Berlin is not a Love at first sight city, at least for us it wasn’t.
On arrival it can get a bit confusing in its colossal dimensions, we felt a kind of lost in space. But as soon as we started exploring in further detail, embracing the city’ flow we immediately got hitched by this wonderfully rich and complex spot.
One have to understand that there is not a high concentration of points of interest here, a well-defined city centre where all the landmarks are gathered. Instead it’s much richer, spreading out through different sections, several neighbourhoods each with a life of its own, which I’ll describe in detail later on.
We took advantage of the city’s flat topography and engaged in thorough bicycle exploration for 5 days, covering an average of 30km per day, everyday uncovering novelty. We really think this is the best mean of transportation to discover Berlin. You can transport your bikes in the subway, by paying an extra fee, which is a very big help to cover long distances.
We got very lucky with the weather and uncovered how valuable this is for Berliners that flood the innumerable public parks trying to catch every ray of sunshine available. This is a factor that fills the streets with life and enables you to commute with the installed culture.
Berlin nowadays is in fact very open minded, and one can feel the freedom flowing around. It is no longer bleeding from History wounds, which they don’t want to hide, instead they fully recognize it by turning old Nazi traces into public museums. For instance the Berlin Wall remains are now a favourite spot for public art manifestations, being covered by contemporary paintings, most of them with some degree of correlation to the former function of the wall or political intervention in general.
Unter den Linden is an enormous avenue that names the area surrounding it. Home of the Brandenburg Gate it spreads until Museum Island and the majestic Cathedral, a location regarded as the birthplace of the city.
It houses majestic buildings that survived the war and is a place of high commercial concentration with big walkways inviting you for long strolls that should include a deep immersion in the fabulous museums.
In this neighbourhood it can also be found the Gendarmenmarkt square, one of the most beautiful in Berlin, if not Europe, with two facing churches and the monumental Concert Hall. While here don’t miss out on the Fassbender & RauschEisschokolade (cold chocolate beverage as seen below), it is simply delicious!
Moving on to Kreuzeberg we find a big clash of cultures, apparently the area with the highest rate of immigrants, mainly Turkish. It is also a particularly favoured spot among the artistic community. So it is a great place to explore an alternative side of Berlin, and an excellent source of falafel!
Main attraction is the Jewish Museum, a great homage to this culture, mentioning all their great achievements and a constant reminder of the suffering imposed by past regimes.
Here you can also visit Checkpoint Charlie, to get a greater grasp of how the city was divided between the American and Soviet sectors by the Wall, with strong military upholds like this one to control the crossings during the Cold War period.
This district is specially prolific in bars, restaurants and clubs, with a choice range aimed at pleasing anyone. Club der Visionaere, on the boards of the Treptower riverbank, is one of the coolest spots.
The Mitte is the historic city centre. Totally rebuilt after the war it is now a very hip area where you can find the fashion district, cool design shops, boutique hotels and fancy restaurants. At the renowned Alenxanderplatz stands the Fernsehturm, or television tower, representing the highest point of the city offering a supposedly breathtaking 360º view of the city, if you are willing to wait in line for several hours to ride the elevator. You found out, to late, that it is possible to buy VIP tickets online at http://www.tv-turm.de/en/vip-tickets.php, to avoid all the waiting and for priority seating at the top restaurant.
At Oranienburger Straße one can still find the Kunsthaus Tacheles, an abandoned building taken over by artists, but living the constant threat of eviction. For know you can still visit the various art exhibitions and buy directly from the artists.
Not far, in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district, stands Mauerpark (Wall Park) a former part of the Berlin Wall, converted into a big public park that houses a gigantic flea market on Sundays which is unmissable. This is really much more than a flea, it is a massive gathering of people enjoying the outdoors in all kinds of forms, mainly grilling and drinking. The main attraction is a public karaoke organized in an outside amphitheatre were everyone who wishes to sing will have a chance to do it in front of an audience far greater than lots of professional singers! The ambience is relaxed sing along and non-judgmental, a perfect mirror of the open mindness around here.
One of the most charming areas of Berlin is the Charlottenbourg district, as this place has kept most of its historic charm intact despite the II World War. It is possible to endure a super enjoyable 3 km stroll, preferably a bike ride, with the river Spree always by your side in a fresh green surrounding, towards the Shloss Charlottenbourg palace. This former noble residence has lovely restored interiors and is surrounded by a luxurious garden open for public enjoyment.
Although this is a thrilling place to visit, it is fairly far from the central area, so I wouldn’t advise it for a 2 or 3 days short stay. In fact I wouldn’t advise such a short stay altogether as Berlin would be very hard to grasp this way.
The main commercial district is Kurfurstendamm, a very active area, bustling lots of businesses and rich in shopping facilities. Top brands can be found around the especially fancy avenues Kurf Rstendamm and Fasanenstrasse.
The main historic sight is the Kaiser-Wilhem-Gedachtnis-Kirche (Memory Church), an 1895 building, partly destroyed by 1943 bombings, which stands as it was left by this advent, a creepy touch nostalgia.
But most tourists are drawn here to check out the biggest European department store, the Kaufhaus des Westens, best known as KaDaWe. And one might ask what’s the point of visiting another department store, haven’t we seen it all after Paris and London? Well I guess that’s a fact, only if it wasn’t for the fantastic top floor, where an enormous food hall is nested, serving a spectacular array of sausages with simply delicious Sauerkraut, among other delicacies of all sorts. This solely can precipitate another trip to Berlin…
At the heart of all this commotion stand the lungs of the city. An enormous homonymous park, spreading out from the Brandenburg Gate until Charlottenbourg district, dominates the Tiergarten district. The park is perfect for outdoor living, with space enough for all sorts of activities, ranging from sports to grilling picnics, which are only allowed at specific locations.
This district is also famous for the house of parliament, known as Reichstag and the ultra modern Podsdamer Platz, born from war rubble since 1992 it is know a showcase of modern architecture with buildings from Renzo Piano, Helmut Jahn and Arata Isozaki.
Despite the initial confusion, Berlin has more than sufficient arguments to fall in love with. It can fascinate any experienced travelling soul!
As time goes by the city spirit sinks in quickly, turning it difficult to say goodbye. All time seems short to know Berlin deeply, we stayed for 5 full days, and with the bikes assistance covered a lot of ground, but much more was left to uncover. A next visit is mandatory and Potsdam, a nearby village known as the German Versailles, will be a priority.
We found Berlin, not only enjoyable to visit but felt great potential as a place to live, digging mainly the lifestyle and the infinite array of activities available on a daily basis.