Spring in Berlin – 2


I looked at my feet that morning: the blister on the left foot was raw and red, the skin having pulled off with the moleskin the day before. And now, on my right heel the same thing was happening. I could see the loose skin, knowing that it would not last long. We were out of moleskin and the bandages I bought in place of it were nice, but not the same. I put one on each foot and we set out for another day of sightseeing.

Today started easy: we walked to the train and got on. I watched the scenery go by and rested my feet. Dan had planned this morning’s venture: we were going to Spandau. This caught me off guard, as the only “Spandau” I knew of was the 80’s band “Spandau Ballet”. I guess I was to learn all sorts of things on this trip! Waiting for us in Spandau was not the band, but an old town, a Citadel and the BMW factory! Unfortunately, BMW’s website let us know that tours would not be available until May, but maybe if we walked in and asked nicely, someone would be able to show us around. Maybe.

Train station

Dan’s phone saved us again when we got off the train, pointing us in the direction of BMW. We walked along in the sunshine – another beautiful day! – and then we saw the sign for the factory. It was a long, low brick building and we were at the delivery end of it. Perhaps if we kept on walking we’d come across an office of sorts. Or even a gift shop! So we walked. And walked. And walked. We eventually came to the end of the building, but without seeing anything remotely inviting for visitors. Sadly, we would not be able to visit the birthplace of our motorcycles today.

The most we could see inside the factory

Not more than five minutes’ walk later and we were at the Spandau Citadel. This structure is recognized as one of the best preserved Renaissance military structures of Europe. Completed only in 1594, it survived many attacks over the centuries, although Napoleon did some damage back in 1806, over 200 years after it was built. We opted for the self-guided audio tour of the grounds, which I’m glad we did. It was much more informative than our sightseeing bus tour, and gave us a better appreciation of the history of the citadel. Extensive restorations were underway so we were not able to see everything, but we had seen most of it. And suddenly, once again, it was lunch time.

Spandau Citadel

Imposing exterior

The Julius Tower – the oldest part of the fortification

Looking up inside the tower

View from the top of the tower

Inside one of the buildings was an extensive collection of cannons, guns and ammunition. I was amazed at the detail and decoration that went into some of these machines. I always imagined cannons as simple and smooth.

Inscription on one of the cannons
“Saturn eats children. I eat everything, big and small” – feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!!

We walked across the wooden drawbridge and left the citadel behind. After a short walk we were in the heart of Spandau. I’m not sure why I expected ancient half-timbered houses with sagging roof lines and narrow cobblestone streets. Perhaps it was because the town center was laid out in Googlemaps in the typical old-timey circular design, and it was listed as the historic center. Or perhaps it is because I am spoiled by the beautiful towns and villages of Switzerland. But I was completely surprised by what I saw: Spandau is a modern town. Every building looked new and updated. The streets were wide and lined by restaurants and shops. There was nothing historic about it that I could see. Still, we walked down the few streets in our never-ending search for food. Dan’s phone (again!) saved the day. It led us directly to a fantastic restaurant, Churschmied, that was on a tiny, out-of-the way street. Looking at the front of the restaurant, I’m not even sure if I would have stopped even if I had noticed it on my own. But the food was fantastic, some of the most flavorful “local fare” that I’ve had. The waitress was fun and cheerful and the other guests appeared to be mostly locals who knew what they were in for.


Market day in Spandau

Churschmied – excellent food

Post lunch. I had found an antique shop in town and I wanted to see if they had something for my cat-sitter. She had mentioned that she likes to collect little cat statues and figurines, and I was on a mission to find her one. It seems that every time I promise to bring her a specialty of the area I’m visiting, I fail. But surely I could find a ceramic cat in Berlin? And I did. Two of them, in fact, with little lady bugs on their paws and a devilish look in their eyes. Well, as devilish as ceramic cats can look, that is.

Now it was time to take the train back into town. We had a five o’clock date with a friend of the family. Dieter and my sister became friends in their high school days and we had all recently met up in Basel. When I made the flight arrangements to Berlin, I emailed Dieter of our plans to visit his city. He was pleased to hear from us and made time to hang out. Now it was getting close to the time to meet him.

Heading down into the train station

We arrived at the nearest train station to his work address and exited into the sunshine. We were early. Dan suggested that we find a nice bench in the sunshine and relax for a while. The trouble was, there weren’t any benches nearby. Dan’s phone (which should apparently have a name, it comes up so often) indicated that an “enormous park” was just a few blocks out of sight. We headed that way in anticipation of relaxing on the lush spring grass. Instead, we found a cemetery, the Luisenstadt II Kirchhof.

It was massive, indeed, with monuments and headstones, trees and flowers and grasses all vying for my attention. It may not be a park, but it fulfilled all of our other requirements. Dan took over a bench in the sunshine while I laid back in the grass and watched the wispy clouds sail overhead, all while listening to the birdsong in the trees.

