German Hospitality and Touring the Solar System

By Mike Kerr

Steven and I were on our tour of Poland and Germany and where extended an invitation to visit our German family (the cousins of Steven’s cousin’s wife)  in the small town of Donsdorf outside of Stuttgart. Steven had been to Donzdorf for cousin Jode and Carol’s reception and I was yet to experience the beauty of the town and yet to meet the extended family.

In an earlier post we shared our journey down the Autobahn in our faithful Renaud Megane and Donzdorf was our final destination. When our trusty GPS directed us to the German family’s home, we were happy the long drive was over, of course there were a few quips from the mostly Audi employed family about the jalopy we were driving, but what were we to do? It was the only car left to rent with a GPS, and my German highway and road navigation skills aren’t what they could be, and we didn’t realize we were heading into the home of Porsche (<– Steve had convinced me this one was Italian), Audi, and Volkswagen. Luckily we brought a bouquet of flowers as a gift, so we were soon forgiven as our hosts owned a flower shop and couldn’t remember the last time someone had actually brought them flowers.

We were shown to the room we would be sleeping in, asked to drop off our bags, and our tour of Donsdorf began. Starting with a quick jaunt through their neighborhood, we quickly learned that aside from ourselves, our hosts were the only ones in town who could speak very much English at all, but what can you do when you’re in small town Germany?

Our next stop was a trip by the local flower shop (the one owned by our hosts) on our way to the local castle and church where Steven’s cousin was married. In behind the church was a beautiful open park, filled with art on display by local artists. My favourite part of the displays was a scale model of the solar system, starting with the sun in the center of the park, and continuing out through the town with each of the planets including the now dwarf planet Pluto. In elementary school, the solar system tends to be studied, and dioramas made of coat hangers and Styrofoam balls are pretty commonplace, but actually getting to see it in scale, and walking the distances between each planet really gives a realistic sense of just how big our Solar System is, and a feel for the sizes of each celestial body when the sun was bigger than my head, but Mercury is the size of a ball bearing.

One of mine and Steven’s favourite things about being in Germany is Hanuta, a delicious hazelnut cream sandwiched between two crispy wafers. It sounds kind of ordinary, but it is the best chocolate treat ever. Although it is made by Kinder, which tends to be pretty internationally known, Hanuta, the best of their products, is only available for purchase in the German market.

After getting some (a lot) of sugar in us, we decided to work it off by playing some football with the kids. Steven and I are definitely not MVPs so needless to say, we had our butts handed to us by a very talented kid. We also discovered that flip flops are not the ideal footwear for the game.

Later on we sat down for a family meal, learning more about the family itself, enjoying a bounty of local sausages and meat, and getting more drunk than I ever had before. A good point to remember when visiting your German relatives, is they have a much higher tolerance for beer than you, and aren’t afraid to fill your glass while you are distracted. After my first couple of beers (giant beers) I was starting to get a bit of a buzz on, upon telling this to the German family they insisted I have another, as a buzz in Germany just isn’t good enough. By the time I hit the bottom of my fifth bottle there was no doubt I was drunk. Now at this point I would normally have stopped, but somehow the Germans managed to convince me that I would be fine having another half (and another, and another) soaking up as much as I could in my stomach by eating some authentic soft pretzels, I managed to not throw up. Steven, having been with the family before opted for the lighter lime beer.

At some point during the night, the family heard a noise that we could not, and were up in arms running to the house for a glass of water and some dish soap. Not knowing what was going on, we had to join them to figure out what all the fuss was for. The noise was apparently coming from the ground around the family garden, a quick squirt of dish soap, and a splash of water and the scariest bug I have ever seen in my life revealed itself from the depths of the earth. Imagine a cricket with mole arms, now imagine it being ten times bigger, now imagine its face being so large that you can actually tell what it is thinking by the expression on its face. That my friends, is a mole cricket, the largest bug I ever want to see for the rest of my life.

After an amazing night, and the deepest drunken sleep I have ever had, Steve managed to shake me awake in the morning, gather me up, and get me back in the car to catch the first of our connecting flights home from Stuttgart. Out of all of the small towns I have visited, Donzdorf is my favorite, not for the sights or local amenities, but for the amazing people I met who I can look back and think of as a branch of my family.

