PRARTHANA MISHRA is particularly impressed by the city’s friendliness towards the differently-abled
While travelling from New Delhi to Berlin via Frankfurt, I was flipping through popular tourist destinations of Berlin and putting in sequence the places in my itinerary during my four-day stay in the city. More or less, these were the usual haunts – museums, sprawling manicured gardens, historical places, palaces, and castles.
This time, though, I was aiming for more than just the popular tourist spots. I tried to memorise some common German phrases during the flight to prepare myself to converse while using public transport or bargaining at market places. Though it was not of much use as English is commonly used by Germans to interact with tourists, at least in all major cities, Danke (thank you) was, of course, a much used and helpful word.
Sensible transport system
Out of the Tegal airport in Berlin, the first impression of a clean city was already imprinted, because of my earlier visits to Europe. Well laid express ways with clear road signs and very few cars gave me the usual sigh of relief, unlike what we encounter in our cities in India. The robust public transport system, which I used in the following four days, encourages use, leading to very few vehicles crowding the roads. What makes public transport a preferred mode in Berlin is its affordability, punctuality and being friendly to differently-abled persons.
The Berlin transport system consists of four forms of transport – bus, tram, U-Bahn (underground train) and S-Bahn (above ground train). What makes these transport systems unique is their friendliness to differently-abled persons. All of these options have wheelchair accessible capabilities; each one is just a little different. The trains have a flat entrance into the train from the platform. So it is easy to roll right into the train with a wheelchair. In case the train has big steps to board, there is a portable ramp on each platform that can be used to get on the train.
City of cycles
Another thing that gets your attention on Berlin roads is the use of cycles in city. Everyone rides their bike in Berlin. The variety of bikes used by people in Berlin will also amuse you. There are women’s bikes, men’s bikes, Dutch bikes, children’s bikes and many more. Women also use cycle-pram combo to glide around town with babies, who comfortably nap in these attached prams. The city has dedicated bike ways offering safe and convenient travel routes for its two-wheeled commuters.
Among the tourist attractions, Berlin Wall still remains the prominent destination for tourists in Berlin. It is a memorial to the countless men, women and children who died while trying to get across the wall. When the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, it was celebrated around the world. It now stands as a stunning piece of public art, brightly painted by international artists. These artists have expressed the ideas of the time when the wall was erected or the feeling when the wall was brought down.
The river ride
I dedicated my next day to the famous river cruise of Berlin. If you want to see lots of things, but only have a short amount of time, then this river cruise on the Spree is the ideal way to take in everything at the heart of this bustling city. I opted for a one hour excursion which covered some of Berlin’s landmark monuments like the Reichstag (German Parliament Building), the Government Quarter and the House of World Cultures. The Central Station, Berlin Cathedral, Museum Island, and the oldest residential area in Berlin are also covered during the cruise. You get an audio guide on the cruise in eight different languages to learn about the city.
As we sat at the front of the deck, we got an excellent view of the river. As we sailed, we saw people leisurely sitting in waterfront restaurants trying snacks with a glass of beer while enjoying a relaxing view of the water.
Of heritage and history
It is the Museum Island, which draws everybody’s attention during the cruise. Spree Island is better known as Museum Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, you will find many of the city’s oldest and most important museums, including the Old Museum which houses the Crown Jewels and other royal treasures.
Potsdam was the next destination worth seeing around Berlin. It is a bordering city, around 25 km from Berlin. Potsdam was a residence of the Prussian kings and the German Kaiser until 1918. Around the city, there are a series of interconnected lakes and cultural landmarks, in particular the parks and palaces of Sanssouci, the largest World Heritage site in Germany.
The Berlin trip is not complete without a visit to the fascinating city, Munich. The most noteworthy attraction of the city is The English Garden. One of the largest urban parks in the world, the English Garden is Munich’s most popular green space, boasting over 48 miles (78 kilometres) of walking and cycling trails. People were relaxing, playing, sunbathing, swimming and even surfing in a man-made river called The Eisbach.
Though my travel plans were limited to Germany alone, I was tempted to try a train journey from Munich to the beautiful city of Salzburg in Austria, which takes you along a picturesque ride of two hours. You can’t take your eyes off the large glass windows of the train or you may miss the stunning views of the landscape of the countryside.
The memories of the trip may fade over time. But few impressions are everlasting. I may forget everything about the trip, but will remember Berlin for its bike rides, its kindness to differently-abled persons, and of course, its river cruise. The beauty of the English Garden of Munich, the artificial river and surfers dancing on the waves will always remind me of Munich.