Robert Hampton

Another visitor! Stay a while… stay forever!

17th September 2014

Exploring Berlin
Posted by at 10.10pm | No responses | Out and About

After the ordeal of my flight, I slept for a few hours, but my body clock refused to let me have a lie in, and I woke around 8am. I dozed for a little bit longer, but eventually gave up and got up. I emerged from the hotel around 9.30am.

First order of business was to pick up a Berlin Welcome Card. This card costs €25 for three days, and not only gifts unlimited travel on Berlin’s extensive public transport, but also discounted admission to over 200 different attractions. There was a Berlin Tourist Information centre on Kurfürstendamm, just round the corner for my hotel, so I went there to get the card.

After that, I thought about where to go next. I was still feeling sluggish and needed to blow away some cobwebs, so headed for the Tiergarten.


The massive 520 acre park is a haven for wildlife and a welcome quiet spot in the heart of the city. It’s surrounded on all sides by insanely busy dual carriageway roads, but the park itself is an oasis of calm. The park is also, apparently, a hotbed for nude sunbathers, although the cool, overcast conditions precluded any of that on the day I visited.


I ended up in the centre of the park, near the Siegessaule (“Victory Column”). A café nearby offered “Baguette mit Salami und Käse” for a reasonable price, so I headed up to the counter and ordered one, putting on my best German accent. I summoned up the knowledge gleamed from my “teach yourself German” books: “…und eine Flasche Cola, bitte,” I added.

The woman behind the counter replied in English. How did she know?!

I ate my food slowly while I considered my carefully-prepared itinerary. There was one fixed point: a pre-booked visit to the Reichstag building which was set for 4.30pm. Before that, I had hoped to see the Museum for Communication and the German Historical Museum, but I was running behind schedule and wasn’t sure how much time I would have.

I decided to walk through the Tiergarten to the Brandenburg Gate, then on to the Museum for Communication. Unfortunately I got a little disorientated in the maze of paths and ended up instead on Tiergartenstraße, which led me to Potsdamer Platz.

Potsdamer Platz was left in ruins at the end of World War II, and then the Berlin Wall with its “death strip” cut right through it, precluding any development. The old Communist regime would surely be pleased to find that, post-reunification, it has been turned into a gaudy shrine to capitalism, with giant skyscrapers reaching into the sky all around. One of them, excitingly, is the DB Tower, headquarters of Germany’s state railway. I was tempted to go in and complain about the cutbacks to the City Night Line service, but thought better of it.

DB Tower Giraffe

There was a Lego visitor centre, marked by a giraffe made entirely out of the little plastic bricks. Right next door to that was the Sony Centre, the sort of soulless identikit mall you find in just about any city these days. Chain restaurants – check. Multiplex cinema – check. I popped inside to use the toilet, and discovered too late that I would have to pay 50¢ for the privilege. There was a lavatory attendant staring at me, so I couldn’t do an about-turn without losing any semblance of dignity. I grudgingly paid up.

Some reminders of the old days remain. A few short pieces of the Wall remain standing as a memorial to less happy times. Also here is a replica of the traffic lights (the first in Europe) which were erected here in the 1920s.

Berlin Wall remnants at Potsdamer Platz Traffic Lights

I was feeling lazy, so hopped on the S-Bahn one stop to Brandenburger Tor station. The Brandenburg Gate is one of the most well-known landmarks in Berlin (it’s even etched into the windows of the U-Bahn trains). Lying on the border between East and West Berlin, it achieved iconic status during the Cold War as a symbol of the divided city. Ronald Reagan delivered his famous “Tear down this wall!” speech here in 1987. Twenty-six years later, Barack Obama stood on the former eastern side of the gate to give a speech.

The gate is a massive tourist attraction, with all the good and bad that comes with it. I had to dodge street performers, souvenir sellers, people hawking an open-top bus tour and various “chuggers”, in order to take a photo.

Brandenburg Gate

Nearby, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe remains one of the most emotion-inducing sites in the city. I was rather sad to see security guards present to make sure people treated. For the few minutes I was there, they had to give a telling off to a group of tourists who were climbing all over the stelae. Still, at least I didn’t see anyone taking a Grindr profile pic there.

Across the road, the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted under Nazism is smaller but no less poignant. Look through the window and you can see a film depicting same-sex couples kissing, smiling and generally enjoying life – something that was denied to many people of all walks of life under the Nazi regime.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism

I carried on and eventually reached the Museum für Kommunikation, rather later than planned. This was originally the German Postal Museum, but a decade or so ago it was revamped to cover all forms of communication; not just the post, but phones, television, computers, etc.

In the main entrance hall, robots glided across the floor, beeping and occasionally bumping into one another. Doctor Who has taught me to treat anything like this with a healthy suspicion, so I gave them a wide berth and headed to the main exhibits.

Museum für Kommunikation Museum für Kommunikation

There was one small problem – most of the exhibits were labelled in German only. Now, I don’t want to sit in the role of the boorish Englishman abroad. I like the courtesy extended by many foreign tourist attractions that have bilingual signage, but I don’t expect it as a matter of course. Unfortunately my beginner-to-intermediate level German didn’t quite cover the intricacies of telephone exchanges, so the amount of information I could take away from some of the displays was limited.

I was interested, in the exhibit on clocks, to discover that the coming of the railways in Germany caused the standardisation of time across the country, just as it did in Britain.

Museum für Kommunikation

My favourite exhibit was this demonstration of the pneumatic post system which Berlin used to operate. It was available for the use of the public – simply write your note, stick it in a little canister, shove it in a pipe and watch it whoosh off somewhere else. The city got rid of it in 1971, the fools.

Museum für Kommunikation Museum für Kommunikation

Elsewhere, the history of the humble post box was traced from the beginnings of the postal service in the 19th century, right through to the present day.

An interesting display on the upper floor talked about the role of television and other mass media in the modern world. Various displays looked at, for example, the way media reporting influenced the outcome of wars. There was also a screen showing Spongebob Squarepants, for some reason.

Museum für Kommunikation

Despite the language barrier, it was an interesting museum, and I was glad I visited. Unfortunately by the time I had finished looking around (and had a coffee in the museum café) I had run out of time to also visit the Deutsches Historisches Museum. Instead, I headed straight for the Reichstag, to be sure of getting there for my allotted 4.30pm visit time.

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