A Cool Vibe
When thinking of Berlin, concrete buildings, bleak cityscapes, grey weather and of course, the Second World War and Hitler come to mind. When we visited the city, the sun was shining (most of the time!) and we discovered funky bars, excellent restaurants and an edgy, but cool vibe.
Our Base in Mitte
We arrived early on Saturday morning with our friend Nicola, curtesy of Easy Jet who delivered us for a bargain £60.00 return from Gatwick Airport. The train from the airport was easy to find and before we knew it we were in the city. (It’s worth mentioning that if you are ever in Berlin, you have to validate your ticket in a machine before boarding a train on the U-Bahn or you may receive a hefty fine!)
We stayed at Hotel Calma in Mitte and it turned out to be a good choice. Centrally located, the modern hotel was on a quiet street and had a large courtyard. It was only a two-minute walk from some great bars, restaurants, shops and a U-Bahn station. Museum Island was also nearby. Perfect. The staff were friendly and helpful and the room spacious, comfortable, spotless and secure.
Two hours later we were sitting outside at an Indian restaurant just around the corner from our hotel. Sipping on ridiculously cheap but fabulous cocktails, we enjoyed good food basking in the sunshine.
Bar Hopping in Kreuzberg
Later on we checked out Kreuzberg. The area was initially known for its largely immigrant population and is now stomping ground to a diverse mixture of punk rockers, hippies, anarchists and folksters. With cool cafes, bars and restaurants we were spoilt for choice. We hit a couple of bars, soaking up the atmosphere, and stumbled home after a good first day.
Sunday Morning at the Flea Market
On Sunday, we headed for Mauerpark Flea Market. As the good weather continued, we decided to walk from the hotel. We arrived for opening time at 10.00 am. The place was already buzzing, packed with different types of stalls, antiques, local artists selling their wares, aromatic food stalls and bars. Something for everyone. Ku tried currywurst, which went down a treat.
After soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying some food and drinks, we watched a little of the live entertainment and then walked back via the Jewish area. Our next destination was the neighbourhood of Schoneberg. It was fairly quiet on a Sunday afternoon, but full of interesting and quirky establishments. We had a late lunch and a couple of drinks sitting outside in the sunshine.
All that Jazz
We rounded off our evening at B Flat Jazz Club. At twelve euros cover charge, it wasn’t particularly cheap, but every table was within close proximity to the stage. The band were excellent and it was a perfect way to finish our day. The service was faultless and a special mention should go to Nora, who single-handedly served the whole club with food and drinks.
The following day was dedicated to culture. There were so many museums to choose from, but we opted for the Pergamon, Neues and the Jewish Museums. The Pergamon Museum is subdivided into three sections -antiquity, Middle Eastern and Islamic art and the exhibits are re-produced in the original size.
Reconstructed monuments included the Pergamon Altar and the Market Gate of Miletus. Although the altar was unfortunately undergoing renovation until 2019, there were several exhibits worth a look, including Ishtar Gate from Babylon and the Market Gate of Miletus. The Neues Museum was next on our schedule. The building itself is rather stunning and houses the beautiful painted limestone bust of Queen Nefertiti, which is 3300 years old.
In the afternoon, we made tracks to the Jewish Museum, one of the largest of its kind in Europe. The main building is Baroque and the other section which is attached, is modern and deconstructive in style. The museum is packed with exhibits telling the story of the history of Jewish life.
A favourite feature was the Installation Shalekhet, (Fallen Leaves), which comprises of ten thousand faces made from steel, dedicated to victims of violence and war. It’s a moving and thought-provoking tribute.
Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall
We walked via Checkpoint Charlie on the way back, a mecca for the tour groups. The well-known Berlin Wall border crossing from East to West Berlin still stands, with fake German soldiers posing for tourist pictures. There are various museums and shops surrounding it.
Our final morning was spent at the East Side Gallery, which is an international memorial to freedom and is over one kilometre long. Compromising of one hundred and five paintings on the east side of Berlin, it is one of the largest open-air galleries in the world. The weather had changed and we walked the length the wall in the rain.
Brandenburg Gate and the Holocaust Memorial
Later we did a little shopping and then wandered down to see the Brandenburg Gate. This eighteenth century neoclassical arch is probably Berlin’s best-known landmark. Another place worth seeing in the vicinity was the Holocaust Memorial, which is just five minutes along the road from the Gate. It is dedicated to the murdered Jews in Europe and consists of over four acres of concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern, set slightly askew. It’s quite a sight and feels eerily atmospheric.
We all loved Berlin and enjoyed exploring the neighbourhoods where we stumbled upon colourful graffiti, bars, museums and restaurants. Berlin offers something for everyone and we found it surprisingly reasonable cost-wise. It’s worth mastering the U-Bahn system as it is cheap, convenient and efficient, but having said that, much of the city is easily accessible by foot. Berlin – we will be back!