September 12, 2013 – Any day that starts with crusty rolls, cheese and Nürnberger Rostbratwurst. And any time we get to take a walk through a lovely city and explore some interesting museums is also good.
We began with the Pergamon Museum. We’d read that this museum tends to get crowded quickly, but we got there right at opening time and were able to beat the crowds. The main attractions in the museum are the Pergamon altar (which the museum was built around) and the Ishtar gate from Ancient Babylon. When you enter the museum the first thing you see is the massive altar. And then when you finish admiring the altar you walk through the door and see the even-more-massive Ishtar gate. Which is actually the smaller of the gates leading into Babylon; the larger one, if it still existed, would not have fit inside the museum building.
These are just the two main museum highlights; there is also an ancient reconstructed temple facade and marketplace, and enough artifacts to occupy visitors for a full half day. Let’s pause for a moment and mention that these buildings are themselves wonderful works of architecture. Absolutely beautiful. You could easily spend a week in Berlin just going through the museums and walking in the parks.
Outside the museum is the Humboldt Box. The Box isn’t really on our “must do again” list, but it did provide an interesting view into the construction project on the other side of the small building. Berlin itself had about a dozen large construction cranes around the city. After climbing back down from the top of the Box we read the historical signposts nearby, detailing dozens of people who disappeared or fled during the Nazi years.
For lunch we found a little restaurant by the water. The interior was beautiful, with dark polished wood, bright ceilings, a wall of windows, and high booths. It’s also very small, with about six stools at the bar and five or size tables/booths. We enjoyed some beer and entrees – you can’t go wrong with any kind of sausage in Germany. Louisa did discover that if something comes with sauerkraut, that means the entire plate is full of (very fresh) sauerkraut.
We also wandered into the Alte Naturalgalerie to admire some of the paintings. This museum was much less crowded than the others, and is a nice spot to admire some art away from the massive groups at the more well known museums.
We made reservations before the trip started to take a tour of the Reichstag, complete with a visit to the dome. So back we went under the Brandenburg Gate, and lined up at the Reichstag. I will admit it was refreshing to have uniformed security watching the crowd, and moving everyone very, very quickly through the detectors. Honestly, good security isn’t that hard people. And it doesn’t require waiting hours in a line.
We were handed visitor badges, and then taken by two different guides to the atrium where we were sent (by ourselves!) to sit on very nice leather chairs and wait for our guide. Seriously, this was so much more pleasant than visiting the US Capitol. Our guide was hilarious, a lawyer who spoke British English and grew up in Western Germany. The rest of the group was a few Americans and then a small school group from Finland. Yes, our guide also spoke Finnish, but since the Americans only spoke English that’s what the tour was in. The tour itself is pretty comprehensive, with the highlights being Russian graffiti from WWII, the center section where the government officials, meet, and then walking up the spiral staircase to the roof. It worked out that our tour coincided with sunset, and we had a fantastic view over Berlin.
Once we exited the Reichstag (again, so much more polite, civilized, orderly, and quick than our own Capitol!) we walked along the stripe in the pavement showing where the Berlin wall used to stand and found a short outdoor movie showing Berlin before, during, and after the war, and again before, during, and after the wall. The crowd grew more silent as the scenes from the war continued, and then as the wall went up. They cheered when the wall came down. We ended the day back at our favorite bar/restaurant near the hotel, Aufsturz.