Germany Posts:
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
East Side Gallery
Outlet City Metzingen
Potsdamer Platz – the platz to be!
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Shopping in Berlin – ja, das ist gut!
Schloss Charlottenburg the Palace of Berlin
Chic Outlet Shopping – Europe

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Schloss Charlottenburg the Palace of Berlin

By Steven Wright

A statue of the goddess of happiness Fortuna sits on top of the grand cupola at Schloss Charlottenburg. The palace built as a summer residence and was named after Sophie Charlotte, the wife of Friederich III. The building design is a homage to the palace of Versailles and also references Italian architecture of the time. Construction started in 1699, and was extended numerous times to include the annex and Orangeries.

Located in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Schloss Charlottenburg is the largest palace and the only former royal residence in Berlin. Visitors can tour inside the Old Palace to see the baroque style royal apartments, the largest collection of 18th century French paintings outside of France, and Chinese and Japanese porcelain and silverware collections. The New Wing features the rococo style and some incredible fine furniture  added by Friederich the Great. You can get tickets for these exhibits in the main courtyard through the golden gates.

The palace was badly damaged during WWII, and in the ’50s reconstruction started to bring the palace back to its former glory. The palace tour gives visitors a bird’s eye view of what I consider to be the gem of the property, the magnificent and massive gardens that surround the palace.

The Palace Gardens are expansive covering 33 hectares with one side bordered by the River Spree, they are a great place to relax and enjoy the day, and a popular place for runners and cyclists alike. The garden design references both French baroque and traditional English gardens and feature the Belvedere Teahouse (now a porcelain museum), the mausoleum of Queen Louise, and the Schinkel pavilion.

The baroque portions of the gardens lead to a central fountain, to the west there are a number of tree lined paths leading you further into the garden. Spend some time at the Carp pond, pack a picnic lunch and watch the tour boats travel down the Spree. I enjoyed the variety of plants and trees and was amazed at the maturity of the Agave and other plantings throughout the garden in large pots.

Definitely worth a visit!

Germany Posts:
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
East Side Gallery
Outlet City Metzingen
Potsdamer Platz – the platz to be!
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Shopping in Berlin – ja, das ist gut!
Garden Posts:
Enjoying My Cake in Versailles Gardens

Going for Gehry

By Steven Wright

It was in 2001, at Harbourfront Centre‘s World Leaders: A Festival of Creative Genius in Toronto, when I was first introduced to Frank O Gehry. The evening was an intimate conversation with the Toronto born Architect talking about everything from designing furniture and jewelry to his current project for the Guggenheim Foundation. Listening to him talk about his process, use of materials and using new technologies to bring his sketches to life was inspiring and has had a huge impact on my travels since. Some travelers explore destinations to visit historical sites, which I enjoy as well, but as I choose destinations, proximity to a Gehry building is a highlight for me.

As a huge fan and follower of Gehry Partners LLP, I love to explore and compare Gehry’s initial sketch to the modeling stage and then completed building. The process is incredibly fascinating, the sketch is normally a squiggled line on a napkin or scrap piece of paper when inspiration hits; it is hard for most to discern the complete vision at this point. The next stage is modeling, building specific geometric shapes out of paper and foam core, his process of bending, crumpling, folding and creating is an arts and crafts master class. Once satisfied, the models and structures are scanned into the computer using Gehry Partners software to not only create a 3D model , but also to determine how to best construct the structure including a part list. Years later when the construction is compete, if you look back to the initial sketch you are able to fully understand the complexity of what Gehry sketched. Sydney Pollack even created a film about the process called Sketches of Frank Gehry.

While film and pictures try there best to represent the brilliance of these structures, there is nothing like experiencing Gehry first hand. My first opportunity was at the DZ Bank located at Pariser Platz 3, inside the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin. The exterior of the building compliments the other buildings, but the real treasure is found inside the lobby. One of his inspirations and reoccurring themes in Gehry’s work are fish and their form, this is evident at the DZ Bank. The interior atrium is filled with light streaming through the fish scaled glass ceiling, offices along the exterior of the building have glass walls to the interior to make the most of the natural light, glass continues on the walkways outside the offices allowing the light to filter down to the lower levels. Another glass ceiling covers the conference centre that occupies the entire lower level using the natural light coming from the atrium above. The use of glass and wood makes this modern space both welcoming and warm. At the back of the atrium, there is a very organic form that continues the fish reference resembling internal organs. Although this is a private business office, you can ask to take pictures from the reception in the lobby. The opposite side of the building features luxury condos.

