Day 1. London Heathrow to Berlin

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Oopstalboom Hotel, Fredrickshain
We had spent the night at the Travelodge, Heathrow Central as our flight was one of the first of the morning to depart Heathrow.  We had originally booked our outbound flight with Germanwings, however, with less than 48 hours prior to departure, we received an email from Germanwings informing us that our flight had been cancelled due to a pilots strike.  Fortunately, after lengthy calls to our booking agent, Expedia, we were able to rebook with SAS via Oslo.

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Remnants of the Berlin Wall
Both these flights were on time, and owing to our earlier start, we arrived in Berlin only 40 minutes later than originally planned.  Tegel Airport seemed very small and in need of modernisation,  but it is due to close later this year.

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Potzdamer Platz
We bought metro passes in the airport then took a bus to Berlin’s centre followed by an urban train (U Bahn) to the Brandenburg Gate / Embassy district.  Near here, we enjoyed steaming hot bowls of vegetable soup before continuing further.  After some sightseeing, it was back on the U Bahn to Fredrickstrasse Station, our hotel being a short ten minute walk from here.

The Upstalboom Hotel , Fredrickshain is a relatively modern hotel and our room on the 4th floor was spacious and furnished in a traditional style.   After unpacking, we were ready to explore, so we made our way to Potzdamer Platz in the city centre. This district has been completely rebuilt since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  The square is now surrounded by shops, cinemas and restaurants.  We looked in the  Sony Centre and the Quartier Potzdamer Platz with its gleaming skyscrapers.

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Potzdamer Platz
Feeling hungry again, it was time for afternoon tea in the Potzdamer Platz Arkaden, an upmarket shopping mall featuring many designer stores.

It was then back on the U Bahn to Kurfürstendamm and walked some way down this wide avenue lined with shops and restaurants.   By now we were feeling the effects of our early morning start, so we decided on a quick snack and a return to our hotel for the night.

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Day 2. Reichstag Dome and the Brandenburg Tor

We had breakfast at 7.45 am as we had pre booked a visit on-line to the Dome of the Reichstag building at 10.30 am.  The hotel’s restaurant was attractively decorated and smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and pastries set us up for our morning sightseeing.

We walked to the nearby U Bahn station and, like yesterday, bought two, one day travel cards.  We arrived at the Reichstag at 10.15 am just in time to pass through the security and passport checks.  We were then escorted to the top of the building in a large glass lift,  where we had unlimited time to explore and take photographs.  The Dome was designed by the British architect  Sir Norman Foster and it affords breathtaking views of the city centre (or it would have done if some of the large glass panes hadn’t been covered in ice.

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The top of the Dome

The top of the Dome is open to allow air flow into the building and gentle ramps wind their way up to the top for views down into the Parliamentary Chamber below.  Tickets for entrànce to the Dome are free but applications need to be made via the website in advance.

A short distance from the Dome stands the Brandenburg Gate and leading off this is a long wide avenue called  ‘Unter den Linden’ translated ‘Under the lime trees’ which line this majestic avenue.  Along here are several large embassies including those of Britain and the U.S.

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Unter Den Linden

We noticed that when waiting at pedestrian crossings in Berlin, it is easy to determine whether one is in the former East or West divisions of the city as the red and green crossing icons differ.

Day 2. An afternoon at Charlottenburg Palace and Spandau

After a short lunch stop we boarded a train from Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof to Charlottesburg, an affluent suburb of Berlin where the beautiful Charlottenburg Palace  is located.  A walk along wide, tree lined avenues with imposing buildings standing proudly, led us to the Palace.  It was a cold yet sunny afternoon, perfect conditions for a walk through the Palace gardens, besides its lake and the river.  On reaching the far end of the park we caught a train from Jungfernheide Station to Spandau.

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The river near Charlottesburg
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The surviving fortress at Spandau

The old town of Spandau is quite small but its narrow, cobbled streets contain many medieval houses and shops.  A sign informed us that Spandau, founded in 1197 is actually older than Berlin itself.  Following a riverside path we reached Zhadelle, the only surviving fortress in Berlin.

After a rest back at our hotel we decided to eat on Kurfürstendamm at the ‘Alt Berliner Biersalon‘ one of the many beer halls in the city.  Food was mediocre but the atmosphere helped to make up for it.  The end of an interesting day in Berlin.

Day 3. Potsdam, Sansouci Palace and Tiergarten

Another lovely sunny morning.  On finishing our breakfast our plan this morning firstly was to inspect the largest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, this was located near the ornate bridge beside the River Spree.  The pieces of wall have now been decorated in modern art / graffiti and plaques explain the historical significance.

