This September, my family and I took a trip across the pond to Berlin, Germany for the wedding of our former foreign exchange student (Angelique) and her husband (Thomas). While we were there, we got to experience the wonderful city of Berlin over the course of a few days. I also did a vlog on my Youtube Channel to accompany these posts. So be sure to check that out and subscribe if you have not already.
Over the course of these few days I was able to document some of the amazing sights Berlin has to offer. From the Reichstag, to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Berlin Wall and so much more! While we were there for the wedding itself, it didn’t feel appropriate for me to photograph and film their ceremony. That was a private (and gorgeous) event, and I want to respect that. I did, however, sneak in a few shots that I will post of some before and after shots of the venue.
Anyways – onward to Day 1 of Berlin!
The flight across the pond is never a quick one. While I was only operating on maybe 3 hours of sleep – we launched right in to it once we arrived! Angelique and her father picked us up from the station, and were kind enough to take us to our flat. We were staying right on the Tempelhof Park, which happens to be the largest urban park in all of Germany!
Though we were all exhausted – we quickly freshened up and headed out again. Angelique, her (now) husband, and his brother – Alex – all met up at our apartment and guided us to a delicious cafe near our place. Angelique and her maid of honor were a bit pressed for time and had to eat quickly! They had to go to their bridal beauty dress-rehearsal to finalize their looks for the big day. It was honestly so sweet of her to even take the time to meet and greet us just 2 days before her wedding. Yet, Angelique has always been extremely poised and gracious – so in that way, it was nothing out of the ordinary for her.
They say you make time for the things that are important to you. Needless to say, we all felt very important during our stay in Berlin.
I know, I know, I’m getting a little mushy. Back on track!
The little cafe made me feel like I was more in France than Germany. I think I perhaps had a misconception of this city based on portrayals I had seen on TV. I had only gone to Berlin once before, and it was a quick overnight stay while I waited to catch a train. The city of Berlin is actually quite beautiful! Not at all the gray austere metro I had in my head.
The Tempelhof area is part of the former Eastern Bloc of Berlin. Many of the buildings were much less ornate and classically “beautiful” than those in the Western Bloc. However, the district was buzzing with culture and a very bohemian spirit. Our first little cafe was no exception. The food was delicious, to say the least. Most of us opted for the quiche of the day; however, to no ones surprise, Scott found the German version of meat and potatoes as his selection. After a long 24 hours of airplane food – he was a happy camper!
After lunch, everyone went their own way. Angelique and Chloe went to their beauty appointment. Thomas and Alex headed to take care of some very important stuff for the wedding (alcohol, ha!). While the Jones family headed to do some light sight-seeing around the city. Our friends Cortney and Wes were coming in the following day, and we had promised that we would save most of the sight seeing for then. However, there is just too much to see in Berlin for one day, so we did just a bit.
We started our exploration with the famous / infamous Checkpoint Charlie where the famous standoff between the US and Soviet tanks occurred in 1961. Checkpoint Charlie was really our first experience since arriving of being exposed to the monuments and famous locations of WWII. Honestly, it’s a bit of a strange experience being in Berlin. The city itself is so amazing and beautiful. Yet, as you are going through this gorgeous city – you will occasionally come across a piece of the Berlin Wall, or Checkpoint Charlie, a bombed out church or the Brandenburg Gate. Suddenly you can’t help but take a moment. You leave your daily going-on’s, and remember what took place in this city.
Checkpoint Charlie was no exception. While certainly a popular destination for tourists – at times it almost felt a little exploitative to the horrific things that happened here. Especially when you saw street performers dressed up as military guards for photos — asking for a tip. I suppose everyone has a right to make a living, but it just struck me as eerie.
The checkpoint was also the first time we really got to see a remaining portion of the Berlin Wall. There was a great outdoor exhibit on the history of the wall’s construction surrounding this particular portion. Yet again, it felt odd to take photos with the wall. Even more so to smile in front of it (as we are trained to do any time a camera comes out as Americans).
After we left Checkpoint Charlie, one big thing we really wanted to see before calling it a day was the Brandenburg Gate. The Brandenburg Gate is something both of my parents remember very clearly watching Regan and Kennedy make their historic speeches at. Naturally, they wanted to be sure to see it in person!
As we wound our way through the city toward the Gate, we again happened across another large portion of the wall. This particular section backed up to an old hotel which was used during WWII as a Nazi headquarters. The hotel no longer stands – instead what previously was the basement is now another outdoor historic memorial to the history of Berlin and the rise of Nazi Germany.
I won’t get political here. However, to put it simply, going through the block-long timeline of the rise of Nazi power in Germany was unnerving. There are certainly some frightening similarities with what we are seeing in the global political climate today. If we do not learn from history – we are doomed to repeat it. And I’ll leave it at that.
Scott and I were ‘leading’ our party to the Gate. I say leading in quotations because it’s really a lot like herding cats when you go through a city with our family. Every placard, sign, historic looking monument, etc. gets a firm full-stop, photograph, and reading. When you have to get somewhere quickly (as we had to do) sometimes you just have to put the horse blinders on. Or, accept that you won’t be seeing everything you want to see. While this wasn’t a popular sentiment, eventually they understood we had to leave.
In the photo below, you’ll notice a stretch of brick-line that goes through the city. This is a marker for where the wall previously stood. It is a subtle, yet very powerful way to again pay respects to what happened, and never forget, in a very unobtrusive way to modern life.
As we approached the Brandenburg Gate – we walked past the famous Tiergarten. The Tiergarten is basically Berlin’s version of Central Park and is one of the largest urban green spaces in Europe. The park backs right up to (and contains) many of the historic landmarks of Berlin. Among those landmarks are the Brandenberg Gate, and the Reichstag (current home of German parliament).
While we did not want to rush our time at these monuments we had just walked through the city to see. We did not have a ton of time as we had to head back to our part of the city to get ready for dinner. We quickly shot some photos of the Brandenberg Gate, walked around the outside of the Reichstag for a bit, and headed home.
The jet lag was certainly starting to set in as evening approached. Unfortunately, there was just no time for a nap before heading to dinner. So we just had to shine it on! However, as a result, I don’t honestly remember a great deal of dinner because I think I was becoming delirious!
I do know this much. The wine was great, the food was amazing, and the company was hard to beat. European dinners can often span several hours and we just didn’t have that in us. All of us began to act a little deliriously, so we thought it best to turn in and start fresh the next day.
The trip home was a bit of a blur, but I know for a fact – I could have slept on a rock that night and loved it!
Stay tuned, there is a lot more Berlin to come!
– Andrew Jones-Brothers