Berlin, Summer 2017: A Story in Photos

Once upon a time (last week)…

Dave and I went to Berlin to visit one of our very favorite people on the planet (and superstar cartoonist) Tillie Walden. Here are some snaps from our adventures.

We visited the very somber (but very well done) Topography of Terror Museum. I’m not sharing photos of the exhibit because that just seems wrong, but I recommend a visit. Through photos and text, the museum tells the story of the rise of the Nazi party, SS, and Gestapo in Berlin. There were a few glimmers of beautiful humanity—a photo of a brave soul refusing to perform the Nazi salute, biographical snippets of people who worked in the resistance—but mostly it was pretty horrifying and sad.

To shake it off and remember how fabulous modern Berlin can be, we ate currywurst.

That evening, we saw a magical circus called Scotch & Soda at the Chamaeleon Theater. The theater has a 1920s atmosphere: cafe tables, velvet curtains, chandeliers, and champagne. The circus itself was a thrilling blur of acrobatics, infectious jazz music, and feats of derring-do: balancing acts, tumbling, unearthly strength, flying on the teeter-totter, bicycle pyramids, and plenty of slapstick pratfalls. Plus, almost-nudity and bushy mustaches. Brilliant.

One of our favorite ways to explore cities is on two wheels, and this time, we went on two (!) Fat Tire Bike Tours: a day-time tour around the city and an evening food tour to three restaurants for Middle Eastern food, German food, and cake. All the bikes have nametags and mine was Count Dracula.

On our bike tour, we visited Checkpoint Charlie, the memorial to burned books, Museum Island, and remnants of the Berlin Wall, plus we enjoyed a leisurely ride through the Tiergarten. I was practicing riding with no hands, arms stretched out to the sides, and yelled to Dave, “Look! I’m practicing my circus tricks.” A very stern-looking man in his sixties rode by me on his bike and snapped, “Practice somewhere else.” I almost fell off my bike from laughing so hard. But now I think I’m ready for the circus?

On the evening tour, between restaurants, we visited a few sights in what used to be East Germany.

This is an iconic photo of Hans Conrad Schumann, an East German soldier who defected to West Germany in 1961 during the construction of the Berlin Wall. He was the first of 2000 East German soldiers to desert over the wall. (Read more of his story here. Warning: It has a very sad ending.)

The next day, we ate a stunningly delicious dinner at Defne, a Turkish restaurant in the Kreuzberg neighborhood. (Berlin has the largest Turkish population outside Turkey.)

Dinner started with a meze platter…

And moved into the lamb course…

For dessert, we shared figs stuffed with walnuts in a vanilla-chocolate sauce…

The circus was the highlight of our trip, but a very close second was our visit to the Reichstag. It’s free to visit—just make a reservation online or at the office near the Reichstag and arrive at the appointed time. An informative audio tour in English (and a bunch of other languages) about the history of the building and its modern update is included. The history is too much for me to get into here, but it is fascinating, especially if you’re interested in WWII and Cold War history.

The facade…

The rooftop patio at the foot of the dome…

After we climbed the spiral walkway inside the dome, we got to lie on the circular bench at the top, to gaze out at the beautiful sunset.

We watched the sky grow dark and the lights came on all over the city. Then we walked to the nearby Brandenburg Gate to see the pillars and Eirene, goddess of peace, on her chariot (a.k.a., the quadriga) lit up. (Fun fact about the pettiness of emporers: After the Prussians lost in 1806 at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt, Napoleon rode through the Gate in triumph and liked Eirene so much, he took the Quadriga back to Paris. But after Napoleon’s 1814 defeat, the Prussians occupied Paris and stole Eirene back.

Not pictured: work sessions at the cafe with americanos, dozens of rides on the U-Bahn and S-Bahn (Berlin is so big!), bowls of pho, and me struggling to get my too-heavy suitcase on the train.

The end.

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  • Kristin says:

    Thank you for sharing this photojourney! I was born in West Berlin when my Dad was in the service, but have been in the US since I was 2. All of his life, my father sprinkled curry powder on his ketchup! 😉 He never got back there, but I am determined that SOMEDAY I’ll visit the city where I was born!

    • That’s such a sweet detail about your dad sprinkling curry powder in his ketchup! Thank you for sharing that with us. And I love the idea of you making a journey to Berlin to revisit your family history… best wishes for making that happen 🙂

  • Laurel says:

    I have a friend who has been encouraging me to visit her in Berlin, and your story makes me want to do so!! So much interesting history there to explore…