A couple of weeks ago Nathan got to go to Berlin in Germany for a work conference, so I decided to fly out to join him at the end of the conference so that we could spend a few days exploring the city together. Neither of us had been to Berlin before or knew that much about it but we really enjoyed our time there and we learnt a lot about the history of the city, from the destruction of the Second World War and the Nazi reign of terror to the division and later reconciliation brought about by the Berlin Wall.
On the first day of my part of the trip, I got up super early to get to Gatwick airport – Nathan was already in Berlin with work and it was my first solo flight (!) – and I *just* made it to the airport in time. Fortunately it’s a fairly short flight from Gatwick to Berlin Schönefeld and Nathan kindly came to meet me at the airport. We caught the S bahn train to Friedrichstraße in the city centre and checked into our hotel which overlooked the river Spree. (A rather nice find on lastminute.com!)
Once we’d got settled, we met up with a lovely friend who lives in Berlin and went for lunch at a yummy falafel place – I’m so gutted I didn’t note down what the place was called or even what road it was on, because it was SO good! Afterwards we headed down to Kreuzberg to Kaffee am Meer for coffee, chats and board games, before having a look round a little gift shop with the largest selection of postcards I’ve ever seen.
Falafel lunch and postcard shop
Coffee and croissants at Cafe Two & Two
The next morning, we caught the U bahn down to Neukolln in the south-east of the city for breakfast at Cafe Two & Two – coffee and croissants, yum! We then walked up towards the river and to the East Side Gallery, a long section of the Berlin wall which has been left standing and has now been covered in brightly coloured murals and paintings. One advantage of visiting Berlin in January is that there weren’t too many tourists around, which meant that we got to have a good look at all of the artwork.
By this point it was lunchtime and we were seriously cold, the temperature was hovering at around -2oC and despite tights under trousers, 2 jumpers, a massive blanket scarf and a hat I’m not sure we could feel our fingers or toes, so we headed back across the river to find some lunch. We wanted to try out Burgermeister (having seen recommendations for it on basically *every* Berlin travel blog!) but it was completely full and the idea of munching a burger outdoors didn’t really appeal, so we hopped back on the train up to Alexanderplatz and went to Dolores, a Californian-style burrito restaurant where we ate some HUGE burritos and defrosted!
Berlin Wall Memorial
After lunch it was back on the train to the Berlin Wall Memorial, a haunting stretch of metal poles in the ground to show where the wall used to stand together with a small museum. There was a little observation deck you could climb up to and look out over the city, but it was a bit too cold for us so we decided to head to Oslo Kaffebar nearby instead for a warming hot chocolate. Afterwards it was back to our hotel for a nap (sightseeing is tiring!) and some random German TV! Later in the evening we found a lovely Italian restaurant just up the road from our hotel and had some huuuge pizzas before waddling very slowly back! (Ristorante Roma on Friedrichstraße, it was great!)
On our final full day in Berlin, we popped across the river to Refinery coffee shop for breakfast. Their coffee was so good and the whole vibe definitely felt like we were back home in Southsea – it would be the perfect place to spend a morning holed up with your laptop doing work. We then followed the river round to the Reichstag Building, the home of Germany’s parliament, where we had booked to go round the glass dome. (It’s free to go in but you do need to book a time-slot a few days beforehand online.) The building itself is really impressive, with the old facade with its intricate brickwork and architecture and then the modern, glass dome rising above it. Once inside, the patterns of the glass and metal structure were calling out to be photographed and combined with the gorgeous bright sunny day made it a bit of a photographer’s dream.
After we had looked round the Reichstag, it was back outside (brr!) and down past the Brandenburg Gate to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This is a large maze of concrete blocks ranging in height from about 0.5 to 3 metres high, and it was quite sobering wandering through them all and visualising to some extent the sheer amount of people killed by the Nazis. Next we went down to the Topography of Terror museum which has lots of displays explaining about the rise of the Nazis, why and how they managed to get into power and then the reign of terror that they exerted over Germany and into Europe.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Remnants of Berlin wall outside Topography of Terror museum
Lunch was at Ki-Nova, a burger place in Potsdamer Platz (excellent sweet potato fries!) and then we walked down to Checkpoint Charlie, probably one of the most iconic and symbolic sections of the Berlin Wall. It was one of the few places where you could cross the wall from west to east, although now all that is left is a small sentry office and a few signs.
We then got back on the U bahn (anything to step out of the biting cold for a few minutes!) and travelled up to Alexanderplatz to go to the *coolest* design/coffee shop I’ve ever seen called Type Hype; it’s basically a hipster coffee shop combined with a little design shop selling type-inspired products. For dinner, we went to Yarok, a cosy Syrian cafe selling authentic food from Damascus. All of the reviews online raved about it and when we got there the place was packed – you can expect to end up sharing a table with random people but we think that adds to the charm! We got their large sharing platter (since that’s what everyone else seemed to have!) and it was SO tasty.
The next morning we were up early (to discover a light covering of snow outside) and off to the airport to catch our flight home. Despite the freezing temperatures, we loved our short stay in Berlin and I’d definitely love to go back (in the summer!) to explore some more.
Some interesting things about Berlin:
> There is graffiti *everywhere*! In some neighbourhoods you’d be hard-pressed to find a building without graffiti on it, personally I quite like it and love finding random bits of street art when out and about, but I can see why some people are not so impressed.
> There are no ticket barriers at the stations, including for the underground, but don’t think you can get away without buying a ticket because there are plain clothes ticket inspectors around and if you get caught it’s a €60 fine. Apparently they’re not sympathetic to tourists either! We found the public transport system very easy to use though and it’s very simple to buy tickets and find your way around.
> It’s illegal to cross the road at traffic lights unless the green man is showing. We got so confused as to why people were waiting to cross the road when there were absolutely no cars around!
> If you don’t speak German, it’s ok! Most people in cafes and tourist attractions speak a bit of English, so if you’re like me and never learned any German at school you’ll be fine.
> Berlin in winter is COLD. I should have packed more layers!