Our first full day in Berlin was well spent biking around the city and indulging in a little German history. The kids had a ball on the bikes (the lucky adults got to lug them around), but we were well rewarded with a yummy biergarten lunch and a visit to the Christmas markets for dinner. The kids scored a giant Ferris wheel ride and everyone went home tired but happy!
After a quite late night everyone managed to sleep in until almost 8. A big batch of bacon and eggs were whipped up for breakfast before we got organised and headed out of apartment towards the Berliner Fernsehturm – the giant TV tower that appears visible from pretty much everywhere in Berlin. We picked up our Berlin welcome cards but decided not to go up tower as it wasn’t long until our scheduled bike tour started. Luckily there was one of the 60 Berlin Christmas markets right next door just opening up so we wandered around there and picked out things to look at later in the day.
Fairly soon it was time to head over to our scheduled bike tour, operated by Fat Tire Bike Tours, we had previously done a couple of Fat Tire Bike tours in Paris and were keen to try out the well regarded Berlin one. Even though it was getting late in December, and would normally be freezing, about 50 people had shown up for the tour, so many that we ended up split into three groups. We chose the group led by young lass called Lucy, who had given up living in cosmopolitan Melbourne for colder and cosmopolitan Berlin. We had decided that it was better to separate the kids, so Soren ended up in a rather comfy looking trailer dragged around by Nic and Astrid on the back of Anto’s bike. Nic was feeling under the weather with the start of a chest infection so wasn’t sure that dragging a trailer and Soren all day was a good idea.
Our group of around 15 set off just after 11am in brilliant sunshine, and not the Christmas snow-like weather we had hoped for. We headed past the Alexanderplatz Christmas markets and had little Berlin history lesson.
Next we stopped past Humboldt University and its ornate buildings, surrounded by quite a lot of construction. Our third stop was in front of the Gendarmentmarkt Christmas market (which smelled delicious already). We were actually looking at the German and French cathedrals and Shinkel’s concert hall, but over the Christmas season the whole square is the domain of tasty Christmas treats and stalls. So far the kids were having a good time and enjoying riding around the Berlin streets and enjoying the (mostly) fresh air.
Next stop was one of the sites of the former Berlin wall, and Checkpoint Charlie. Lucy did provide us with a really entertaining summary of the history of the wall, that involved drawing on the pavement and 8 different coloured chalks! We then wandered around the corner and checked out Checkpoint Charlie. We knew this important historical site had mostly been turned into a tourist attraction, but it’s cheesy-ness did impress us. There were plenty of German actors dressed up and willing to let you take photos of them for a few Euro. They seemed to be having fun with the tourists that were willing to pay for souvenir photos. No checkpoint Charlie photos but we did stand on the site of the former wall, for some east-side / west-side photos. There is a portrait of a US soldier looking into the former East Berlin and a portrait of a Russian soldier looking towards the former West Berlin.
Soren, who was down on sleep after a big day of travel the day before was getting a bit grumpy at times but endless snacks were keeping him entertained. Nic’s legs were holding up pretty well with dragging the trailer, and Soren was enjoying having the extra space, and Astrid loved being up high in her seat. Our scheduled lunch stop wasn’t until after 1.30pm so we were glad we had packed cheese and turkey sandwiches for the kids. Some food and a visit to a ‘bear’ perked Soren up no end. Astrid, Anto and Nic saw lots of these peace bears that we saw in Paris at Champ des Mars, near the Eiffel Tower in 2012.
This bear was opposite a section of the wall that had been preserved. It’s amazing how big and bleak the wall is (in this original section). I can only imagine what it would have been like having hundreds of kilometres of that concrete running through your city and separating you from friends and family.
Next stop was The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This is also sometimes referred to as the ‘holocaust memorial’ although there are very specific memorials throughout Berlin for different groups affected by the holocaust. This memorial is probably the biggest and most well-known of all the memorials. It is spread out over a very large site and consists of 2,711 concrete slabs spread out over a 19,000 square metre site. All the slabs are the exact same dimensions but sit at different heights above ground level (they are set into the concrete at different levels). The ground slopes in various directions. The slabs are arranged is rows and you can (and are encouraged to) walk around and through them. At points the slabs are quite shallow and you can see hundreds of them spread out before you. At other points the ground slopes away and you can walk deep into the memorial.
The architect has deliberately not disclosed the meaning behind the number or design of the slabs and it is left up to your own interpretation. I personally found this memorial really interesting and quite poignant. It is actually quite difficult to photograph this memorial and to show the sheer size and scale of it. If you are ever in Berlin I do recommend paying this a visit. It is one block from the Brandenburg gate and free to walk around (although there is a museum attached with more information).
