by Geri Bain and Jenny Keroack
Inspired by the grand tours of aristocrats past and the more recent adventures of TV’s Gilmore Girls, 18 year old Jenny Keroack proposed that she and her mom, travel writer Geri Bain take their own grand voyage. This summer the two set out to share as much of the Old Worldas thirty days would allow, recording their favorite places and activities along the way. Jenny’s are in italics while Geri’s are in regular type. Read about their adventures, explorations and all the schleps in between. The following is their installment, logged from Berlin.
We’d heard a lot about how vibrant Berlin is, and the city definitely lives up to its reputation for creativity and fun. We’d also heard how big the city is, but we were pleased to find that we were able to walk—or bike–everywhere.
The Berlin Wall: Having crossed Checkpoint Charlie in the 1980s and living through the Cold War era, I found the Berlin Wall Memorial fascinating. The Memorial stretches along Bernauer Strasse, with cold steel pikes staking out the location of the former wall that once dramatically divided the city. Moving interpretative stations at points along the way and a visitor center /museum provided written and audio information in English and German about the history of divided and reunitedBerlin. Stories of how the wall affected the lives of actual, everyday people made the history feel very real, especially when looking at a preserved area of the former fortified border–its gun towers guarding the no-man’s land between the two sets of barbed wire-topped walls.
Creative cuisine: Berlin has many great restaurants. However, like any popular city, it also has a lot of tourist traps. We discovered some indicators of good food and good value that seemed to hold true for fancy as well as inexpensive dining spots. Most good restaurants will serve tap water on request (bottled water is as expensive as wine at many tourist traps), let you order off the menu and, obviously, have locals eating there. Using these rules, my mom and I found some really amazing restaurants such as the Art Deco-style, Dressler Restaurant, located on the fancy Unter Den Linden boulevard, which serves fine French cuisine. We also enjoyed Gugelhof, a relaxed restaurant featuring Alsatian cuisine where, we were told, Bill Clinton once ate, and Rotisserie Weingrün on Gertraudenstrasse, which seemed filled with locals and had great food. One tip: restaurants in Berlin often offer really interesting and unique side dishes and appetizers; ordering five or six of these for the table can be a fun way to sample many different flavors.
Pergamon Museum: There was always a long line for the Pergamon Museum and Jenny and I could see why. The museum has an extensive collection of Roman, Islamic and Indian artwork and its displays are inviting and informative. The highlight was seeing the reconstructed 2nd century b.c. Pergamon Altar which King Eumenes II built to thank the gods after a failed assassination attempt. Moved here from the original city, the altar is adorned by images of the Gods fighting the Giants for control of the Earth. Architecture and history enthusiasts who don’t enjoy listening to audio guides will appreciate the many signs and pamphlets, available in English or German throughout the museum.
Jewish Museum: This is one of the best museums I have ever visited. The experience begins in a room from which three, wide, zigzagging halls fan off in three axes. The axis of exile features an outdoor space with a grid of 49 tall, rectangular posts laid out on a disorientingly-slanted cobblestone floor. Each post is topped with live oleaster. This “garden of exile” simulates the disorienting experience of being an uprooted immigrant, one many Jews have had as they fled oppressive regimes. The axis of the holocaust ends in an unheated, dark room with only one slit of a window and no other light. You hear the world outside but are trapped within. Finally, the axis of continuity has floors and floors of interactive features which catch the attention of young and old alike. My mom and I started by looking at negative portrayals of Jews throughout the ages on a computer and later played a computerized board game in which we were Jews living in a Christian world. You could easily spend a day at this museum.
An Apartment Hotel: Doing laundry never felt so good! We had reached mid-trip and our Adina Apartment Hotel – Berlin Hackescher Markt apartment came with a washing machine and dryer, a wonderful convenience. We enjoyed our small kitchen and having space to spread out, all for about the cost of a moderate hotel room (online pricing was $120 euros/night). The reception folks were always ready with suggestions, maps and all the services of a hotel, however wireless internet connections were sporadic during my stay, and the single guest computer often was occupied. But for me, that was more than offset by the sociable hot tubs and sauna, where I enjoyed meeting guests from every continent. Modest Americans be forewarned though; despite signs requiring bathing suits, many guests opted for nudity.
Shopping: One of our favorite shopping areas in Berlin was the Ku-dam (Kurfurstendam Street) area, with its wide avenues and gracious baroque architecture. Here, we found upscale shops such as Hugo Boss and local designer boutiques, as well as more popular brands such as Mango and H&M. The Hackescher Markt area around our hotel had a similar mix of shops, along with a central market area with outdoor eateries and street vendors selling unusual jewelry and other items. One thing we liked about shopping in Berlin: most shops tagged clothing in U.S., British and European sizes and some processed credit cards with prices provided in a choice of currencies. Along the way, we also enjoyed the art and whimsical displays that liven up many Berlin shops.
For more information on Berlin, visit www.visitBerlin.com
Next: We’re off on a scenic train ride to Prague.
Geri Bain, a widely published travel writer and editor, has written about more than 60 countries and contributed to publications including inc.com, N.Y. Daily News and Robb Report. While travel editor at Modern Bride magazine, she wrote an acclaimed guide to Honeymoons and Weddings Away. She is a past president of the New York Travel Writers Association and former editorial director of Endless Vacation magazine.
18-year-old Jenny Keroack wrote for the Observer Tribune from 2009 to 2012 and has been published in the Riverdale Press and Elegant Lifestyles. She was a researcher/blogger for the N.Y. League of Conservation Voters last summer and will be studying political science at the University of Chicago this fall.