After visiting Edinburgh last year and Budapest the year before that – both for Jordan’s (my partner) birthday- in November we both decided we fancied a break when it wasn’t quite so cold. For April we flitted over Amsterdam, Oslo and even Rome but decided on Berlin, a city just as rich in culture as the aforementioned but quite a substantial amount cheaper to get to and to stay.
We settled on 4 nights, 5 days (ish) and began planning our trip. Airbnb is our forever go to and we found a brilliant flat in possibly the best location we could have asked for. Nestled half way between two great neighbourhoods: Prenzlauerberg and Mitte. These are what anyone would probably call the ‘hipster’ neighbourhoods. This can generally go one of 2 ways. It’s cool, cultured, full of independents, young people, creatives and a few real gems, those rare places that are both cool and stylish but also not overpriced. Or it’s pretentious, style over substance, unwelcoming to those outside that specific ‘crowd’, way overpriced and lacking ANY bargains. As we landed in Berlin I was a little apprehensive but mostly excited to see which of the two our little neighbourhood would be.
Much to our delight the neighbourhood within a walking distance of our brilliantly located flat was about a 80/20 split of the former to the latter, which was more than fine by us. We met our hosts friend at the Airbnb (not an uncommon occurrence when renting Airbnb’s, people are busy after all), got our keys, she told us just how great the neighbourhood was and left us to our business.
The flat was owned by a fashion writer and art lover so it was no surprise to be in the presence of lots of art, interesting interior design features, quirky additions such as neon pink tape holding up fashion prints on walls, and an array of cool lighting.
After settling in a little, hanging some stuff up and drinking a tonne of water we used the app Foursquare, on recommendation from my travel loving friend, Sam. We immediately found the app useful as we were shown a selection of eateries near by, from highest rated to trending joints. We ending up both agreeing wholeheartedly on a Korean burger bar, Shiso. Living in Yorkshire you rarely get places such as this, fun mixes of cuisines and places taking a risk; it just very rarely pays off with customers that are wanting something easy to digest.
A super cool painted door on our street.
The food was super good and to say it was a sunny, busy Sunday evening the service was extremely fast and on it. I had their veggie tofu burger and sweet potato fries and Jordan had their beef burger with crispy skin on fries. Both went down exceedingly well in accompaniment with their spicy ketchup and zesty mayo dips. Presented in bamboo steamers and the burgers in Korean steamed buns the fusion was just enough of each to make it all work wonderfully. Also tofu burgers (as many will know) can be very tasteless and not very nice texture wise but this one was by far the best tofu burger I’ve had, seasoned well and crispy outside… yum! And to top it off the sweet potato fries were heavenly.
The whole evening was a perfect introduction to that Berlin ease that we would come to embrace. Whilst eating we were sat on a long bench and table next to two women who were chatting amongst themselves, on our walk back to the flat from Shiso we walked past a park where young families, friends and couples sat drinking glasses of wine, eating deli food and peacefully chatting away. After a day of travelling and with full bellies we went back to the flat and watched Great British Bake Off in bed.
Our first full day was fated to be the only slightly dull day, weather wise, of the whole trip. So we settled on having a little explore of the neighbourhood of Alexanderplatz and a shopping mall there and head towards the river to check out the DDR museum and dedicate a fair few of the afternoons rainy hours to it. We were going to check out Museum Island and its huge array of museums and galleries but they were pretty much all closed. This was something we noticed throughout that first day, a Monday, that Berliners almost treat a Monday as we would a Sunday. We did however have a few photo ops on Museum Island in front of the Berlin Cathedral or the Berliner Dom.
A water feature in Alexanderplatz.
We would return to the Berliner Dom another day for some more blue sky photos but we journeyed on for our destination! The DDR museum…
The DDR museum is an interactive walk through and educational experience all about the years in Berlin that spanned the existence of East and West Berlin when the wall was still a reminder of what political termoil can do to a city and a country.
Due to the fact that the enjoyment and optimum experience of the museum relied heavily on interactive elements we were unfortunately left with a lot not experienced. Why? Two words: school trips. How silly of us to book a trip away over Easter, the school trip period… So yes, there were a number of times when we wanted to interact with the exhibits or educational elements and simply couldn’t because there were at least 10 teens fawning over it for 15 minutes. What we could read and experience however was extremely interesting and from the diet and leisure activities of East and West Berliners the insight into that time in history was more detailed than anything I had learnt about it before. Elements to it were of course, quite depressing but the museum went to lengths to make it enjoyable too. My personal favourite part was the flat you could have a wander about in (as pictured above), mainly because the whole thing reminded me of the decor in the flat of a quirky Wed Anderson character.
That evening we, on recommendation of a passer by who shouted at us (literally), managed to scout out a great Japanese restaurant called Makoto Mitte. The food was very traditional and tasty and extremely reasonably priced which fitted our bill perfectly. Later that evening we met up with Jordan’s friend, Hamish who now lives in Berlin! We were extremely lucky to have this insider knowledge because without we would probably never have found out about ‘Spätis‘.
A simple low down on Berlin and it’s Spätis:
– they’re basically convenience stores.
– that are also kinda like off licenses/liquor stores.
– they are both of these things with the added bonus of having seating outside, a bottle opener at the counter, usable toilets and plastic cups if you have use for them.
– they are better than most bars I’ve been to in England.
I believe the first one we visited was on Rosenthaller Strasse, and it really does what it says on the tin (from above) but the important distinction of these magical places in Berlin to what they would be like in the UK is this: the seats outside were full of young, chilled out people, simply socialising, some eating take out food from elsewhere and all quietly. In the UK you’d get at least 3 groups of overtly intoxicated idiots shouting, smashing bottles and being a general nuisance. Not the case in Berlin. Which I am starting to realise is just the case in most European cities in comparison with the ones here at home.
