MY MOST INDELIBLE IMAGE OF BERLIN - THE HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL

 

 

Berlin is one of Europe's most exciting and dynamic capitals. I (Steve) had been there several times, but always as part of a work connected trip which allowed only a few hours of sightseeing. This time, it was both of us and sightseeing was the only goal. We had 10 days for this trip, and decided that 6 in Berlin was enough, so we added 4 days at the end in our favorite place in Europe - Italy. Those 4 days we spent in Como, one of the underrated towns in the north of Italy. Most of this page will be devoted to Berlin, as we have written about Como in the past.

 
     
 

First, some general information about Berlin.

 
 

CLICK ON ANY THUMBNAIL TO SEE A FULL SIZE PICTURE

 
 
 

The Berlin public transportation system is comprehensive as it is in most European cities, although it is a bit more complicated than most. There is the U-Bahn, the S-Bahn, the suburban train system, the trams and the buses. The U-Bahn is like any other subway, but the S-Bahn is more like a full blown train system than a subway, and most of the lines are above ground, and you have to decipher which track to use. The locals accept that the system is a bit confusing, but explain, that this happened because of the separation of the city for so many years, causing uneven and different development in the two halves. In any case, we used the public transportation to get everywhere (except the airport) and in particular, we loved the trams. Tram M1 stopped right outside our hotel and went into the city center at Fredrichstrasse. There is no problem finding and using the train map, but we never did find a tram or bus map.

 

There are several different discount cards available, primarily the "Welcome card", and the City Card. there is a third card available (SchauLUST), but I never found out much about it. The cards come in varying durations; 48 & 72 hours, and 5 days, and provide discounts or free entry to a a bunch of attractions. They include the transportation pass (although you have to decide between AB - just Berlin, or ABC, which includes Potsdam, and the combinations can get very perplexing. Don't forget - you can buy separate cards for transportation and for the museums. We used the daily transport passes we got from the hotel, and the 3 day museum pass. Each person has to make their own calculation as to what is best for them.  Here is a link to the best site I found which tries to explain the differences between the cards. To the right are a few relevant links.

FODORS THREAD
ABOUT THE
DISCOUNT CARDS

BERLIN
CITY CARD

THE MUSEUM
PASS

THE WELCOME CARD


The museums, the TV Tower, a walk down the "Unter den Linden", Hackesher Market, the Official Monument to the Berlin Wall, Brandenburg gate, the Reichstag, Potsdammer Platz and the Sony Center,  Prenzlaur Berg, Babelplatz, Gendarmenmarkt, Treptow Kopenick and Palace, The East Side gallery, the Holocaust Memorial, the gourmet floor at KeDeWe (Berlin's biggest department store), a stroll down the Ku'damm, a sail on the Sprey, Potsdam and lots more. Here's a link to a site with 20 great things to do in Berlin.


SAILING ON THE
SPREY RIVER


Everybody says to stay in the Mitte, so that's what we did. The Mitte is pretty big, and our hotel was on the eastern edge, but the location was terrific. We were a 10 minute walk from AlexanderPlatz to the east (not the best neighborhood), Prenzlauer Berg to the north, and the Haekescher-markt and Museum island to the south. The Haekescher-markt  is a lively part of former east Berlin, and became like a second home. It's full of shops and restaurants and an open air market on Thursday and Saturday. It's also an S-Bahn stop and was a great place to go at any hour of the day or night. If we ever return to Berlin, I would definitely stay in this area again.


HAEKESCHER-MARKT


There are several different companies offering a variety of walking tours. The three companies I decided were the leaders: "Insider Tours", "Original Berlin Walks", and "Brewer's Berlin Walking Tours". There are others as well, but I limited my research to these three. They all offer a variety of tours - The main city highlights, Potsdam, cold war Berlin, third Reich history, and Jewish Berlin. The main Berlin highlights tour runs every day and in some cases twice a day. The others are run 1-3 times a week and most of the tours have a starting point in both east and west Berlin. I made a table of all the tours of these 3 companies, and then picked the ones that suited our needs and time table. The starting point in the east for all the tours was Haekescher-Markt and that suited us just fine. On our first day in Berlin, we took the main highlights tour with "Insider Tours" and I highly recommend it as a way to get oriented with the main points of the city. Our guide Jesse was terrific and provided just enough information about each point of interest without going into extraneous detail. This is the only tour we took, but not for lack of interest or dissatisfaction. I arrived in Berlin with tendonitis in my foot and I was limping badly at the beginning of the trip. I had trouble keeping up with the pace of the tour we were on, so we decided against taking another tour. Inexplicably, my foot improved greatly by the end of the trip, so apparently walking around Berlin for 6 days and at least 50-100 KM must have helped.


