Geographically astute readers may be wondering how Berlin is included on a Baltic cruise itinerary, since it is, in fact, rather landlocked. The answer is that after departing from Copenhagen, our cruise ship sailed to the German port city of Rostock and from there you could take a three-hour train ride to Berlin. Although you can take a regional train into Berlin on your own, we opted to purchase a transportation-only excursion through our cruise line. It was a bit more expensive that buying regional train tickets through Deutsche Bahn. However, the express train time was perfectly synced with our cruise ship arrival and departure, we didn't have to get to and from the Rostock train station (the express train pulls right up to the cruise ship), and we got snacks and bottled water. Additionally, a tour guide on the train was available to provide sightseeing suggestions and directions.
Like all of the cities we visited on our cruise, Berlin is steeped in history. The difference is that the focus is on much more recent history: WWII, the Berlin Wall, and the reunification of East and West Germany. Berlin was Mike's favorite city for that reason, since he could better appreciate and relate to events that happened within our grandparents', parents', and our own lifetimes. We only had seven hours in Berlin, but we managed to see several highlights of the city and of course, eat some German food. My favorite part of our day in Berlin was using my German language skills again, and since everyone I spoke to answered me in German instead of reverting to English or gesturing, my German must be somewhat comprehensible.
- As I've written about previously, I have some familiarity with German food due to a study abroad course I did in college. My culinary mission for the day: a pretzel. I bought one from a street vendor, and it was the chewy, salty perfection that I had hoped it would be. When something tastes just as good as your nostalgia-fueled memories, it's a good day.
- Mike's culinary mission for the day was a döner kebab, a flatbread wrap with meat, salad, and sauce, based on Turkish cuisine and one of the most popular fast foods in Germany. We found a great place in the Alexanderplatz train station, with tasty döner, hungry college student prices, and entertainment in the form of watching the cook dextrously carve paper-thin slices of meat off a giant rotating spit.
Other Berlin Tips:
- After taking the excursion express train into Berlin, we were transported by tour bus to Potsdammer Platz. After a quick stop at the Sony Center--the most impressive modern architecture we saw on our trip--we took a short walk to the Brandenburg Gate (pictured above), and also saw the nearby Reichstag, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and Memorial to the Murdered Sinti and Roma of Europe. From there, we followed the Rick Steves self-guided walk along Unter den Linden, with a detour to to Gendarmenmarkt Square (and Ritter Sport Colorful Chocoworld!) We ended at Alexanderplatz, and then had enough time for a sightseeing boat trip along the Spree River (multiple cruise companies leave from docks near the Berlin Cathedral).
- I was delighted to discover Ritter Sport Colorful Chocoworld (Französische Strasse 24), a store, restaurant, and museum devoted to the colorfully wrapped square chocolate bars. My greatest regret of our trip is that it was a stifling hot sunny day and I couldn't stock up on Ritter Sport chocolate bars (there were huge stacks of every variety, many of which aren't available in the U.S.) I had to console myself with a Ritter Sport travel mug, which on the plus side will last a lot longer than the chocolate would have.
- On the way to our express train back to Rostock, we stopped at the East Side Gallery--it's literally right across the street from the Ostbahnhof station. The East Side Gallery is a mile long remnant of the Berlin Wall, now covered with murals. It's well worth a stop if your route takes you through the Ostbahnhof station and you have some extra time. The murals have been restored since my time in Berlin in 2007, so it was nice to revisit them.