Berlin is one of my favourite cities. My first visit was back in August 2010 when a group of us spent a few days there at the beginning of a 10 day European trip. We then went to Prague by train, which is only 5 hours away and tickets are inexpensive (compared to train travel in the UK anyway!) and onwards from there, but that’s another blog entry. My second visit was June 2012 to visit friends and go to a gig to see one of my favourite bands – any excuse! By my calculations I should be due another visit this year… There is always something to see, I find it a bit like Paris – it’s good to tick off the main attractions but there will always be something new to discover if you visit again.
Here are my favourite bits about Berlin – some not so ‘traditional’:
FREE WALKING TOURS
The best way to start exploring a new city is to take a walking tour. Most cities have free walking tours based on tip-only basis. Some are independent, possibly students, some are run by companies which operate in several countries with local volunteers. In Berlin we did the walking tour with Sandemans. They currently cover 18 cities and I couldn’t fault them. The tour starts by the Brandenburg Gate, outside the Starbucks at 11am and 2pm. The tour is 2.5 hours, which sounds quite long, but it isn’t strenuous and includes a stop for coffee. It’s a great way to learn to navigate the city and learn the facts about some of the main sights. Amongst all of the main sights it also passes by the site of where Adolf Hitler died. Morbid as it is, it’s interesting to see this is just a car park now, the bunker is fully cemented over with no markings as to where it happened. We would never have found it without the walking tour. I seem to remember we tipped 10 euro each but you can do as much or little as you want and feel is appropriate.
What a wondrous building! Visit the dome for free and take in the views across the city. You have to register in advance now (or go to the visitors centre if you haven’t booked in advance to see if there are any free spaces). Hopefully this means you don’t have to queue up for the few hours we did. Don’t be put off with the airport like security – it’s a government building don’t forget! They provide you with a 20 minute audio guide to accompany your walk up the dome which comes in various languages also.
MEMORIAL TO THE MURDERED JEWS OF EUROPE
This is large memorial which you can walk in and around. Whilst the architect didn’t attach any symbolism to it (which I find hard to believe) it does seem to resemble a giant cemetery. There is a place of information underground which has several changing exhibitions and holds all of the known names of the Jewish Holocaust victims. It is an amazing place to visit but terribly emotional. I was the only person out of the eight of us travelling together who went in.
EAST SIDE GALLERY
This is considered as an international memorial for freedom. 1.3kms of the Berlin Wall covered in art work. It’s absolutely fabulous. I love it here. Plus there are some good quirky bars in the area and flea markets on Sunday’s.
BEER! & CURRYWURST
Visiting a traditional beer garden is a must! I went to the Pratergarten which is the oldest in Berlin. It is situated in Prenzlauer Berg which seems to be the area where the hipsters hang out and there are some great restaurants / cafes and other bars in the area. We spotted the lead singer of the band we were seeing that night in the Pratergarten too – very surreal! It was the time of the Euro 2012 and literally EVERYWHERE was showing the games – all of them too, not just the German games. Even the kebab shops had TV’s set up outside with crates for passers by to sit down and watch. You literally could walk down the street watching the game from shop to shop, everyone had TV’s outside. The atmosphere was electrifying. Currywurst / Bratwurst, whatever type of german sausage you prefer – has to be eaten too.
If you find a Photoautomaten, please do some photos! I was just reading about them the other day, I haven’t seen them for myself. Two guys bought some old photo booths, re-serviced them and have placed them round the city. So old skool! So much fun!
As with any large city there are plenty of museums to visit. On my last trip to Berlin I went to the DDR Museum. It’s a great interactive museum where you can learn about Berlin’s socialist past. It’s definitely one for the family.
This is a temporary structure …. ‘temporary’ meaning until 2019. The Humboldt Box is essentially a Blue Cube by the Berlin Cathedral. You can’t miss it. It’s just a couple of euro’s entrance which gives you access to the exhibitions, and access to the viewing platform. Stop for a drink on the roof terrace and be rewarded with great views of the cathedral and the TV Tower in Alexanderplatz.
Views from the roof terrace :
Berlin is blessed with some great street art pieces. Oranienburger Strasse in the Mitte area is a good place to explore (it also has some fabulous restaurants along it too). There is an old abandoned department store (also served as a Nazi prison too) which was named ‘Tacheles’. It was taken over by artists, free to wander around, quite ramshackled and graffiti’d everywhere but there were a few good pieces. All of the artists have vacated the property now and it has been closed so you can no longer visit. However the history in itself is pretty insteresting and worth a read: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kunsthaus_Tacheles .
I stumbled across a little street in Hackescher Markt which is covered wall to wall with some great pieces. If you know your street art, you’ll probably recognise a few of the artists. This one by Jimmy C is my favourite. I love his pieces in London that I have seen on Whitby Street and the one in Brixton of David Bowie. I’m not sure if this one is still in the Hackescher Markt or has been covered over now but I’m sure you will see other great pieces if not.
This is a favourite too painted right next door:
Yes, that’s right, look out for the traffic lights. The lights for the pedestrian’s feature a green man and a red man called the Ampelmann. They’re supposed to aid safely crossing the road but to be honest I was distracted by the cute little figures each time. There is even a dedicated shop where you can buy memorabilia from if you so wish.
BERLIN WALL MEMORIAL
My advice would be to stay away from ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ – far too touristy. The Berlin Wall Memorial is centrally located and has the only piece of wall which has it’s grounds behind it preserved so you can get a very good impression of what happened. It’s quite a solemn place, a good place for reflection and far from the madding crowds at Checkpoint Charlie. The ghost stations exhibition in Nordbahnhof S-Bahn station is well worth a visit too.
Finally – don’t forget when standing with your back to the Brandenburg Gate facing into the square – the hotel on the right hand side – Hotel Avalon – is THAT hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the balcony…….