How do I begin
To share everything I love about Berlin?
Although we only spent 5 short days in Berlin, and were constantly on the move exploring the city, it's a fool's errand to attempt to digest all of Berlin in a single visit. There's intriguing beauty in the tucked away details.
I've been putting off this post because I had a feeling it was going to be a long one. Just like describing the city itself, it's a tremendous undertaking to share everything I experienced during my stay. I've decided to break it down into categories to make it more digestible for you (and me).
Museums and Points of Interest
- Berlinische Galerie- As a patron of modern arts, this was a must-see for me. What I loved was how interactive the Berlin Galerie is- in quite a few places you're encouraged to get close to and even touch and contribute to the art. The museum contains quite a bit of surrealist works, including an eerie replica of a museum party that feels very meta. It was great to see so many uniquely German works, especially pieces from pre- and post-war Deutschland. It's one of the best ways to experience the ethos, past and present, of Berlin.
- Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe- This one was a tough one for me to see. I'll admit, when you first walk up to the large dark blocks of the memorial, you're not immediately put in a thoughtful mood when there are people playing hide-and-seek and panhandling. I highly recommend going down into the museum portion, which most people do. It's very well-done, part museum part memorial. They fully admit to and recognize all the actions that lead to the Holocaust- in fact, it was the overwhelming, non-stop onslaught of facts around the systematic processes and resulting deaths that got to me. It was simply an overwhelming amount of death, which is what they are trying to convey. As a Jewish traveler, while it completely shattered my heart to see, the memorial afforded me a certain amount of closure I haven't felt in my many years of books, movies, history lessons, and museums about the Holocaust. Then, when you leave the museum, you emerge from underground with the massive slate tombs engulfing you, and more fully feel the impact of the memorial.
- Berlin Wall- Another classic. My boyfriend is very into learning every last detail about the wall... including how many guard posts there were, how wide the no-man's-land area was, etc. It seemed like minutia to me at the time but it was valuable to learn the true significance of the wall and its impact on the city.
- DDR Museum- Another very interactive museum. If you're like me and fascinated by closed-off and controlling societies, you'll enjoy seeing what life was like for East Berliners in the Berlin Wall era. What was most fascinating about this museum was that these events didn't take place in antiquity- this all happened less than 50 years ago. Many people in the museum lived through these events, and that part of their lives has already been sealed behind Plexiglas for the world to see. Historical facts and footage is intermixed with personal stories, family photos, and intimate belongings that tell a multi-faceted story of life in East Berlin. While far from the Berlin Wall memorial, if you're interested in seeing a more complete history of this time, the DDR is a good thing to add to your itinerary.
- Bradenburg Gate- A classic. We were there during the Berlin Marathon and they had set up a biergarten right next to the gate. It was a surreal experience to relax with a pilsner in such an iconic atmosphere.
- Reichstag Building- Another classic spot to see. You have to get tickets beforehand to go up in the dome (which I did not know) so we spent some time perusing the grounds.
- Bauhaus Archive- My boyfriend Dain, an architect, has studied Bauhaus for almost 10 years and was really excited to show me the museum. An architectural movement beginning in early twentieth century Germany, Bauhaus stressed the importance of function in design. It focused primarily on furniture but transcended into architectural and visual mediums. Bauhaus is little-known but much of our ideas around interior design stem from this movement. I'd say this museum is off the beaten tourist path and quite enjoyable for someone who would appreciate it.
- Tiergarten- Seen as somewhat of the elitists' park to Berliners, the Tiergarten is iconic, massive, and quite beautiful. It's located centrally and is impossible to miss if you're at Bradenburg Gate or the Holocaust Memorial. Dain and I took a quick nap in between sight-seeing like madmen while jet-lagged. It's like any other big park, but if you spend a good amount of time exploring, you'll see a lot of memorials to the Jews, LGBT, and other more low-key WW2 reminders.
