The taste of Berlin
- Unearthing 20th century European history amid the effervescent charms of the German capital
Dec 26, 2015-
Sixteen years ago, I missed out on an opportunity to visit Berlin to do a spotlight for ‘Europ’ magazine on the relocation of the unified German capital. Instead, I visited Bonn which served as the country’s capital from 1949 till 1999. So when I was offered to travel to Berlin earlier this month, I was excited to feel the pulse of the historic city. With a unique mix of culture, history, and architecture, Berlin, a city of 4.5 million residents, has transformed since the wall dividing the East and the West was brought down in 1989.The five-day Qatar Airways ‘Product & Destination Familiarisation’ Trip began on December 11. There was no line at the carrier’s Business Class desk as I reached the Tribhuvan International Airport and the priority check-in worked seamlessly. After passing through immigration and spending an hour or so at the executive lounge, we proceeded to the departure gates.As soon as we were on board, the world renowned service from Qatar Airways started. “Can I help you
with your jacket, sir?” a flight attendant gently asked as I was about to take a seat.
It was time for take-off and our Airbus 330-200 was quickly airborne and on its way to Doha. Five hours and 20 minutes to go. Transit at Doha’s all-new Hamad International Airport was one of the better parts of the journey. With a flight leaving every five minutes all day, there are understandably big crowds, but the atmosphere is calm throughout and movement purposeful.
Travelling on a seat with more legroom means your feet are free from cramps, and some last-minute indulgences in the Business Lounge didn’t hurt. We were led to Qatar Airways Oryx Lounge which is restful and quiet, while the food and beverage offerings are varied and tasty.
Another seven hours of flying and we landed in Berlin at around 1 pm local time. Emerging out of the arrival terminal, cold blustery winds greeted us. We scurried on to a waiting minibus that transferred us to our hotel. Located a few blocks from Potsdamer Platz—Berlin’s new centre—Grand Hyatt Berlin is a five-star facility with 342 rooms and suites frequented by business travellers.After a hot shower and an hour’s rest, we were out on the streets,wandering around Postdamer Platz, exploring the street food market. Browsing through the menu board at one of the eateries, four of us decided to try ‘eisbein’ (pork knuckle).
In Berlin, the oinktastic dish is called ‘eisbein,’ or ‘ice leg’. It is boiled for several hours, usually in sauerkraut, which gives it a nice pink glow. The dish is generally served with potatoes and Berliners also eat it with a pea puree. But the pork loin servings were more than generous; none of the four could take in more than a third of it! Then, after a couple of rounds of beer at a nearby bar, we retired for the day.
We started the next day with a morning stroll around Tiergarten, the oldest public park in Berlin, which used to be the hunting grounds of the royal family. Across the street from the park is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. In an atmosphere of loneliness and confusion, here we witnessed 2,711 concrete blocks arranged in a mesh, in memory of the Jewish victims executed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Then, we continued towards Brandenburg Gate, the iconic landmark of Berlin. The gate served as the backdrop for many events that have marked the history of the city: Napoleon’s march on Berlin, the separation of Berlin during the
Cold War. Standing against it, I recalled watching on TV the scenes of East Berliners rushing through to the West when the Wall came down in 1989.
Reichstag, the famous German parliament building, lies right in front of the west side of the Wall, as if to assert that the history of Berlin in the 20th century was still being written. Visitors are allowed in the parliament, but an advance
booking—at least three days ahead of your intended visit—is necessary.
We skipped those places when we set out on a guided tour in the
First stop: Checkpoint Charlie. The famous crossing point between East and West Berlin for Allied forces and foreigners has been transformed into an open-air exhibition after the Cold War. Our guide shared all her insights of the city and the different facets of the lives of Berliners today as we toured some of the city’s historic sites. We checked out the last remnants of the Berlin Wall, now protected, and learned more about the reasons for its construction and its fall.
We learned that the Berlin Wall was actually two walls set apart from each other. The first wall acted as a barrier. Even if you managed to scale it, you would have to get across spikes, sneak past armed guards with flood lights and attack dogs to reach the other wall. So the success stories are rare and all the more fascinating to hear.
Although the official figure suggests 138 people died while trying to escape the communist East, the number of such deaths are believed to be significantly higher. On the way back to the hotel, we spotted several Christmas markets. You can count as many as 80 of them scattered around the city, the guide told us.
After another beer-filled Berlin night, we decided to leave the market excursion for the next day, before departure. With some help from the hotel’s front desk staffers, I and a fellow traveller, Sajag Rana, hopped on to an underground train to explore the city and do our shopping. Like any other modern city, Berlin boasts a very good public transportation system. A day pass allows you access to any public transport means within the designated zone.
I was quite embarrassed to have turned up late but the fellow travellers were generous enough to wait for a ride to the airport.I was delighted to have witnessed the structures in the German capital—symbolic of the German reunification—many of which were mere projects on paper back in 2000 when I was gathering information as a European Journalistes Foundation scholar for a story on Bonn and Berlin.
Yet, even with the longstanding desire to visit the historic city now complete, it has only left me wanting more. As most travellers will attest, the taste of Berlin lingers long after you’ve left its charms behind.
Published: 26-12-2015 09:06