On a former industrial parcel of land on the Nervion River in Bilbao, a little known town in north western Spain, Gehry’s squiggle on a napkin was transformed into the incredible titanium Guggenheim Bilbao. When you first catch a glimpse of the building from the streets of Bilbao you are drawn into the structure, wondering how the forms were envisioned and possibly built. The blue administration buildings lead you to the grand staircase and to the entrance to the museum. The building features reflecting pools and pedestrian walkways along the river, the BI-631 highway runs through a section of the building, I found it necessary to walk around the exterior numerous times to experience all of the buildings grandeur. After the sun sets, the building continues to shine into the night, beautifully lit, reflecting off the river, a sight to be seen.

Through the entrance, you are surrounded by light, the tall glass panels that line the entrance create an incredible entrance and welcome into the buildings. Each gallery is unique in shape and size and leads the patron through the collections complimenting each artist expression. Make sure to visit the cafe to compare your experience with the initial sketch. Today the museum is a major tourist draw, with a modern airport and transit system, being close to the beautiful beaches of San Sebastian Spain, southern France, and the opportunity to stay at Hotel Marques De Riscal in Elciego,  also designed by Gehry.

I was elated to hear of plans for Gehry to remodel the Art Gallery of Ontario. The project was plagued with infighting with AGO donors, but came to fruition giving Toronto, Gehry’s birthplace, their first taste of Gehry. The AGO features an amazing glass front that brings much needed light into the museum, the glass fused with metal seems to change colour, depending on the weather. The new grand entrance and Gehry staircases on the interior and exterior of the building are magical and the bold blue box on the roof contains new modern gallery space and compliments the OCAD University table top building next door. The AGO remodel also features new rental space that is often used for wedding ceremonies and other high profile events. Who wouldn’t want to be married in a Gehry space?

Media Harbour, beside the Rheinturm TV Tower on the Rhine River in Dusseldorf, is developing into a hub for arts and media production. This is the site of Der Neue Zollhof, a series of 3 Gehry buildings, more like sculptures of wind blowing into 3 sails on a boat. The buildings are brilliant with windows jetting out to maximize light and provide the best view of the Rhine, the exteriors coloured silver, red and white. The buildings are the perfect backdrop to the marina in front, and provide areas to relax and grab a drink or romantic dinner at the steakhouse with Gehry’s name. Der Neue Zollhof starts the transition from the Historic Old Town into the modernity of Media Harbour. Walking around the exterior, the shapes and use of materials again leave you in awe of their brilliance and Gehry’s genius. There is public parking right in the building if you want to start here and walk the piers of Media Harbour or head to the World’s Longest Bar in Old town along the Rhine.

Gehry’s first public sculpture was commissioned for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona. The Gehry Fish, a huge sculpture made of woven steel provides a landmark of the entrance into the Olympic Port and the former Athletes Village. Today the village has been turned into a beach destination with retail shopping, restaurants and cafes, hotels and a casino. Enjoy your day on the beach and your evening on one of the patios around the fish sculpture, its amazing to see it reflect the sun throughout the day and come alive at sunset.

NYC recently added to its Gehry collection with the opening of NYC’s Largest Residential Building at 8 Spruce Street. Located by New York City Hall and the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, the 870 foot tall stainless steel clad building gives the illusion of movement with its exterior resembling waves. The waves reflect the light through the day almost transforming its exterior in a dynamic way. With incredible views of the harbour and many bridges, all the amenities you could every want, 8 Spruce Street just might be the ultimate NYC address. While in NYC also check out the Issey Miyake Flagship Store at 119 Hudson, and the IAC Building at 555 West 18th Street.

I am looking forward to visiting the Dancing House in Prague, The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas and continue to hope that Toronto will one day have its own Gehry masterpiece.

Photos:
MY Gehry Gallery
Gehry Posts:
Basque in the beauty of the Guggenheim and more in Bilbao
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Barcelona Beach, Mountain & Fountain

Chic Outlet Shopping – Europe

By Steven Wright

Without a doubt one of the great things about traveling to Europe is the shopping. You have access to more of the luxury brand offerings and the up and coming designers labels that have yet to have major presence in the Americas. I have recently written about my trip to Outlet City Metzingen and have just discovered Chic Outlet Shopping.

