Some cities have a special place in my mind and Berlin is one of them. You only need to start looking at the changes that have unfolded there within the last 30 years alone to know that Berlin is complex. I grew up reading Len Deighton spy novels based in cold war Berlin and somehow it has cemented itself in my mind as this creative, wounded, powerful place. No wonder it was on my travel list.
At the end of February, Harry and I took off for a long weekend in Berlin and it was every bit as cool as I expected. Here’s a little roundup of the highlights:
You can’t go to Berlin without taking in the history written all over the streets. There are the museums all over the city, the Jewish Memorial carpeting a central square near the Reichstag and patches of the Berlin Wall dotted all over.
It is definitely easy to do a walk around the big sights in an afternoon but keep your eyes open for the little glimpses of Berlin’s history everywhere you go. Jump on the U-bahn to Brandenburger Tor and have a good old wander around.
To be honest, with the context of the current political situation, Brexit and Trump’s mad wall declarations, it felt quite sobering to walk around the relics of the the last time division won over unity. It was a good reminder of why we are fighting against that kind of mentality and made me really hope we can avoid repeating our mistakes.
The Street Art
Street art is big in Berlin but it isn’t as obvious as you might think. Because the city is spread out into so many districts, if you aren’t in the right one, you might not spot it.
Head to Kreuzberg for rough and ready graffiti, to Friedrichshain’s art co-ops like RAW Gelände for the most incredible walls of paintings and of course to the East Side Gallery for the famous murals by the river. When you spot them, it is so worth it, especially when the city is grey and cold.
I love the eclectic nature of Berlin’s architecture- it actually reminds me a bit of Manchester. There are beautiful, grand old buildings, rough industrial warehouses, brutalist tower blocks and sleek, modern monoliths all tumbled in together.
Head to Museuminsel for old school grandeur among the national museums, Potsdamer Platz for incredible modern reinvention and Karl-Marx Allee for imposing communist styles.
There are a LOT of places to drink in Berlin! We managed a few but to be honest I think you could walk around most corners and find somewhere amazing. We tried to pick places for a bit of atmosphere.
Cafe Am Neuen See is by the water in the Tiergarten, with log fires and pretty fairy lights. It is a great spot for a quiet beer after a long walk through the park and I can only imagine that it would be perfect in the Summer.
For a bit of people watching and amazing views of the city, head to Monkey Bar. It overlooks Berlin Zoo and has ultra cool interiors plus verandas where you can sit and watch the world below- the perfect sundowner spot, with great cocktails.
Mein Haus Am See is one for the cool kids, with raw plaster and artwork drawn straight onto the walls. Great cocktails, good music and a good spot for pretending you’re part of the Berlin world. I don’t think I’m really quite cool enough for it but I loved it!
G&T Bar was the sophisticated choice, near Museuminsel. I love gin, so it was perfect and the entire menu is just all different types of gin and gin cocktails. Bliss!
Oh food. I tend to actually make most of my travel trips revolve around where we are going to eat and Berlin didn’t let us down.
Schwarzwaldstuben is an amazing choice for more ‘traditional’ german food- grab a beer and the spatzle to fall into a cheese and carb coma. So good!
Distrikt Coffee was our top brunch choice. The pastries were amazing and I have been thinking about those pancakes ever since. It was such a chilled out space but get there early- people were queuing by the time we left at 10.30!
Burgermeister in Kreuzberg was well worth a visit. Under the railways tracks in a converted public loo is a super cool, tiny burger bar with the best burger I’ve had in a really long time. Just look at it!
Milj & Schafa was another chilled out spot for coffee and cake too, after a long trek through Friedrichshain.
Near our hotel were both Rosenburger and Rosenthaler Grill. The first was another great burger spot (get the curly fries, every time) and the second was for a Donor Kebab. Being Cypriot, Harry loves nothing more than a doner and this is meant to be one of the best in Berlin. Cheap and really fricking good.
I always find that the thing I usually take away and treasure the most from trips is the atmosphere. Berlin had a great feel; creative, thoughtful, powerful. Little moments took us by surprise, like walking through Museuminsel at dusk as the bells started to chime, stumbling across the Photomat machines around Kreuzberg and wandering along the weekend flea markets.
It is incredible to be in a place where you can go from creative arts communes and squats to tended gardens, where there is river and parks, old and new all alongside each other. Berlin is a city of so many sections and I feel like we only scratched the surface. I feel like the whole city would transform in the Summer too… time to get planning the next visit?