Peter Morrell and his wife explore Berlin on a shore excursion from Fred. Olsen’s cruise ship M.S. Balmoral
My wife and I were on a Fred. Olsen Baltic cruise last year and after visiting Copenhagen, Tallinn, St Petersburg and Riga our final port of call was Warnemünde, near Rostock in Northern Germany. We could have explored the local area but there was a shore excursion available for a day trip to Berlin. We had not been to the city since 1989 when the wall came down so it was an excellent opportunity to see how Berlin had changed.
An early start saw us on the autobahn heading south, admittedly it was a long way, nearly a three hour drive but we were eager to see the city again. Our first stop was the Charlottenburg Palace, the largest palace in Berlin. This elegant baroque and rococo building was built in the 17th century and both the interior and gardens are major attractions. Time didn’t allow us to stop as we had so many other things to see. As we drove into the city we passed the Victory Column built in 1873, another major attraction with a viewing platform which gives panoramic vista of the city.
Our next stop was the Parliament building, the Reichstag, a grand structure which was fully refurbished after the reunification of Germany. The re-design was led by British architect Norman Foster and one of the most imposing new features is a huge glass dome.
Driving between attractions we were struck by the large amount green space and water, ideal for relaxing, swimming and sunbathing. Next historic site was the Brandenburg Gate and this is one of the places we remember so vividly.
On 9th November 1989, during a bungled press conference, East German official Günter Schabowski announced the lifting of restrictions on travel across the border. Asked by a journalist when this was to come into effect he paused for a few seconds and said “As far as I know — effective immediately, without delay.” When word spread the Brandenburg Gate became the focal point for people streaming from the East as an expression of their freedom. Shortly after the wall came down we visited Berlin and went East, buying a Russian Army officers cap from a bemused soldier which we have kept as a souvenir together with some pieces of the Wall.
Today there is a grand plaza in front of the Gate and the boulevard that runs East from the plaza. Unter Den Linden, is a throng of expensive hotels, shops and restaurants, We were beginning to see the dramatic changes that had happened in the city. We moved on to a monument that remembers another historic event, the holocaust memorial. It’s huge and consists of 2,711 concrete blocks laid symmetrically on a sloping site. Many on the blocks are taller than a person and wandering amongst the blocks creates a strong sense of isolation.
Lunch time arrived and we ate in a traditional Bavarian restaurant, Maximilians. Here we drank a beer and enjoyed a roast ham hock, almost big enough to feed four, with a side of sauerkraut. After lunch we walked around and soaked up the atmosphere on the street, this is now a young, hip city which has totally regained its confidence from 29 years ago.
We drove down Unter Den Linden to the Burning Book Memorial on Bebelplatz. A glass covered shaft set into the cobbles is lined with empty white shelves, There is room for 20,000 books, the number that were destroyed during the Nazi Book Burning on 10th May 1933. In this area there are many museums, in fact Berlin has more museums (180) than rainy days (106).
We went through Potsdamer Platz, originally bisected by the Wall, a depressing place in 1989, it had been part demolished to give Eastern border guards clear lines of sight. It’s now a bustling city hub with lots of new buildings including the Forum Tower designed by Renzo Piano. Nearby is a part of the Wall that remains, it’s heavily grafittied with murals and is now an outdoor art gallery.
The location immortalised by spy novels, Checkpoint Charlie, was the crossing point into the American Sector. The guard house is still there although the real U.S. Soldiers have been replaced by people dressed in military uniform. Again desolation has been replaced with an energetic street vibe. You can now buy a reproduction Russian cap and the seller is not at all bemused.
It was nearing the end of the day as we drove into Kurfürstendamm, called Ku’damm by the locals, it’s regarded as Berlin’s Champs-Élysées. At one end of this boulevard is Kaufhaus des Westens, the second largest department store in Europe (only beaten by Harrods). Referred to locally as KaDeWe it is renown for its lavish food hall.
We stopped to look at another commemorative site, The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church badly damaged by Allied bombing in 1943. A new chapel has been built but the original tower has been left and known by Berliners as “der hohle Zahn”, meaning “the hollow tooth”.
We made our way slowly back to the autobahn in the rush hour traffic to find that the most direct road north was blocked by an accident, our diversion had a silver lining, we passed the Olympic Stadium built for the 1936 Games. It was slightly dilapidated during our last visit but has now been fully renovated and looks splendid.
On the way back to the ship I reflected on what a great day it had been, well worth the time spent getting there. We were fortunate to be able to make the comparison between a city tired of wars, hot and cold, during our last visit and its total transformation into a vibrant world class capital today. First time visitors will appreciate the sheer number attractions there are to see.
You can read about our cruise experience here…
Next Year’s Cruise
A similar cruise in 2018 with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines will be a 14-night ‘Cruising to the Heart of the Baltic’ cruise (M1823) on board Braemar, departing from Southampton on 14th September 2018. Ports of call include: Copenhagen, Helsinki, an overnight stay in St. Petersburg, Riga, Travemünde and cruising the Kiel Canal, arriving back in Southampton on 28th September 2018.
Prices currently start from £1,879 per person, based on an interior twin-bedded room, subject to availability, and includes all food and entertainment on board, and port taxes.
Further details on this cruise can be found by following this link. http://www.fredolsencruises.com/places-we-visit/cruise-holiday/cruising-to-the-heart-of-the-baltic-m1823?referrer=7&isback=1
For further information on Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, visit the website at www.fredolsencruises.com or call Reservations on 0800 0355 242 (Monday – Friday, 8am – 8pm; Saturday, 9am – 5pm; Sunday, 10am – 4pm).