Strategically located close to many tourist destinations, Chic Outlet Shopping is a series of shopping experiences throughout Europe. Each Village offers a unique setting, restaurants and cafes, tourist information and luxury and designer brands offering last season’s genuine merchandise at huge discounts. I say genuine merchandise as many US outlets carry lines that were created exclusively for the outlet stores, where Chic Outlet Shopping boasts last seasons (3-4 months old) lines that were sold on the high streets. The Villages offer Tax-Free shopping for tourists.

The Shopping Express, a round-trip luxury coach bus service with WIFI from many major centres in Europe offers a great way to have a girl’s shopping day or even take the whole family. Shopping Day Experiences give you the VIP treatment with round-trip luxury coach bus service with WIFI, a VIP Day Card, lunch and a 50€ Gift Card. Currently available at La Vallée, Fidenza and Maasmechelen Villages. Or even create your own shopping experiences including chauffeur driven transfers from your hotel, a personal shopper who will shop with you all day, provide feedback and their expertise to help you make the most of your day, and meals at the restaurants and cafes on site. A travel agent like myself can help you make those arrangements before you depart.

There are a variety of luxury and designer brands across the Villages, but each village is unique in their offering. Some of the brands include Alexander McQueen, Armani, Bvlgari, Burberry, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Mathew Williamson, Paul Smith, Polo, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, Valentino, Versace, Yves St Laurent and much much more. Check each Village for their offering.

Contact me to book your escape to Chic Outlet Shopping

London · Bicester Village
Dublin · Kildare Village
Paris · La Vallée Village
Madrid · Las Rozas Village
Barcelona · La Roca Village
Milan / Bologna · Fidenza Village
Brussels / Antwerp / Cologne · Maasmechelen Village
Frankfurt · Wertheim Village
Munich · Ingolstadt Village

Other Shopping Posts:
Outlet City Metzingen
Shopping in Berlin – ja, das ist gut!
Finding Karl, Jean-Paul and Christian in Paris
La Rambla is just a warm up to shopping in Barcelona

Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln

By Steven Wright

Berlin is one of my favorite cities in Europe, there is so much to see and do, and its so easy to get around on the incredible Deutsche Bahn rail system. But who has not dreamed of driving fast on the autobahn, seeing the German countryside fly by. With no speed limit on certain stretches of this national network of motorways it is an exhilarating experience. Grab a rental and remember in Germany brands like Audi, Porsche, Volkswagen, and BMW are domestic brands here!

Many familiar North American car rental agencies operate throughout Europe, and there are some Euro-based agencies as well, I would suggest dealing with a Travel Agent like myself to explore the rental options and ensure you get a vehicle that will suit your needs. Many of the vehicles are substantially smaller than their North American counterparts and there are no mini-vans. The prices vary from each supplier for the same vehicles. I would also suggest taking all the insurance coverage, especially if you are returning the vehicle to another location, the standards that existed at the rental location may be different than the drop off location. Go over the exterior with a fine tooth comb and ensure all scratches, dents, marks are documented on the rental agreement. Some travelers decline the insurance because they have coverage on their credit card, I would check to ensure your coverage includes vehicles rented on foreign soil.

Although I really wanted to drive a BMW, at the time of renting, my availability including a GPS system (another great to have in a foreign rental) limited my options to a sporty looking black Renault Megane. Little did I know that the German Family we were visiting around Stuttgart would ridicule me for driving a French vehicle in Germany. Needless to say the GPS was the right choice and ours gave us a variety of languages to choose from including British English, American English, Australian English, German, French and Spanish in either a male or female voice. It became a bit of entertainment determining who we wanted to instruct us on our journey. Perhaps one of my favorite instructions was, “please make a u-turn at the next available opportunity”. The GPS system is most handy to let you know about upcoming construction, sections of the autobahn that have speed restrictions and where there is a heavy volume of traffic on your journey and how long you will be delayed.

We were handed a credit card sized remote which controlled the locks on our Megane and then slid into the dashboard allowing the key-less car to start and we were on our way. The autobahn, as you would expect, is a lovely travel route. The lanes are wide and the countryside is picturesque, the exits are well marked and there is no speed limit for many portions of the highway. However, there are generally less routes and highways from one destination to another as we have in North America, the route the GPS suggests may be the only route to your next destination.

