Berlin, capital and largest city of Germany, and former home of the Berlin Wall.
I visited this historical city in late 2021 over a long weekend, mainly because of ever-changing COVID travel restrictions making it harder to do my normal adventure planning. Nevertheless, Berlin is a remarkable city with a past that I wanted to explore.
I arrived via train at Berlin Hauptbahnhof after a very relaxing train journey. I’m really loving European train travel.
I’d booked a taxi for pickup before arrival using the FREENOW taxi app, but for only the second time during my adventures, the taxi never showed. Luckily, I’d selected the cash option instead of credit card, so I wasn’t out any money. Also, there were plenty of taxis at the station, so I chose the next available and enjoyed the 20-minute ride to my hotel.
I selected the Courtyard by Marriott Berlin City Center because I honestly thought it was close to City Center and a few main attractions. It wasn’t, but the hotel was nice, clean and quiet.
Overall, my stay here wasn’t terrible and I give it 3 out of 5 stars.
Customer Service was exceptional and the staff really did their best to make my stay very comfortable. However, there were a few things that could be improved. First, I’m not sure why I was allocated an Accessible Room. I don’t believe I requested an Accessible Room, but I also didn’t request a change because the room wasn’t terrible. Wi-Fi was okay.
I didn’t like that I couldn’t change the television audio to English or access subtitles. I understand I’m in Germany, but I’ve been to other hotels where you can change the language to English via the settings. Not sure why Marriott doesn’t allow guests to change settings.
The biggest reason for the loss of stars is the breakfast price. I feel the €18.50 cost for a continental breakfast is really wrong. From what I experienced, the breakfast I had is worth no more than €9 to €11. Plus, the hot food tasted as if it had been sitting out for a long time, which is terrible — cold, overcooked, and some undercooked — given that I arrived as soon as the restaurant opened for breakfast.
After unpacking and completing my Clorox wipe down of the room, I headed to the first item on my “must see” bucket list — “Checkpoint Charlie.”
Checkpoint Charlie, or “Checkpoint C,” was the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. It is also the setting for many spy and thriller novels. Checkpoint Charlie is a must see for any mystery/thriller writer and fan. The barrier and checkpoint booth, the flag and the sandbags are all based on the original site.
While visiting the Das Mauermuseum – Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, I learned that on 22 September 1961, Allied guards began registering members of the American, British and French forces before trips to East Berlin and foreign tourists could find out about their stay there. Once the checkpoint was designated a crossing point for members of the Allied armed forces, a month later in October 1961 it became the scene of a tank confrontation. American and Soviet tanks took up position and faced each other with weapons primed.
On the “East Berlin” side of Checkpoint Charlie is The Black Box exhibition. I didn’t know about this exhibition, so I was very glad I stumbled upon it because it is very informative. Better still, it was free to enter during my visit.
The Black Box is a flat, black, box-shaped building located not too far from Checkpoint Charlie. The structure is dedicated to the Cold War and features authentic exhibits. The photos and documents on display detail the frightening reality of the political situation of the time.
Black Box highlights:
- 16 media stations with film excerpts and interviews
- Large-format photos of Cold War events
- Model of a Soviet T-62 tank
- Original objects like a radiation dosimeter
- Soviet “Zenit” photo gun
Next on my “must see” list was the Brandenburg Gate. I decided to take the Hop On/Hop Off tour bus instead of a taxi because the ticket was only €20, and my ticket was accepted by three different companies who had combined their resources and staff in order to survive during the COVID pandemic. This was great because it meant not waiting 40 minutes for the next tour bus. The wait was only 15 minutes between buses.
Anyway, I hopped on the first bus of the day and enjoyed the ride and sights as we cruised toward the Brandenburg Gate.
Along the way, I located the U.S. Embassy, which is always good information for an American traveler to know.
I hadn’t planned to visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, but it was only a few steps away from the Brandenburg Gate, so I journeyed over. I must say this is a very humbling site.
The memorial is a place of contemplation, a place of remembrance and warning. It covers 19,000 square meters, and has 2711 concrete slabs of different heights. Open day and night, the memorial is on a slight slope and the wave-like and uneven concrete floor makes you feel uneasy and, at times, nauseated.
There is also an underground information centre featuring themed rooms, short biographies, historical photographs and film footage.
The Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of the turbulent histories of Germany and Europe, and of European unity and peace.
The gate was inspired by the monumental gateway at the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens. Having never been to Athens (but it’s on my list), I’ll just take their word for it. The gate is a very popular tourist site, thus it was very busy and packed with people.
