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We departed Krakow a little after 8am and (aside from rest stops and a brief detour into Wroclaw, Poland) drove the ~600km straight through arriving at our hotel around 2pm. A four-to-six lane highway (starting as the A4 in Krakow) runs directly to Berlin, making the drive very easy. However, while the countryside is attractive enough (farms and forests), it’s a relatively uninteresting stretch of flat road as it lacked the vistas afforded by earlier segments of this trip.

Our hotel—a Marriott in the city center—is located in a residential area in the former East Berlin, a few blocks south of Unter Den Linden. As we arrived early, we had time to explore the city yesterday, walking a fairly large rectangular pattern north to Unter Den Linden (via Gendarmenmarkt), over to the Brandenburger Tor, followed by a slight detour to the magnificent Reichstag building, cutting across Tiergarten (which was fortified as a Euro 2012 Fan Zone), visiting Potsdam Platz (where we stopped for dinner), and back down Leipziger Strasse to our hotel.

The impressive Reichstag...

The impressive Reichstag...

Our first impression of Berlin? Meh… it’s okay.

Not being one who’s ever overly impressed by the “big sights” (pyramids at Giza? meh, too), seeing something like the Brandenburg Gate in person is enjoyable, but it doesn’t make the experience. Instead, I find the overall vibe/feel of a place—its architecture and environment—to be more important. And, Berlin (at least what I’ve seen of it) isn’t wildly appealing. Indeed, it’s sort of what I expected Eastern Europe—big cities in former Communist countries—to look like before visiting Prague, Budapest, etc. years ago.

Now my vision is finally realized in Berlin. While some of the modern architecture is arresting, there are also a lot of unattractive (presumably GDR-era) apartment blocks, as well as more recent attempts at contemporary and/or minimalist aesthetics that have failed to deliver (as it’s a fine line between ‘elegant simplicity’ and ‘stark brutality’). Given the history of Berlin, my criticism probably isn’t fair. It’s just that the city seems to be neither as spectacularly modern as Dubai nor as charmingly reconstructed as Munich.

Let’s see if our impressions change tomorrow.

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