AT THE HOLOCAUST
MEMORIAL WITH
JESSE OF
INSIDER TOURS

     
 
 

 


BEER MUG RUNNING  IN THE BERLIN MARATHON

We stayed at the Circus Hotel at Rosenthaler Platz. I can't say enough good things about this hotel. It is perfectly located, has just the right amenities, it is a hotel with an ecological philosophy, it has a nice bar/restaurant attached, and the staff is absolutely wonderful. Regarding the location, it is at the edge of the Mitte, with a U-Bahn entrance literally a few steps from the entrance, and there are several different trams which all stop within 100 feet of the hotel. The rooms are simple, but effectively furnished and the bathrooms are modern and just right. As for the staff, they were always extremely helpful, especially about finding the best public transport route to anywhere in the city. The hotel also keeps a supply of monthly transport passes and supplies them to its guests on a daily basis at the discounted cost. At present prices, the hotel charges 4.6 Euros per day for a daily pass, while a daily pass purchased from the transit authority costs 6.3 Euros. We paid 100 Euros per night for the junior suite and 8 Euros per person for breakfast when we had breakfast at the hotel. The breakfast was buffet style and just great.


SKYLINE OF BERLIN WITH THE TV-TOWER

     
 

 


THE MARATHON FROM OUR HOTEL WINDOW

Amazingly enough, we were in Berlin for 2 special events. On our very first day, the Pope visited the city, which causes the closure of many streets and of course a widespread police presence with helicopters hovering overhead all during the visit. The Pope's motorcade drove right by us and we caught a good glimpse of his holiness himself.
The other special event was the 38th running of the Berlin marathon. The route went right by our hotel and we were able to watch the race in the street live as well as on TV from the comfort of our room. We didn't stay in our room all day but viewed the the race from several different points in the city. It was great fun, as the city was closed down for a few hours for happy partying and there was a real holiday spirit all everywhere we went.


RACE FAVORITE
PAULA RADCLIFFE

     
 

 


THE OLD NATIONAL GALLERY

Berlin is full of world class museums. They are spread out across the city, although there are 2 areas where there are concentrations. One is the Kulturforum area at the eastern end of Tiergarten and the other is the crown jewel of Berlin museums - Museum island. On Museum Island there are 5 museums - the Pergamon, the Bode, The New Museum (the Neues), The Old Museum (the Altes), and the Old National Gallery (the Altes Nationalgalerie). At the present time, you have to reserve a time slot ticket only for the Neues. This can easily be done at any of the ticket booths on the street or at any of the other museums.


THE ENTRANCE TO
THE PERGAMON


INSIDE THE
NEUES MUSEUM

As noted above, there are several different discount cards to buy for visiting the museums. We bought the 3 day museum pass which costs 19 Euros, and is good for 3 consecutive days. It covers about 50 state museums, and it worked for us. It's worth it if you plan to visit at least 3 museums. On Museum Island, we visited the Pergamon, the Bode, the Neues. The Pergamon is as incredible as advertized, the Neues was also great and the Bode took up the least of our time.  The famous bust of Nefertiti is at the Neues museum, and the 3 main attractions at the Pergamon are the Pergamon Altar, the Market Gate of Miletus (picture to the right), and the Babylonian Processional Street. Everything is quite incredible. At all the museums, an audio head set is included in the price and in general, photography, without flash is permitted.


THE MARKET GATE OF MILETUS AT THE PERGAMON MUSEUM


THE MUSICAL INSTRUMENT MUSEUM

Other museums we visited were the Modern Art Museum (at the Kulturforum and called "Modern Times"), the Museum of Musical Instruments (the place was empty but we found it interesting for a short visit)  and the Jewish Museum (more below). To the left is a picture of the Musical Instruments Museum, where there were more floor staff than  visitors.

