One can easily see Berlin by walking and using the extensive transit system. Upon arrival at Tegel airport, we purchased a 3 day Welcome card and guide book. A bus took us to the center of Mitte - Alexanderplatz- where one can transfer to the U-bahn or S-bahn. The trains are punctual and very efficient. It amazed us that you never had to swipe a card or show your ticket - just walk on the train. We never encountered an inspector but were told if you cannot produce your ticket on demand, a hefty fine is required on the spot.
We found Berlin to be a very western city with its graffiti,
fast food vendors, cell phones, tourists, shopping. Except for the language difference and lack of skyscrapers, at times it felt like we were in a US city. We did find the pace less stressful and it was refreshing to see stores closed on Sundays and many people window shopping after a lengthy brunch.
We spent much of the time in Mitte, the new city center. Alexanderplatz is dominated by the TV tower, built by the Soviets. Nearby they are taking down the former GDR government center, not with a wrecking ball, but piecemeal to recycle the steel.
Potsdamer Platz, just a few blocks from the former Gestapo headquarters, has many modern structures, corporate offices and the SONY center. There are a few panels of the Berlin wall on display.
Unter den Linden is the famous boulevard leading to Brandenburg Gate. This triumphal arch is in the center of the city and symbol of the former division between east and west. Many will recall seeing this on TV as we watching the Berlin wall come down in 1989. The new US Embassy is just down the street while a few blocks in the opposite direction stands the Reichstag.
We traveled further into the eastern section to visit Treptower Park. The buildings en route are more stark, a reminder of the Soviet occupation. Since reunification, many apartment buildings have been painted brighter colors. At the park, there is a massive monument in honor of the 70,000 Russian soldiers lost in the taking of Berlin. There are pictorials carved in stone blocks each with a quote from Stalin in German. On the other side of the memorial these same stones are duplicated with the quotations in Russian. At one end is a huge statue of a soldier; at the other are 2 red granite Soviet flags. We did not read about the Treptower memorial in any tour guide; if not for our son, we would have missed this moving experience.
Going over to the western side of Berlin, we walked up the Ku'damm, known as the Fifth Avenue of the city. Its many shops are dominated by KaDeWe, largest department store in continental Europe. The 6th floor is a must-see with its 1,000 varieties of German sausage and hundreds of other delicacies. One floor up is the atrium restaurant.
A short walk down the Ku'damm is Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedachtniskirche. Built by the Kaiser in 1895, most of the church was destroyed by bombing in WW II. The bombed out remains of the bell tower still stand and visitors can see the remnants of mosaics and statuary. There is also a pictorial history of the church. In the 1960s a new modernistic church and bell tower were built adjacent to the ruins.
We also visited the Schloss Charlottenburg, summer palace for Queen Sophie Charlotte. We were too late to visit inside, but the massive baroque structure has beautiful gardens, pond and surrounding parkland.
It was hard to imagine much of Berlin was destroyed in WW II and just 20 years ago was still a divided city. There are reminders here and there, like the bullet holes on buildings, sections of the wall on display, and the Memorial to Murdered Jews. We can never forget the atrocities that came from this city, a reminder of man's inhumanity to man.