As is often the case when we travel, we rarely book a tour. I do lots of reading whilst he does the exact opposite. He does almost next to nothing in fact. I guess there are certain advantages to the surprise and delight approach he subscribes to where he likes to turn up to the attraction and have his eyes pop out of his head. But of late he has realised that it might be the ONLY benefit. Although he still prefers seeing something for the first time without the postcard shots you see online or in a lonely planet book, he now knows that he misses out on details and trivia that enriches everything he sees.
Getting back to the fact that we love just wandering around with a map and not sitting on a tour bus, our first morning together in Berlin was pretty much straight out of our book. We were going to start off with the Reichstag
There is more than one way you can visit the Reichstag. One is to go for lunch at the restaurant which guarantees you the entrance. Second is to wait in line for a ticket. (And this can be long as they are issued at set times to avoid overcrowding). Lastly, you can get on the website and just book your preferred time. (And that is exactly what we did) And what’s more, there is no entrance fee! You also get sent a very official looking email with the German coat of arms on the letterhead stating you have been granted permission to visit at the time you choose!
As usual, we had a lazy start to the morning. Of course, I had to answer all his questions first about what our plan was on the first day and then show him where everything is on the map which I know is like showing a wiring diagram to a two year old toddler. He is bad with maps and in Sydney once, even got lost just following the GPS. So, it is unlikely he is absorbing everything I said but at least he knows we have to walk towards the corner of the map which has the symbol of the little round dome!
In the end, when we finally left the hotel, we knew it was going to be just a bit tight in terms of time. We should have got off to an earlier start but we set off nonetheless, taking a left turn on Bundapesterstrasse and headed towards Tiergarten. When we reached the canal, we walked past a Rosa Luxemburg memorial with had fresh flowers on them. Clearly she is still revered among many and there is more than one memorial to her name. At the Landwehr canal where we were, this was the spot where her body was dumped after she was murdered on the night of 15th January 1919.
Crossing the Lichtenstein Bridge, we skirted the edge of the Berlin Zoo (which its claim to fame is for housing more species of animals than any other zoo in the world). And although it was already late morning, plenty of its guests were still happily asleep and barely took any notice of us as we walked past.
We were then in Tiergarten which is the largest public park in Berlin. It was used as the hunting grounds once upon a time for the aristocrat and sculptures here point to that. I also pointed the time out to him so he stopped unpacking the tripod which he had brought and just took a few shots.
We then intersected with the 67-m high Berlin Victory Column that commemorates the victory of the Prussian-Danish war. It was not always located at this monster roundabout. But the Nazis in their dreams of a greater Berlin relocated it here and in doing so probably saved it from certain destruction as its original location was heavily destroyed by American air raids.
I would not have mind going up to the viewing platform here but this time he reminded me of the time and once again we hurried quickly along. Our booking time for the Reichstag was fast approaching. And then turning onto Strasse des 17. Juni, we suddenly wished we were not on foot.
This highway stretched almost as far as the eye can see. He said it certainly didn’t look that far on the map. And I said, it is a “map” after all. And then after triple checking our directions, we set off at an Olympian pace which I don’t think we had it in us. Having a deadline does wonders and after pounding the pavement which reminds me of some of my power walking friends in Melbourne, the Reichstag came into view and we had arrived!
Before us were queues waiting to get tickets but as we had got ours online beforehand, we were able to just go straight in at our chosen time. By the way, as the the visits are free, the tickets are merely for times to control the number of visitors into the Reichstag. As it is a working government building, you can appreciate they do not fancy being swarmed constantly by visitors with cameras and selfie sticks! There were then the mandatory security checks and metal detectors before we were organized into small groups and escorted towards the Reichstag by a guide.
Finally, we walked through double sliding glass doors where security appear to give you one final look before letting you onto the elevator that takes you up to the dome that has become such a popular tourist attraction. If you are not on a guided tour, the headset is a wonderful alternative as it is automated to come on at various spots in the dome. A simply clever idea.
From the moment you enter, it is then obvious why the dome made entirely of glass has become such an attraction. Not only is it striking and futuristic in its appearance, it is also wonderfully functional. There is a central cone-shape column made up entirely of mirrors that are designed to reflect natural light down towards the Bundestag debating chamber below. The reflective glass makes it hard to see but at certain points in the dome, you can make out the rows and rows of blue chairs in the chamber.
And then along the sides of the dome, is a double walkway to the top, like a double helix, which means you can walk to the top and down just going one way all the time. Surprisingly, the top of the dome is not closed but open. This allows the regulation of air and heat within the dome. It then also captures the rain and snow which is then recycled as water throughout the building! Finally, it also has its own sunshade that tracks the sun to stop glare and too much solar gain.
All in all, what a marvelously clever design by Norman Forster. With its 360 degree views of Berlin and the headset highlighting interesting sights and buildings, it is a great way to get an overview of the city and orientate yourself on the first day. Which from (his) point of view was highly beneficial as all that walking round and round up to the top and back down had him totally confused again the moment we stepped out of the Reichstag.
Never mind that, it was now time for a hot chocolate to warm us up before we were ready to hit our stride again albeit this time at a less than Olympian pace since that was our only booked appointment for the day. As he so likes to call it, the rest of the day is “free and easy!”