Speaking of the Brandenburg gate, our next stop was across the road at the very famous Brandenburg Tor. Being a beautiful day there were tourists everywhere and also a large Christmas tree and horses and carriages in the square behind the gate. The gate actually seems less impressive than the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris, that it was modelled on. This is partly due to the number of large buildings flanking either side of the gate, including the American embassy and the DZ Bank, which is impressive for its architecture.
We were starting to get a bit peckish, and the promised lunch stop was coming up …. after a 5km ride through the Tiergarten. We ripped through that ride, no time to stop and take photos of the Tiergarten, everyone was obviously hungry! Our group did return later during our Berlin stay so we could actually take some photos. A very tired Soren had FINALLY fallen asleep in his trailer 10 minutes before we arrived at lunch, and as I was struggling over the cobblestones and up the one hill in the whole of Berlin.
At 2pm we arrive at the lunch stop, a biergarten in the Tiergarten. I think we would have eaten anywhere at this point, but it was pretty good food. Anto and Mikl decide on schnitzel with potato salad and some local beers. Alan thought he’d have a light lunch of soup and bread. I was excited by the array of vegetable options I had (yay for actual options!) and decided on crumbed beetroot and potato salad with a horseradish dip. It was delicious, as were the hot chocolates the kids and I had!
After a leisurely lunch and chat with our tour guide Lucy, who had joined our table, we had to head out into the rapidly fading daylight for the last hour or so of the tour. We rode through another section of the Tiergarten, adjacent to the zoo. We said hello to the zoo’s resident alpacas on the ride past, but again no time for photos. We were headed down towards the victory column. Once we arrived, some of our group had lagged behind due to a flat tyre. While Lucy fixed the tyre the rest of us had plenty of time to walk around that section of the Tiergarten and take photos of the impressive (but violent) statues and sunset.
About 20 minutes later, we were finally on our way, now running well and truly behind schedule but still enjoying the pleasant weather and scenery. Next stop was in front of the Reichstag building (the German parliament building) but first we had a ride down past the river and past Angela Merkel’s chancellery building.
Running so late had its advantages, we did manage to get a very nice sunset behind the Reichstag building as we learnt a little more about the German Parliament and the Germans history of poor economic management. The kids were still in good spirits and had enjoyed being chauffeured around all day.
As we rode off into the sunset, and past the Reichstag building, we were keen to explore some Christmas markets for dinner. First there were a couple more buildings to ride past, and a rather large section of cobblestones and tram lines to negotiate. Somehow Soren managed to fall asleep on the cobblestones (again) and had another bumpy but short sleep.
We arrive back at the bike store in Alexanderplatz around 4.4opm, only an hour and a bit late! Lucy did warn us she always runs over-time with her tours. It was a very fun and informative day so we didn’t mind at all. It was now very dark, so we handed our bikes and helmets back and decide to head off for some Christmas market dinner and rides for the kids.
We headed to the Berliner Weinachtzeit Christmas Market, which is located just behind Alexanderplatz. The kids had been talking about the giant ferris wheel all day, so we headed in that direction. The markets were certainly buzzing and there seemed to be a good array of food and drink options.
We decided to let the kids have their ferris wheel ride before dinner. Both Astrid and Soren were keen to go up and Mikl and Anto were the lucky adults to accompany them. The line was long(ish) but moving fast – it was a pretty big wheel. Nic and Alan decided to check out the food options and have some gluhwein with Amaretto while the kids had their ride.
Astrid as usual had a ball on the ferris wheel. Soren was getting a little tired but seemed to enjoy it, for the first two rotations and then wanted to find something to jump off. The views from up on the wheel were pretty good. It was certainly a very high ferris wheel, much to Astrid’s delight. Nic was glad she was on the ground drinking gluhwein!
Once everyone has returned to terra firma, it was food time. All the boys had a bratwurst, which the kids shared. Nic had noticed some delicious apple and custard looking concoction and went hunting. It turns out it was a bratapfel, a stuffed apple that is baked and covered in custard, fruit and nuts. It made a good dinner. Alan had his for dessert. The kids thought it was pretty tasty too. We suppose it counts as fruit, right?
We wandered the markets for a little longer and purchased a Christmas Stollen to take back to the apartment for our snack supply. We normally make stollen on Christmas eve, but this year we were cheating and having an authentic Christmas market version.
The kids were getting pretty tired so we wandered the kilometre or so back to our apartment. Soren fell asleep in the ergo during the walk back, the poor lad was well and truly tuckered out!
Statistics for the 23rd of December 2015 in Berlin – the temperature was a very mild 5 to 13 degrees with a mean of 9 degrees. Almost T-shirt weather, especially compared to what we were expecting! We rode a total of 19.5km. Nic was impressed that she did all of it dragging a bike trailer laden with a Soren, plus a heavy camera bag and still managed to take pictures! Anto is used to lugging around an Astrid on the bike and found it relatively leisurely…… Total walking for the day was 13.8km. The beer, schnitzel and gluhwein fest well and truly started and given the energy expenditure for the day, was well-deserved!