German Vacation Recap – Berlin – Part 1

January 2, 2017

Cliff and I spent nine fun days exploring Germany despite my little fall.  I posted a recap of the 2016 Berlin Marathon + Spectating last month, but in order to share ALL the details and pictures (this post is picture heavy) I wanted to document the trip in a four part series (by city). I know several of my running buddies and readers are planning trips for next year’s marathon, so I wanted to start off with our trip city itinerary: 

  • September 22-26: Berlin 
  • September 26-27: Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Romantic Road) 
  • September 27-28: Fussen/Schwangau
  • September 28-30: Munich  

We considered visiting Prague for a day, but there was already so much to see in Germany (and we didn’t get to see the western half of the country). 

My mom dropped us off at Washington Dulles International Airport on Wednesday evening.  We arrived three hours early, but there was still a line to check in at the British Airways counter womp womp (we had plenty of time).  I was quite happy with the airline and our flight (we purchased our tickets in April).  I selected our seats ahead of time using Seat Guru (it is an extra charge with British Airways to select seats ahead of time).  We sat in a three row seat, where there is typically four seats.  Lucky for us, no one joined our row…time to spread out! Each seat also had their own tv and the food wasn’t bad either.  

We arrived at London Heathrow Airport in under seven hours.  I forget how “close” we are to the U.K.  We had to go through security again to get to our connecting flight to Berlin.  I am a bit of  geek when it comes to lines and I loved that Heathrow had the new automated lanes.  The new lanes enable up to five people to fill their individual bins at the same time and push it onto the conveyer belt they are done.  This way you do not get stuck behind that one person who is holding up the entire line because they are taking off their jewelry, belt, or jacket etc etc.  Glorious! Okay enough with lines! 

We landed at Tegel Airport late Thursday morning.  I was surprised how old and small the airport was, even the old Reagan terminal is nicer than this airport.  The city is building a new international airport, but it will not open for a few more years.   

We picked up our bags, withdrew some money from the ATM (better rates than the foreign exchange tellers) and went outside to hail a cab.  I wish I grabbed a photo, but all the cabs were either BMWs or Mercedes, funny picture, right?! It was about a 20 minute ride  from the airport to our hotel, the Grant Hyatt Berlin. It was beautiful!!  We checked in at the front desk and met our Marathon Tours contacts in the lobby. 

If you recall, I signed up for the Berlin Marathon through Marathon Tours based on the recommendation of my friend/former manager, JR.  Marathon Tours & Travel is a Boston-based company that specializes in travel services for runners.  It is a bit pricey, but my friend JR said, “Jennifer, they take care of you.”  

Image: Marathon Tours & Travel  

They had three hotels to choose from (Grant Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott) and I selected the Grand Hyatt because it cost the “least” (looks like they increased the prices for the 2017 packages).  The package included: four nights stay (there were options to add on, including an extension trip to Oktoberfest), daily buffet breakfast (so good), welcome happy hour, half day city bus tour, a pasta dinner, and a marathon entry for me.  I made an initial deposit in November 2015 and paid in full in July 2016.  The company was very responsive in answering all my questions and it was a well organized trip.  The hotel was amazing – their staff is top notch and even the hotel Instagram account is well curated and interactive. 

I think the bear was happy we made it to Berlin (or was it Cliff)! There were bear statues all over the city (read the story here). If you are from the Washington or Baltimore area, it is very similar to the panda or crab statues in the city.  The hotel is close to the theater, casino, mall, grocery store and the business district. It is located in an area called Potsdamer Platz. After we settled in we were famished! Funny story – we got a little disoriented and we could only find an “American Diner” for lunch.  Yup…our first German meal was at a diner.  I did order a schnitzel though! 

Friday morning we boarded our buses for our half day tour of Berlin. My foot was extremely happy we were not walking all over the city (as a runner I also appreciated that).  Our tour guide was Matt from Australia.  The first stop was the Altes Museum and the Berliner Dom.  Hitler would use to hold several of his speeches at this building (Matt is holding a picture of one of the speeches).  Such a sad time for the country and the world! 

If you look closely, there is some restoration work in progress.   

The Cathedral of Berlin, or the Berlin Dom, is the largest church in the city. Apparently the allies dropped a missile through the main dome during World War II. It destroyed that portion of the church and the rest of the building remained undisturbed.  I wish I took a picture that Matt shared with us. 