No sooner had I begun to lose myself to the melody of spring then Dan walked over and said “Let’s walk on a little further. There’s a bicycle shop just down the street”. Sigh. I got up and we started to walk through the cemetery, hoping to exit out a gate on the far side. Unfortunately, there was no other gate. We ended up walking along the interior perimeter of the entire cemetery before coming back to the original gate. I find cemeteries fascinating and this one even more so. So many decrepit and abandoned grave sites, some of them obviously built at great expense. And yet there were fresh stones from 2015, so it was still a viable cemetery At least it was a pleasant and interesting walk.

The bicycle shop was not as interesting as Dan had hoped and we did not go inside. Instead we found a small café where we could enjoy a quick drink while people watching. It was a busy corner and across the street from a playground. People on foot and bicycle streamed by constantly and we observed how little respect the pedestrian has in this city, and how almost no one wears a bicycle helmet. This was not the small city life I had grown used to in Basel.

While waiting for Dieter I noticed a pair of “Stumbling stones” (stolperstein) set into the sidewalk. These could be found throughout the city, each one commemorating a person who was affected by the Nazis. The link has much more detail, if you’re interested.

Stumbling stones

We met Dieter in front of his work place and together we all walked to the neighborhood of Kreuzberg. This was handy, as Kreuzberg was one corner of the city that we had wanted to see, but hadn’t yet had a chance to explore. Dieter was a good tour guide and was interested in what we had seen and done so far. He pointed out a few things along the way, including a store called Koch Haus. The concept behind this store fascinated Dan and me. It is all about meal preparation. You walk in and there are a dozen or so display tables set up. On each table is a pamphlet for a meal, containing not just a list of ingredients, but also photos of all you need and visual step-by-step preparation. On the table are also all of the ingredients you need to make this dish: potatoes, vegetables, fruit, seasonings in jars, sauces in bottles. The recipe shows you exactly how much of each item you need. If you already have it at home, don’t buy it. But if you’re fresh out of potatoes (sacrilege, I know!) then there they are. There are even the specialty tools that you might need, like a zester or blender. You buy what you need, take the recipe home with you and there you have it: dinner ready to make. Inspiration AND preparation, all in one. After leaving the Kochhaus we continued on for dinner. Since Dan and I had such a late and filling lunch, we encouraged Dieter to pick out a place of his choosing. He chose a nice restaurant whose name I can’t recall, where I dined on a delightfully simple sweet potato soup.

Not many unusual motorcycles here

Dieter had asked us earlier if we were interested in going to a show. He sent a link and I delved a little deeper and found a trailer. It was weird, but interesting. It was a sort of modern-day circus, but without the animals and the Big Top. Sure, why not? So Dieter made the plans and now took us back to Hackesche Höfe, but this time to the more lively side of it, and on a Friday evening. This place was hopping! It was still daylight (barely) and the colored globes of lights strung out along the outdoor eating areas added a gay and cheerful look. A man was blowing giant bubbles on the street and people crowded the sidewalks. We went into a building that was bought in 1858 by a glass manufacturer and it had gone through many lives since then. For the last 100 years it has been used for entertainment purposes and the Chamäleon Variety Theatre is now one of the best-known event locations in the city.

Berlin’s main train station

Hackesche Höfe

The show was just as weird as the trailer suggested and completely enjoyable. Afterwards, the three of us discussed the various points of the show as we made our way back to the train. Dieter lives in the same area as we were staying, so we were able to share the train for a while. It was a nice evening out and I’m glad that we got to experience it. It was late by the time we got back to the apartment and between my own tiredness and using the pillow to make the bed more tolerable, I slept well.


Saturday: our last day in Berlin. Our flight was mid-afternoon, which left us the morning to do as we wanted. Dieter had told us where we could go to see the last vestiges of the original wall, so off we went. It wasn’t too far from where we were staying, so we packed up our bags and left the key in the room. I felt bad that our hostess wasn’t around to say good-bye to, but we at least had exchanged emails the night before.

Leaving behind Prenzlauerallee

Backpacks on our shoulders, we headed west to Bearnauerstrasse. The place I had in mind, based on limited reading, was probably the East Side Gallery but I think that for overall historical understanding, the Bernauerstrasse site was a better choice. The Berlin Wall Memorial was a stark, open-air grassy area that stretched along for blocks (almost 1 ½ kilometers, actually). Ragged, rust-colored pilings delineated the line between East and West, and ground-level markers showed how buildings and home had been altered to maintain the integrity of the dead zone. There is a lot of information on this link, which I recommend reading to better understand the implications of a wall that cut a city in two.

The beautiful spring weather had blown away and now it was cold. Dan had done a quick estimation for our airport arrival time and we had time to kill – but not enough to really do anything in that time. The day of departure is always awkward like that. So we decided to take refuge in the warmth of the trams and make a sightseeing tour of Berlin, eventually ending up at the airport.

There had been a miscalculation on the flight time and travel time, so we ended up getting to the airport far in advance of our flight. We made use of this by watching another mini-movie on the laptop and more people watching. The flight home was just as relaxing and we arrived home to some very happy kitties. Berlin definitely requires another visit – this time by bicycle 

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