Returning to the high speed train from Munich to Berlin, we whizzed along, and the trip went quickly. The plan was to reach Berlin around 5:30pm and figure out how many subway stops we needed to get to our hotel. Unlike in Munich where the central train station connected to most of the U (subway) lines, in the central Berlin train station it only connected to a single limited subway line, whose goal seemed to be to get you somewhere else where you could easily transfer. I looked at the connecting stations so thoroughly during the train trip that I basically had our lines memorized before I got off the train in Berlin. Although I had diligently google’d the Berlin subway system during the train ride from Munich (clearly I believe in over-preparedness!), there was a dotted line connecting the subway line from the train station to the one we wanted that would get us to our hotel. What does that mean?? All the other subway stations were connected by a solid line; I had no idea what to do with a dotted line. (Even now, post-trip, I have no idea what a dotted line means!) Mike and I walked down the train platform, went down an escalator, and took the one subway out of the train station for two stops until it reached the end of its line at the Brandenburg Tor station and then we looked around for another subway to take. However, the line we needed to get to our hotel didn’t stop there. So apparently what dotted lines meant for Mike and me was no cigar, no dice, and no way to the hotel without walking. Basically there was no connection between our subway line and that one. We exited exited the subway station figuring that we could find a taxi above ground to get us to the hotel, and we found ourselves in front of the Brandenburg Gate. It was gorgeous… all lit up and at the end of a boulevard lined with trees covered in blue Christmas lights. I recognized it from pictures, but hadn’t been prepared to see it just randomly exiting from a subway station. To be fair, I probably should have since the station was called “Brandenburg Tor” which means (you guessed it!), Brandenburg Gate in English. However, we had all of our luggage with us, had been traveling for 4.5 hours by high speed train from Munich and weren’t really prepared for a Kodak moment. Instead we grabbed a taxi and made a mental note to come back for pictures. Based on the way the cab driver tore around the curvy, crazy streets, we didn’t regret not renting a car. We entered the hotel around 6pm, tired but still ready to do a little something since we’d been on a train all day and hadn’t really been “doing” anything. We decided to take the subway to Potsdamer Platz, check out the Christmas market there (because every platz had a Christmas market!), and find some dinner.
The market at Potsdamer was in full swing! Although gluhwine sounded mildly interesting, after a day of train travel and snacking, we wanted dinner! And we found it in the form of a super crowded and fun Mexican restaurant.
The food was amazing! And so vegan-friendly!
Afterwards, we did a brief walk through a little of the Christmas market, but we were getting tired and it was getting late.
We took the subway back to the hotel, and while Mike bought bottled water from the hotel concierge, I looked at all the Berlin tourist brochures in the lobby and grabbed ten or twelve of them that looked interesting. One especially caught my eye… it had a picture of a panda on the front! Was it possible that there was a zoo in Berlin that had pandas? I had never seen a live panda! Mike looked at me suspiciously while we took the elevator up to our room.
“We aren’t going to go to like ten museums from all those brochures, are we?” he asked. “I want to spend some time just experiencing the culture too.”
I wasn’t listening. I was too busy poring over the panda brochure. “Mike! There’s a zoo with a panda! Can we go? Can we go? Can we go??”
Mike could see that he wasn’t going to be able to go anywhere in Berlin with me until we had seen the zoo, so we made plans to go to the zoo the following morning. We figured since it was a Friday, it shouldn’t be too busy.
After a good night’s sleep, during which I realized we had finally adapted to the German timezone, we went to the hotel’s breakfast (very satisfactory although it did not have quite as many options as the one in Munich), and then when we were well-fed and well-coffee’d, we headed to the subway to go to the zoo. I was unreasonably excited. In general, I’m not totally sure how I feel about zoos. I don’t like the idea of animals being caged up, but I really, really do love seeing the animals. I have seen some zoos which are very good about giving the animals the life they want (and sometimes animals actually end up with better lives in the zoo since they don’t get hunted, die of starvation, etc), and other zoos that don’t seem to care as much. After reading up on the Berlin zoo the night before, I felt pretty confident that they were a sustainable zoo that was really focused on the well-being of the animals.
As we approached the front gate, I was excited! The only thing I was a little iffy on was the temperature… it felt cold. We bought our tickets and then headed in. (Note: Prepare yourself for pictures, because I took a lot!! The animals there seemed so content compared to other zoos I’ve been to and really seemed to want to have their pictures taken! Or maybe they just all liked the cold weather? No idea!