- Mauerpark- This park was originally not on my radar, my friend Meagan (who now lives in Berlin) suggested we go. The best day to go is Saturday, when we went, because the park truly comes alive. It's packed with dozens of various food tents, karaoke, picnickers, and a massive flea market wherein one can easily get lost. You'll see everything from clothes to furniture, jewelry, and random bricabrac. I desperately wished I brought more than a carry-on bag because I would have loved to take so much more home. We lunched on frites, Korean tacos, waffles, and took our beers around while we perused the wares at the flea market. I could have easily spent all day here- this is definitely a must-see while in town.
- Tempelhofer Feld- This was one of the coolest places we visited in Berlin, if only for the fact that it was a completely unique space. An old airport in the heart of the city, Tempelhof is considered a WW and Cold War era airport. It ceased operation just a few years ago, and instead of letting a large abandoned space remain in the center of the city, it was re-purposed into a public park. It sounds dreary but it's a very lively place- bikers zip down the old runways, people picnic and play with children in the grass, and people like me relax with a beer in the biergarten and lazily watch a game of pick-up basketball. As the sun set, we peeked through the fence separating the greenery from the actual former airport, which is not open.
Neighborhoods and Nightlife
- Kreuzberg- The area south of the city center and former West Berlin. We wanted to be close to this part of the city because it's known for lots of bars, late night eats, and it's within walking/metro/biking distance of most that you'll want to see. It's a large district with any distinct neighborhoods
- Tempelhof: Area south of Kreuzberg, houses the Tempelhof Feld park and a lot of beautiful old buildings. Berlin is known for not being the prettiest city- between two world wars and communist rule, the buildings can look a little utilitarian and plain. Getting to our apartment the first night, we got off at Tempelhof ubahn and walked for a few minutes through the neighborhood. The cobblestone streets, the old Haussmann-esque buildings, the quiet tucked away bars- it looked like a beautiful old European city. Tempelhof can be quiet and residential but it's beautiful and peaceful- I'd advise walking around and visiting Chamissoplatz before going on to the abandoned airport.
- Bergmannkiez- This is the neighborhood where we stayed within Kreuzberg. Blindly picking a central enough Airbnb, I could absolutely have not gotten luckier. Right outside our apartment was a bakery, an organic vegan burger place, Bretzel the awesome pretzel cafe, and the Markethalle, an incredible collection of smoothie places, fruit and vegetable stands, coffee shops, and vegan/organic/awesome food stalls. Our apartment markets the end of Bergmannstrausse, a street filled with incredible restaurants and array of cuisine, thift shops, specialty stores, cafes, and bars. It was the perfect place to start each day and end up each night, although I'd say if you're looking for clubs and nightlife beyond casual drinks, another area may be a better fit. Next time I come back, it'd be difficult to convince me to stay anywhere else.
- Friedricshain-Kreuzberg- Funny story- Dain lost his wallet the first night we went out in the city and thankfully someone living in this area found it! It was as good excuse as any to walk around. We had lunch on Falckensteinstrausse, a street packed with a wide variety of restaurants with outdoor seating. It was a beautiful day and we nursed our hangovers with some Vietnamese noodle bowls. We also enjoyed walking along the beautiful Landwehr Canal and took time to venture into shops, parks, and a pop up Sunday market.
- Süß war gestern- One of the bars my friend took us to in Friedrichschain, the area best known for bars and nightlife. The bar's large and had separate areas for lounging, dancing, and pool. It was here that I was introduced to a vodka mate, sort of the RedBull-Vodka of Germany. You get a bottle of caffeinated soda, drink it down a bit, and the bartenders fill the rest up with vodka. I absolutely hate energy drinks but this was surprisingly great, almost like a spiked Sprite.
- Kater Blau- One night following dinner, we decided to take advantage of the 24-hour bars in Berlin and go clubbing. Clubbing is different in Berlin- it's casual, you wear sneakers and black clothes, and there's no bottle service in sight. We waited in line for about 45 minutes and when we finally got in, we could clearly see this was not so much what you think of as a club as it was a playground for adults. There were a couple different rooms with different DJs of varying size, there was a giant swing, a crepe stand, and a large outdoor patio built from scratch. We had tons of fun and stayed until about 6 in the morning, early by Berlin standards but super late for us.