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Berlin January 2008

A friend thinks I am crazy, going on a road trip with a couple of people whom I barely knew. But if there is one thing me and my two American friends have in common, it is to see as much Europe as we can while being in another continent. The drive from Holland to Berlin was smooth, if uneventful. It was very much like any road trip in North America, with service stations opening into the night. It was about 7 or 8 hours ride, and by the time we got to our hotels, it was midnight already.

Day One:
Tiergarten, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie, Gendarmenmarkt, Museum Island, Sony Center
9:30am Walking across Tiergarten
Tiergarten - 'Animal Garden'
Bright, early, and cold, we probably made the mistake of walking from hotel to Reichstag through Tiergarten. It was pretty much freezing, and there wasn’t much to see in this big park. And of course worst of all, it took us an hour to walk when we were already short in time.

10:30am Road to Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate
The only image I had for Berlin before this trip was the Brandenburg Gate from MTV for an U2 song. I distinctly remember the long empty road leading to the Gate from the West Berlin side. So I enjoyed being on there quite a bit.

11:00am Reichstag’s Cupola
Inside Reichstag's Cupola
Reichstag’s Cupola (or Dome of the German Parliament building) has to be the coolest thing I saw in Berlin. This attraction is probably on the top of most travel guidebook lists, so I know I have seen the must-see of this trip. I do wish we had more time for the parliament area; there seems to be more interesting buildings close by.

11:30am Coffee Break
Street Performers
From the time we left our hotels, going through the Tiergarten, visiting the Reichstag’s Cupola, we had been outside the whole time, so we really needed to warm ourselves up. We went to some cafe close to the Reichstag for something hot to drink. On our way we saw these street performers doing this life-size puppet. Bob originally thought they were doing some kind of political protest, until they started asking for money. I have to say that was kinda neat.

12:30pm Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate
I’m a little unclear on how the East and West Berlin was divided. If I’m not mistaken, behind this Gate is where West Berlin ended. One interesting note from a travel guidebook, the hotel behind this Gate, is where Michael Jackson made the news, holding his baby in the air beyond his balcony. I suppose people were concerned that he might drop the baby.

3:00pm Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie
You can probably call this a tourist trap; this is supposedly one of the checkpoints going from one side to the other. However there is really not that much to see. We did stop at some busy area, with lots of shopping and interesting malls.

3:30pm Gendarmenmarkt
Konzerthaus Berlin (Concert Hall) and Französischer Dom (French Cathedrale)
Gendarmenmarkt is a square with three nice buildings: Concert Hall, French Cathedral, and German Cathedral. It was getting late, and we were running out of time, so we didn’t have a chance to see the inside of these buildings.

4:00pm Museum Island
Berliner Dom and Fernsehturm (TV Tower)
This is part of Berlin where their museums are located. There should be a couple interesting museums, but we really had no plan for them; we were just walking in this area. In fact, we have been walking all day. While all of this were not that far from the hotel, it was freezing cold. We finally had enough walking, and hailed a cab to take us to another shopping/entertainment area.

4:30pm Sony Center
Sony Center in Potsdamer Platz
We could see this Dome shape from the Tiergarten in the morning. There is actually not much shopping, mostly restaurants and a big movie theatre. We had some afternoon tea at one place there, and then headed to a pub for some beer after. It was late enough for most places closing, but not quite the time for dinner.

9:30pm Near Hotel (West Berlin)
Sculpture Berlin
Our hotel is really in the West Berlin area, close to the center of West Berlin. Buildings seem to be a little older, as more new developments were closer to East Berlin. The Sculpture Berlin is the most interesting thing I saw in that area.

Day Two:
Sachsenhausen National Memorial
Sachsenhausen National Memorial

We spent two nights in Berlin, but we really spent only one day there. The drive back to Holland is about 8 hours, so we didn’t have much time on the second day. We did plan a little side trip to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, just outside of Berlin, before driving back. It has a unique East German feel to it. You can never say it is fun to visit a concentration camp, but it’s certainly worth a visit, even though it gives me chill to be standing on the ground where people died; this is exactly the purpose of the memorial.

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