So I was taken to Berlin as a surprise for my big 3-0 birthday and since a lot of people were curious about the trip, I decided to share this blog from our 3 days and 2 nights in das capital.
11th Dec: My first impression of Germany as we touched down was formed after visiting the airport toilet: functional but no frills!
We arrived at our hotel, the Park Inn, in the centre of Alexander Platz. Around the corner was one of Berlin’s landmarks; the famous TV station with a restaurant at the top. After we dropped our bags in the luggage room Melissa and I meandered around soaking up the atmosphere. There were a load of “Weihnachtsmarkts” (Christmas Markets) peppered around the city. They looked like what I consider to be ‘proper’ European, in the style of log cabins.
We decided to head to the Brandenburg Gate but it was a bit of a cold and wet day. However we pressed on, dipping in and out of the markets along the way. My first issue (probably common if you’ve ever travelled more than an hour with me) was that I needed a toilet break. WHERE ARE ALL THE TOILETS IN BERLIN?!
Melissa and I ducked in a nearby McDonald’s only to face bitter disappointment. They didn’t have a bathroom. So there was a lot of mincing in the rain until, as we neared the Brandenburg Gate, Melissa spotted an exhibit dedicated to German statesman Willy Brandt. Inside there were toilets. TOILETS! Hallelujah.
The Brandenburg Gate was beautiful. It is exactly what you’d expect. There were droves of tourists but it wasn’t overwhelming. In fact Sunday was pretty quiet. Close-by you’ll find a Jewish memorial made up of concrete bricks. Initially I didn’t think much beyond the poignancy of the piece. However try walking through the pathways in-between the slabs and you’ll feel swamped and overpowered by the increasing size of the blocks. I think it achieved something really poignant.
Further on we arrived at Potsdamer Platz’ Christmas market. Driven back by the rain and a lack of an umbrella, it was time to return to the hotel. So at the station we picked up some essentials; crisps, apple juice and this mammoth can:
For 1.99 of your finest Euros you can get your paws on a 1 litre giant can of Faxe beer (10% vol). To be perfectly honest I just wanted to buy something with the novelty of a litre can. I had no expectations on the taste. We continued ducking into the traditional Christmas markets but sadly discovered most stalls begin closing up from 9pm. This left us hungry so we found ourselves in “Currywurst Express” a fast-food chain. We were served by a ruby-haired woman, totally eccentric and German, who muttered phrases like “wunderbar”, “lecker” and “fantastisch” as she prepared our meal. In the markets the currywurst looked tempting; the lure of thick sausages lathered in a curry sauce made us hungry. What we were served here was a weird concoction of bratwurst with ketchup and sprinkled curry powder. I later learnt that this is what currywurst usually is! The verdict? It was oddly nice (even addictive) in a bizarre-student-meal kind of way.
12th Dec: Today our aim was to visit Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall. However we ended up on several detours. Most of our best travel memories are made this way. There was a cool art shop off the beaten track which we popped into. The studio was owned by artist Klio Karadim who designed all the pieces being sold. We bought a lovely print of one of her paintings and she kindly signed it for us!
About 50 paces around the corner we stopped for a hot chocolate at the “Zum Nussbaum” (Walnut Tree Inn). Nice and very thick, perfect for a windy Winter’s day. After a short break we were back on our way. Before Checkpoint Charlie, we passed the biggest hot air balloon in Germany (maybe the world?). Believe me, it was huge. You can go for rides on it but that was not on the agenda today.
We finally reached our destination and spent the rest of the afternoon/early evening in the “Topography of Terror” museum which recorded Hitler’s rise to power. Entry is free and the exhibit was very moving, really educational and provided much food for thought. Between the museum and the sections of the Berlin Wall outside, the experience was a sober reminder of how history could easily repeat itself.
On our way back we passed a souvenir shop, where Melissa posed in an iconic Trobi car and we bought authentic pieces of the Wall to bring back.
By this point it was evening and we passed the Brandenburg Gate again, but wow was it spectacular. The gate by night was breathtakingly lit up. I’ll add a photo of this soon!
Back in the hotel we started on the Faxe beer. It was surprisingly nice. I prepared my palate for something bitter and fizzy but it was smooth on the way down. This adequately warmed our cockles and we chased the litre beer with a Bailey’s hot chocolate from the market on Alex Platz.
