You know when you go somewhere completely new and feel right at home? Yep, that happened last week in the gritty metropolis that is Berlin. I have been lucky enough to travel to some pretty interesting locations in my life but I gotta give it to Berlin, what a charmer.
It’s grey, it’s seriously cold (I am writing this in December) the architecture is harsh and there’s a very different vibe when you find yourself off the beaten tourist tracks and into the deep depths of graffiti laced Kreuzberg, or tracing the site of the Berlin Wall on Bernauer Strasse, famous for the successful and sadly, un-successful escapes from apartment blocks in the eastern parts of the city during the 28 year conflict.
This won’t be an all singing, all dancing glitzy city guide, but it will give a nod to my recommendations as well as share a few bits and pieces I bought whilst I was exploring Berlin for 4 days last week. I think I felt most at home in Berlin because it is a heavily creative city underpinned by history as well as art and design culture. Grab a brew, this is a long one!
Travel can be confusing in Berlin when you’re new to Germany and at first it wasn’t super clear how it worked, language barriers and all! My year 7-10 German skills were flawed. We travelled around the city with a 28 euro ‘Welcome Card’ which was activated for travel on U-bahn, S-bahn, bus and trams for 72 hours within zones A, B and C. Turns out you buy a travel ticket, validate it on the transport you’re using and away you go. The rest is history as the city runs on an honour system. This Vice blog post explains really well how ticket policing works in Berlin, but if I were to go again, I wouldn’t have wasted my money on a ticket! All in the name of schwarzfahren!
Jewish Museum: Whilst it isn’t heavy on reading content, the Jewish Museum is atmospheric and disturbingly moving. I don’t want to say too much, as visiting yourself with no fore-information will provide you with the most moving visit. But I recommend seeing the corridor of pillars in the ‘Garden of Exile’ which make you feel uncomfortable as they lean, tall and mighty whilst you stand on sloping, uneven cobbled ground.
There is also the Holocaust tower which is very disturbing and is essentially a gigantic concrete void with windowless walls and just a tiny slit of light that lets in light and sound from the street. You can hear the outside world in a vague way but the tower induces a seriously intimidating feeling of isolation, coldness and emptiness that is enough to send a shiver down your spine.
Berlin Wall Memorial: Commemorating the division of Berlin by the Berlin Wall and the number of deaths that occurred there the memorial houses a 60-metre section of the graffiti-laden concrete border as well as an information centre housing a tower to look over the divide between West and East Berlin. I have to say, the atmosphere around there is what I can only describe as, strange.
Photoautomat: One of the things that really excited me about Berlin was the hundreds of little photo boots dotted around the city, for 2 euros you get a trip of 4, analogue black and white photobooth images which are seriously charming. If you’re looking for a booth, check out the map here but the best part is ‘stumbling’ upon them and taking a few snaps.
One of the main attractions of visiting Berlin near Christmas is of-course the German markets! We’ve all seen them in major cities around the UK but nothing brings them to life quite like seeing them in Germany. We visited the main ‘Gendarmenmarkt’ just off Friedrichstadt it was 1 euro to enter and we ended up indulging in the delight of a quaint steakhouse housed in a wooden cabin for dinner. Mulled wine or cider is a must and you get a cool frosted beer glass to enjoy it in.
A cocktail (or two) was also enjoyed at the Monkey Bar positioned right at the top of the Bikini hotel and shopping centre. It offers lovely views of the city and also the zoo! I visited at night time but I reckon in the day the views of the animals will add to the experience. The jungle fizz is recommended!
Another honourable mention is Curry36, supposedly the best Currywurst in Berlin and the locals aint wrong. The little roadside shack serves traditional currywurst with fries which you can enjoy with a beer or soft drink around a little table outside. It was here that we met a lovely local lady who taught me about her native Basque culture as well as her recommendations on site seeing in the city.
If you’re looking for the best brunch in Berlin you NEED to visit Spreegolds just around the corner from Alexanderplatz. Their menu is an Instagram foodies dream serving the best smashed avocado on toast i’ve ever eaten as well as seriously delicious shakshuka bowls, acai bowls and vanilla lattes.
Oh where to begin with this section! Shopping in Berlin is insanely good, especially if you love arty homeware and dare I say ‘hipster’ clothing. Everything is very current to the millennial taste, Think scandi-chic with clean lines and the efficiency of German design. My recommendations to shop are Weekday, Schee, Who killed Bambi? and the Voo store. I barely scratched the surface to shop as much as i’d like in the 4 days however, here are a few things I bought from the above shops and the German markets.
Each of us took a disposable camera on the trip so that we could more organically capture places, people and moments from a different perspective without thinking: “Is this Instagram-able?” “This shot is taking room on my camera roll” etc etc. Granted, not all of them came out as is usually the way with disposable cameras but here are few in their grainy charm – Very Berlin.