If I had to pick a favourite from all my travels this year, it would be Berlin. Even though there are too many contesting for the favourite spot—Japan, Uttarakhand (thrice!), Saxony’s Via Romantika, Scandinavia—the German capital would still be it. Why? Because nothing feels better than actualising a dream. Even if the dream is somewhat altered and delayed, its transformation into a tangible memory is the most complete feeling.
My three days in Berlin left me very little or no time to stop and stare. Nonetheless, I made most of every waking minute, with pockets of silence by River Spree and humming jazz notes aloud while sauntering on the streets.
What I did
Self-guided walk 1
I was very tempted to book myself a walking tour with Insider Berlin. Time-crunched and overcommitted, I decided to plan one out myself.
Armed with a paper map, I took the bus to Brandenburg Gate, Berlin’s visual identity and symbol of unity since Reunification in 1989. From there I walked to the fascinating Holocaust Memorial where 2711 of grey slabs depict the thousands of Jews who were murdered in Europe. Taking Ebretstraße , Potsdamer Platz showed a contrasting side of Berlin, with skyscrapers owned by corporates like Sony and many cinemas and shopping avenues. Perhaps this was the least fascinating square in comparison with all that I saw next.
Topographie des Terrors on Wilhelmstraße has a permanent exhibition of photographs of the Nazi rule and other temporary exhibitions. Along Niederkirchnerstraße, the remains of the Berlin Wall are quite a wonder.
A few meters away on Friedrichstraße, Checkpoint Charlie was the former border crossing between East and West Germany. It is a big tourist attraction. Mauermuseum – Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie (Wall Museum) narrates the history and stories of people fleeing the divide by the Wall.
I then walked through wide streets of Berlin towards Gendarmenmarkt. As I approached the square, I wasn’t prepared for its beauty. It took me a while gasp the many elements of Gendarmenmarkt. I stood facing the Konzerthaus (Concert House) which is flanked by Neo Classic Französischer Dom and Deutscher Dom on either sides. However, a few steps on Markgrafenstraße I saw neatly arranged houses from the Renaissance Revival period.
Singing my way onwards to Babelplatz, where St. Hedwig’s Cathedral with its large dome and the curved Alte Bibliothek was once the Royal Library of Prussia were impressive, but not as much as Gendarmenmarkt.
From there I hastily made my way to Reichstag, to make it in time for my pre-booked appointment to the roof terrace. This is the Parliament which opens its terrace and the dome for tourists to enjoy an uninterrupted 180˚ panorama of the city.
Self-guided walk 2
Anne Frank Zentrum in Hackescher Markt exhibits the life and photographs of Anne Frank, the young girl whose diary has been an insight to the lives and tragedies that the Jews faced.
I walked into the very vibrant and inspiring Haus Schwarzenberg. Café Cinema’s empty benches led me to the artsy lane with messages like “Stop War” sprayed allover. There was no corner around the L-shaped alley which was void of art or random slogans.
Once I had seen Haus Schwarzenberg, the adjacent Hackesche Höfe courtyard with its Art Nouveau buildings appeared rather flat.
Ogled at my favourite men
Botecelli, Vasari, Cranach, Canaletto, Caravaggio and Vermeer all meet at Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie. A mix of Renaissance and Baroque painters, Gemäldegalerie is extensive and beautifully curated. I spent many hours of a hot afternoon admiring the creations of my favourite men. It was a surreal feel.
East Side Gallery
In Berlin’s hipster neighbourhood, the East Side Gallery welcomes its visitors to 1.3 kilometres of art, open to sky. After the Berlin Wall came down, about 118 artists from 21 countries came to paint on the wall. Even though the history of this place makes it interesting, personally I felt Hackescher Markt had more character.
Where I ate
My first evening in Berlin, I met a friend at Holzmarkt on Holzmarktstraße and we spent quite a few hours talking and sipping beer from Holzmarkt Brauerei’s tap, by River Spree. I tried two types of their house brews. I loved the vibe in this revamped outdoor space for art, culture and recreation.
I had a long indulgent lunch at Café Am Neuen See in Tiergarten. They have a beer garden as well as a restaurant. I had downed a mug of the Munich-brewed Lowenbrau before my walk around the green cover of Tiergarten and returned for another one by the lake, where people were rowing and enjoying the summer outdoors.
The classic Brauhaus Georgbræu in Nikolaiviertel serves hearty German meals with their light and dark house brewed beer. It overlooks River Spree and I spent hours sipping their dark (which I liked more than the light). I had the zucchini schnitzel, though was very tempted to try the pork roast with red cabbage, if my appetite permitted me.
Where I stay
Park Inn by Radisson Berlin Alexanderplatz Hotel was a perfect fit for me. My room on the 24th floor had fantastic views of the area, including of the famed Fernsehturm (Television Tower, the tallest structure in Berlin). The room was small but well equipped and had amazing sleep quality. The two highlights of the hotel was its fantastic location (two minutes walk from Alexanderplatz Station and a few steps away from tram and bus) and the express check-out facility.
What I bought
Shopping was of least importance to me in Berlin. However, I did manage to make a longish stop at Nivea Haus on Unter den Linden, which is one of the two stores of this German brand in the world.
How I travelled
I flew into Berlin’s Schönofeld Airport from Copenhagen. I took the train out of Berlin Hauptbahnhof to Dresden, which I booked online at Deutsche Bahn’s website.
Within the city, I chose the numerous modes of public transport. I had the Berlin WelcomeCard-ABC which allowed me to use any mode for free within the city limits, Potsdam and Schönofeld Airport. I can’t recommend this city card enough which also includes many discounted visits to local attractions and sights, as I wrote here.
Good to know:
–Book online in advance to visit Reichstag’s dome or roof terrace. There is no fee but it is often booked months in advance. They have very strict security rules.
-Gemäldegalerie has an entrance fee of €10.
-The Berlin Wall is scattered around the city.
-Some brewhouses may charge ‘pfund’ or a deposit which is refunded once you return the mugs to the staff.
-Berlin has two airports: Tegel and Schönofeld. Check terminals during planning.
-I didn’t have to pay a penny on any public transport, thanks to my Berlin WelcomeCard ABC zone. To know all about the card, read my detailed post here.