10 minutes later I needed the toilet. Quelle surprise. This time I opted for a public lav. 50c. BEST TOILET IN BERLIN SO FAR. Super clean and spacious!
Then we tried currywurst for the second night. This time it was from a Christmas market and it was a lot more of what I expected. It’s delicious with a side of chips. Proper Winter food. For dessert Melissa and I shared a traditional Trdelnik pastry. Yum!
13th Dec: On our last day we took a self-guided street art tour (http://www.freetoursbyfoot.
Along the way we were guided into Rosenthaler Strasse which hid an amazing courtyard filled with tons of arty murals.
After lots of exploring and poking around we exited the courtyard and stopped for a drink in the neighbouring Cinema Café. This is a cool little place with a great atmosphere. Not at all contrived, it felt authentic and the décor reflected its character. This would be my kind of date venue.
Swiftly after, we jumped on the train to Berlin East Side for the next part of our tour. It took us to the longest stretch of the Berlin Wall still standing. Following the trail around, we looked at all the artists commissioned to paint over it. The experience was again very moving. The Wall only came down in 1989. I have memories from 1989! Now in 2017 the political climate mentions more walls – figurative and literal – forgetting how people in our own lifetime had died fighting to scale them.
After the tour had concluded, Melissa and I ambled by the river and on the way we found “Scheers Schnitzel”. Ranked #34 of restaurants in Berlin on Tripadvisor, of course we had to take the opportunity to try German schnitzel!
I went for a Schni Posa for 5.50E and a small beer which really complemented the meal. The schnitzel was tender and not at all greasy. The chips were tasty and the small salad which included sauerkraut worked well with all the flavours. The restaurant itself looked very trendy (patrons’ messages and flyers pasted to the walls) without the pretentiousness of similar places in London.
It had a rough and ready feel whilst actually being really clean and hygienic! I’d go back and would recommend a visit for authentic food with a cheap price tag.
Back in Alex Platz we only had a few hours before our flight. Outside C&A we stumbled on a street performance by a rapper called Infidelix. We really enjoyed his music and the performance was an entertaining ending to our trip.
Before we got the train to Berlin Schoenfeld airport we grabbed some deep fried cauliflower with tartar sauce. I have to say, this wasn’t one of my favourite snacks of the trip. Anyway, although the train to the airport only takes 30 minutes, there is also a half hour wait between departures. So make sure you leave enough time to find your train and board it otherwise your schedule will be pushed back by quite a bit.
So that was my city break birthday to Berlin!
Berlin does not have a lot of public loos (that I could find) and the ones out there charge between 50-75c. How’s that for spending a penny! My tip would be to nip into a museum or gallery to find toilets which are free and usually well maintained.
The city is a really interesting contrast between beautiful architecture and pre-fabricated buildings. I felt like this reflected the different sides of its history; the celebration of intellectual pursuits and the dark days of oppression.
During Christmas the streets are filled with the smell of mushrooms. I love mushrooms but I found this smell to be too stinky for my tastes. Just so you know.
There is some great daytime TV tat in the form of German police shows “SOKO Stuttgart” and “Notruf Hafenkante”. They were faves to watch whilst getting ready in the hotel.
Everywhere felt chilled and laid back. I have never stepped into a calm floor of Primark until this trip. Wonders never cease. Berlin was unexpectedly relaxed. I loved this.
My experience of Germans on this trip was that they will push and shoulder you. No one seemed to bother looking around their own bodies for nearby people. Brits have an apologetic sense of space and I definitely don’t think Germans share this attitude. Perhaps this opinion will change with more travelling through Germany.
If you like to explore, try a self-guided tour. Walk around and get lost on a detour – who knows what you’ll discover! Berlin is the sort of city you can lose yourself in and walking saves a lot of money on travel passes.
Berlin is soooo trendy and has this push of creativity without the affectation and pompousness of other hip areas you may find in, say, East London. I didn’t feel there was a problem with gentrification and I guess that’s what makes me love its authenticity. Poorer districts are still poor despite its trendiness. It also feels like the art scene here was a necessary reaction against the difficult history the city has survived through, rather than a middle class indulgence.
Would we return again? Most definitely! We’d like to check out the live music/raving scene. I’d also love to explore the city’s cinema history and film haunts.
Berlin works well as a short city break but the capital has so much to offer than you may find yourself wishing you stayed longer or coming back in the future.