Caves, rivers and forests in Borneo


We are back from Asia but we don't want to give up our travel. London and the Swiss mountains are easy but we have never seen some of the great European cities so on a wet weekend in March we head for Berlin. Louise loved Berlin, Vicky's grandfather lived there as a diplomat and writer, and it is generally acknowledged to be a hip place to visit so there are good reasons to go there.

The trip does not start well. Vicky is coming from London and me from Basel but when Vicky gets to the airport she realises her passport is still at home. Ahhh. I did this a few weeks ago in the US so know how super stressful it is. Hours and many pounds (₤) later she is at another airport and eventually joins us at our hotel for a much needed G&T before heading off for a (fortunately late) booking at Katz Orange. Hotel i31 on Invalidenstrasse was great (below) although perhaps our "Pure Comfort" room could been swapped for a "Pure Standard" with a quieter view. My fault for not reading the website properly.

Bar in the i31 hotel

Undeterred by the rain we head off for the Reichstag (below) on Saturday morning. Berlin has great public transport and day passes for the metro, trams and buses are only EUR 7. From the Brandenburg Gate we brace the biting winds and waves of tourists and check out the famous parliament building. It's surprising how many open spaces Berlin has - with the huge Tiergarten woods in the centre of the city and big open spaces. From the Reichstag we retrace our steps and visit the Holocaust memorial before heading off down Unter den Linten towards the museum island.

The Reichstag

I am delighted to find that Alexander von Humboldt not only has a statue but a whole university on Unter den Linden. Having read Andrea Wulf's terrific book The Invention of Nature I am a great fan of this 18-19C father of modern biology and ecology. Almost forgotten in the UK he was much more famous than Darwin in his day and was hugely admired by presidents, philosophers and writers.

From Under Den Linden we cross to Museum Island. This has a collection of Berlin's top museums in fine old buildings like the Altes Meseum below.

Altes Museum, Berlin

We had hoped to visit the Pergamon Museum, one of the world's top archaeological collections. Unfortunately the queue is nearly 2 hours long and it is drizzling! Instead we head off for lunch in a jolly traditional Berlin restaurant - the Alts Berliner Wirthaus on Wilhelmstrasse. Beer and currywurst for me and potato soup for Vicky. Yummy. After lunch we had for the Berlinische Gallerie via Checkpoint Charlie. At the famous East-West crossing point tourists pose with actors dressed up in GDR uniforms while others have their pictures taken next to a remaining piece of the Berlin Wall. The Berlinische Gallerie has a permanent collection spanning the 20thC as well as some rather crazy contemporary shows. Well curated it gives a good summary of German Art through the wars and on both sides of the wall. Later we have dinner at a very funky restaurant, Solar, on the 16th floor of a public housing block with great views over the city.

Jewish Museum

On Sunday morning we head back to Checkpoint Charlie, this time to visit the Jewish Museum. I had heard about Daniel Libeskind's stunning extension to the classical Berlin building which was one of the first completed projects that this great New York/Polish/Jewish architect achieved. The Holocaust floor (above) is stunning and the rest of the exhibition is beautifully curated and presented. After this I drag Vicky back across Berlin to look at some modern art. After finding a rather basic Bavarian restaurant for lunch we realise that the museum is being restored. I rescue the situation by suggesting a visit to the Gemäldegallerie - a great collection of Old Masters.

Gemaldegallerie

Berlin has a great collection of old Masters from the 13th-18thC. The early stuff like the Cranachs and Durers (above left) are fantastic as are the Dutch and Flemish masterpieces including this exquisite Van Eyck (above right). You can then move through the centuries with Bosch, Fra Angelico, Poussin, Gainsborough, Boticelli - a great collection. After this we are back out in the rain and make a dash for the cocktail bar at the famous Adlon Hotel by the Brandenburg Gate. A great place to relax and avoid the disgusting weather.

After another great meal in a small restaurant - Das Lokal - in Mitte we have an early night as we are both up around 4:30 to catch early flights back to Basel and London. I am back in my flat in Basel by 8am - all ready to go to work! Check out the slides below for a few more shots of Berlin.