?