 
     
 

 


THE JEWISH MUSEUM

Entrance to the Jewish Museum is also included on the museum pass, but it is located in a different part of the city than all the ones I mentioned above. It isn't far from Checkpoint Charlie and I think it deserves a separate entry. It is a remarkable building and a remarkable museum. The upper floors house a detailed and voluminous history of Jewish life in Germany, but it's the below ground floor which is really impressive. It's highly symbolic, and is separated into 3 axes which interest in the center, and whose floors aren't level. Each one has its own motif. They are the axis of Continuity, Emigration from Germany, and the Holocaust. The Holocaust axis ends with the Holocaust Tower, a 79 foot (24 m) tall empty silo. The bare concrete Tower is neither heated nor cooled, and its only light comes from a small slit in its roof. Muffled city sounds filter in through the small opening. It's an eerie and moving experience to stand in the Holocaust tower, and feel the message the architect, Daniel Libeskind is trying to convey. To the right are links about this museum and the architect.   

WIKIPEDIA ON THE JEWISH MUSEUM (GOOD PICTURES)

ABOUT THE
LIBESKIND BUILDING

THE DANIEL LIBESKIND STUDIO HOME PAGE

SACRED DESTINATIONS

A LONG, BUT SCHOLARLY REVIEW OF THE MUSEUM

     
 

 

PICTURES FROM THE EAST SIDE GALLERY

 

ALISA'S FAVORITE
 
 
 
  • We took an enjoyable one hour boat ride around museum island and through the city on the Sprey river.

  • We took the Berlin Highlights walk with "Insider Tours". This walk goes along the Unter den Linden Street and covers the major city highlights.

  • We visited the "East Side Gallery, where the remaining section of the Berlin wall have been painted by many artists. (Pictures to the left.)

  • we visited Treptower park, where there is a huge Russian War Memorial. It's very impressive and not many tourists get here. Picture below.

  • We visited the "Official" memorial to the wall. It's very impressive. Picture below. The other museum people think is some sort of official museum is the one at Checkpoint Charlie, which is not official. It is a private museum.

  • We visited Prenzlauer Berg, including a stroll through the KulturBrauerei, a novel entertainment venue situated in a renovated brewery, and had breakfast at Anna Blum where they serve a 3 tiered breakfast called by its French name étagère. More below.

  • We visited the restored New Jewish Synagogue. Actually, we couldn't visit the synagogue, but there is an attached museum about the synagogue and life in the Jewish quarter.

  • We visited the most famous department store in Berlin, KeDeWe, and ate on their gourmet food floor. The store is very expensive and the gourmet food floor is really impressive, with one of the biggest delicatessen departments in Europe and an incredible selection of gourmet foods ready to eat. More below in the restaurant section. (If you are looking for bargains, this isn't the place. A more reasonably priced department store would be the Galeria at Alexanderplatz.)

  • We attended an organ concert at the Berlin Cathedral on Museum island.

  • We made Hackescher Markt our second home. It was a 10 minute walk or one tram stop from our hotel and is one of the liveliest spots in former east Berlin. It's full of stores and restaurants, and has an outdoor market on Thursday and Saturday.

  • We strolled about the city and found the most beautiful bridge in Berlin - the Oberbaumbrücke Bridge. Picture below.

  • We did not visit Potsdam, which is something most visitors to Berlin do. We enjoyed Berlin so much, we just didn't want to leave!

SELF GUIDED WALK
ON THE
UNTER DEN LINDEN

360° PANORAMA OF KOLLWITA PLATZ, THE CENTER OF PRENZLAUER BERG

WIKIPEDIA ON THE NEW SYNAGOGUE

THE BEAUTIFUL
ST MATTHIAS
CHURCH
TWO SLIGHTLY
EMBARRASSED
MARATHON
FINISHERS
RUSSIAN MONUMENT AT
TREPTOWER PARK
OBERBAÜMBRUCKE
THE MOST
BEAUTIFUL BRIDGE
IN BERLIN
THE "OFFICIAL" MONUMENT TO THE BERLIN WALL
     
 

 
  There are lots of great restaurants in Berlin. Here's a summary of the notable ones we ate at.  


KAFER'S KITCHEN

KAFER is your ticket into the Reichstag building without waiting in line. It's located on the roof of the building at the base of the dome, and is a very good restaurant. Make any reservation at least a few days in advance because they will request security information from you. To get in, you have to go through the full security when entering any government building, but there's no line, and you are free to stroll up the dome.  The restaurant is beautiful with a fully open kitchen area.   Here's a pic to the left of the open kitchen. To the right is a picture of the most outstanding dish we had - saddle of rabbit in an herb crust, with parsley sauce, glazed carrots and parsnips. The bill came to about 136 Euros (including a bottle of wine), which is not outrageous for an evening meal which included a tour of the Reichstag dome.


