Monday, June 4, 2012

Karaoke and a Biergarten in Tiergarten

After our harrowing tour of Berlin, we went back to Hotel Hansablick to gather our supplies for a picnic in Mauerpark. My husband researched a lot before we went to Berlin. This lead to his discovery of English-language karaoke in Mauerpark on Sundays. We were very excited to go because it seemed like an off-the-beaten-path thing to do.

Mauerpark Karaoke
We took the train and subway to the park. It was a pleasant journey that took only 25 minutes. From the subway, it was a five minute walk. We fell into step with lots of college-aged, tie-dyed hippies. It was a cool vibe from the start. The scene ahead of us was a cross between a flea market, medieval faire, and Woodstock. We walked by vendors selling everything from Happy Meal toys to secondhand clothing. People were lounging upon blankets in the large, open field. They were braiding each other's hair and smoking hookahs.

We followed the sound of music accompanied by an off-key, hopeful voice, to the karaoke pit. Dust billowed up from the well-worn path we walked to the top of the hill. We found several blades of grass and prepared our picnic. I must admit that I felt a little funny being there. Here we were, a clean-cut American couple wearing khakis and t-shirts, propping ourselves up amongst hashish smokers. I'm sure we were a spectacle as we munched on our prosciutto and sipped champagne with cassis.

We listened to the singers and the crowd for a while and decided that the setting was too intimidating for us to sign up for a song. Neither of us were brave enough to walk to the bottom of the bowl. But it was fun watching the courageous ones! Song choices included Backstreet's Back, Proud Mary, and Teenage Dirtbag. The crowd was kind and it was fun singing along.

Berlin Wall at Mauerpark
Mauerpark literally translates to "Wall Park." Remnants of the graffit-covered Berlin Wall provide the backdrop to the park. It's a unique way to see an important piece of history.

St. Nicholas' Church
Monday was our final day in Berlin. Our first stop was the Television Tower, the tallest structure in Germany. That Monday was a holiday in Germany so this tourist spot was extremely crowded. We elected to purchase our tickets from a machine outside rather than wait in the long queue. We were given a showtime of two hours later so we consulted our guidebook to find some other interesting things to do in the Mitte area.

The Nikolaiviertel Quarter is touted as Berlin's only surviving medieval district. It was very disappointing. The only thing worth noting is St. Nicholas' Church, the oldest church in Berlin. Everything else is a poor imitation of what a medieval village might have looked like.

View from Television Tower
Once our two hours were up we went back to the Television Tower, eager to see Berlin from above. A high-speed elevator took us to the top and we disembarked to complete chaos. Dozens of spectators were milling around, clogging up the pathway. It was nearly impossible to stand in front of the glass. I spent most of the time on my tiptoes, gazing over heads and shoulders. Fortunately, the tickets we purchased allowed us access to the rotating restaurant so we decided to go there after a few minutes spent fighting the crowds.

Berliner Weisse
The restaurant itself was unremarkable but the views were incredible and, most importantly, unobstructed. The food was extremely overpriced but I guess we were paying for the experience. While we had the opportunity, we tried Berliner Weisse. It's either red (flavored by raspberry syrup) or green (woodruff syrup). It was served with a straw and both were extremely sweet. In my opinion, beer is not meant to be sipped through a straw and it also shouldn't be red or green (exception: St. Patrick's Day). But, when in Berlin, do as the Berliners do...

The best thing about going up to the Television Tower was seeing the differences, from above, between East Berlin and West Berlin. If you decide to go, make sure you choose a day that is less-traveled. And don't spring for the revolving restaurant; it's not worth it.

Rowing in Tiergarten
Waiting for our spot at the Television Tower took up most of the day but we had one more must-see on our list. Tiergarten was a beautiful, lush park and it was such a pleasure to stroll through it every day. Cafe am Neuen See is a beer garden in the park. Trees surround picnic tables and constantly-tweeting birds sail past your head while you munch on pizza and drink steins of beer or carafes of summer wine.

Cafe am Neuen See
We rented a rowboat and glided across the pond in a scene reminiscent of Bridget Jones' Diary (thankfully, neither of us fell into the water). Everyone was friendly and it was a perfect, relaxing way to spend our last afternoon in Berlin. The biergarten in Tiergarten is a must-do!

Our first trip to Berlin was a success. Despite some odd experiences (Cookies & Cream and Barry, the crazy tour guide), it was a great way to spend a long weekend. There are many things we missed. When we return, we want to spend a lot of time in the museums. We would also like to arrange a tour of the Reichstag, the seat of the German parliament. It would be nice to devote an entire day to Potsdam, too.

Berlin is interesting because most of the city is newly-constructed. It's not like other places we've visited, where lots of ancient buildings dot the landscape. The fact is that much of Berlin was destroyed during the war. Memorials and plaques stand in the spaces where history was made. It's crazy to think that a wall divided the city only twenty-three years ago.

There is much more to learn about Berlin and I look forward to a return trip.

Berlin Wall at Mauerpark

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