Across the street there is construction at the former City Palace.  When the Soviets occupied East Berlin they turned the building (damaged during the war), into the Palace of the Republic (think boxy and boring).  Architecturally it transformed into a typical Soviet building that resembled the rest of the buildings in East Berlin.  Once reunification occurred between East and West Berlin, a debate emerged as to whether the City Palace should be reconstructed (it is…for a small $600M+).  

The second stop was the Konzerthaus Berlin or concert hall.  The building is beautiful! 

The next stop was the Tyophraphy of Terror, which is an indoor/outdoor museum. There is a preserved section of the Berlin Wall. Many lives were claimed here as people tried to cross the it during Nazi occupied Germany.  

The museum – I wish we had more time here.

The fourth stop was Checkpoint Charlie, which was the crossing point between East and West Berlin.  

I was actually unimpressed with the area – a little bit touristy with all the fast food and souvenir shops around the site.  On the other side there were actors in uniform posing with those who would pay.  

The next stop was the Holocaust Memorial, which included over 2,000 pillars of varying heights.  

We drove by the Victory column. 

And the Deutsche Bahn, which is their subway system.  Much nicer looking (and modern) than the Metro! 

The last stop before the Expo was the Reichstag Building, which is the seat of the German Parliament.  This was not on the original itinerary, but someone asked if we could make a 5-10 minute stop and the tour operator obliged.  See the glass dome on top of the building? Cliff and I visited there! More on that below.  

After a quick photo opt, we were dropped off at the Berlin Marathon Expo and walked back to the hotel for a quick nap before our visit to the dome of the Reichstag Building, also known as the Bundestag.  When I first started researching for our trip, I found a picture of a beautiful glass dome on Instagram.  A quick Google Search later, I learned you could visit the building for free!  All you had to do was register for a type of visit (tour or self tour) and date/time on their website.  Registrations are accepted about 4-6 weeks before your chosen date and I brought a printed copy of our confirmation.  

I selected a self tour option (so we could go straight up to the dome) at 6:45PM CET so we can watch the sunset! We arrived a 1/2 hour early and got in line.  There were multiple lines (one for the full tour) and several people lining up who did not know that reservations were required and would later get turned away.  Do not be afraid to ask if people they have a reservation or not, that way you are not waiting in a line that goes no where.  Once we entered the building we took an elevator to the top. Stunning, right? 

We walked up the spiral staircase. I looked like a super tourist. My phone camera, selfie stick, and Go-Pro 🙂 We made it to the top and enjoyed the views of Berlin. 

We went back down and explored the balcony area.  

Gorgeous! One of the best “date nights” we’ve had. 

Afterwards we walked to the Brandenburg Gate, which was nearby.  You could feel the marathon excitement in the air and it was definitely bittersweet to walk around here.  

See the blue line in the picture below?  Marathoners run through the gate towards the finish line.  

What to do after a long day of touring? Eating our first “real” (I don’t count the American Diner haha) German meal.  Close to our hotel there is a restaurant called Alt-Bayern.  I researched it ahead of time and it had several positive reviews – especially for their pork knuckle.  It was DELICIOUS! It was one of our favorite meals throughout the entire trip.  

We actually returned here for another meal and some drinks on Marathon Sunday.  I am not a huge beer drinker, but the beers were definitely tastier in Germany.  

Overall, Berlin was a great start to the trip.  I was happy with Marathon Tours & Travels and would use them again (not all the time as I would like to plan everything on my own depending on the race/city).   I am excited to return here this fall to explore other parts of the city and get a chance to run the marathon 🙂 Next up, Rothenburg ob der Tauber and the Romantic Road. 

Catching up? 

Have you visited Berlin? 

Running Berlin this fall? 

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10 Comments
      1. Run Jenny Run

        Thanks! I hope we will see those automated lanes at BWI/DCA/IAD soon!

    1. Wow- these pictures are amazing. The food looks divine and you got to see so many interesting sights. Berlin is definitely on my bucket list. I used Marathon Tours to run London and it was totally worth it. It’s good to have all the details taken care of so you don’t have to worry about logistics. Happy New Year!

      1. Run Jenny Run

        Thank you, Elizabeth! Good to hear you had a nice experience with MT in London. I may consider using them again since it is so difficult to get into that race!

    1. Love all the pictures, Jen! That pork knuckle looks amazing! I’ve never heard of Marathon Tours, but will definitely check it out. 🙂

      1. Run Jenny Run

        It was so good! We are looking for a place in DC or MD that may have it.

    1. Just getting around to reading this…while you’re in Hawaii of all places 🙂
      Thanks for the nod and it looked like an awesome time…even spectating!

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