Before I went to Berlin, all I heard from my friends was “Oh, you will love it. It’s such a great city”! Millions of tourists flock there from all over the world and now I understand why.
Berlin is probably one of few cities I have visited where recent history, to which you and I can relate, is so apparent and in your face. Throughout the city you can feel the pain that Berliners themselves have endured and the pain the country caused to others. Yet, you can feel city’s resilient spirit and sense of hope.
Berlin is also a city of contrasts and divisions: it’s very German in some ways and very international in others, it’s divided by history and united by time; it’s modern yet historic; fun and sombre; traditional and alternative. There is a lot to do and see but if you are pressed for time and only have a couple of days, I suggest following itinerary.
Day 1: Out and About Sightseeing Berlin
Start your first day by heading down to Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Str (Nordbahnhof S-Bahn station) to see 60 meters of the remaining wall that divided the city in 1961-1989 and the impact it had on ordinary Berliners separated from their loved ones overnight and lives lost while trying to escape East Berlin. Here you’ll also see Chapel of Reconciliation and Berlin Wall Documentation Centre.
Next walk down Bernauer Str to check out Sunday flea market at Mauer Park. It’s popular among both Berliners and tourists looking for a bargain, vintage and one-of-a-kind items.
I particularly liked watching Berlin hipsters on a hunt for quirky clothes and accessories! To recharge batteries and take rest from shopping, there are lots of food stalls and cafes, while afternoon karaoke sessions in the amphitheatre provides great entertainment to bystanders.
From here, jump on the train at Eberswalder Str and head to Bundestag station. Reichstag building hosts Germany’s National Parliament and is one of Berlin’s top attractions. Its impressive building serves not only as a political and historical center, but is also holds artistic and architectural value. For example, its cupola is designed by renowned British architect Norman Foster. Reichstag is open to visitors, just make sure you book your visit well in advance.
Within few minutes walk from Reichstag, you will see impressive Brandenburg Gate in Pariser Platz, which is very cosy and is home to many embassies. Built in 1788-91 and modelled on the Propylaeum of Athens’ Acropolis, today the Gate serves as a symbol of unity between formerly separated East and West Berlin.
If you continue on Str des 17. Juni (17th of June Street) behind the Gate you will see beautiful Tiergarten park on both sides. Take a break, like I did, in the park under the shade of plush trees. This is also where you will see Soviet War Memorial, built in 1945 to commemorate 80,000 soldiers of the Soviet Armed Forces who died during the Battle of Berlin in April-May 1945. As someone who grew up in the Soviet Union and knows the cost of WWII victory, I was particularly moved by it.
Next stop on my itinerary was Checkpoint Charlie and Checkpoint Charlie (Mauer) Museum. Checkpoint Charlie was a crossing point between East and West Berlin for the members of the Allied Forces (American, British, and French) and became a symbol of the Cold War. The original guard house on the American forces side is still there and for a few euros you can take a picture with wannabe actors dressed up in military uniforms.
After a day of running around Berlin, it was a great to head down to Alexanderplatz with its numerous shops, restaurants and cafes.
I suggest seeing Berlin Dom (Cathedral) next, which is home to the Protestant Church in Germany. It dates back to 1451 and was rebuilt in 1975-80 following a big fire during WW II. It’s a truly impressive building and is worth checking out.
As the day comes to a close, I suggest going up the TV tower. The ticket is 13 euros and provides access to panoramic views of the city. Here you can enjoy sunset while sipping cocktails or coffee or even enjoy dinner at the restaurant one level higher. There is a bit of a wait between purchasing tickets and going up, so I simply grabbed some gelato and basked under the sun.
For dinner, if you like Turkish food and restaurants off the beaten path, you should head to Oranienstrasse. This is a Berlin neighbourhood with great dive bars and Turkish cafes and restaurants. I picked Hasir, even though it was a bit more expensive than your average kebab shop, the quality of food was great and enjoyed every bit of the red lentil soup, aubergine salad, freshly baked flat bread and my favourite yogurt drink ayran.
Day 2: Culture Vulture
Having seen most of Berlin’s major sights on Day 1, I chose a more cultural and relaxed itinerary for Day 2. I started it with the East Side Gallery near Warschauer Str. Stretched along the banks of river Spree, 1.3 km-long remains of the Berlin Wall have been painted in 1990 by 150 artists from all over the world. Many paintings carry explicit political and social messages, while others are much more subtle and can be judged more from an artistic point of view.
As some who grew up during the Brezhnev era, I really loved Vrubel’s piece “God! Help me stay alive among this deadly love” featuring a kiss between Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker.
Given Berlin’s status of one of the cultural capitals of the world I would advice checking out Museum Island next. It hosts several major museums: Pergamon Museum is famous for Greek altar that gives it its name and the ancient architecture exhibit, the Neues Museum presents archaeological objects, including famous Queen Nefertiti bust, while the Altes Museum hosts Greek and Roman art, and Bode and Alte Nationalgalerie feauture paintings from Byzantine period to 18-19th centuries.
I actually opted out for a specific exhibit I really wanted to see. A big fan of van Gogh I went to check out van Gogh Alive at the Alten Münze Berlin. The ticket was 12.5 euros and it was totally worth it. Imagine several big rooms presenting the life and creative career of legendary Dutch painter in a multisensory way. 40 high-definition projectors project about 3,000 dynamic images and multi-channel animation graphics onto the walls, accompanied by beautiful classical music. Sitting in a comfy bean bag I was there for 2 hours enchanted by world-class art and music.
While I filled my soul with beautiful art, my stomach was hungry for dinner traditional German food. I picked restaurant Berliner near the Alexanderplatz. German sausages with sauerkraut, boiled potatoes and ham, followed by apple strudel with custard, did the trick!
For a bit of a different view of the city, you can try ending the evening on the river boat!
Day 3: Potsdam
During my trip the weather wasn’t cooperative and completely ruined my plans to visit Potsdam. However, I definitely plan to see it next time. Potsdam is located on the outskirts of Berlin and is very easy to get to by metro from central Berlin.
|Photo by Wolfgang Staudt|
You will need a whole day for Postdam, which is now a UNESCO heritage site. This hardly comes to a surprise – being a former royal residence with 17 palaces, dating as far as 1744, elegant gardens and parks, churches and squares, there is much to see.
|Photo by Pingallery|
|Photo by Pingallery|
|Photo by Pingallery|
Anyway, towards the end of the trip Berlin definitely grew on me to the point that I now plan to come back. Perhaps Christmas, so expect another Berlin blog post in the near future…!
|Yummy breakfast at Bondi Cafe|
|Leonid Brezhnev, Soviet leader, lived in this building|
|Rabbit right in the center of the city!|
|Marx and Engels|
|Inside Radisson Blue|