The Berlin Series:
- Berlin Day 1: Travel & Copenhagen
- Berlin Day 2: Brandenburg Gate-Reichstag-Checkpoint Charlie
- Berlin Day 3: Food Tour, East Side Gallery, and the Hasselhoff “Museum”
- Berlin Day 4: Museum Island, River Cruise, and the Ice Bar
- Berlin Day 5: Trip to Barsinghausen
- Berlin Day 6: Tempelhof Airport and Adjusted Travel Plans
- Berlin Day 7: Bonus Day in Berlin and Travel Home
Berlin Day 4 (March 14, 2023)
March 14 was a relatively more leisurely day than the previous several days. We’d been going pretty hard, so that was fine. We slept in a little, had our meager breakfast of yogurt and leftover snacks, and made our way to Museum Island. It’s an island in the River Spree in the central part of the city with six museums: Altes (Old), Neues (New), Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), Bode, Pergamon, and Humboldt Forum. There’s no way to cover it all in one go, so we settled – somewhat arbitrarily – on the Pergamon and the Neues Museums.
The Pergamon contains artifacts obtained during a period of time when the looting of other people’s stuff by European powers was particularly vigorous. I’m sure someone has done a study and offered social commentary on this, so I’m perfectly prepared to be wrong, but I think the acquisitiveness in this area was a combination of the rise of an academic-scientific mindset in the West, Germany looking for its place in the sun, and a decline in the Ottoman Empire. I kept thinking of the time and place where Raiders of the Lost Ark was set – although, a lot of the acquisition at the Pergamon would have been pre-Nazi. The Market Gate of Miletus and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon were especially striking to me. The Ishtar Gate was excavated between 1904 and 1914 and put on in display around 1918. It was apparently shipped out of the Middle East more or less in secret and its reconstruction was one of the more complicated architectural reconstructions in archaeological history.
Miletus was a Greek city on the west coast of Anatolia that was eventually abandoned (in the 1400s?) when its harbor silted up. The Market Gate was built around 200 AD and destroyed about 800 years later. The Germans excavated it at the beginning of the 20th century and shipped it up to Berlin where the fragments they recovered were mixed with new construction to create the display at the Pergamon.
After making our way through the Pergamon, we had lunch at the Cu29, a restaurant at the museum complex. It was a little pricey, but the beers were tall, and the food was good. (I went with more currywurst). Cole joined me in having a pilsner. College kids, am I right? The most entertaining part was a robot waiter with a cat display for a face. It would periodically declare, “meow.” A cat seems like a really bad choice for a waiter though. They could have added some realism by programming it to arbitrarily go up to people and knock stuff off their tables.
Our second museum for the day was the Neues. The museum is “new” only because the Altes was built thirty years earlier. Its main draw is its Egyptian artifacts. The star attraction is the bust of Nefertiti of which they’re pretty serious about not allowing guests to take pictures. It’s an image I’d seen in any number of history books over the years. Nefertiti was the wife or consort of Akhenaten who was significant in trying to initiate a monotheistic religion around the sun god Aten. The bust on display is believed to have been created about 3,300 years ago. Which is, I don’t need to tell you, a long time ago.
We cut our visit to the Neues a little short because we had a river cruise scheduled. While the weather had been mostly decent all day, the sun even gracing us a couple of times, it started to turn ugly about the time our cruise was starting. Cold, heavy rain. It’s a cruise up and back along the River Spree, looking at the historic district of Berlin. The best way to enjoy the tour would have been on top of the boat where the views were better. But, the below decks had plenty of seats and tables with windows and a little cafe/bar.
Actually, the sequence of events was that we settled into the below deck table, got some beers (Berliner Kindl Pils), and enjoyed ourselves for a bit. However, enough people were up top, and the views were limited enough out the windows below, that we were briefly lured upstairs. We couldn’t have been up there more than two minutes before the rain really started to let loose. We went back downstairs and reclaimed our table. The top deck was closed for the remainder of the tour. We didn’t miss a great deal because we’d seen a lot of what there was to see on the river cruise during our previous two days in town.
While we were there, we encountered another family from Indiana. Hoosiers generally travel pretty well. However, despite Cole and I wearing IU gear as Hooser beacons non-stop the whole week, I think that was the only Indiana encounter we had while we were in Berlin. (A couple of times when people would ask where we were from, I’d say something like “Indiana – United States. It’s near Chicago.” I don’t know how familiar anyone would necessarily be with the geography of the United States, but Chicago is a pretty solid reference point).
When the cruise let out, the weather was really bad. It was the first time we had to break out the umbrellas. But the wind was whipping and the temperature was getting close to the freezing point. Dinner wasn’t for another couple of hours. There was an “ice bar” not too far away. We had intended to go there after dinner, but walking anywhere else at that point seemed like a bad idea.
The Berlin Ice Bar is a cheesy, touristy kind of thing, but it was a lot of fun. You wait in a regular bar until your group is up, then they give you coats and gloves and take you into a cold room, decorated in an arctic theme, and serve you drinks in a glass made of ice. During the wait, the kids and I all got “Desperado” beer, a Mexican beer with a tequila flavoring. Add a lime to it, and it’s a sweet, tasty drink. Harper especially liked that one. In the ice bar, two drinks came as part of the package. You could get beers or a variety of shots. One issue was that, because you were getting a glass made of ice, you only got one. So, if you wanted a beer and a shot, you had to get the beer first – because your beer wasn’t going to fit into a shot glass. I’m not sure exactly what my rationale was, but for my second drink, I got a shot of vodka. I haven’t had a shot of vodka in probably a decade, and I don’t especially like it (it’ll probably be another decade before my next one), but something about the icy set up made me think it was appropriate. It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t too terrible.
We cut the ice bar maybe a little shorter than we would have otherwise because we had dinner reservations at YOSOY, a Spanish tapas restaurant. Fortunately, by the time we got out of the ice bar, the weather had cleared up so that we didn’t need our umbrellas and had a pleasant walk. The food was decent. I kind of liked the energy of the place – fairly tight quarters with a lot of people. But if I had to choose a least favorite dinner on the trip, that was probably it. On our way home, we swung by the Ampelmann Shop. The Ampelmänchen is “the stop light man.” In addition to being cute on his own, he’s notable for being one of the relatively few East German cultural things that the West Germans adopted when the country reunified. There’s a shop devoted to trinkets with him on there, and we picked up – among other things – a Christmas ornament. Amy had the excellent inspiration several trips ago to get ornaments while we travel. That way, we can remember our various trips when we decorate the tree.
We ended the day by returning home and watching TV. We have a couple of shows that we started watching as a family. With Cole away at college, we have to wait until we’re reunited to catch up on episodes. In this case, we had a final episode of “Mythic Quest” to watch. And, because season 3 of Ted Lasso was premiering the next day, we also re-watched the last episode from season 2. (We didn’t end up watching any of season 3 on our trip.) Honestly, as much fun as I had doing all the stuff, I enjoyed just hanging out and watching TV with the whole family as much as any of the other stuff.