Henry Poon's Blog

Berlin: Rediscovering its history, culture, and culinary delights

The following blog post was written with the assistance of ChatGPT

Returning to the vibrant city of Berlin, I embarked on a journey filled with intriguing sites, delicious flavors, and profound moments. As I wandered through the streets, I encountered both familiar landmarks and new experiences.

It’s well known that Germany has a large Turkish population, and as a result, Turkish food is prevalent across the country, especially the döner kebab. We stumbled upon TERAS Berlin and I can safely say it’s the best döner I’ve had. There is even a framed photo of Angela Merkel eating their döners!

We walked around the city, and eventually made our way to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Somehow the irregular placement of each concrete block gives the whole area an eerie feeling – something just doesn’t feel right, which is pretty apt for the purpose of the memorial.

Not far from memorial, there is a sign indicating the location of where Hitler’s bunker used to be. Nothing of the old bunker remains and the area is now apartment blocks and parking lots. If it weren’t for the sign, people would have forgotten all about it.

Later, we got a drink at the Lindenbräu at the Sony Center. I’d been looking forward for a Bananenweizen since we arrived. It just didn’t hit the same as it did before. Maybe my taste buds are more picky now

The next day we took a tour of the Reichstag. The Reichstag is the seat of the German parliament, and it has been since the founding of the Germany as a country.

The dome at the top has since been rebuilt since the war. It’s replacement is a panoramic glass done that allows people to have a 360 degree view of the city. The glass represents the transparency in government.

When I first went to Berlin in 2011, I learned about the Ampelmann, the symbol used on pedestrian walking lights in East Berlin and other parts of former East Germany. I thought it was kind of a cool quirk of Berlin, but now its popularity has exploded. There’s almost always an Ampelmann shop in every tourist district.

We visited the Rausch Chocolatier near our hotel. I always thought it was a chocolate shop targeted at tourists. But now knowing more about chocolate and having a better palate, I found that they do in fact do chocolate well. They still make the typical sugary kind, but also the single origin stuff with specified percentages of cocoa.

Nearby was the Gendarmenmarkt, normally a picturesque square bustling with activity. However, it was under maintenance during my visit. I guess this is typical of travelling during low season (February in our case) – this is the time to do maintenance on stuff.

Later, we made our way to Checkpoint Charlie, a legendary checkpoint in Berlin’s history. It was once a border crossing between East and West Berlin. It stands as a symbol of the Cold War era and the division of the city. Today, a replica of the guardhouse and a sign mark the historical site, attracting visitors who seek to understand Berlin’s past. It serves as a poignant reminder of the struggles endured by those seeking freedom and reunification.

At Topography of Terror, we delved into the darker chapters of Berlin’s history, reflecting on the atrocities committed during the Nazi regime. It’s a free museum documenting the Nazi war crimes. The biggest surprise for me there was seeing so many of the perpetrators of the crimes either committed suicide or were handed short sentences, which felt like they were let off easy considering what they did.

In addition to finding the best döner, I’ve found the best currywurst – at Curry61. Currywurst is a beloved German street food delight. A juicy sausage is generously slathered with a zesty curry ketchup and sprinkled with aromatic curry powder. The result is a harmonious symphony of savory, tangy, and slightly spicy notes for the palate. Each bite of the sausage releases juices, mingling with the vibrant sauce to create an explosion of flavour.

In the rain, we visited the Berlin Wall Memorial. It stands as a reminder of the division that once existed. This solemn site encompasses preserved segments of the wall, offering a tangible connection to the past. As we walked along the memorial, we could see the stark contrast between the barren death strip and the vibrant cityscape beyond. People can still buy pieces of the Berlin Wall – apparently there was so much of the wall that they can sell these pieces for years.

Totally by chance, that morning, I saw a news post about a destroyed Russian tank parked in front of the Russian Embassy in Berlin – we had to see it. This bold and symbolic protest highlighted the ongoing tensions and conflicts surrounding the Ukraine War. It’s a brutal reminder to the Russians that what they were doing in Ukraine isn’t working. This showed me that visiting places isn’t just about the tourist attractions, but also the zeitgeist that influences them.

Another piece of the zeitgeist is seeing more and more electric car stores popping up everywhere – this time from a Chinese brand called Nio in the shopping district of Kurfürstendam. It feels as if tons of these companies are coming out of the woodwork now that Tesla is so big. It’s also one of the many luxury stores in the Kurfürstendam. The neighbourhood epitomizes the city’s cosmopolitan flair. Lined with luxury boutiques, trendy cafés, and bustling shops, it is a haven for shoppers and fashion enthusiasts.

By the end of the day, word had spread and now a giant crowd gathered around the destroyed tank in front of the Russian embassy. People all over the city came out to show their support of Ukraine.

The protest continued at Brandenburg Gate. By then a whole stage was set up with someone at the mic calling out for peace and justice. It was quite a sight to behold.

At that moment, it occurred to me that the Ukraine War is a lot closer to the people in Berlin than it is to people like us who live in North America.

On our last day, we visited Museum Island. Museum Island is a cultural treasure trove, a UNESCO World Heritage site that houses an extraordinary collection of museums and art galleries. From the impressive Pergamon Museum to the Neues Museum’s ancient Egyptian artifacts, each institution showcases a unique aspect of history, art, and culture.

Also on Museum Island is the Berlin Cathedral, a majestic architectural marvel. By random chance, entry that day was free. We got to see its magnificent domed structure, adorned with intricate details, as it dominates the city’s skyline. The cathedral’s significance extends beyond its religious importance, as it is also the dynastic tomb of the House of Hollenzollern, the former royal family of Germany. Unfortunately, the tomb was under renovation, so we could not visit it.

A short walk further, we reached Alexanderplatz, the bustling heart of Berlin. It’s a cool area showing the remnants of the former East Berlin, but otherwise, I didn’t find what was so enticing of a place to go except that it’s picturesque aside from visiting the Fernsehturm, which didn’t exactly align with my interests.

The East Side Gallery, a living testament to freedom and artistic expression, stretches along a remaining section of the Berlin Wall. This open-air gallery showcases a captivating collection of murals created by artists from around the world. Each artwork reflects the hopes, dreams, and struggles of a divided city and the triumph of unity. Originally, it was painted by artists after the opening of the Berlin Wall, but now different sections of the wall get routinely repainted to show the zeitgeist of our society.

Our last destination was Markthalle IX. This historic market hall has been transformed into a bustling food destination, where local vendors showcase their artisanal products and delights. While it had lots of stalls ranging from produce to specialty cheeses, baked goods, and international cuisines, it seemed to cater mostly to tourists (it’s also expensive). It was also super crowded and grungy and not exactly the type of place I wanted to be at.

See more of Berlin here

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