Berlin: East and West

Time is flying by – Berlin is our penultimate stop before getting back to London after this crazy trip!

We’ve wanted to take a weekend trip to Berlin for years … and we were happy to be there. ..But speaking for myself, I’m getting so tired at this late stage of our trip that I’m finding it hard to motivate to sightsee! So I was playing some mental games with myself trying to psych myself up for visiting a new city.

Also – it felt really cold! It was around freezing (0c / 32F) but because of the damp weather, Berlin felt much colder to me than most of Siberia. Yes, it’s the humidity in the air, but also the lack of sunshine. Even in -20 temperatures in Siberia, there was clear blue sky and bright sun bouncing off the snow. Berlin is more European, with a gentle gray layer of clouds across the sky most of the time. So it’s dreary, and damp, and oh man, I was FREEZING! But when are we going to be in Berlin next?! Have to make the most of it. Onwards!

Life in East Berlin

We visited two different museums presenting life in East Berlin during communist times. The DDR Museum (more touristy and very interactive, paid) and “The Everyday Life Exhibit” at a cool cultural space in a former brewery: Museum in der Kulturbrauerei (still very interesting, and free!)

Map of the free West vs communist East (including the popout of divided Berlin.

The DDR museum even had a recreation of an East Berlin apartment, so you could walk through the rooms … and even pick up the phone (where someone would answer in German and then you’d hear a little click – of course, all the phones were wiretapped!) Here’s Zak relaxing in the East Berlin living room. All the rooms had crazy 70s wallpaper too.

Zak answering the phone in an East Berlin living room at the DDR museum.

The DDR museum was so interactive, at times it was hard to see where the exhibits were (it was very busy with school groups when we were there, so maybe that made it more difficult to see what you were supposed to interact with to get the information.) If you open the fridge in the kitchen, there’s info on East German foods. Every wall seemed to have flaps or drawers that you would open to see an exhibit or read information. There was a cinema playing East German propaganda news clips. Oh and if you go into the bedroom, you can virtually try on East German outfits in the mirror!

This feature was really fun. There was a closet with 10 outfits on hangers. Whichever outfit you placed on the special red part of the clothing rail, it would project you wearing in the “mirror” (screen). Here’s Zak wearing some cool 1980s double denim!

Zak in 1980s Double Denim at the DDR museum.

Both museums emphasised how much East Germans wanted to travel and go on holiday – and how they made due with the limited options available to them (either camping in East Germany, or visiting one of the ‘brother states’ like Czechoslovakia or Hungary etc. No going West allowed!). There was also a lot of government propaganda about how great it was to be a worker in East Germany, and how much holiday you could receive. Apparently companies often had little beach huts that they’d let employees borrow during their 2 week holiday in the summer.  Apparently nudist camps were also VERY popular (which the exhibit surmised was because it was permitted but frowned upon by the government – so it was a little way to exert independence.) Fortunately, there wasn’t a nudist camp recreation to try at the museum 🙂

However, the “Everyday Life” exhibit had this fantastic pop up tent which fit onto East German cars.

East German car with a pop up tent on top!
Around the back of the tent. Zak’s ready to go swimming!

Pergamon Museum

Moving on from recent history to extremely ancient history, we visited The Pergamon Museum., which specializes in ancient civilization and art, and Islamic art. We were both blown away by this museum – their artefacts were incredible and at a scale like nothing we’d previously seen in a museum.

Here’s the Ishtar Gate and the facade of the throne hall of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II (604 – 562 BC). Yep, 600 BC!!!! This was incredible. Look at the size of it.

It was impossible to take good pictures in this museum because everything was so huge. The hallway leading up to this gate was also covered in mosaic, to recreate the original entrance to the castle.

Moving forwards in time, and to Ancient Rome, they had an amazing Market Gate of Miletus. This was stunning. But again, difficult to take it all in with a picture.

