Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

36 hours in Berlin

If Berlin isn't on your list of cities you need to visit someday, it should be. I've had the opportunity of exploring Berlin a few times, but I'm always excited about going back.


On my most recent visit to Berlin, my girlfriends and I spent three days focusing on vintage shopping, weird and wacky culturizing (new word), and solemn, head-scratching historisizing (new word).


Berlin is the greatest mashup of 1. fascinating history 2. cool funk and 3. awesome culture. 


Basically every corner you turn will provide you with interesting eye-candy. Architecture, grafitti, museum parks, food food food, rooftop sandy-beached bars, dungeony nightclubs...whatever your fancy, Berlin has it. Plus, the people are so nice and surprisingly normal!


One thing's for sure, in Berlin, around every bend there's a story.

Here's what to do if you have 36 hours in Berlin: 

DAY 1: Prenzlauer Berg - Brunch and browse, lunch and look, Kadewe and cocktails.

 


We had the good fortune of finding a perfectly-priced and placed apartment rental (Linnen Berlin) in the Prenzlauerberg neighbourhood. This area has great vintage shops, out-of-the-ordinary, affordable boutiques and tasty brunch and lunch spots - all overflowing with locals.

One such place, An einem Sonntag in August (on a Sunday in August), not only the best name, but also a casual, cool brunch locale, with great food and no hefty pricetag.


After brunching, we spent more than a couple of hours wandering up and down the Kastanienallee - one of the long, main shopping streets in Prenzlauerberg.


Small shops, with gorgeous names like Kauf dich Glücklich (Shop yourself happy) were so much fun to pop into. The neighbourhood, like a middle-aged rocker, has had a hard past which it wears on its sleeve. But the vibe is friendly and young and comfortable to be around.


If you find yourself here on any day after 11am, you have to eat at Babel. This cozy Lebanese restaurant, where most of the diners sit outside on picnic benches, has the best food and service. Sidle up on to a bench, wait for one of the Lebanese guys to come out and say to him, 'what do you recommend?' He will grin and say, 'just you wait - I have the perfect thing'.

And, don't worry, it will be perfect. Platters with a profuse amount of grilled veggies, hummous, and falafel will entertain and stuff you, making Babel the place to share a meal. It's a beautiful experience.


If you like flea-marketing, on Sunday in P-Berg in the Mauerpark, there is a really big market, set up with stalls containing everything under the sun. The vendors here are hardcore, so you will get cool stuff, but maybe not at the lowest-price you would expect when travelling. Try it and see.


After traipsing around awhile, us girls were in desperate need of a cocktail. So, we jumped on the subway at the Häckescher Markt station and headed to Kürfürstendamm - Berlin's famous shopping alley. Close by is the even more famous KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens - Shopping centre of the West) - a Berlin tradition in itself.


Either you want to partake in some higher-end shopping, or not. In either case, don't miss out on the winter garden on the top floor of KaDeWe. We headed straight on up and enjoyed the views of the city, along with the scenery of Le Buffet. We opted for a round of Hugos!


After a light dinner, we headed to the sandy-beached rooftop bar of Deck 5 (www.freiluftrebellen.de). Beach chairs, cabanas, coronas and umbrella drinks - what else could you want when you're knee deep in the city? If you want something more late night and smoky, head to the Kulturbrauerei's warehouse nightclub, Soda Club (www.kulturbrauerei.de). And have fun! Tell them Nina sent you. No don't.


DAY 2: Culture - light. a riverboat cruise, a fairytale theatre, and swing dancing under the stars


Talk about turning lemons into lemonade - where else would you find a totally bizarre theatre group setting up shop on the roof of an old bunker, but in Berlin.

First though, we hopped on to a boot, das boot, and saw the city from a completely different angle.


The Spree River winds among some of Berlin's most impressive buildings; past the Bundestag, the museum island, and Angi's office. And since public drinking is encouraged in Germany, the boat was the perfect time to share a cocktail with the girls. We weren't driving.


The Berliner Dom is one such awe-inspiring structure that you float past. What made me chuckle is its address, Am Lustgarten. Sometimes translating makes the world a funnier place. Come on, let's worship at the lust garden....why the heck not?