During our drive we started to notice the distinct smell of McDonald’s french fries in the car which was odd as we were no where near the fast food chain, but surrounded by fields of beautiful little yellow flowers. Later we did some research and discovered the fields were filled with canola to be harvested and thus causing the smell of french fries. Speaking of which, there are many rest stops on the autobahn, some of which offer picnic tables and public washrooms, while others have a gas bar and a restaurant complex. If you find yourself needing a stretch, don’t hesitate to stop in one of these convenient and clean rest areas.

Being from North America, the opportunity to drive legally above 120km/hr is a blast, I found myself easing into it, 150…160…170, 170km/hr was a comfortable speed for me although at one point the speedometer did read 191, it didn’t stay there long. The funny thing is, although I was driving faster than I ever had before, I was in the centre lane of 3 and on the outside lane Audi’s, BMW’s, and other luxury vehicles were passing me like I was standing still. There is a lot of green space between the cities and towns and you can generally tell you are coming close to another city by the massive TV towers. This is another reminder to watch your GPS for the speed limitations around these populated areas.

Düsseldorf was the first of our stops, a quaint little city on the Rhine. I would suggest heading down to old town, called Altstadt where most of the action is. The area is filled with great shopping including a main arkaden, little shops and boutiques to high end luxury brands. Stores and restaurants line the streets and as you get closer to the Rhine, remember to explore the narrower streets for more treasures. Notice the ominous statues standing above advertising standards, they are life like and seem to have a sense of longing as they look out to the river.

Take a seat on the busy patio of Schwan‎ (Mühlenstraße 2) and grab some lunch including an amazing chicken schnitzel which goes great with an Altbier, the beer of Düsseldorf. Spend your afternoon enjoying the Rhine and some drinks at the longest bar in the world Düsseldorfer Altstadt. Along with the bar is an amazing pedestrian walkway along the river, locals and tourists a like stake out a piece of grass on the hill and socialize and enjoy the sun watching the boats pass by.

Further down the walkway you will see the Rheinturm, the telecommunications tower of Düsseldorf. Here you can take the elevator to the viewing platform at the top for a great view of the Rhine, the two bridges crossing the river, and unobstructed views of the city. Right next to the Rheinturm, behind the marina I got my first glimpse of the reason for the road trip.

If you have been reading our blog, by now you will know that I am a little obsessed with the architecture of Frank O Gehry, and Düsseldorf was an opportunity to see Zollhof, another three of his buildings. The first thing that catches your eye is the middle building, its shiny silver exterior is reflecting the sunlight. The series of 3 buildings are amazing in shape, some with extreme rounded corners, others with angled corners but none at 90 degrees and all have protruding windows. One white, one silver, one red these buildings are simply art. Standing there I was conflicted with the choice of living in one of the buildings or living across the street so that I could see the buildings from my apartment.

While at Zollhof, enjoy a romantic dinner at Gehry’s, known for their prime beef. As tempting as it is, do not fill up too much on the incredible bread and artichoke spread because their steak is a meal in itself. I would suggest ordering a couple of sides to share with a great bottle of wine, but they are secondary to the melt in your mouth beef cooked to perfection.

After dinner head further down the Rhine for a walk around MedienHafen (Media Harbour). It’s a modern architecture haven, stroll down the pier and enjoy the brightly coloured buildings, some including figures climbing up the wall. Grab a coffee at one of the quaint cafes before heading back to Altstadt, which comes even more alive at night with more than 300 bars and discothèques.

You can easily spend a couple of days in Düsseldorf seeing the historic sites, shopping and partying the nights away. But while you are there I would suggest a day trip to Köln (Cologne) to see the Kölner Dom. On the way Köln it’s important to remember that the bridges connecting Koln were bombed during the war leaving the people cut off not only from the rest of their country, but to food and supplies during this time. The Kölner Dom was also badly damaged in the bombing. The church’s Gothic architecture, filled with spires and pinnacles, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has become Germany’s most visited attraction. The area around the church is filled with luxury shopping and many tourist shops selling souvenirs, many of which picture the bombed city and church.

Photo Galleries:
Düsseldorf & Köln gallery

Germany Posts:
East Side Gallery
Outlet City Metzingen
Potsdamer Platz – the platz to be!
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Shopping in Berlin – ja, das ist gut!
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
Schloss Charlottenburg the Palace of Berlin

Shopping in Berlin – ja, das ist gut!

