Baltic Cruise: Berlin, Germany

Our shipped docked in Warnemunde next after a day at sea. Warnemunde is about 3 hours from Berlin, and normally, I’d opt to stick around locally to check out the small towns, but because of its historic significance with where we live today, I wanted to see it for myself. (Kitchener used to be known as was New Berlin, and now known for its second-largest Oktoberfest in the world, largest outside Germany.) The folks at Warnemunde gave us the loveliest and most warm enthusiastic farewell as the ship left the dock and her anthem played: people stood side by side along the pier waving their light-lit phones with their shouts and whistles.

Knowing that we would be tight on time because of a 3-hour bus ride to and from Berlin (even on the Autobahn), we decided to join a local excursion tour group. That’s 6 hours of travel time, so there wasn’t much time left for lingering or exploring sites in detail – many stops were get-off-and-snap-a-photo moments before moving on again. We had such a good experience with SPB Tours in St. Petersburg that we took for granted that it would be consistently good across all cities; we were wrong. This tour guide (Jeff? though it sounds like an Eric from an old review) was originally from the Pacific Northwest (US) so his English was easy to understand, but people in the group – us included – clearly had difficult understanding him. At one stop, he told the group that it would be a quick stop for photos, so a couple with a young child opted to stay on the tour bus, and we stayed close to the bus after taking the obligatory shots, but soon realized that the entire group wasn’t around. More than half hour later, he returned with the group and we found out that he ended up taking them on a walking tour around the area. Like that old review, this guide didn’t seem to have much positive things to say about Checkpoint Charlie (overrated tourist attraction was the sentiment) – and it does seem like there are more street buskers and people posing with fake (or partial) bricks or selling “pieces” from the original Berlin Wall.

I’d say the top highlights were:

  • Seeing the historic remains of the Berlin Wall up close at the Topography of Terror site (plus free use of washrooms – the first place he took us required coins)
  • Checking out Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, where you can see the historical remains of the original church contrasted by the modern church built beside it. The architectural structure couldn’t be more different than the block of cement on the outside, but beautifully lit on the inside through the stained glass windows – the light source is actually from LED lights, not daylight! (didn’t know this until now)
  • Unlike the SPB tour in Russia, lunch was on our own dime at a designated local restaurant, and we all pre-ordered from a set menu. We had to get a local beer to say we’ve tried it, and while I was happy with that and pleasantly surprised with the simple spaetzle dish, the pretzel was rather dry and disappointing.
  • The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe-The Field of Stelae, which if you happened upon it without knowing, it seems more like a public art space than a memorial, but it deeply offended our tour guide to see the uneducated sit, climb, and jump over the blocks without much respect. It wasn’t so much the historical significance of this that made it on my list, but it was more about the whole expression of what it represented.

Suffice to say, now that Berlin has been checked off my list, then I’d stick around locally (in Rostock / Warnemunde) next time.

Next: Oslo, Norway

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