Today I am back at Liverpool John Lennon Airport. This time I am travelling to Berlin for a weekend visit. The last time I was in Berlin back in 1987 it was still a divided city in a divided country with the Berlin Wall separating the two. I am again travelling with EasyJet and I have a zones AB Berlin Welcome card for the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams, buses and tourist discounts. I am going to be staying at the Novotel Berlin Am Tiergarten for the next two nights.
The flight departed and arrived in Berlin to schedule. The assistance team that came to assist me off the ‘plane was probably the best in 40+ years of travelling, this goes for the team at my departure too. They told me that I could get a free shuttle bus to the railway station or that is was a 600m walk, as it was a pleasant evening I chose to go in my wheelchair and it didn’t take too long. At the station there are a long line of ticket machines, I was having trouble getting my ticket so a German lady tried to assist but to no avail; it didn’t want to accept my debit card for payment and wouldn’t take my €5 note saying it wanted the exact amount and having just arrived I had no coins. Fortunately the lady told me there was a ticket office and my ticket shows I bought it at 21:58, the ticket office closed at 22:00…
The regional train ride from Schönefeld to Zoologischer Garten took a half hour or so, see this post for details about rail travel in Berlin. On arrival at Zoologischer Garten I realised I had no idea how to find my hotel but after a short while saw a group of three police standing around so asked them. A police man knew where my hotel was but didn’t speak English, a police lady spoke perfect English but didn’t know it, so she translated for me. The directions were basically “continue down this road and after the police station turn left, you will see your hotel because it is big…”, true enough but I still had to work out how to cross a canal. I got there in about 30 minutes for the 1km distance and when checked in to Novotel Berlin Am Tierpark (click here for details) was soon asleep.
Saturday morning I woke up and went downstairs for a pot of tea for breakfast. This is when I noticed that there was an S-Bahn station directly across the road! When I went outside there was a Flea Market which I took a (st)roll around. The market sold just about anything you could think of and ran all the way to the Charlottenburg Tor (Gate). After exploring the market I headed to the Tierpark S-Bahn station and got the train to Zoologischer Garten.
Just as I arrived at the Zoo Station S-Bahn stop a group of disabled people with big electric wheel-chairs got off at the platform opposite. As it would take them some time to all get down to street level, the lift could only fit one of the wheelchairs at a time, I went to a nearby bakery kiosk and had a croissant and a cup of tea to pass the time.
The zoo was just a short distance from the station. Queuing for tickets was not very organised with people moving from line to line. The line I joined had the ticket window close just before I got to the front and I had to start again. When I got to the front to buy my ticket the price for disabled access was €10.50. On entering the zoo the first animals you come to are the elephants, I think that there were six of them. The next were the giraffes.
After visiting several different enclosures I found the main reason for my trip to Berlin, the panda exhibit. Jiao Qing, the male, was alternately walking around his enclosure and sitting down to eat some bamboo. In her enclosure the female, Meng Meng, was asleep on top of her climbing frame. When I visited again later in the day before leaving Meng Meng was sitting in the far corner of her enclosure eating bamboo. Unlike other zoos that have pandas, such as Edinburgh in Scotland and Ähtäri in Finland, there is no additional cost to visit them.
It was now time to find something to eat so I located the zoo restaurant. There were a few choices of hot and cold foods on offer and I chose to have a schnitzel with chips and a mushroom sauce. I also asked for a half litre of radler (shandy), made with Berliner Kindl (Berlin Child) lager, with it but was given just a glass of lager instead. Probably my lousy German was at fault. 🙂
In the afternoon I visited many more animals including sable antelopes, rhinoceros, alpacas, zebras, penguins, painted dogs and the bird aviary. I did not go to the ‘annex’ which has kangaroos amongst other animals and I didn’t get around to the big cats or any of the primates. Neither did I get to the hippo pool, this is a special exhibit in that it is has a viewing window so that you can see the hippos walking around underwater. By now I was getting tired after my travels yesterday so headed back to my hotel and slept through until Sunday morning.
Sunday morning began just like Saturday with a pot of tea in the hotel for breakfast and then another wander around the flea market before heading off to the Zoo Station on the S-Bahn. At the station I visited an Asian food place and had an early lunch of crispy duck with noodles and a bottle of Coca-Cola. I then headed off to do some sightseeing and almost immediately saw the Kranzler restaurant which I had visited on my previous visit to Berlin back in 1987.
Firstly around here I took several photographs of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The original church was heavily damaged in a bombing raid on 23 November 1943 during WWII. The remains of this have been preserved as part of the new church and it was this I had come to photograph. Next on my list of things to do was to visit the Monkey Bar on top of Bikini Berlin. Here you can go up to the second floor of the Bikini Berlin shopping mall where there is a bar you can have a drink at whilst overlooking the monkey enclosure in the zoo next door.
It was now time to move on and I decided the next place to visit was the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate). To get there I got back on the S-Bahn to Berlin Hbf., the main railway station of Berlin. This was a huge station on several levels, I saw a train from Poland at one of the platforms. From here I planned to get the U-Bahn (underground) but could not find it. I enquired in the tourist office and was told that it was temporarily closed as work was ongoing to connect the short line 55 with line 5. The lady there told me that the Brandenburg Gate was nearby but if I wanted to use public transport I could get there by S-Bahn changing at Aleksander Platz station. Arriving there the first thing I saw was a line of horses and carriages, the elderly gentleman in the above picture had signs that he charged €1 to photograph him and his horses but would not take payment from me.
Today you could only see the Brandenburg Gate from what used to be East Berlin because there was a big event happening on the western side. When I previously visited here in 1986 and 1987, when Berlin was still a divided city, you had to view it from your coach from the western side and the coach had to drive slowly by and not stop or the East German soldiers were likely to shoot as recently someone from the West had taken a potshot at them.
After the Brandenburger Tor it is a short (st)roll around it to the Reichstag building, seat of the German Parliament. I only viewed this from the outside but you can take tours of the inside for which you have to pass through airport style security checks. Since my previous visit back in 1987 the building has been reconstructed and now has the dome replaced on it, this was missing back in 1987. It was now time to make my way to Berlin Tierpark, the former East Berlin zoo.
First I took the S-Bahn back to Aleksander Platz and then got a U-Bahn underground train to the Tierpark. Upon leaving the underground at Tierpark it was much quieter than in central Berlin and this former East Berlin district looked very different. Down the centre of the road ran one of the tram lines and the Tierpark was just a short distance away. By the time I got here I had only about an hour before I needed to start heading back to the airport for my flight home. I would not be able to see much in that time as the Tierpark is very big with the exhibits spread about among the many trees. Upon entering the first animals you see are the American buffaloes. Then passing to the right and through the trees the next animal was a black or brown bear, I am not too sure which and there was no sign to tell you. Just across from this was the polar bear, or ice bear as the Germans call them. I spent about half an hour watching this bear before deciding time was up and I had to make the journey to the airport.
I took the U-Bahn to Lichtenburg and then the S-Bahn to Ostkreuz, the busiest interchange station in Berlin. From here I got a regional train directly to the airport without stops along the way, this took 18 minutes. At the airport check in went smoothly and the assistance got me efficiently through the airport and boarded for the flight back to Liverpool. I normally take myself through airports and only have the assistance for actual boarding but this is not possible in Berlin as there are stairs and you have to be taken through restricted areas.
I enjoyed myself in Berlin and look forward to the time I can return, maybe next year. If there is any further information you need about visiting this city please post in the comments below and I will see if I can help you.