Saturday, March 19, 2011

Girls Getaway to Berlin - The Wall

At the beginning of 2011, I received an invitation to visit Berlin, Germany on a fashion/shopping themed trip, which was hosted by Hotel Concorde Berlin. After some initial research, I was intrigued to learn more about this historic city that doesn’t necessarily register high on the list of top European destinations. I started my journey by flying from Florida to NYC, then directly from NYC to Berlin. The Berlin airport was one of the easiest airports I have ever been in, especially for a large city. We arrived at the chic Hotel Concorde Berlin just off the fashionable Kurfuerstendamm Boulevard, in the heart of the City West. While driving to the hotel along the boulevard, we immediately knew the hotel’s location would be very convenient as it was nestled in the city’s fabulous shopping area. The hotel opened in 2005 and boasts a very strong French feel (due to the Concorde Hotel Group being based in France) and a very strong art concept throughout the building. Some of the suites feature some incredible views of the city, and are perfect for entertaining, which is why many celebrities opt to stay at this property during their time in Berlin.

After dropping our things off at the hotel, we made our way to Literaturcafe for lunch. This quaint setting provided the perfect opportunity for us to relax after the long flight and learn all about our itinerary for the next few days from our tour guide, Jessica. The delicious food and Ginger Lemonade made the meal!

After lunch, we started our Urban Insider Tour with Gabriella of Berlinagenten to get an overview of the city and gain some important historical knowledge. Berlin is considered to be what NYC was in the 1980s. It is relatively inexpensive to live here, which is why artists and other creative types are opting to move here. Although it is a city with a lot of wounds, many people say the city is “poor but sexy” as it is tied with Barcelona for the European city with the most artists as it’s home to more than 450 art galleries. And where you find art, you also find fashion. Many Berlin labels are popping up as designers recognize the opportunities in this emerging city. Berlin has three fashion fairs (including Mercedes Benz Fashion Week), six fashion schools and many young labels, which make shopping here unique and fun.

During our tour, we saw the Holocaust Monument, the German Parliament building, the Brandenburg Gate (where President Reagan made his famous speech, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”), and (of course) what’s left of the Berlin Wall, which divided the city from 1961-1989. Little is left of the Wall at its original site, which was destroyed almost everywhere. Three long sections are still standing: a 263-foot piece of the first (westernmost) wall at the Topography of Terror, site of the former Gestapo headquarters, half way between Checkpoint Charlie and Potsdamer Platz; a longer section of the second (easternmost) wall, nicknamed East Side Gallery; and a third section that is partly reconstructed, in the north at Bernauer Straffe, which was turned into a memorial in 1999. Some other isolated fragments and a few watchtowers also remain in various parts of the city. Seeing the Wall and hearing the stories of how communist rule dominated people’s lives and prevented them from enjoying the basic freedoms that many of us only know as common life, made me deeply grateful for the democracy and freedoms we in the U.S. enjoy. It also shed light on the emerging energy you feel while in Berlin as this city houses people who can now travel from one side of the city to another and who can think and do what they want (versus what they are told).

After our information-packed tour, we made our way back to the hotel to enjoy a Jet-Lag Rejuvenation Massage at the hotel’s rejuvenating wellness area (how appropriate). If I ever find a man who can massage my feet like the masseuse did in Berlin, I will, without hesitation, marry him just for that skill alone :).

Our hosts must have known we needed a “pick-me-up” before dinner, so they appropriately scheduled a cocktail tasting at the hotel’s Lutece Bar. We sampled several Berlin concoctions, including the Berlin Beauty (my personal fave). After cocktails, we made our way to dinner at the Cookies Cream, which is an all-vegan restaurant about 10 minutes from the hotel. What the restaurant lacked in location, it made up for in fabulous food (the praise of a meat eater at an all-vegetable restaurant should not be underestimated). My favorite was my Brussel Sprout Cannelloni, which was delicious (even without meat). The fun beverages kept flowing with my new drink of choice, the Vodka Rhubarb!

PHOTO: In front of the Berlin Wall.

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