We looked at various types of mountain goats for awhile, and then quickly realized that our strategy should be to spend a little time outdoors, then go into an indoor enclosure, then more time outdoors, then another indoor enclosure, etc. That would be our best bet for staying as warm as possible throughout the day! Based on that strategy, the ape house was our next stop.
Fatou has such a crazy story… she is the oldest living gorilla in the world! She had just gotten her breakfast when we saw her. She ate the mango right away and put the kale away for later. Smart lady!
The chimpanzees were crazily active… swinging from rope to rope, chasing each other, and messing with each other. They also chattered at each other the whole time and eventually ended up throwing poop at each other. Clearly a nice and refined group! 😉 Interestingly I have heard that chimps are very aggressive. They didn’t look aggressive with each other, although they were very definitely very active in swinging around with each other and teasing each other!
After we exited the ape house, we saw the panda exhibit just ahead! The pandas were very active, so Mike and I stayed and watched them for awhile. Unsurprisingly, they moved very much like grizzly bears… with kind of a lumbering gait. They were beautiful! 🙂
The Australian exhibit was very cool! We saw some little kangaroos, a kookaburra, and a wombat (which my friend from Australia says can actually be really mean and charge you, but the one we saw didn’t seem to want to charge anything).
The polar bears were pretty active and seemed really engaged. In retrospect, the brisk 38 degree weather was probably ideal for them, although Mike and I would have liked it a little warmer.
The arctic wolves were just gorgeous! They seemed interested in the people going by and watched everyone intently. Again, I think the temperatures were very arctic wolf-friendly!
As the day went by, things warmed up slightly, but we were still pretty cold and looked for every opportunity to go indoors. After a couple of hours we went into the zoo cafe and warmed up with some coffee. That felt like it helped a lot, but by the time we went back outdoors again, our bodies felt like they were rebelling against all the cold we had exposed them to over the past week. We had been consistently spending a lot of time outdoors for almost a week by this point. At least it wasn’t snowing though!
I was really appreciative to see that the rhinos they had at the zoo were rescue rhinos (notice their messed up horns… poor things!!). Again, the Berlin Zoo seemed to be making a real effort to take care of animals, which I loved seeing.
The elephants had a different look to them, and I realized it was because they are Asian elephants instead of the Indian elephants I have typically seen in zoos. They looked furrier and very friendly.
By this time we had been at the zoo for about four hours and we were freezing! Fortunately the zoo and the aquarium were right next to each other. Going into the aquarium and warming up and seeing sea life for awhile sounded amazing!
They had a lot of jellyfish tanks! It was mesmerizing watching the jellyfish move… very slowly and rhythmically.
The shark looked really cool but was very hard to get a good picture of because it moved constantly. Some types of sharks have to move in order to breathe (as they swim, it forces water past their gills). I’m not sure whether this shark was one of those varieties, but it definitely moved a lot!
Mike loved the salt water tank. The fish and coral in that tank were similar to the ones that he kept when he had a fish tank (although of course his tank was much smaller than this one!)
We went back to this tank several times so Mike could get pictures from different angles… it was much bigger than it looks because it wrapped around the end of a wall and had two separate viewing spots!
I wasn’t sure what this was; it was in a big terrarium kind of exhibit with a lot of ponds, fish, etc, and I didn’t see a label specifically for what this was. There were several of them, and none of them seemed in a great hurry to move.
When we exited the aquarium we felt nice and warmed up and ready for the next thing.
We discovered that it was Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The spire was mostly gone from being bombed in 1943, but it hadn’t been repaired and had become a memorial instead.
After a quick lunch, we decided to spend some time in the urban, artsy Kreuzberg area of Berlin for the remainder of the afternoon. We wandered around Kreuzberg for about an hour getting a sense of the vibe there. It was full of graffiti, interesting and old buildings, and a very eclectic mix of people. It was clearly a “happening” place for live music, bars, great restaurants, etc! When it was getting dark and we were sufficiently cold, we headed into a bar to get some light food and drinks.
There was a jazz band playing in the bar and they sounded absolutely amazing!
Afterwards, we headed back to the subway and then transferred a couple of times to get back to the subway station near our hotel. Such a fun and full day! The only real downside was the cold weather. (I know I keep mentioning this, but it was a recurring theme in our outdoor activities!) 😉
We tried to sketch out a rough agenda for the following day, but ended up getting tired and falling asleep instead. Finally we were on the normal German timezone and getting appropriately tired at bedtime like regular people! 🙂