SADDLE OF RABBIT
AT KAFER'S

     


ENCRUSTED GOAT CHEESE DISH AT OTTENTHAL

OTTENTHAL  is an Austrian restaurant located on Kahnstrasse, not far from Savignyplatz, one of the most popular evening spots in the western part of the city. The restaurant appears to be very popular, serves mostly Austrian fare, and has a wide range of Austrian wine. Its only drawback is that it is very, very noisy. Also, the service was quite slow, but we were in no great hurry.   In the picture to the left is Alisa's appetizer of encrusted goat cheese with herbs and greens. The meal was very enjoyable and the Austrian chardonnay went well with the dishes we ordered.

 
     


ZUR LETZTEN INSTANZ

ZUR LETZTEN INSTANZ is reputedly the oldest restaurant in Berlin, having been established in 1621! Not surprisingly, it serves classic German fare. I had the signature dish of Berlin which is roasted pork knuckle with potato dumplings and spiced red cabbage (Einstweilige Verfügung). It was delicious. Miraculously (I think), Alisa found something to eat on the mostly meat menu - salad and a fish soup which was very tasty. Pork knuckle to the right.


BERLIN SIGNATURE DISH OF
PORK KNUCKLE

     
 

OXYMORON was a surprisingly good restaurant we found at Haekescher-markt. We ate there the first time looking for a light meal and we liked it so much we went back a second time. It's located in an "art nouveau" courtyard which houses several restaurants and a theatre called "Chamäleon Varieté" which puts on a variety show, mainly for the tourists. We had no idea, but in reading about the restaurant after our return, we found out that it is also a dance club later in the evening. Here is an interesting description of the restaurant. This courtyard is also part of several interconnected courtyards, which is actually a historical and architectural landmark of Berlin. Here's what Fodors writes:
"Built in 1905-07, this series of eight connected courtyards is the finest example of art nouveau industrial architecture in Berlin. Most buildings are covered with glazed white tiles, and additional Moorish mosaic designs decorate the main courtyard off Rosenthaler Strasse. Shops (including one dedicated to Berlin's beloved street-crossing signal, the "Ampelmann") restaurants, the variety theater Chamäleon Varieté, a klezmer-music venue, and a movie theater populate the spaces once occupied by ballrooms, a poets' society, and a Jewish girls' club."
And we had no idea...
As I said, we ate there twice, on our first night, and on our last night. On the first night, Alisa had a very good bouillabaisse, and I had duck with white parsnip, plum sauce and puree. On the last night, we had 2 excellent pasta dishes. 

 
     


KEDEWE GOURMET COUNTER

The KEDEWE gourmet floor is a real experience.  We had 1 portion of bouillabaisse at a bar which only served bouillabaisse.  It was delicious and was enough for the both of us. The one portion cost 28 Euros. To the right and left are a couple of pictures. One shows Alisa enjoying our bouillabaisse at the bouillabaisse "bar", and the other is just one of the incredibly stocked counters.


BOUILLABAISSE
AT KEDEWE

     
 

ANNA BLUM is one of the leading cafes in Prenzlauer Burg. It is located near Kollwitzplatz which is considered the center of this resurgent avant-garde district. They also sell flowers in this beautiful cafe (actually next door, but still part of the establishment), but they are most famous for their 3 tiered breakfast, étagère. It was delicious and included fruit, salad, cheeses, eggs, but not coffee. It was the closest thing to an Israeli hotel breakfast that we've seen anywhere outside of Israel. See a picture to the right.

   

ÉTAGÈRE AT
ANNA BLUMS


TARTARE OF ST. PATRICK SALMON

FISCHER'S FRITZ is presently the only 2 star Michelin restaurant in Berlin. The prices in the evening are astronomic, but they have a wonderful lunch menu at 35 Euros for 2 courses and 47 Euros for 3 courses. This is a real bargain for a meal at a restaurant with 2 MIchelin stars. The restaurant is beautiful, the service is impeccable, and the food was exceptional. We had 4 incredible dishes and one incredible dessert. The best dish was a delicious dish described as "sauté of calamereti, with chantarelle mushrooms and coriander. The picture to the left is of the prettiest dish - my tartare of salmon accompanied by delicious ladyfinger okra. The dessert was a pudding of passion fruit and star anise, lukewarm mousse of macadamia nuts and iced cardamom cacao. It was one of the best desserts we have ever eaten and it sounds delicious just rereading the description. We had wine by the glass as recommended by the very professional sommelier.


