On this day of our holiday we decided that we’d take the Westend Tour that the company offered. On our way to the bus stop we happened upon a huge parade going right down one of the main streets in Berlin. There were tanks, Soviet flags, posters in German, and very angry people shouting in megaphones. As we drove on we noticed an increased police presence and we knew something was going on but really didn’t know what. It was strange and a bit unnerving. I don’t think I have ever seen so many police in one place. We had done this part of the tour the day before and there were none. But because we didn’t speak the language we had no idea what the parade was in aid of. We just carried on, oblivious to why onto the next tour. The next tour was an hour long and didn’t run as regular as the other tours so we got to the stop and had to wait for about an hour to get on the bus. We had a quick bite to eat at the biggest McDonalds I’ve ever seen! It was 4 floors and at one point they had a theatre room for the kids to eat with tables set in stadium seating, cartoons on a big movie screen, and a bathroom attendant. After climbing all those stairs I wasn’t about to go back down to get money to pay to use the toilets so I shyly walked past the attendant and did the same as I walked back out. They really should put a warning on the bottom floor “Toilets are attended and FOUR FLOORS UP!” Anyway, it was time to queue for the bus and luckily it wasn’t packed full. We got good seats and got ready for our tour.
Our tour guide was just so lovely. He was friendly and very knowledgeable. The tour was all based in the old West Germany. I found it very strange the more time we spent on the tour. I don’t know if it was intentional or not, maybe for dramatic effect but they made West Germany seem so idyllic with tree lined streets, beautiful houses, lakes, forests, and peace and quiet. The made East Germany seem dark, industrial, cold, and destitute. As I spoke to my German employers when I got back they assured me this just wasn’t the case. That the river we could see from our hotel in old East Germany has some houses built right on the riverbank and is one of the most beautiful places in Berlin. In fact, he told me how impressed he was with how Berlin was now “just Berlin” not East and West. He was there when the wall came down and so he can see the progress. He assured me that the old East Germany isn’t the way they portrayed it and – with both East and West there are stunning places of beauty.
We started by going by the picturesque Charlottenburg Palace.
Then we continued on through tree lined streets full of little cafes and houses. It was nice and quaint. Then we realized our tour guide wasn’t just a tour guide but a singer. He stood up on the top deck and started singing old German songs. I missed his first song, but luckily it wasn’t the last.
Then we went to the Olympic Stadium from the 1936 Summer Olympics. It was very empty but really nicely taken care of. They were pretty proud of that stadium and we even got to go through the Olympic village behind it as well.
Then out of no where we entered this heavily wooded area complete with a huge lake, boats, and cute little boat houses. I couldn’t believe we were still in Berlin as we drove through. Then the tour guide stood up and I started recording:
It was like I was taken back into a different world. If I tried it almost seemed like I was watching an old movie. It was surreal and very memorable. And the tour guide soaked up the applause.
Next we went to the bell tower. We had a half an hour stop there where people could go to the top of the tower. I decided that I wanted to stay in the bus and all of the sudden I was the only person on the bus – even the driver left (locking the door behind him). It was the most peaceful part of the whole trip. I sat in my seat with the sun shining down on me listening to the birds and the quiet all around and took a minute to be so thankful for all of the opportunities I’ve had to see new places. I would never have thought that in the middle of Berlin I’d have such a peaceful, spiritual experience but it was something I’ll remember for a long time to come.
Everyone started gradually getting back onto the bus and we headed back to the city centre. On the way we saw more of Berlin and also a nudist park (I was on the wrong side of the bus to see this but by Chris’ surprised face, I am certain it was there).
Once the tour was finished and we decided to head back to Alexanderplatz we had a bit of an issue getting back on the right U-Bahn. I wont go into details but there was a bit of arguing and pouting and we finally decided that maybe a short river cruise would help lighten the mood. So we got tickets to a hour cruise up and down the River Spree. It was the last cruise of the day so there weren’t many people on board at all – but in typical Chris and Jamie style on the top of the boat with probably 50 empty seats a group of middle-aged, intoxicated, American women sat right next to us. We were already in a sour mood and this definitely didn’t help. So I’d like a do-over of the cruise please. Despite the annoying shipmates, we did see some beautiful scenery from a different angle than the top of a bus. It was just at dusk and was still warmish.
We got back to Alexanderplatz and decided we didn’t want to go back to the hotel yet so we tried some more currywurst (which was nasty and the man wouldn’t let us have it without the tomato sauce “It comes with sauce!”) we had some nice ice cream, did some more people watching, and finally headed back to the hotel.
The next day was our day home but we didn’t have to be at the airport until late that evening. We debated what to do in the meantime and finally decided to utilize the luggage lockers we saw at Alexanderplatz and do another tour. We got to the tour company busses and found that the ticket couldn’t be amended for an extra day (like the guy said the first day) and we went back and forth with different companies, got refunds, complained, sat in a packed bus for ages, and finally decided we were both fed up and just headed to the airport. It would be better to just sit at the airport that deal with the MASSIVE crowds and incompetent tour companies we were running into on the busses. What we didn’t know was it was the anniversary for VE-Day so there were an extra amount of tourists in town to celebrate. We got on the train to head to the airport but found that part of the route was on strike and we had to get a replacement bus at a stop. We got off the train at the stop and there were signs everywhere but we had no idea what they said or where to go. We exited the train station and luckily found some very nice people to direct us to the bus stop across the street to get the bus. As we were walking to the bus stop we noticed there were tons of people wearing orange and black ribbons and lots of cars with Soviet flags waving from there. We didn’t know what was going on, but whatever it was, was huge right at Treptower Park by the station. I later found out there was a huge protest at the park in connection with VE-day. THIS is a good article describing what we were seeing:
This is the scene 70 years later: Teenagers are waving Soviet flags, young girls are dressed up in uniforms of the Red Army and muscled guys are wearing pro-Putin t-shirts. At first glance it seems as if the Soviet Union never ceased to exist. Most of the visitors wear the orange and black striped ribbon of St. Georges to remember the bravery of the Red Army.
It made sense with the parade and police in Berlin and the number of Soviet flags we saw. It was very interesting. I guess if nothing else it made me realize that not everyone celebrated or remembers VE-Day for the same reason.
We were on the bus and I thought for sure we were miles and miles away from Berlin and then Chris leans over and says, “Does this look familiar?” The bus stop that we had to get off at was the same station just down the road from our hotel!!! I wasn’t a happy lady right then, but we weren’t to know about the strikes or the protests. As we dragged out shattered bodies up to the train there was an old German man just shouting at us. We had no idea why and as the lift door closed we just rolled our eyes at each other – only to have the door open and see that the platform was empty. The man was shouting at us to not get on the lift. At that point we were just done and got on the other platform and made it safety to the airport. We walked through a maze of hallways to get to the door where we were boarding and I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to get on an airplane – ever.
The flight home was uneventful and Chris took some great pictures from the window –
Then I saw the yellow fields again (just like when we were coming home from Iceland) and I was glad to be home.
All in all Berlin was very interesting and there is a lot to do – way more than we got to do and I wouldn’t mind going back again – but when I do go back I am going to make sure I pack better shoes and a better attitude.