After being successfully amazed by the Spätis, we headed home to get some rest in preparation for a day of museum-ing.
Normally I’m not one for traipsing around museums for a whole morning and afternoon but the museums on Museum Island were of such a caliber above the old and forgotten ones in Yorkshire and England I had been in, just on the merit of the buildings alone I would highly recommend spending some time there. We started with Neues Museum which, to my delight, was full of ancient Egyptian artifacts and exhibits: including a whole basement floor dedicated to sarcophaguses, yes please and thank you.
The Neues Museum is also home the famous bust of Nefertiti which is in the middle of a grand, cooled room (where you can’t take photos) and I made sure to spend plenty of time taking it in. The other floors in the museum were filled with exhibits on strange and forgotten civilisations and pre historic peoples.
After the Neues we headed to the gallery, which was in this grand classical building, risen above the buildings surrounding it with huge steps leading up to its entrance.
It was a really beautiful interior. Filled with classical style marvel sculptures and lots of impressionist paintings. Yeah there was a fair few rooms I wasn’t interested in, but the building alone made it worth it.
Feeling suitably starving we decided to head back to an area called Hackeschermarkt which, as you can probably tell from the name, used to be a market and is now home to a number of restaurants with great sprawling outdoor seating areas. It really reminded me of the restaurants in Rome: oh so European. We settled on an Italian that was doing a deal on pizza and pasta for lunch. The service was a little… Distant to say the least but for a quick lunch stop it was fine and my pasta was delicious.
With full bellies we ventured once more over the footbridge that adjoins Berlin to Museum Island and this time made our way to Pergamon Museum and then we were to finish at Altes Museum. By far the most impressive thing about Pergamon museum was the ENORMOUS exhibits and the even more ENORMOUS settings they were in.
The museum included exhibits from Ancient Babylon, Syria and the Middle East, all more magnificent than the last. The Altes Museum was situated in a huge sprawling neoclassical building full to the brim of antiquities. Again I stress, 100% worth it just to admire the buildings. But we couldn’t hang around too long because we still had the walk to Brandenburg Gate to make and i was hoping we could make it to the Holocaust Memorial.
The walk from Museum Island to Brandenburg Gate was, let’s say, longer than anticipated and with it being the hottest day of the year thus far in trainers and fairly thick socks my feet were definitely feeling it. Retrospectively we should have 100% jumped on a tour bus… But! These things are sent to test us and it wouldnt be a Jordan and Bryony trip without at least one big walk.
Luckily enough for Brandenburg Gate, it was pretty impressive in the afternoon sun, so the walk was definitely worth it.
A short walk from Brandenburg Gate is the Holocaust Memorial. Since being about 7/8 I have been horrified and felt strangely connected to what happened to the Jewish peoples during WW2, I guess it started when I read ‘Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl’ at around the same age. That connection has since been extended due to my own research into what happened to the Armenian people during the Armenian Genocide as a result of my own heritage on my dads side and the similarities between the two atrocities. That all being said, it meant a lot to me seeing the Holocaust Memorial, so when we were affronted with a group of about 20 french teenage students, running around the place, playing hide and seek, shouting, laughing, climbing on it; it really ruined an soured the entire experience for me, not just as a work of art but as something of a spiritual and peronal pilgrimmage to a time in history that I feel tethered to for some reason. All in all I must have manage to salvage around two minutes of heavy peace and time to actually think about where I was and what it meant: not enough and I was left feeling pretty upset. However, this was the ONLY negative experience we had in Berlin and it was entirely out of our control so we took it for what it was and promised ourselves we wouldn’t let it ruin our night and if we were to ever go again NEXT TIME we will listen to Jordan’s friend Hamish when he said, ‘if you’re going to go, go at 6am).
That evening Hamish took us to a park in the middle of Berlin where everyone watches the sunet, we drank some cheap alcohol, frequented some more Spatis and eat some of the best pizza I’ve ever had, that Hamish’s – French, but grew up in LA, is studying in Denmark and spoke good Italian – friend managed to order for us a special half and half job of.
After an evening fairly full of alcohol (by my standards at least) Jordan and myelf opted for a sleep in and a morning and early afternoon spent in Mitte. We made sure to swing by two important coffee stops: Five Elephant and Father Carpenter, two brilliant indie coffee shops and roasters. Head to Five Elephant if you’re after a clean, minimalist setting and flavourful, sweet but dark coffee and sweet treats (look out for the cheesecake) and Father Carpenters if you’re looking for avo on toast, a fresh zesty coffee and a cute courtyard setting.
Later into the afternoon we jumped on the overground and made our way to the East Side Gallery for our one last tourist spot (on another scorching day).
Jordan with his on-holiday-permenant-attachement (his camera).
After waiting for people to clear off, walking ahead and then coming back down the wall we finally got our chance to snap the famous painting.
One of my favourite sections of the wall.
Our last evening in Berlin was spent in the park from the evening before (but even earlier on so we managed to see ALL of the sunset this time round), chilling outside a wonderful wine bar on a warm early summer evening with Hamish and his girlfriend, Mari, getting a little emotional (especially on the boy’s side) at a farewell to them and to a city we had really come to love over the 4 days we had there. And lastly, we all squeezed – just – into a photoautomat which produced some of the funniest photos I’ve been priviliged to be a part of. Thank you Berlin… you stole our hearts and we will certainly be back: hopefully for some Christmas markets!