FISCHER'S FRITZ
BEAUTIFUL 2 STAR RESTAURANT

     
     
 

 
 

As I said above, we love Italy. So, with a few days spare, we decided to fly to Milano and visit Lake Como. The lakes in northern Italy are very popular and very beautiful, but most people bypass the city of Como, and head for more romantic spots like Bellagio. We had stayed in Bellagio exactly 10 years ago, and had another visit to the area since then. This time, we decided to stay in the city of Como. We found it very nice, with a wonderful location, right at the southern tip of Lake Como. It has a wonderful walled old city, and lots to do and see.

 


THE VIEW FROM OUR ROOM IN COMO

We stayed in a modest "Mom & Pop" hotel called Quarcino, located about a 5 minute walk from the Duomo. The hotel is simple, but clean, with an adequate breakfast and a nice view (at least from our room). The staff (mostly the elderly owners were always very helpful and considerate. Some of them have limited English, but that's no problem for Alisa as she speaks fluent Italian. Some people might be put off by the church next door which rings its very loud bells at 7:30 AM sharp, but we were usually up by then, so it didn't bother us. And, they have their own private and free parking.

 
     
 

 


VILLA OLMO

  • We took the train (35 minutes) to Lugano Switzerland for a half day visit there.

  • We took the funicular up to Brunate for the birds-eye view of Como. If you do this, don't order anything complicated at the several cafes at the top. We had stale beer and the cheapest wine I have ever tasted in italy.

  • We strolled the old town.

  • We took the lake sail to Bellagio and back. This sail, on a clear day is fantastic even if you don't get off to visit Bellagio. In Bellagio we ate at the same restaurant we enjoyed so much exactly 10 years earlier (more later). Cruise pictures to the right and left.

  • We visited Villa Olmo, and the Temple of Volta, a museum dedicated to the city son, Alessandro Volta, who was one of the pioneers in electrical research at the turn of end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century.

  • Visited the neighboring town of Cernobbio.

  • Found a fabulous wine store with an incredible selection of balsamic vinegar, Vin Santo, and other Italian delicacies.


THE TEMPLE
OF VOLTA


COMO


SEASHORE TOWN ON
LAKE COMO


VILLA ON LAKE COMO


COMO FROM BRUNATE


PORCINI MUSHROOMS

         
 

 
     
 

SOCIALE is a nice restaurant with an open inner courtyard where we ate with a few other tourists. The food was great and the waiter was very entertaining. It's very close to the Duomo. Many reviewers call this the best restaurant in Como. I'm not so sure.


FRESH PASTA WITH PORCINI MUSHROOMS

     
 

TRATTORIA DA ANGELA is a typical local restaurant located very close to the north train station of Como. It was also a short walk from our hotel and highly recommended by the hotel owners. It's cheap, and simple, and serves good, authentic home made Italian food. You won't find many tourists here.

 
     
     


AT ANGOLO DIVINO

ANGOLO DI VINO was our favorite restaurant in Como. Unfortunately it's a bit farther from the Duomo than the others and is on a dark quiet street. The owner also explained that all the restaurants in Como are still suffering from the effects of the recession and that business has not been very good the last 2 years. We liked the place because the food was great and it is also a wine store and sells all the wine lining its shelves. The woman who served us (maybe the owner's wife) knew her wine and recommended a great Tuscan red that I would never have selected by myself. The food was great. Alisa had tagliatelli which was smothered in fresh porcini mushrooms.

i
     
 

HOTEL MIRALAGO in Cernobbio which is a small town located just a few KM north of Como. While visiting there,  we just randomly picked this hotel restaurant for lunch. It turned out to be the best restaurant we ate at during our visit to Como. We had a full meal and the food was sophisticated and delicious. We had grilled scallops and shrimps, smoked swordfish carpaccio, grilled sea bass and tagliatelle with smoked fish. Everything was great, the restaurant is beautiful, and we sat on the terrace with a wonderful view of the lake.


CERNOBBIO

     
 

 
     
   
     

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This is a page from our site "Travels with Steve & Alisa".  It describes one of the many trips we have made together.  We've built these pages not just to describe our trips, but to help other travelers if we can.  Please use the information we've provided freely, and let us know if you have any questions we might be able to answer about your own planned trip, or just let us know if we have helped you. Or perhaps you have some information we could add to the site. Visit our home page using the link to the right.                 

Enjoy your next trip!!                         ~Steve & Alisa~

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LAST UPDATE: 2.SEPT.2012