By Steven Wright

When I travel, shopping is always on my list of things to do. I like to discover European brands that have yet to hit the North American shores and sometimes there are opportunities to catch amazing sales on the high end global brands. Then there is the opportunity to have an incredible shopping experience, either in a space that is like nothing you have seen before, or having the opportunity to chat with the up-and-coming designer whose items your are looking at.

Kurfürstendamm Strasse is the former West shopping district, from Budapester Strasse to Wittenburgplatz you can find everything from department stores to global brand flagship stores, lots of tourist shops, American fast-food restaurants, street food, fine dining and even farmer’s markets.

The first thing that strikes you is the WWII bombed remains of the Kaiser Wilhelm Kirche dominating the centre of the street. The area around the church has become the epicenter of Charlottenburg, with street performers, stands selling roasted nuts, dried fruits and other local fare. The area becomes a Christmas Market filled with amazing items through the holidays. While in the square, do not miss the opportunity to enter into the remains of the Kaiser Wilhelm Kirche to see the intricate decoration of the the interior and see a model of the structure that existed before the war. Then across the sidewalk enter the Memorial Kirche, amaze in the beauty of the blue glass brick surroundings in this peaceful space.

Back to shopping, there are a couple of locations of department store C&A. This is a discount department store with large sections for men, women and children, there is even a youthful section for teens. C&A, for me is cool, kind of like H&M was cool before landing all over North America. There are many C&A stores throughout Europe, but for me there is nothing better than getting a couple of pairs of European cut jeans for 29 Euro a piece. Also a place to get shorts, t-shirts, sweaters and underwear in a pinch.

Further down the street KaDeWe is not to be missed. You will first be drawn in to the brilliant window displays of Kaufhaus des Westens (department store for the West), and its amazing to see people lined up outside the door each day as it opens. On the first floor find many high end designer boutiques. Clothing for men, women and children, and home apparel on the next few floors. For me the pinnacle of this department store that elevates it over the rest is the top two floors. The first is the gourmet market where you can find everything from fresh fish and proteins, to vegetables, eggs and cheese, a wine store and much much more. If you can not find what you are looking for here, then it is not available in Germany. On the top floor, bounded by a huge solarium, is one of the best food experiences I have had. Grab a tray and travel through the large salad buffet, grills serving freshly prepared meals, freshly baked breads, homemade soups, coffee and tea station, amazing deserts, and more. After a long day of shopping its a great place to refuel. Across the street beside the parking lot you can check out their annex location for fabric, crafts and other supplies.

Kamps is a favorite stop along this strip. They have delicious baked treats, freshly made sandwiched and great coffee and espresso.

S & U Bhan Zoologischer Garten, U Bhan Wittenburgplatz, U Bhan Kurfürstendamm

Fredrichstrasse was to the East, what Kurfürstendamm was to the West, the high end shopping district. Here you will find flagship locations for high-end designer labels, luxury car brands and home decor.

My favorite location along Fredrichstrasse is Quartier 206. This Department store, designed by I.M Pei exudes luxury with its marble and granite floors, the exquisite decor and its triangular shaped glass ceiling. Inside find high end brands including Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Versace, Valentino and more.

U Bhan Freidrichstrasse

Hackescher Markt is the Soho of Berlin. Enter under the train tracks to discover a neighborhood filled with winding streets, quaint shops, restaurants and an energy from the people pouring off the sidewalks, sharing the crowded streets with trams and other vehicles. Many of the shops have a map outlining the shopping streets in this hood. There is a great variety of shops in this area, everything from a costume shop, to modern decor stores to independent clothing chains, and the area boats the very first Adidas, and Puma stores. There are lots of shops that represent local artists and their works, which are available for sale and a great way to take a unique memory home with you.

S Bhan Hackescher Markt

If you are looking for up-and-coming designers then I would make the trek to Schönhauser Allee. This area is filled with clothing, artist and home decor shops, and great restaurants. As its a little out of the core, this is the neighborhood that artists and young professionals live, its having a renewal and a great place to find original designs, artists work and other great finds.

After a day of shopping check out Villa Rodizio for dinner. This massive space features a very casual environment where you can relax and chat with friends all night long. The air of celebration is in the air, perhaps that is just the drinks that are flowing. The main attraction is the all you can eat buffet including a 3 metre vegetable bar that includes many prepared salads and hot vegetables and the proteins are spit roasted in the back. The serving staff travel around the tables, carving freshly cooked meats to the tables. Enjoy turkey, chicken, beef, pork, and lamb of the spit. For 20some Euro it is a steal!