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Sansouci Palace

A train to Potsdam was next on our agenda.  The journey took one hour and on arrival at the modern Potsdamer Railway Station, we soon found a bus to take us to the New Palace of Sansouci.  The New Palace lies to the north of Sansouci Park and is one of Germany’s most beautiful palaces.  We followed a route through the park,  ‘Schlosspark Sansouci’ passing the ornate Orangerie before arriving at the grand Schlosspark Sansouci.

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Sansouci Palace

We strolled through formal gardens with raised flowerbeds and fountains, a circular pond was frozen in places, and it was amusing to watch the ducks slipping and sliding over the ice, trying to find their way into the water!  A huge restoration programme is underway and the majority of the statues had been enclosed in blue wooden boxes ready to be taken away for repair and cleaning.

On leaving the park we walked into the old town quarter of Potsdam.  It’s a delightful place with its many period buildings and cobbled streets.  We would have liked to stop off for a hot chocolate but as it was a Sunday, everywhere seemed to be closed.  Even large stores in central Berlin do not open on Sunday.

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The old part of Potsdam
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The Statue of Victory

Returning to Berlin, we left the train at Tiergarten where a Sunday Antique and Flea Market was taking place.  It wasn’t very interesting, so we crossed the road and wandered through the large urban park, passing dog walkers and keep fit enthusiasts along the way.  We viewed the Spanish embassy and then took the underpass to the Statue of Victory which was constructed in the 1870’s.  The landmark is surrounded by five major roads and the Brandenburg Gate can be seen in the distance.

Conveniently, a No.100 bus appeared so we jumped on board for the short journey to Lustgarten (Pleasure Garden) which is located in a park on Museum Island.  This is a vibrant part of the city centre with the grand Altes Museum and Berliner Dom (the cathedral – featured main photo above) to be found here.  Artists were showcasing their work along the riverbank outside the City Art Gallery.  Around the corner we found ourselves outside the Natural History Museum so we called in for a short visit.

Continuing along the river we arrived at  Hachescher Markt, a lively district filled with bars and restaurants so we returned here later for our evening meal.

Day 4. Checkpoint Charlie, and more sightseeing

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Checkpoint Charlie
Our final day in Berlin,  so after breakfast we checked out of our hotel but left our luggage to collect later in the day.  Then it was on the train to Kreuzberg where we walked for about 15 minutes to reach the Checkpoint Charlie Box.  This famous landmark was the best known crossing point between East and West and was named Checkpoint Charlie by the Western allies., it was actually Checkpoint C.   Located nearby is a small open air museum which lists successful and unsuccessful attempts to cross the border and the different methods tried.  There is also a small piece of wall still in place here.

Next,  it was back on the train again, this time to the Zoo station.  We didn’t visit the zoo but instead the Kaiser Willheim Church.  The cathedral, built in 1891 had been badly damaged in a bombing raid in 1943.

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Kaiser Wilhelm Cathedral and original spire
The damaged spire has been retained together with the ground floor with its intricately painted ceiling frescoes and  is now a memorial hall which is a famous landmark of West Berlin.  Surrounding the old church, a new church was constructed in the 1960’s consisting of four buildings.  The walls of the new church are made of a concrete honeycomb containing stained glass inlays.  It looks strange from the exterior but spectacular inside.

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The interior of the 1960’s cathedral
It was then time for coffee and cakes on the main shopping street, Kurfürstendamm then a look in two of Berlin’s smartest department stores.  The first , Kaufhaus des Westerns known as KaDeWe, is the largest department store in continental Europe sharing some similarities with Harrod’s in the UK.  The second store, located nearby, was Peek and Cloppenburg selling high end clothing in a department store setting.

We rounded off our sightseeing with a visit to Alexanderplatz which was the largest square in the former East Berlin.  Most of the square has now been rebuilt and is lined with shopping malls and stores such as Primark and H & M.  It’s not the most attractive square in Berlin but worthy of a visit to appreciate its sheer magnitude.

It was then time to return to our hotel to collect our luggage and have a meal in the Hachescher Markt district before returning to Tegel airport for our BA flight back to London Heathrow.

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Dinner venue on the final evening
This was our first visit to Berlin.  A good city break destiination, public transport is efficient and it was very easy to visit the outlying districts of Charlottesburg, Spandau and Potsdam in addition to exploring the city centre itself.

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