As you’ve probably come to realise, Berlin is one of my favourite cities. Having visited twice before, it was therefore high time that I took Mr Lighty to Berlin. Over the years we have developed something of a fascination with the history of the Deutsche Demokratik Republik (DDR) and former socialist countries; I’ve been lucky enough to visit quite a few ex-socialist countries, but Mr Lighty has only previously been to the Czech Republic. It was lovely, therefore, to visit Berlin a third time with a first-time visitor and experience the city through their eyes – as well as indulge in a bit of Ostalgie.
For a short break where we were looking to soak up much of the communist history of Germany’s capital city, where better to stay than one of the country’s former most luxurious hotels of the DDR? The Park Inn Hotel was built originally as the Stadt Hotel Berlin, which was used to house Comecon representatives in its time, and was the premier 4-star hotel of former East Berlin – it was even noted for having unusually fast lifts for the period! Its location cannot be beaten, either, being centrally located at Alexanderplatz, overlooking the communist TV Tower (which is a very interesting visit in itself), and indeed, on our second day in the city, we made all of our visits on foot, walking a circular route from Alexanderplatz to the Brandenburg Gate, up to the Reichstag and down again past Potsdamer Platz, Checkpoint Charlie, Gendarmenmarkt and on to Museum Island and Berlin Cathedral. It was lovely to experience the first sighting of the Brandenburg Gate and enjoy the Reichstag audio tour with Mr Lighty; two iconic Berlin landmarks, which for the first time visitor are a must. Checkpoint Charlie, another must on Mr Lighty’s list, has become horribly touristy unfortunately, but the city can’t have everything!
|The Park Inn Hotel at Alexanderplatz…|
|…and the East German-built TV tower
as viewed from our hotel window.
A step back in time
One of the first stops on our tour of all things East German was the DDR Museum. This museum is dedicated to original artefacts from the period before German reunification. With the likes of a recreated East German flat and a Trabant car, there’s plenty to engage the visitor within the hands-on museum. It was really interesting to read about the products available (or not available, as the case often was) in the DDR, and to see how East Germany lived, but I did feel that it made the era feel like it was ‘fun’; yet I’m sure that if you lived in East Berlin at the time, it wasn’t fun in the slightest.
A Foray into the West
Of course, Berlin isn’t just about East German history, and our trip also included excellent visits to the Olympic Stadium, and Berlin Zoo, both of which I hadn’t visited previously but was very impressed by. The Olympic Stadium’s exhibition on its history, with particular reference to the National Socialist era, is well worth a visit, and although Berlin is a city which has been through a lot of traumatic history in recent years, it is also a city which is trying to be open and honest with the world to prevent it from happening again. After three visits to this fascinating city, there’s still so much to see and do – the zoo being a case in point, as we simply didn’t have enough time to do it justice, having to get back to our hotel and on to the airport for our flight home that evening. The one disappointment of this trip was the fact that we couldn’t do the Trabi tour I’d been so looking forward to doing, as we didn’t have the foresight to pre-book – we’ll just have to use it as an excuse to go back! And with so much to see and do, I’m sure after Mr Lighty’s first experience of the city, he’ll be glad to join me.