Are you planning a trip to Berlin? Or is it one of those places, always on the radar which you never quite make it to? I had been guilty of the latter for many years. For whatever reason other places always won the city break holiday lottery. More fool me as I discovered on my recent city break to this eclectic city.
A city once divided in two by a wall, is now a place which bears its tragic stories of the past like a badge of honour. Wherever you walk the scars are evident alongside aspirations of the new generation. There are so many layers to Berlin, peeling through each one made this city break like no other and it fascinated me to the core.
Today Berlin is revered for its freedom, creativity and trend-setting ways in all walks of life. With world-class nightlife, cutting-edge art, a growing culinary scene and affordable living, Berlin attracts people from all over the world. You can now add one more to the list (moi) and possibly more after you read why it’s become one of my favourite cities.
1. Steeped in recent history
Berlin’s darkest days are so current and relevant to today’s society you’re guaranteed to know someone who may remember the construction of the Wall or like myself have memories of watching its fall. Some may even have grandparents who remember the atrocities of World War II.
It’s part of our generation, which is probably why I felt so emotional and compelled to see where the Nazis were based, discover all the courageous escape stories from Checkpoint Charlie (the most famous crossing point between West and East Germany) and touch the Wall which divided so many for so long.
When walking around you need to look closely at your surroundings. Bullet holes still remain, as a lasting reminder of the dreadful events which took place.
The Stolpersteine (stumbling stones), are square brass plates to commemorate people persecuted by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945. Laid into the pavement with the name and fate of the victim in front of their last residence.
Another poignant tribute is The Missing House on Grosse Hamburgerstrasse. Walking by you may not even notice the gap at No. 16, a block destroyed by Allied bombing. The preserved space is a haunting memorial of the effects of World War II. Again, the plaques on the walls of the adjoining buildings exhibit the names of the last residents of the apartments in the missing block.
This harrowing period of European History is not hidden away but instead used as a reminder to ensure these horrific events never happen again.
2. Berlin will help you to be thankful
It’s evocative monuments are what makes Berlin so distinct from other cities I’ve visited. Most importantly it doesn’t exploit its wrongdoings either, many of the memorials and museums to World War II are free. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe or colloquially known as Holocaust Memorial is Germany’s central memorial to the Nazi-planned genocide during the Third Reich.
When you wander through the football field sized space made up of 2,711 concrete columns of equal size but various heights rising from the uneven ground. The further you venture you’re overcome by a feeling of disorientation, confusion and claustrophobia. Moved to silence I walked out appreciating how precious and valuable life is.
In 1989, 28 years after its rise the Berlin Wall fell. The remaining 1.3km stretch is the largest open-air mural strip known as the East Side Gallery.
It conveys the global joy and jubilation of its demise through a 100 paintings by 129 different artists from 20 countries.
Most are a direct reflection on the political state of the world when the wall came down, however some are as relevant today as they were back then.
Home of the German Parliament, the Reichstag is another historical site. Built in 1849, its had a tumultuous history with it being burned, bombed and abandoned. What draws more than three million visitors each year is the spectacular large glass dome at the top, representing the political transparency of the city today.
Visitors can climb the dome to get amazing 360-degree views of Berlin. Be warned, don’t make the mistake we did. Admission is free, but you must make reservations online in advance to enter. Epic fail.
3. A labyrinth of hidden courtyards
Whilst meandering the streets it pays to keep your eyes peeled to enter a world which lies hidden behind the façades. Berlin’s hidden courtyards are some of the most enthralling spaces in the city. Originally built to separate social classes and used by the lower class, they’re now charming gardens surrounded by commercial and residential dwellings.
By far the weirdest and coolest courtyard in the city is Schwarzenberg Haus. Gentrification hasn’t hit this little spot and it’s home to hidden shops, bars, cafés and museums. The backyard is now famed for its streetart, so expect to bump into all the Insta/Selfie massive.
Hackesche Höfe is the famous and largest consisting of eight inter-connecting courtyards which have been wonderfully restored. They’re full of upmarket apartments, galleries, boutiques and even more cafés.
It’s one of Berlin’s trendiest spots, so if you’re after a happening nightlife – this is the place to come.
4. It has its own Museum Island!
You’ll find Museumsinsel in the middle of the River Spree, the incredible complex of five treasure troves is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Depending on your interests there really is a museum for everyone.
