After spending 16 Hours in Cologne we boarded what felt like the Hogwarts express and headed for just under a week in the history packed city of Berlin. The cross country ICE train was great, spacious and pretty easy to get to grips with, making the 6 hour journey enjoyable. A short S-Bahn ride later we were checking in to the Vienna House Easy Berlin, our hotel base for the next 5 days. After falling in love with the friendly staff, great room and lovely little quirks of the place we headed back down to the cafe/bar for some grub, beer and more importantly – planning! Mini pizza and beer scoffed we had circled, highlighted and scribble on our map, giving us directions for exploring. It turns out Berlin is pretty huge so time/area planning would hopefully give us a head start.
Day 1 – The Wall.
East side gallery, the longest stretch of wall still standing and home to the world’s biggest open-air mural. We skipped the museum but enjoyed walking along the wall, from Oberbaumbrücke, meandering along the river up to Alexanderplatz. Cake scoffed and coffee guzzled we were back on the streets headed for the Berlin Wall Memorial.
With information everywhere and a viewing tower to boot you can immerse yourself in the history of the wall. The weather was pretty grim, with not much cover but if anything this made the experience all the more powerful for us. The information at the memorial is brilliant and explains much of Berlin history, in a way that you can dip in and out as you please. Whether you’re after an easy, bite size history lesson or full blown account, the documentation center has it all. Completely free of charge too!
Museumsinsel (Museum Island)
Yes, it does what it says on the tin – a whole island on the river Spree dedicated to 5 museums, architectural wonders and academic buildings. Now, we’re keen for a museum or two but not full blown fanatics so we checked out what each museum had to offer before splashing the cash on entry fees. Research done we hit the Atlas and Bode museums. The admissions for Museumsinsel are linked so you can save yourself some money if you’re keen to visit more than one museum, or spread it out over a few days. It’s worth flashing your student or military ID before paying (and smiling sweetly) – the staff are friendly (if not characteristically German in their bluntness) and this could save you a few euros.
After seeing what felt like our billionth ‘Christ on the cross’ statue we were officially in need of some coffee (and cake, of course). Museum-ed and coffee-ed out we headed for Checkpoint Charlie. Packed with unappreciative tourists and bustling with soviet reenactors this was one step too far for us country loving crowd cringers. We took our photos, absorbed what we good and headed for a quieter street. I would recommend the spot, just not late afternoon/early evening if you actually want to get a feel for the place and be absorbed in the history. Call me a prude but it’s hard to connect with the history and the meaning of a location, when you have a black soviet-impersonator wearing sunglasses (at night) asking if you want a photo with him for ‘cheap price, for you €10’. The age old adage applies: go early, avoid the crowds.
We’d heard a fair amount about the Hackescher area, with most we spoke to recommending the area for food and drinks of all kinds. We were lucky enough to find one of the best tapas restaurants we’ve experienced (which is saying something, we love tapas!). Find a few hours, book a table if needed and get lost in the atmosphere at Yosoy Tapas. With delicious wines, ales and a vast array of fresh dishes, i’d recommend coming here of an evening and picking your way through the dishes that you fancy.
Once you’re full and sufficiently warmed, its worth a look in at the Hackesche Hofe – a collection of original courtyards that hold some lovely boutiques, including the Ampleman Tourist shop. Wandering around the courtyards and stealing secret moments around Hackescher we found the Kino Cinema alleyway, filled with artwork, graffiti and meme-propaganda.
New Years Eve, 2018.
Knowing it was going to be a late night, we took our time getting up and walked the city a little, people watching, sightseeing, ambling through the streets of Berlin. Then, after a lush meal, with sparkling cocktail in Mavericks, we donned all our warm clothes and headed out to see in the new year in Berlin.
Day 4 – A History Hangover Cure.
The Stasi Museum. For me this was a little information overload but also the final puzzle piece I needed to learn just how soviet rule occurred, when and why. I have to admit that before Berlin I was naive and uneducated, I thought the soviets were Nazis and vice versa, so the museums collection of artifacts and information tied this up nicely, putting in to perspective a lot that we’d seen from the wall memorial. The staff in the museum aren’t that friendly or welcoming I’m afraid, and you can only pay by cash on arrival but worth a visit if you’re keen to get even more clued up.
