European Holiday Part 1: Berlin, Germany

By October 5, 2016 culture No Comments

So we went to Europe on holiday. This is part 1 of our trip summary–watch for parts 2 and 3!

It all started with Mike’s decision to run the Berlin Marathon. It’s a world marathon major—in league with the marathons in Boston, New York, London, Chicago, and Tokyo. These six are the marathons competitive runners want to race for the prestige, the fast course, or the rich history. The Berlin Marathon was Sunday, September 25, so we needed to arrive Wednesday the 21st to give Mike time to adjust and rest.

We left Chicago at 4:40 p.m. Tuesday, September 20, on Iberia Express for an eight-hour flight arriving in Madrid, Spain. Since Europe is seven hours ahead of CST, the flight time plus the time change equaled about 15 hours. whew! Our flight was great: The plane was newer, each seat equipped with those personal entertainment screens. We watched movies, I played some Tetris, we ate (surprisingly decent airline food!), and I tried to nap to pass the time. The flight was essentially perfect—very little turbulence and an early arrival at about 12:15 a.m. CST / 7:15 a.m. in Madrid. International flights arriving to Adolfo Suarez Barajas Airport disembark via a new, snazzy, HUGE terminal. Our gate must have been the farthest from the trams to the main terminal . . . because we had to walk—quite briskly—for like 15 minutes. Did I mention the terminal was HUGE? Lovely, but so big.

If you ever find yourself routing through Madrid, I would recommend 90 to 120 minutes between flights. After the 15-minute walk through the terminal, we waited 10 minutes for a tram, rode the tram for 8 minutes, then went through security/passport control at the main terminal. We ran to our gate and had just minutes before boarding. It was a tad stressful. But we made it!

Our flight from Madrid to Berlin was also on Iberia—an older plane, much smaller, very little air conditioning. I had to get in a happy place to settle myself, but that flight was also great—just about 2.5 hours, and just like that, we were in Germany.

Berlin’s airport is older and not nearly as big as I had anticipated. After exiting the plane, we emptied out right to our baggage carousel. We grabbed our bags and figured out which doors to exit—just across the room, really—and that was it. No processing. No lines. Done! Our driver was right there, and we commuted to the hotel. The airport is right in the city—super easy to exit, sort of like our little airport in Bloomington/Normal. I think the drive to the hotel was like 20 minutes.

Because this leg of the journey was all about the race, we booked our own stay with one of the race hotels—the Ritz-Carlton Berlin. It was fantastic, as you’d figure for the Ritz-Carlton! Our room was lovely and the staff friendly and helpful. The hotel’s restaurant was delicious—we had the endless breakfast buffet each morning, which meant we didn’t typically need lunch. The location was perfect, just southeast and one block from the Tiergarten, a huge park in the middle of the city. We walked to most of the historical sites—Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, and a memorial for the Berlin Wall (right outside our hotel). There were countless statues, monuments, and buildings to see, but we had to restrain ourselves because Mike needed to be as rested as possible for the race.

What we saw, we loved. This city is impressive. The history, the beauty, the culture. We noted that many, many locals use bicycles, scooters, or public transportation instead of cars, giving it a friendly feel.

berlinhistorySomething that took us by surprise, however, was how rarely Berliners use credit cards. Most restaurants, coffee shops, and cabs are cash only. Chain restaurants and tourist shops take credit, but we tend to seek out the local places when we travel, so we had to get plenty of Euros. Maybe 20% of the restaurants had English menus, but most places had an English-speaking server who could explain the menu to us. People were so kind! Another surprise: Many restaurants and shops are closed on Sundays, so we were happy to have help from the concierge for a food option that day.

We had some delicious food! Here are the places we adored and would go back to in a heartbeat:

restaurants
Das Lokal farm to table fare—outstanding food
Rotisserie Weingrun rotisserie chicken that melts in your mouth
Shiso Burger a funky, tasty little burger joint

coffee shops
Ben Rahim excellent cortado
Zimt & Zucker Kaffeehaus try the orange latte with cardamom and the hefekloesses (sweet steam dumplings)
berlinfoodAnd now for the marathon recap! The Expo was monstrous. We went on Thursday to avoid crowds, but it was still a madhouse. Only runners were allowed into the packet pickup area—so Mike and I parted ways, trusting we could find each other on the other side. Runners then had to show ID and registration confirmation to receive their bibs and a fabric bracelet that was heat-sealed tight on the wrist—both the bracelet and the bib granted you access to the starting area on race day. It was stressed that any tampering with the fabric band would disqualify runners from the race. (More on that in a bit.)

raceThe race started at 9:15 a.m. As with most races, the information recommended arriving 2 hours ahead to ensure you navigate the crowds and security in time to get to your corral. It was less than a mile’s walk from our hotel, so we left at about 7:20, arriving to the security area just after 7:30. The race starts just west of Brandenburg Gate, on Straße des 17. Juni. The entire street was gated, funneling runners to the security area in front of the Reichstag. Only runners were granted access to the start area and corrals. There was no way for spectators to get close to the start, as the entire Tiergarten was fenced off from Brandenburg Gate to the Victory monument—about 1K in all! This was some serious security.

We stood back from the security check for a bit before Mike went through—and we noticed a few panicked runners who had ripped off their fabric bracelets and left them in their hotel rooms. Poor things. Then it was time—Mike and I said our goodbyes at about 7:45, and he entered in to drop his bag and do a warm up.

Because the course winds around the entire city, I didn’t feel good about navigating public transportation to see Mike along the way. I did get to see him at about the 7.5K mark—he wasn’t expecting me, so when I spotted him and began cheering, it was super sweet to see him smile! Sadly, I could see he was hacking and blowing his nose—the poor guy got sick the Sunday before we left and had to race with a nasty head cold. But he looked great otherwise and was on pace.

I saw Mike again at mile 24.5. I could tell he was off pace, but as always, he looked great. Mike ran an awesome race, finishing in 2:34:20, less than 30 seconds off his best time, despite the illness that was zapping him. He placed 139th out of 40,000 runners! I’m amazed at his ability and discipline in this tough sport. He had nothing but good things to say about the race, the course, and the support. If you are looking for an international marathon, Mike recommends Berlin!

We were in Berlin from Wednesday afternoon to Monday afternoon. It was a wonderful start to our trip! Although we didn’t get to see everything, we saw plenty and enjoyed every bit of it.

berlinfun

*****

Berlin Step Tally: 85,749 (an average of 14,291 per day)
Weather: sunny with cool breezes, temps low 50s to low 70s

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