You have the Altes Museum (Old Museum) for Greek, Etruscan, and Roman art. The Neues Museum (New Museum), which houses the famous bust of Ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti. The Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), is a national art gallery with Neoclassical, Romantic, Impressionist and early Modernist artwork. The Bode Museum for sculptures, Byzantine and Antique art. And visitors can see the phenomenal Ishtar Gate of Babylon at the Pergamon Museum.
If you love your museums, it’s best to buy a three-day pass to fully appreciate them. Time not on our side we went for the Alte Nationalgalerie. Being in Europe we focused our limited time on European art.
5. The vegan capital of the world
Berlin has become a vegan mecca, boasting an impressive 471 restaurants catering for vegans. As a vegetarian travelling to Germany for the first time – this blew my mind. This immediately kicked to the kerb the sausage guzzling meat fest images clouding my mind.
Schivelbeiner Strasse is also the world’s first street dedicated to all things animal product-free, known locally as Vegan Avenue. So it won’t surprise you to learn it’s also home to the world’s largest vegan grocery store chain – Veganz.
For someone who actively seek outs veggie friendly versions of local dishes. Hunting down the popular street food, currywurst in vegan form came high on the list. Curry at the Wall is the place to go. Made from Seitan and wheat protein the vegan currywurst came with a rich spicy curry sauce (suspiciously like ketchup topped with curry powder) and served with crisp fries. It was great to indulge in a German foodie staple version I could enjoy.
6. Good food is easy to find
Continuing on the gluttonous theme. I discovered there is more to Berlin’s culinary scene than just meat, potatoes and giant steins of beer. Although this non beer guzzler did find some fruity varieties to tickle her taste buds.
The eclectic melting pot of diverse communities brings influences from around the world such as Turkish, Arabic, Vietnamese and Italian. Alongside the healthy conscious trends like the vegan explosion mentioned and the increasing number of haute cuisine establishments. Let’s just say you’re completely spoilt for choice and your main problem will be narrowing down the restaurants.
Only in Berlin would you head to a Japanese-American restaurant for breakfast. Whilst the canalside Defne in the very cool Kreuzberg pandered to my Turkish cuisine cravings.
There will be a dedicated post on my foodie adventures, as I have so much more to say – so stay tuned!
7. A Smorgasboard of Architecture
Berlin’s history has left the city with a diverse assortment of buildings. Nazism, Communism, social democracy and capitalism have all left their mark on the architecture.
From the remains of the most political structure in the world – The Wall, to classical buildings and modernist architecture in Potsdamer Platz.
You’ll be amazed walking around but my favourites included the retro 60s Kino International cinema on Karl-Marx Allee in the former East Berlin.
Until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it hosted the city’s premieres. It’s still a working cinema today, so next time I definitely want to experience watching a film there.
The neo-renaissance Berliner Dom known as the Berlin Cathedral is located on Museum Island. Completed in 1905, head to the top of the cathedral for some spectacular city views.
The Fernsehturm, an iconic television tower close to Alexanderplatz in Berlin-Mitte soars 368 metres into the sky. Constructed in the late 60s by the government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), it was a symbol of Communist power. The lift will take you up at speeds of 6 metres per second to the observation deck for incredible 360-degree panoramic views out across the entire city.
Brandenburg Gate is one of Berlin’s most important monuments. A symbol of Berlin and German division during the Cold War, it’s now a national symbol of peace and unity. No visit to the city is complete without seeing this landmark.
8. Tour Berlin in a Trabi
Forget the regular hop on hop off tour bus. If you want a unique way to see Berlin, drive around in a vintage Trabant colloquially known as a Trabi. The vehicle epitomised life under the Soviet rule, with a 13 year waiting list before the average East German could even purchase one.
Today, tourists can ride the slow and noisy car around some of Berlin’s most historic sites with Trabi Safari. The cars are self drive and each can take up to four people including the driver. For 75 minutes you follow a guide who provides commentary along the way through a crackling one way radio.
You need to hold a valid driving license, but be warned it’s not for the nervous driver. Confidence in manuel driving is a must in Berlin traffic. It’s not the easiest of cars to drive but I highly recommend it. We booked a tour on the first day and it gave us a great orientation of the city. Hands down one of my best city experiences!
Are you tempted you catch the next jet plane to Berlin? Have you been, what did you love? Let me know in the comments box below?
You may also find my review of our accommodation useful – Hotel Review: Hotel Zoe By Amano Group Berlin
Here is the highlights video from our Berlin adventures:
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