Just in case we hadn’t had enough soviet history I treated G (aka the history buff) to a trip to Treptow park and the soviet war memorial. The weather was on our side, giving us a cold, crisp gorgeous view of the memorial. With an ornate arch and engraved stone statues towering above you as you enter, this place instills a calm in you and pulls you in to the moment. A short climb up the steps to the mausoleum and the icy wind gripped us, wonderfully keeping us in the present, helping us feel the weight of where we were, being able to connect to the 7000 soviet soldiers the gardens are dedicated to.
Day 5 – Tiergarten.
‘Look, google is telling us to go in circles, it must be confused.’ No, trust google. Google was telling us that to get on to the Victory Column island (a roundabout surrounded by 4 lanes of very busy traffic) you’ll need to head down the subways and under the roads to come up at the base of the tower. For €3 each you can climb the steps of the tower and get views across the city, down Tiergarten to see Brandenburg Gate in all its glory. We didn’t climb. With our coffee levels running low and with a queue out the door we felt being charged €3 to climb 270 steps was a little cheeky.
Taking advantage of the road being closed after the new years parties we walked down the central reservation of Bundesstraße towards the Brandenburg gate. Photos taken, moment absorbed we headed to the Holocaust Memorial, a short walk away.
Another moving experience, walking through the columns dedicated to all those that suffered, with snow falling and sunlight casting ghosts around you. Unfortunately there will always be those who aren’t as respectful as you’d hope in such an area, so be prepared to bite your lip against those playing hide and seek between the pillars and don’t join the few that leap from one grave to the next.
Feeling a little subdued after another morning of history we were in need of some beer! We headed to a well recommended micro-brewery, Berliner Marcus Brau. For an ale lover, this micro-brewery/cosy bar is a great little pick-me-up. They even had a raspberry beer for me (a non-beer lover) to try! Beer gates open and in the mood for some more liquid culture we headed to a bar we found a few evenings before, Brauhaus Lemke. Being a chain of bar/restaurants the reviews for this place are hit and miss. After spending a while there we could see that they let people in depending on what staff they have/how busy they are. This is great if you’re let in, not so much if you’re rudely shouted at: ‘no, closed’ as most people are as soon as they walk in. If you’re lucky enough to be let in and served by one of the nicer staff members, i’d definitely recommend the Glühwein and deep fried Camembert!
Day 6 – Important buildings and more tapas…
With an early evening flight we had most of the day to get in a few last minute experiences and tourist tick-offs. First up – The Reichstag. It turns out you need to book your visit to the Reichstag in advance. This can be done online or at a kiosk across from the main building. Completely free, you just need to choose your 15-minute slot.
After standing in line for a cold half an hour (I imagine the wait was a lot longer the later in the day you leave it) we chose our slot (hopefully for sunset) and then scurried off for some coffee to warm up.
As we rode the bus through the streets to our next stop, it started to snow. Big, fluffy flakes coming down quite fast. We stepped off the bus and rounded the corner to find ourselves in front of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in a stunning blizzard. The Christmas market around the church, combined with fairy lights and snow made the church look magical. With free admission into the old building you learn of the historical importance of the church and surrounding area. I’d definitely recommend a visit to the church to add another heartfelt puzzle piece to the history of Berlin.
Snow lapped up and window shopping around the memorial church done, we were in search of some dinner before heading back for our booking at the Reichstag. Not happy with just one tapas dinner this trip, we arrived at tripadvisor recommended El Colmado, off Alexanderplatz. A great little restaurant with a wonderful waiter who had us smiling, mmm-ing and oohh-ing at the food and service he lavished on us. Bellies full, he sent us off with a shot (or three) of a lush Spanish Baileys-type liquor that definitely braced us for the cold walk to the Reichstag.
The view from the Reichstag dome is quite spectacular, allowing you to see across the city. We were lucky to see the sun dip below the horizon, casting a gorgeous light over this city that we had walked all over and got to know for the past week. As we stood there looking at the buildings and history around us we were able to reflect on our week away in Germany. For a panorama seeker like me, this completely free of charge attraction is definitely worth while and was the perfect ending to our adventure in Berlin.
Time to hit the airport and get back to reality. But where to next…