S & U Bhan Schönhauser Allee

German Posts:
East Side Gallery
Outlet City Metzingen
Potsdamer Platz – the platz to be!
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
Schloss Charlottenburg the Palace of Berlin
Shopping Posts:
Outlet City Metzingen
Finding Karl, Jean-Paul and Christian in Paris
La Rambla is just a warm up to shopping in Barcelona
Chic Outlet Shopping – Europe

Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie

Frank O. Gehry's DZ Bank

By Steven Wright

Berlin is full of destinations for tourists to visit, there is something for absolutely everyone. This walking tour is only 4km and the route would only take an hour to complete, but with all the highlights on this tour I would suggest you would need most of the day to take in all these sites and attractions.

Start under the Sony Centre canopy at Potsdamer Platz, grab a coffee and a snack at the Arkaden before heading off. Check my post on Postdamer Platz for more information. Turn left on to Ebertstrasse, as you are walking down the street you will see the start of Tiergarten on the left side of the street.

At Hannah-Arendt Strasse, you have hit your first stop (or maybe it hits you): the Memorial to all the Murdered Jews in Europe. Immediately you are drawn in by the overwhelming size of all the black stone pillars lined up across the entire site. As you enter and start to walk through the pillars, the perspectives are amazing as you look down the long path to the other side. The pillars get taller as you get to the centre and the ground slopes downward, you find yourself lost in the maze. As the sounds outside are muted, there is a feeling of a presence here, that stays with you as you reflect on the significance of this site.

Continue down Ebertstrasse, you will be approaching the Brandenburg Gate, when you get to the front look down into Tiergarten to catch a glimpse of the Siegessäule, Berlin’s Victory Column in the centre of the park. Walk past the Brandenburg Gate (you will be back in a bit) and continue on to the next stop the Reichstag. Turn left onto Scheidemannstrasse to get to Platz der Republik.

As you approach the Reichstag you will notice the line forming up the stairs, this may discourage some tourists, but I insist its worth the wait. (If you speak German, there is a person who will go through the line escorting German nationals to the front.) Once you enter the building there is a security check before you are ushered into a large elevator destined for the roof. Once there you are drawn to the glass dome by British architect Sir Norman Foster. Walk up and down inside for an incredible view of the city. At the bottom there is a historic account of this imposing building’s history. Notice the council chamber below through the window and mirrored column, signifying the transparency of today’s German Parliament. Then walk to all four corners for the best view of Berlin.

After exiting the Reichstag, head back to the Brandenburg Gate. As you pass through the gate you will be in Pariser Platz. This is a great area to get the best pictures of the gate. My favorite building in this area is the DZ Bank building at Pariser Platz 3 designed by architect Frank O Gehry. While the building is unassuming from the outside, the real treasure is found inside. Although this is not really a public place you can go through into the reception to catch a glimpse at a masterpiece. Looking into the office building you can see Gehry’s reference to fish in the scale like glass ceiling over the cafeteria and the roof of the building, the reference continues in the back of the building with a huge structure over a staircase that look like organs. Its an inspiring space to be in.

From Pariser Platz head down Unter de Linden towards the TV Tower in Mitte. Take in the beauty of the old buildings, souvenir shops and restaurants. At Fredrichstrasse turn right. There is more shopping and high end retailers along the way. At Fredrichstrasse 71 you will find department store Quartier 206, designed by architect I.M. Pei. Whether you are in market for a Louis Vuitton bag or not, this store is a must see. When you enter, you are overwhelmed by the shine of the black and white stone tiled floors and the sheer beauty of the interior, don’t forget to look up to see the amazing glass ceiling made of Pei’s signature triangular pieces. You feel the elegance in this space.

Continue down Fredrichstrasse to one of the cold war access points between East and West Berlin and Checkpoint Charlie. This museum is dedicated to the history of this corner and the bravery and determination of Berliners who attempted to cross from East to West Berlin. The exhibits include many of the secrets and contraptions people used to gain access, risking their lives in many ways to do so. A must see.

Click to see my photo gallery of the Glass Ceiling walking tour

Germany Posts:
East Side Gallery
Outlet City Metzingen
Potsdamer Platz – the platz to be!
Shopping in Berlin – ja, das ist gut!
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
Schloss Charlottenburg the Palace of Berlin