When Kennedy came to Berlin, he spoke the famous words “Ich bin ein Berliner” and Reagan called out Gorbachev here. I’m outgunned by the history of the city when trying to give my impressions about my passage here.
In between the work I have to do on my projects, I managed to visit some of the highlights here. Planning the workspaces and coffee stops in a way to grab as much of Berlin’s present and its history was the mission here. And feeling how bad my German was now.
Walk the city
Since I arrived this morning on the night train from Cologne, I wanted to explore the city. In an early morning, hoping to avoid the crowds at the best-known tourist spots. I walked along the Spree (the river that meanders through Berlin) towards the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburger Port). I felt all of a sudden in the USA. Not only because the most prominent flag on the square is the one at the US Embassy, but also because of the busloads of Americans, and the Starbucks being built on this square. It was near this monument (but on the free site, while I’m writing this on the East Berlin side) that Ronald Reagan in 1987 called upon Gorbatsjov to “(…) tear down that wall”. The September light in Berlin made for very long shadows and a very harsh aspect once the sun came out. Felt very much like a morning as I imagined it in the cold war, with spies on both sides of the once infamous wall here. Me in my own James Bond moment.
When visiting Berlin, I was not part of the crowd, if you don’t have a selfie stick, you seem not to fit in here. There are so many things to do in Berlin, but walking with one of those wasn’t in my plan.
When you are in Berlin in summer and in any way interested in the history of the fascinating city, take your time on an evening at dusk and have a look at the Berlin history since the unification of Germany in 1870(?) till the election of Merkel. Sitting on the stairs of the Bundestag, the film and the light spectacle give you an emotional insight in the turbulent times that Berlin has known in the past 140 years, that includes civil war, two world wars, a wall to divide the city build and destroyed, … The show (can I call it that?) is called “Dem deutschen Volke – Eine parlamentarische Spurensuche. Vom Reichstag zum Bundestag” (To the German People – A journey through parliamentary history from the Reichstag to the Bundestag). More info on the Deutsche Bundestag Website
Checkpoint Charlie – No please, please!
OK, I admit, I love spy movies. So Checkpoint Charlie came with tons of expectations. I can’t imagine how many spies in the cold war passed this point. The sign “You are leaving the America sector” speaks so much to my imagination. It was a nice walk from my place to the checkpoint. As soon as I arrived, my swarm/foursquare app gave me a tip of a previous visitor calling it the Disney World of Berlin. And it wasn’t so wrong actually. Hundreds of tourist (me being one of them), souvenir stores, busses loading and unloading people. Actors playing American soldiers are what Mickey Mouse would be in the real Disney World.
It’s understandable how hated the wall was. It comes as no surprise that every last piece of it was brought down in 1989. There only seems to be a never-ending supply of (probably fake) pieces of the wall for souvenirs.
I’m surprised to see how Germany has incorporated the less nice parts of its history. Especially how Germany behaved in the world between 1933 and 1945, could easily be erased from memory here. But Germany and Berlin, without being overly complicated about it, acknowledge what happened.
Work & eat
When working in a city and visiting it at the same time, I love to check out places like Zimt & Zucker in Berlin: a place where you can sit inside and outside (next to the water), with a non-boring breakfast, and decent coffee. Oh, and with a decent wi-fi of course. I had the eggs and bacon (comes with such a good bread and a nice salad) and a coffee and walked out for about $10.
Most places where I sat down had decent internet, and in the few where not, I had to rely on my global roaming. The Capital Beach at the Spree is one of those, unfortunately. Pretty cool concept, where the beach of the Spree (the water that crosses Berlin) is converted in a bar. On a sunny day like when I visited an ideal place to sit for a moment.
Germans in Berlin are pretty open to the concept of working everywhere, but I haven’t been able to find or connect to a city network as I did in Cologne. For the startup capital of Europe,as Berlin is apparently considered these days, a point of improvement.
Where to stay in Berlin
The Airbnb where I stayed, a room in Angi’s house, was key in the easiness to discover the city. It is located incredibly central in Berlin. The house itself had a private room, a very quiet balcony to get some work done and a kitchen with all comfort a traveler in need of some fresh vitamins can dream off. A small deli down the street to make it complete. The listing can be found here on AirBNB. Tell Angie Koen sent you!
Koen Blanquart is a strategy consultant, journalist, and author.
Wanderlust is one of his driving factors, and he shares his travels here on Boarding Today. Koen is also the skipper of SV Bagabonda, a sailing vessel making a slow circumvention of the globe..
Koen recently published a book on how to manage a remote team: The Suitcase Office.