We love when past employees of Rail Europe reach out, wanting to share their travel experiences. Debbie Johnsen did just that. She’s currently the Interactive Marketing Director for The Leading Hotels of the World, and has had the opportunity to travel to some great European cities such as London, Milan and recently, Berlin. Understandably, Debbie loves grabbing a transit pass and riding the underground rails to really experience an urban center – as she did in Berlin. She had a great time “getting lost” on the East side of city before emerging at Alexanderplatz to find eclectic shops and great public art.
Before embarking on this solo journey to Germany, we gave Debbie a Eurail German Pass in exchange for writing about her trip. When she’s not traveling, This native New Yorker can be found practicing the fiddle, wandering the MoMA, or enjoying time with her two daughters.
Berlin to Frankfurt – May 2011
Traveling with a German Railpass
By Debbie Johnsen
Halo Berlin! A city that had been on my wish list for years. I was traveling solo, relying on my iPad app city guide (and a very limited vocabulary of danke and bitte.) I would be spending two nights at the Hotel Palace Berlin, a five-star hotel located near the famous Ku’damm shopping district and Zoological Gardens. The perfect location to start exploring the city.
My first stop on Monday had to be Berlin‘s glorious golden angel. After a short walk to Tiergarten, I viewed the Siegessäule monument high above. She is the perfect compliment to the historic Brandenburg Gate, which bookends the avenue. Next, I headed to the Bauhaus Archiv, located in an iconic, modern building. There, you can find furniture, drawings, photographs, and more from the design school masters. It is a must for any 20th-century art enthusiast.
I saved my second day for the East side of the city. Much has changed since the Reunification in 1990, and there is a lot to experience. I rode the U-Bahn to Potsdamer Platz, a bustling center of commerce that grew out of a once-barren no man’s land between East and West.
Just blocks away, pieces of the Wall are still standing, as a reminder of the city’s divided past. I took a tour led by a guide who had spent his youth behind the Wall. As a child, he would go to the top of the Fernsehturm (television tower) to catch a glimpse of the West. Much has changed in the past 20 years, but you can still see the former DDR government buildings that line the main avenues. There are also many vibrant, eclectic neighborhoods to explore, with boutiques selling clothing from local designers and outdoor cafes.
On Wednesday, it was time to say auf wiedersehen to Berlin and begin my German rail journey. I was departing from Hauftbanhof, the large, modern station located in the center of Berlin, easily accessible by U Bahn, bus, or taxi. I had a 1st Class seat reserved for the 8:30 ICE train to Cologne (Koln) with a transfer to Bonn. The track, coach number and seat assignment were shown on my reservation so I knew in advance where to go. In addition, the departures were clearly displayed on boards to confirm the track.
Once the sleek ICE pulled into the station, I found my coach by the digital display next to the door. An attendant helped me lift my large bag, and there was a space near my seat to store it. I put my carry-on in the overhead, and settled into my window seat.
Attendants were available to serve food and drink from the menus provided in English and German. Before I knew it, we had left the Berlin city limits and were traveling through small towns with centuries-old churches and charming row houses.
After working on my laptop for a while, I decided to have lunch in the dining car. There were a variety of sandwiches and entrees to choose from, including a few specials featuring local white and green asparagus. I decided on the meatballs and potatoes with a sparkling water to drink. Everything was delivered to my table within a few minutes.
It was a pleasant surprise to see the famous Cologne cathedral rising high above as we pulled into the station. I only had a few minutes before my connection to Bonn, or I would have stopped for a tour.
The regional train to Bonn arrived on the same platform as the ICE, so it was an easy transfer. I was in the Bonn Hauftbanhof in less than 20 minutes. I decided to take a break to enjoy a sweet pastry and coffee in the quaint town center, just across from the station.
There were many taxis available at the station, so I hired one to take me to the hotel Kameha Grand Bonn. This bold piece of modern architecture sits directly on the Rhine. The hotel’s theme is “Life Is Grand”, and it is conveyed throughout – from the large glass bells that welcome visitors at the entrance to the vibrant red and black design features. It is a truly unique luxury hotel experience.
While in Bonn, I had the chance to sample classic German cuisine such as wurst and schnitzel, along with a local specialty – Gummi Bears. The Haribo candy factory, the world’s largest manufacturer of gummy and jelly sweets, was founded in 1920 in Bonn.
Plus, no trip to Germany would be complete without some beer tasting. Cologne produces a fine light beer called Kolsch which is served in long, thin .2 liter glasses. It is sometimes served mixed with cola, to provide extra sweetness. Hearty Weiss beers and darker brews are also on tap in most pubs.
After one last toast to Deutschland, it was time to return to New York. The ICE would take me from the nearby Siegburg/Bonn station to Frankfurt airport in less than 40 minutes. When I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Lufthansa check-in desk just feet from the train platform. I was happy be relieved of my large bag (just shy of the weight limit after buying some souvenirs), and headed to the terminal for my flight back home.