According to the audioguide, there is ‘carved graffiti’ along the bottom layer of the market, where traders identified their pitch. So “this is where X the moneylender stands” etc. It was the gate from a real working market – and the vendors wanted to reserve their spot!

I don’t even remember what civilization these carvings are from, but they are impressive!

Moving into Islamic art, there was the carved-stone façade from Mshatta, a town from the 8th century in modern day Jordan.

It just kept going. This muesum was a reasonable size (we visited it all within 2-3 hours), but the scale of many of the objects was just incredible. Absolutely loved this museum. It’ll be on my must-do list of recommendations for anyone visiting Berlin!

Plus, they include a free audio-guide with your entry ticket which was fantastic. It was really well done (and available in English!) so you could just type in the number of the exhibit you were interested in, and get immediate information + stories about it. Really helpful to illuminate what you were viewing.

The East Side Gallery: Berlin Wall Street Art

We visited a 1.3km portion of the Berlin Wall that’s been converted into a street art gallery, called The East Side Gallery.

It was really cold, and started blowing icy bits of snow sideways during our visit, so we didn’t make it the entire 1.3km … but we did see a good part of the wall! Including one of my favorite pieces of street art, The Kiss (which you may have seen before as it’s a popular one for reproductions). I didn’t know anything about this street art except that it was two politicians kissing. I assumed it was completely fabricated as an artistic commentary on political issues … but turns out, I was wrong:

“The Kiss depicts Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev giving the East Germany President Erich Honecker what appears to be a passionate kiss on the lips. At first glance, you might think it’s a complete joke, with no bearing on reality. But the image was based on an actual photograph taken in 1979 in honor of the thirtieth anniversary of the German Democratic Republic–East Germany.” (source)

But it was sometimes hard to get photos of the street art, because of everyone trying to take selfies with it!

Here are some other, less busy, portions of the wall in the East Side Gallery:

Visiting Florence … erm, Berlin?

While walking around Berlin, Berliner Dom, the huge cathedral caught my eye. It looked so … Italian. Like it should be in Florence. I had to visit and learn more.

Turns out, this cathedral was only built in 1904!!! But they built it in a Renaissance style (hence why it feels like it should be in Florence) It’s a Presbyterian cathedral which still holds services and concerts (because of the great acoustics inside)

Still, it was pretty spectacular inside. You can also visit the crypt underground where there are many caskets of royalty and other important people.

Berliner Dom Cathedral
It was really hard to get a picture of the scale of this place …




Looking up at the dome.
Immense pipe organ!
This was at the foot of a Queen’s casket … the grim reaper writing her name in his book (her name was actually carved into the stone of his book…)

Time to Eat!

And finally … what did we eat in Berlin?

Sausage. Sauerkraut. Beer. Pretty much like you’d expect!

I wanted to try one of the popular snacks/meals – Currywurst. I wasn’t that impressed. Basically chopped up sausage with curry sauce and fries. Kind of tasted like a hot dog to me. Moving on!

Currywurst in Berlin

One evening I needed something light, so I ordered Sauerkraut Soup … of course, it came topped with more sausage!

Sauerkraut soup (with sausage, of course!)

But to be fair, we were trying to eat traditional German food … so of course it was sausage and sauerkraut!

Berlin is so much more than that. Other nights, we went to a fantastic New York deli where Zak got an excellent Reuben sandwich, and I had homemade chili. Yum.

And on Thursday night we went to the Street Food Market, where there was food from all over the world. And lots of people too…

We LOVED the street food market. Just wish we could’ve gotten more pictures. We were too busy eating and drinking to think about photos! They even had a microbrewery on-site making craft beer. It was awesome. Here’s their website if you want to visit (it’s in German)

So that was our time in Berlin! Loved the city and would be happy to go back…in warmer weather. (PS. We stayed at a modern boutique hotel called Hotel i31 in the Mitte neighborhood which was really great – they even provide smartphones to use during your visit, in case yours doesn’t work in Germany!)

Now it’s just Amsterdam and then we’re back to London!