“Multi-tasking” is one of those high-tech words that you hear quite a bit of these days. It looks great on a resume. Why the heck you just don’t say that you have “good organization skills” is beyond me. But I guess “multi-tasking” sounds more impressive. So in terms of my family’s recent trip to Berlin, I was able to multi-task quite effectively: museums and cultural activities in the morning until about noon or so, “fun stuff” after lunch until about 5pm and then window shopping (well, I window shopped, my wife actually did the spending) until 9pm or whenever my stomach started growling again. Everyone walked away happy and you’re right – multi-tasking DOES sound more impressive!
It was easy to do so many different things in Berlin because the city is unbelievably easy to traverse. Or maybe it’s just because I can read a map. For anyone planning to go to Berlin I recommend using the Metro and the underground. I’m also going to tell you how to save some money so pay attention, there may be a test later.
When it comes to traveling in and around Berlin, it’s important to know that the city is divided into sectors. There’s an “A” a “B” and a “C”. The ticket you purchase to ride the bus or rails can correspond to one, two or all three sectors. Look at your itinerary for each day and see where the majority of activities are located and then purchase an “all day” ticket for those sectors. It’s a lot cheaper than paying as you go. Prices will range from 5 to 7 euro; give or take a few euro cents. There are ticket machines at almost every bus stop and certainly at every underground stop.
Now when I say “all day” that means the ticket is good from 6am until 3am the following morning. This is a good thing, because if you come stumbling out of a beer tent at 2:00 in the morning you can rest easy that there’s a bus somewhere that is running and will take you home or close to it. And if it’s going to be a late night, look for the buses labeled “N” (for night). Those crazy Germans, what will they think of next?
The ticket vending machine also offers you a ticket for “brief destinations”. Now, is it me or is that a strictly subjective term? On our first day we went across town to see the museums. From our hotel it was about 12 stops away. That seems “brief” to me! I also noticed that a ticket for “brief destinations” was about 3 euro less. I’ll take three please! Well wouldn’t you know it, about five stops into our trip we get spot-checked by the “Bus Ticket Police”! And they were not happy campers. Apparently a “brief destination” is only 3 stops on the bus line. “That will be a 40 euro fine per person, please!” mumbles the large beefy man and his equally large sidekick. I suggested we all get off the bus at the next stop and talk this over because this was going to get ugly really quick. Especially if I’m going to be on the receiving end of this guy’s fist.
Fortunately logic prevailed. Or maybe it was because I reached down and pinched my kid and she started crying. But doesn’t it make sense for you to explain what a “brief destination” is on the ticket dispenser? And aside from the fact that I’m not paying 120 euro for this object lesson in riding the Metro, won’t it be easier if you allow me to purchase the correct tickets? And hey – why not explain how the system works while you’re at it? And on top of that, I can only hope that the next time you travel to Italy or the United States, someone helps you out like you’re obviously NOT doing with me right now!!
Leave it to guilt to win out every time. We purchased the correct tickets. I thank this Aryan version of Kato and we go on our way. I also apologized to my daughter for pinching her so hard.
So learning the mass-transit system is half the battle. Learning the German language is better left unsaid (no pun intended). I can say unequivocally that before we departed Italy on our trip, to a person; everyone I spoke with assured me that “everyone in Berlin speaks English!” Apparently that entire segment of the city went to Miami on holiday because no one acted like they spoke English. Which is odd, because plenty of Berliners (Berlin-ites?Berlinese’…?) knew enough English to tell me that they didn’t speak English! It took me about 5 minutes to learn that if I had a question I would get a quicker response from someone who wasn’t a resident. Fortunately Berlin has plenty of other cultures beside German and THEY were all pretty helpful. There’s a lesson to be learned here, but I’m not sure what is. Maybe it’s “don’t ask questions” or maybe it’s “pay an exorbitant price for a local guide that speaks your language”.
Naturally I say all this in a lighthearted way. I have to; because I want to make sure I can leave at the end of the week. Also, because I’m a guest in a foreign country, what right do I have to demands on the Host Country? Why would first impressions on their part impact an equally first impression on my part?
We had a splendid time. And we managed to laugh our way through all the typical things that foreigners deal with. It’s also amazing how much you can see in a day when you put your mind to it. We crammed in everything from the Royal Palace, to the Check Point Charlie (Berlin Wall) Museum, to the Brandenburg Gate and still had time for an IMAX movie on the Titanic.
I recommend Berlin to anyone with a sense of humor and an eye for adventure. You’ll be happy to know that Ryan Air and several other airlines in and around Europe offer daily flights to Berlin for about 29 euro or less. We grabbed our flight from the Italian city of Bari. Last-minute charters are also great bargains as they combine flights and hotel accommodations in one package. If you have the time though, take the 29 euro flight and find a hotel when you arrive. Berlin has plenty to accommodate all tastes and budgets. Naturally no one is going to tell you this (except me anyway). But if you pack light and stay away from the city center you can find a decent hotel for about 30 euro a night and again, in Berlin, NOTHING is that far away.
Have a great trip….and send me a postcard while you’re there.