Berlin is worth a visit: (Berlin ist einen Besuch wert.)

This was a slogan in Cold War days when West Berlin was isolated in the middle of the hostile territory of the DDR – Deutsche Demokratishe Republik, which was allied with the Soviet block, not entirely in accordance with the wishes of many of its citizens.

The BRD – Bundesrepublik Deutschland – encouraged its people, and those of other western countries, to visit Berlin to show solidarity with this outpost of freedom and the capitalist system in the midst of the “socialist paradise”. Berlin is even more worth visiting today, twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the subsequent reunification of the two halves of Germany,

The LALG German Group has just come back from its second very successful visit to Berlin. We first went in 2003 and visited just some of the two hundred and fifty or so museums that Berlin boasts. This time, mid-April 2010, a group of ten, some of whom had been on the first visit seven years ago, enjoyed three full days and two half days in the city, blessed by cool but fine weather, just right for sight-seeing.

Berlin has seen so much upheaval in its recent history and this is reflected in its buildings and museums and even on the surface of its streets.

You can see the massive Ishtar Gate with its Processional Way, lifted in their entirety from the site of Babylon by German archaeologists, in the huge, imposing, Pergamon Museum and the associated Altes Museum. The huge Market Gate of Miletus was excavated and brought to Germany from Turkey, who now wants it back. Shades of the Elgin Marbles. The Altar of Pergamon is a monumental structure, dating from the second century BC, 36m wide and 33m deep, completely excavated in 1886.

Closer to today is the DDR Museum giving a look at everyday life in the separate eastern Germany which lasted 40 years or so. You can sit in a Trabi, the standard people’s car with a waiting list of several years, matched only by the waiting period for the plumber to call, or so the joke went. You can see how nursery infants in the DDR were potty trained together; no infant could get up until they’d all finished. This was to forge social cohesion. The Museum at Check Point Charlie has other lurid reminders of life in the DDR and the deaths suffered by dozens of its citizens who tried to escape.

Another museum is devoted to the period of the occupation of Berlin by the four allies and the Berlin Airlift of 1948-9 when 13,000 tons a day, for a whole year, were flown into Berlin by the US Air Force and the Royal Air Force. The R.A.F. even used Sunderland flying boats to carry awkward loads and “landed” on Wannsee, one of Berlin’s lakes, which, fortunately, was in the western zone.

Berlin’s Technical Museum is fantastic with a big collection of historic locomotives and passenger coaches among a huge range of other exhibits. It’s easy to spend all day there.

Transport works excellently in Berlin and, just as with the London Travelcard, you can get tickets that give you unlimited travel on Berlin’s buses, city surface railway (the S-Bahn), underground (U-Bahn), and trams. The buses actually run to a timetable and arrive on time. You can mostly get a seat, although not always. The new central station is a wonderland (for railway lovers) of trains criss-crossing at different levels, heading in different directions. We picked a hotel 100m from Charlottenburg Railway station which had trains going every few minutes to the city centre, to Potsdam, to the airport.

There’s just too much interest to cover adequately in this brief article. Have a look at the pictures on the German Conversation site.

You can get there by train but it takes twelve hours. Quicker and cheaper is EasyJet from Luton, which cost us about sixty pounds each, there and back, between waves of the wrong sort of ash. Go yourself.