Yes, I know a mask outdoors wasn’t required, but in the midst of a pandemic with so many people not wearing masks, and even more not yet vaccinated at the time, I thought it best to wear my mask. It didn’t make for cool photos, but I felt safer.
Following a few selfies and a walk around, I hopped back on the bus and rode around the city.
I highly recommend a visit to the Deutsche Demokratische Republik Museum. It is located in the former governmental district of East Germany, right on the river Spree, opposite the Berlin Cathedral.
The museum was an eye-opener. Plus it is an interactive museum, which makes this a perfect way to really get a feeling for life in the former DDR. The museum is really neat and very detailed. I enjoyed the tower block apartment recreation, complete with five rooms, the nursery and even the motion-ride elevator.
The museum really does its best to allow visitors to see and feel what everyday life was like in the DDR. Being able to touch, feel, see, and hear the clothing, TV channels and propaganda and use actual equipment really made this a worthwhile and educational visit.
The only negative was that the museum was very crowded when I visited. I noted this in my online review, and was surprised when a DDR representative responded, providing advice on when to visit to avoid the large crowds:
“Thanks a lot for your 4 star rating, C. K. As one of the most popular museums in Berlin, the DDR Museum can get rather busy at certain times – especially on weekends and during school holidays. To avoid many other visitors we recommend to visit in the mornings before 11am or in the evenings after 5pm. The DDR Museum is open every day from 9 am to 9 pm.”
There you go! So the next time you’re exploring Berlin, visit the DDR Museum before 11 a.m. or after 5 p.m. to avoid the crowds and experience this very informative and interactive museum.
Oh, almost forgot. My combination ticket also included entrance to the DDR Motorrad Museum. This museum exhibition displays more than 130 restored motorbikes, scooters, mopeds and trailers spanning 40 years of DDR two-wheeler production. Journey through time as the thematic exhibits take you through the technical and design history of DDR motorbikes.
If you love motorcycles, cars or anything to do with automotive history, you will like this museum. I thought the museum was okay and informative, but it wasn’t as interactive as the DDR Museum, which was a major letdown. I was glad entrance was part of the combo ticket because I only spent about 30 minutes visiting.
Oh man, this place was just freakin’ #AWESOME!
The Computerspiele Museum is a video game museum founded in 1997. I learned about this particular museum while searching the hotel’s free discounts display. I found a “free gift” card for this museum and thought, “I have some time, why not visit.”
Best decision of the adventure.
For €9, I got two hours to play video games, while learning the history behind the computer gaming industry. The time limit I think had more to do with COVID protocols than a standard time length, but still two hours is plenty.
The museum contains more than 300 exhibits, including rare originals, and playable classics – including two of my personal favorites, Pole Position and Crazy Taxi.
It was simply a joy to relax and play some of my favorite video games. The level of details they put into recreating the different eras was exceptional. I hope they move to a bigger space and add more video games.
Yep! Those are my initals on top Pole Position leaderboard.
I found two decent restaurants during my visit that I recommend.
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.
Barcelona Tapas Bar & Restaurant is located near Checkpoint Charlie, so I decided to eat here since I hadn’t made reservations for the other restaurant choices. I ordered the Parrillada De Pescado, or grilled/mixed fish platter.
The food was served hot and was a large potion. The food had decent flavor and was enjoyable. Customer service was good, but they were very choosy on when to adhere to COVID-19 protocols, especially the social distancing restrictions or checking to see if people were vaccinated or not. This is why I deducted the two stars.
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I chose Block House because it was close to the Computerspiele Museum, and I was very hungry after playing video games for two hours. Plus, I really wanted a steak after all the fish I had at Barcelona Tapas Bar & Restaurant. Customer service was exceptional and extra props for exercising proper COVID-19 protocols.
I ordered the Mrs. Rumpsteak meal – a sirloin steak complete with a side salad, baked potato with sour cream, and Block House bread. The Mrs. Rumpsteak was cooked to perfection and the baked potato was delicious.
However, my favorite part was the Hot & Cold dessert. It was so yummy that I now eat my ice cream with hot raspberries and blackberries.
My weekend in Berlin was short, but it was very adventurous, educational and fun. Next time I visit, I’ll try to persuade my friends to come along.
I don’t think I’ll have to try too hard once they learn about the #Fabulous Self-drive Trabant Convoy Tour. I got to drive an East German-made Trabant through Berlin in a convoy, passing sites from the Cold War, including still-standing sections of Berlin Wall.
Video is from another tour that happened after my tour.