[The economy is crashing ..the Pound is at an all-time low…Industries all over the UK are shutting shop and 1000’s are losing their jobs ! Honestly, the year couldn’t have started-off in a more depressing way ! So how does one get away from all the madness ? Well, as for us, we pack our bags and head-off for a weekend-break to Berlin ! 🙂 ]
One of the things that has always fascinated me about European cities is the rich history that most of them possess. Whilst many of these cities have not really seen much action since the end of World War 2, Berlin conspicuously stands out, having had an incredibly tumultuous existence post 1945, as well !
Once the opulent capital of the powerful Prussian empire, Berlin’s power and influence had shot up during the Nazi era, when it became the nerve-centre of Hitler’s ‘Third Reich’ ! Completely laid to waste by World War 2 ….and the ‘Battle for Berlin’ which ended it, the city hardly had the time to recuperate …before it was torn apart again by the Berlin wall ! The Soviets had taken control of East Berlin and the Western Allies had the Western half…and the decades of Cold War that followed had far-reaching consequences for the city – which saw itself caught in the middle of severe Soviet-American tensions ! With the fall of the wall in 1989 and the subsequent re-unification of Germany, Berlin regained its spot on the map as one of Europe’s leading cultural and economic centers !
Day 0 – 16th Jan, 2009
Technically speaking, this was not my first time in Germany. Back in September 08, during a visit to the French border city of Strasbourg as part of our France trip; Bharat and I had crossed the bridge across the Rhine into Germany ….and visited a small town called Kehl. Though we had spent just about an hour there, it was enough for us to proudly proclaim that we had set foot on German soil !
However, the real opportunity to venture into the heart of Deutschland, knocked in the late hours of a cold October night, when I came across some dirt cheap [ £40 🙂 ] return tickets on Easyjet, to the German capital of Berlin ! Following a quick conf-call with my old bootcamp-mates based in Slough – Krishna and Adarsh, the deal was sealed ! Apart from the 3 of us, Shiva too joined the bandwagon later on.
Thus on Friday evening on the 16th of Jan, Shiva and I left office a little early and took the Easyjet flight from Bristol to Berlin Schonefeld airport. About an hour later, we were joined at the airport by Krishna and Adarsh, who had flown in from London Gatwick airport.
|From Berlin – 2009|
Shiva and I had originally planned to put the odd hour of wait required at the airport to good use, by checking out the exquisite stores and restaurants that we expected Schonefeld to have ! But incidentally, that turned out to be too much of a luxury to ask for – the airport was pretty scanty and quite unfitting for a major European capital !
Turns out, there’s a bit of history behind that as well ! During the days of divided-Berlin, air traffic into the city was strictly regulated and only the allies were allowed to fly into their respective sectors in the city. As a result, most International long-haul flights were routed through Frankfurt – a legacy which continues to this day. Besides, the authorities on either side of the Berlin wall were forced to build their own separate infrastructure, as they couldn’t use each other’s ….as a result, Berlin had 2 airports, 2 major railway stations and so on. Whilst Schonefeld had been the main airport for the Communist half of East Berlin, Tegel airport, had served the requirements of the West.
Back in 1948, when land-locked West-Berlin was completely blocked by East Germany with the intention of starving it to submission; the Western allies had defied the Soviets by airlifting all the necessary supplies into West Berlin. The operation, referred to as the ‘Berlin Airlift’ had cost the allies heavily, but ultimately enabled them to hold on to their stakes in Berlin !
Today, Schonefeld is the hub of most low-cost airlines flying into Berlin, whilst the better flights land at Tegel ….and that kind of explains why the former seems to be a few decades behind in terms of offering state-of-the-art facilities.
Before we left the terminal, we bought ourselves a few ‘Berlin Welcome Cards’ from the Tourist-office. For just about 18 euros apiece, it included a 48-hour unlimited pass to use any of Belin’s public transportation modes, maps of Berlin, discount Vouchers, post-cards and other goodies to serve the needs of any tourist visiting the city !
As we walked out of the airport, the first sight that greeted us [..besides the ice-covered terrain] was the long line of Mercedes-Benz taxis parked on the ramp ! Germany, quite evidently, is the home to Mercedes and every single cab around seemed to be a Merc ! However, we tried to ignore that and walked straight across the icy path, to the train station, which was about 5 minutes away. From there, an S-Bahn train took us directly into the heart of the city at Alexanderplatz , in about 45 minutes !
After taking a few moments to admire the huge, lit-up TV tower at Alexanderplatz, we walked across in search of Hotel Agon …which was not too far away. The rooms at the hotel were quite comfy with pretty decent facilities…..and for just about 30 Euros per room for a night [breakfast included :)], it was a steal !
Perhaps it had something to do with us being in the eastern part of the city [which had previously been under Communist rule], but the cost of living in Berlin did indeed seem to be unbelievably low…….. in comparison to most other capital cities of Western Europe ! Not that I had anything to complain about …but this was turning out to be one of the most economical Euro trips I’ve made in the recent past ! 🙂
|From Berlin – 2009|