Two weekends ago, Peter and I were in Berlin for the 2013 Berlin Marathon. Peter was there to run the marathon. I was there to drink beer (and support him running the marathon).
We arrived on a Thursday evening and became disheartened when we found out that our hotel only offered free wifi in the hotel lobby. How is this still a thing? And why isn’t this clear on the hotel’s website and on booking websites?
After checking in to the hotel, we went to dinner and then turned in early. Marathon ‘vacations’ are always… boring.
2013 Berlin Marathon Expo
On Friday, we rode the U-Bahn to the Berlin Marathon Expo to collect Peter’s race bag and check out the merchandise. The expo was located at a former airport called Tempelhof, south of Berlin. It was the largest expo I’d ever attended and it’s the only expo that had biergartens. Multiples biergartens.
I would have liked to stay at the expo all day but day drinking two days before a marathon isn’t high on the priority list.
We drank one beer and then rode the U-Bahn back to the city for a delightful day of sober sightseeing.
I’d read about Berlin having a vibe that is “indescribable” but I never felt a vibe, of any kind, in Berlin. Perhaps it’s because I was overcome with marathon vibes?
I’d read that there are “pockets” of Berlin and every pocket has a different style. I can say that about London too but the pockets are too far apart to explore by walking from one pocket to another. Maybe that’s why we didn’t experience the different pockets of Berlin because we were on foot.
To experience Berlin, you need more than two days, need a bike to get around, and need to not be signed up to run a marathon.
Our two full days of sightseeing were not enough time to explore a city with as much history as Berlin but we smashed in as much as we could during our short visit. I will say that the weather was delightful.
Berlin Wall Memorial
I remember as a kid sitting in front of a tiny TV in the kitchen of my childhood home watching the Berlin Wall come crashing down. I was too young to understand what it meant but I knew it was a big deal.
Now that I’m older, it’s hard to believe that the wall fell only 24-ish years ago.
Several years ago, Peter and I were in Washington, DC (again for a marathon) and we visited the now-closed Newseum. There were four sections of the Berlin wall on display and I remember thinking how big they were.
What didn’t register with me at the time was that those four sections were a tiny portion of a full wall that divided a city in half. And that the wall prevented family members from seeing each other for years just because of where they lived.
Throughout Berlin, 12 ft / 3.6 m tall sections stand tall as a reminder of the past.
The Berlin Wall Memorial is a must-do when in Berlin. Another thing I did not know before visiting the memorial was that the wall was actually two walls that ran parallel to each other. The big Berlin wall, as we know it, was on the West Berlin side and there was a smaller and less significant wall on the East Germany/Berlin side.
In the middle of the two walls was an area known as “no man’s land”.
The iron rods in the photo above represent the area where the West Berlin wall once stood. As your eye moves from the iron rods further away, the gray concrete wall comes into view and rests in its original place.
The gravel path supporting vertical poles mark where the East Germany/Berlin wall stood.
On the right-hand side of the grass is a house. It was the house closest to the East Germany/Berlin wall.
A viewing tower was built as part of the memorial to allow visitors to get a bird’s eye view. This view is from West Germany looking toward East Germany.
The wall in the foreground of the photo above is the large wall that we know as the Berlin Wall. On the opposite side of the wall of the people is no man’s land where landmines and other explosives were set up.
On the left is a guard tower located in no man’s land. Behind the guard’s tower is the East Germany/Berlin wall which, as you can see, is significantly shorter than the wall in the foreground.
Here’s a close-up of several sections of the West Berlin wall.
The purpose of the walls was to keep East Germans/Berliners from entering West Berlin.
Below is a photo from the East Germany/Berlin side looking through one of the “slats” of the wall. The view is of no man’s land and the West Berlin wall further afield.
In addition to sections of wall scattered throughout the city, there were cobblestone markings on roads where the wall once stood.
Here’s a close-up of a plaque we found in one section.
Following our visit to the Berlin Wall Memorial, we went to Checkpoint Charlie. It’s the best-known crossing point between East and West Berlin.
The actual checkpoint was a bit, I don’t know, costume-y? There were “guards” staffed at the checkpoint and people were taking photos of them.
Near the checkpoint was a temporary open-air museum which was comprised of wallboards explaining the history of the area, complete with text and photos.
The Berlin Wall Memorial and Checkpoint Charlie were enough sightseeing for us for the day. We did a little shopping, snapped a few more photos, and retreated to our hotel for a quick rest before heading out to dinner.
The famous Ampelmännchen of Berlin…
On our second full day, we visited Brandenburg Gate, however, it had been gated off because it was the site of the marathon finish. It’s a very large structure and was difficult to photograph. I regret not spending more time at the gate.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Our final sightseeing activity was to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It’s an impressive memorial and everyone should visit it and reflect on why it’s there and why we must not let history repeat itself.
In 1999, it was decided that a memorial site would be established. A competition to design the site was won by a New York architect named Peter Eisenman. The memorial opened in 2005.
There are 271 concrete slabs, all differing in height. The site itself is sloped so depending on where you are standing, the slabs look like a wave.
We spent more time than expected at the memorial, which I think is the intent of the design.
The remainder of Saturday was spent doing very little because Peter had entered what I call, “marathon mode”. The nerves kicked in and his focus had turned to ensuring everything was in order for the marathon the following morning.
2013 Berlin Marathon
Sunday, marathon day, was a complete cluster.
Several months prior to being accepted into the Berlin Marathon, Peter and I purchased tickets to attend an NFL game at Wembley Stadium in London. The game (Vikings versus Steelers) was held on the same day as the Berlin Marathon.
We booked flights departing Berlin at different times. I would fly back to London while Peter was still running the marathon. I’d take all of our luggage with me, leaving Peter in Berlin with not much more than his phone and passport.
If this sounds crazy, it was.
Peter’s flight departed after the marathon and based on his arrival time in London, he’d meet me at home or at the stadium.
Very long story short, I departed as planned from Tegal (what a crappy airport, if you can call it that!).
Peter was nervous about missing his flight so he exited the marathon at about mile 15 and hopped in a taxi for the airport.
Meanwhile, I had landed at Heathrow and was en route to our flat to drop off our luggage.
After arriving at the airport, Peter found out that his flight was delayed for two hours. This messed up our entire plan. An NFL game is only one hour long so a two-hour delay, um, yeah.
Well, we did make it to the game and you can read about that experience here.