I never really thought about visiting Berlin until this past year, when the idea of it seemed to just keep popping up everywhere. I found myself reading several travel blogs and having multiple friends simply rave about the city, with its affordability, its fascinating history, and its raging nightlife. So, when an 10 euro ROUND-TRIP flight from Brussels caught my attention, I just couldn’t say no.
Berlin is nine(!) times the size of Paris; needless to say I barely scratched the surface during my four days in the city. Berlin is dirty, gritty, artsy, hipster, and full of history. I don’t think I will ever be quite cool or alternative enough to ever live there. Berlin also doesn’t look or feel like the rest of Germany, or even the rest of Europe. The city itself is very urban and modern, but with a painful past that still lingers. In a way, Berlin is almost like an onion– you need to tear back the layers in order to get to know it. There isn’t really a definitive city center, and the best way to get around is, just like in The Netherlands, by bike. It’s also insanely cheap for a European capital city.
Berlin is a place that is constantly healing and changing– in five, ten, fifteen years, I believe it will be a completely different place. Berlin’s past is very much a part of its present, which is what makes it so fascinating and diverse. Needless to say, I did really enjoy my time in Berlin. The nightlife is sick, and I learned A TON of history in such a short amount of time.
Free Walking Tour:
Berlin is so big and so overwhelming, the best way to get to know the city and to get your bearings (as well as a very informative dose of history!) is to take a free walking tour of the city. The tour is 3.5 hours long, but it is a great way to start your stay!
Brandenburg Gate is located in the center of the famous Pariser Platz (Paris Square). The original remaining entryway gate into Berlin is one of Germany’s most famous landmarks, and is also a symbol of the formerly divided city. The gate once separated East and West Berlin, both geographically and politically. It was at Brandenburg Gate where President Ronald Regan famously commanded: “Mr. Gorbachov – tear down this wall!”.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe:
Also known as the Holocaust Memorial, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is found directly next to Pariser Platz. The memorial was designed and constructed in the early 2000’s, and consists of 2,711 concrete blocks arranged in various rows on a sloped area. The blocks also differ in height, and the interpretations and meanings behind the memorial are somewhat unclear. However, according to the architect who designed the Memorial, Peter Eisenman, the blocks were created and strategically placed to produce an uneasy and unsettled atmosphere, representing a once-orderly system gone amiss.
Underneath the memorial is a free museum, which contains all known Jewish Holocaust victims’ names, as well as other interesting information about the Holocaust. Additionally, across the street one can stroll in Tiergarten, one of Berlin’s most beautiful city parks.
East Side Gallery:
The East Side Gallery is a 1.3 km. long section of the Berlin Wall. This open air art gallery features graffiti-style art work, and represents the documentation of a time of change, hope, and freedom for Berlin and its people.
If you can read the letters right side up, you’re in West Berlin
Alternative Free Walking Tour:
Hands down, one of the best things I did in Berlin was take a free, alternative walking tour of Berlin’s art and hipster scene. This two-and-a-half hour tour takes you to some of the lesser-known local hot spots in and around the neighborhood of Kreuzberg. During the tour we learned the individual stories and meanings behind the street art we saw, and afterwards I felt like I had such a different appreciation for the city.
Friedrichshain & Kreuzberg
If you are looking for more hipster, alternative, club-scene Berlin, these are the neighborhoods to check out!
The seat of the German Parliament has a rich history and is one of the city’s most famous landmarks. Anyone with a valid passport can enter the building and climb the glass dome for free, as long as online reservations are made in advance. The views of the city are great, and there is a very informative display regarding the history of the Reichstag Building inside the dome.
Inside the Dome
On the Roof of the Reichstag Building
Alexanderplatz and Fernsehturm TV Tower:
There are many famous squares in Berlin, but the most famous (and perhaps one of the most touristy!) is Alexanderplatz– home to Berlin’s Fernsehturm TV Tower. The tower is 368 meters high and has an observation deck (although we opted not to climb up). The Fernsehturm TV Tower is a very distinctive landmark because it can be seen at almost any location within the city.
Topography of Terror:
One of the most admirable things about Germany is its desire to neither hide nor cover up its shameful past. The Topography of Terror was once headquarters to both the Nazi and SS regimes and this does a fantastic job showing an honest display of Germany’s brutal history. There are also former prison cells underneath the remains of the Berlin Wall, shown below.
Parts of the Berlin Wall remain outside the Topography of Terror
The city’s most well-known border crossing point from East to West Berlin was Checkpoint Charlie (or Checkpoint “C.”) Today, there are fake soldiers with whom you can take your picture, as well as an informative museum containing stories about people trying to flee from the East to the West.
The busiest square in Europe back in the 1920’s, Potsdamer Platz was completely destroyed in World War II and then later divided by the Berlin Wall. Today, it is a very urban location, filled with modern architecture and skyscrapers, as well as remnants of the Berlin Wall.
If you eat anything in Berlin, it must be authentic curry wurst!
Although I don’t think I could ever live in Berlin, I will definitely travel there again and again and again. There are so many things I didn’t get to see or experience yet, including Tiergarten Park, The Dom, Templehof Park, Treptower Park, The Jewish History Museum, GDR Museum, German History Museum, Deutsche Kinemathek (The Film Museum), and experience a bit more of the nightlife!
Have you ever been to Berlin?