Berlin seems to be having a moment. Whilst I thought I had made the discovery earlier this year, it seems people have been flocking to the historical German capital in droves recently, with numerous friends nipping over for an indulgent weekend city break. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d offer you an exclusive selection of must-sees from my very own experience, ‘Berlin: A Guide from a Girl Who’s Been There Twice’. I have acquired a varied selection of tips and tricks as a result of first visiting with friends, and then going with my mum. Berlin is a crazy melting pot of different cultures, moods and areas; so it makes sense to try to give you a taster of my eclectic experience of the city.
It really is impossible to visit Berlin and not be taken aback by what the city has gone through in the past. It’s been 25 years since the Berlin wall came down, and it is both moving and inspiring to see how resilient the city has had to become to survive the divide which existed amongst its population.
If you’re planning on going out at night, I’d advise getting as many of the historical sites checked off on your first, non-hungover day, as the city is steeped in history which will be hard to appreciate if you got in at 8am that morning. If you’ve only got a couple of days, discover which parts of Berlin you want to further explore with a hop-on-hop-off tour, many of which begin outside the Park Inn Hotel at Alexanderplatz. Whilst it might be a less authentic way of discovering the city, you won’t get lost and it really helps to get your initial bearings before you go off wandering the streets in search of the true Berlin. Also, it’s highly likely that when you visit it will be bloody freezing. Bus = warm.
Whilst we’ve all heard (and seen the Facebook photos) of the East Side Gallery, and it is a really interesting historical site to see, I found that visiting the wall at Bernauer Straße was what really made clear what life was like in a divided Berlin.There is also a very informative (and free) memorial museum, as well as an exhibition in Nordbahnhof station, about the ghost stations during the Cold War.
Don’t forget the Brandenburg Gate
The main shopping streets are on, and around, Kufurstendamm, where you will find the usual big city shops (Zara, H&M etc.) as well as the Harrods of Berlin -Kaufhaus des Westens. It’s very glitzy around there, but we definitely had more fun exploring the vintage clothes and furniture stores around the U-Bahn stops Mehringdamm, in Kreuzberg and Weinmeisterstraße, in Mitte.
Pro tip: The Turkish community in Berlin were the inventors of the doner kebab. As soon as you pop out of the U-Bahn at Mehringdamm, you’re welcomed with a kebab vendor who has been voted the best in the city – they even have a website with a camera set up to show you how long the queue is! Hint: it’s long. If it is too long, there’s a Curry 36 vendor next door that is also famed for their currywurst.
I told you the queue was long
Whilst everyone visiting Berlin is probably aware of the exclusivity which surrounds the nightclubs there, it doesn’t really hit you until you experience it. Namely standing in line for a club at three in the morning, entry money clenched tightly in your fist, being rejected after a fleeting and perfunctory once over. It is realistic advice that you have to keep it cool if you want to get into the clubs in Berlin. Seriously, look like you wish you were anywhere else in the world but in the queue trying to get into their club. Don’t smile. Don’t laugh. DO NOT SPEAK ENGLISH.
Despite being mercilessly tossed aside at the first club, our gang persevered and the next place we tried, Renate, let us in and ended up being THE BEST PLACE EVER (think I just blew my cool-cover). It’s a giant old squatters’ house on three different levels that has been (sort of) renovated – vintage, shabby-chic and achingly cool. There’s a boat in garden…a boat! It was essentially the house party that all house parties wish they could be. We arrived at 4am and didn’t leave until 7.30 the next morning, in true Berlin fashion.
On a slightly less exclusive note, we stumbled upon a great bar in Kreuzberg called Rummels Perle, which I whole-heartedly recommend. It has a great relaxed feel, with atmospheric lighting, beautifully mismatched decor and a great DJ. And they’ll let you in even if you speak English!
Finally, Butcher’s Bar. This is a bar situated at the back of an old butchers, which is accessed through the back of a red telephone box at the back of the shop. We passed the door lady’s muster and soon enough we were in the smoky secret back room decorated with meat hooks and red lighting. While this place does has the exclusive feel to it, I’ve since been told it does actually let most people in. So don’t fret too much, use it as your dry run and act cool…then grin like a kid when you get let in through the telephone box.
Moral of the story? Go to Berlin. Love it. Just don’t let anyone there know that.
Image One – Lydia French
Image Two – Lydia French