One of my favourite things about seeing a city from its water, is that you get to go under the bridges. And some bridges have quite a tumultuous history. For whatever reason, this bridge bears a striking, yet very unfair, resemblance to Ms. Merkel. Perhaps her reign was pre-ordained. Of course, she'd be the last person to say that.


After cruising, we sat ourselves down at the beach bar, which conveniently is located right at Monbijou Theatre...fairytales and all.


In the summer evenings, when the sun goes down, the brave and whimsical break into swing or tango dancing - under a disco ball and hundreds of twinkle lights, no less.


But, during the day, you'll see and hear, the actors from the current shows, shouting out thoroughly dramatic scenes from the bridges and shoreline.


They put on a great show trying to capture and hold the attention of river passengers and tourists...enticing them to buy a ticket.


We opted for something a little bit more cultural...is there such a thing? We walked over to the museum island and toured the gardens before going inside.


You can take your pick of museum depending on your interests. We decided on the Pergamon, which is the most visited art museum in Germany, and one of the largest. It houses life-size reconstructions of ancient Turkish and other middle eastern cities, along with art and relics from days of yore (apothecary table anyone?).


The museums are clustered in an expansive park of grand staircases, pillars and statues. If you aren't in the mood for ancient history, modern art or impressionism, just lay down in the grass and enjoy the architectural view.


And then, because sitting on a beach is always one of our favourite things, we went back and sat by the river, people-watching and chillin'. A beautiful Berlin day.

 

Day 3: History - the powerful, the thought-provoking, and the unfathomable.


In my opinion, leaving Berlin's complicated history out of your short tour, is doing the city and its citizens (both living and gone) an injustice. Berlin is as cool and colourful as it is, in large part of its difficult and somber past.



Having recently had the unexpected thrill of shaking hands with Angela Merkel (I'm not shy about declaring my respect and awe for this incredible leader), I really wanted to visit her office. It's quite the cool building.


One of the things that makes Germany such an interesting place, is how down-to-earth and un-dramatic German people are. This might sound boring, and maybe it is, but having lived my entire life with a pompous, patriotic and proud neighbour like the USofA (to be clear, I do love visiting the US and know many wonderful American people), I relish the fact that the German Chancellor (just named most powerful woman in the world) is treated like a fairly normal important person.


The Chancellery is open to tour, at no cost - all you need to do is register beforehand. (Kanzleramt - besucherdienst@bk.bund.de). The tour includes stops at the various important meeting rooms, the press gallery and banquet hall. I was most impressed by the incredible artwork throughout.


Limestone and bronze statues, modern wallscapes, photographs, oil portraits of the former chancellors...all thought-provoking and story-telling, from around the world.


Another free tour opportunity, which is interesting and offers great views of the city, is the glass cupola of the Reichstag (www.bundestag.de) - right across the Platz (square) from the Chancellery. Again, all you need to do is pre-register or you might not be let in. Well worth the time...if you have it.


On our way from the Platz der Republic, we sauntered towards the Potsdamer Platz. Throughout the city, the inconceivable trail of the Berlin Wall is marked by a double row of cobblestones. I stood on the raised line in the road and tried to imagine what a wall in this place would've been like. It is so unbelievable to me that anyone could think such a structure is healthy in any way, for any one.


The Holocaust Memorial, which you walk along on your way to Potsdamer Platz, is a solemn, cold place. A large, hard park almost 5 acres in size, with neat rows of various-sized cement blocks. It brought to my mind endless anonymous caskets and walking amongst them felt as intrusive as walking amidst gravestones of people you've never met. In this case, 3 million people I had never met.


Before WWII, Berlin was the centre of liberal Judaism and had a thriving community of over 160,000 people. The New Synagogue, built in 1866 to seat 3200 people, is Germany's largest Jewish place of worship and Berlin's most significant Jewish landmark. Not just compelling because of its history, the architecture and design is visually stunning.


Berlin is a truly compelling, interesting and memorable city. I will be back...again!



Some extra Berlin info:

Group Subway Ticket (up to 5 people), unlimited for the day - 17,80€

Food:
Clärchens Ballhouse - Berlin Mitte - www.ballhouse.de
White Trash - Treptow - www.whitetrashfood.com

Things to see:
Babelsberg Film Studio - www.studiobabelsberg.com
Lake Wannsee - www.visitberlin.de

Places to stay:
Suites & Rooms - www.linnenberlin.com
Air BnB - www.airbnb.com
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