Hotel: Hotel Gat Point Charlie
I love love love Europe – something I feel I have to say after the sad few days we’ve had post-Brexit. As a remain voter, I wasn’t just concerned about economic stability or freedom of movement, I was mostly sad that all of a sudden, the cord that connected Britain and the rest of the EU had been cut. That bond was missing and there was a sudden feeling of loss and isolation.
Whether we are a part of the EU or not, I still feel very much European and this result is not going to stop me from visiting my European neighbours. Today I am going to be writing about my recent trip with my friend ‘Ginny’ to Berlin, Germany.
With only 48 hours to enjoy this fascinating city, we tried to pack as much as possible in. So without further ado, let’s get into how you can make the most of a weekend in one of the hipster capitals of Europe.
Things to do in Berlin
- Museum Island
This was the main reason I came to Berlin. Knowing that Ginny and I only had two days, we decided to pick one museum to visit properly, rather trying to blaze through all of them.
The museum we chose was the Neues Museum, which houses a multitude of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman artefacts. This museum was set out in a very clear and aesthetically pleasing way. While I love the British Museum, one gripe I do have is that they have tried to stuff too much into certain rooms which makes it a bit overwhelming to look at.
The sheer amount of Ancient Egyptian artefacts was astounding. You may be wondering why Berlin has such a connection to these artefacts and what warrants them being displayed here, rather than in Cairo. Well, Berlin has actually played a massive part in the excavations in the Nile Valley and has produced some very famous Egyptologists.
The most famous artefact is clearly the 3,000 year old bust of Queen Nefertiti, which sits in a room on its own and is heavily guarded. I cannot explain how I felt to be looking at this near perfect representation of arguably the most beautiful Queen Ancient Egypt had ever seen (her name itself means ‘the beautiful one has come’). It looked virtually untainted by the ravages of time, with some minor crumbling around one eye and both ears.This bust was the main reason I had wanted to visit Berlin.
The museum cost €12 to enter, but if you paid €18 you could access all of the museums on Museum Island. There are SO MANY amazing museums in Berlin, which means that we will just have to go back in the future and see the rest another time!
- Reichstag Dome
While you can take longer tours of the Reichstag, we opted for a tour of the Dome instead. This is totally free but needs to be booked online in advance, due to the necessary security clearance. I would recommend doing this during the evening, as it will be less busy and you will get some great views of the city at sunset. You can apply for passes to the Reichstag dome here.
Upon arrival you need to go through security and then you are ushered into the building to take the lift up to the roof. Here you can pick up a free audioguide in a range of different languages, which explains the history and the significance of the surrounding buildings as you make your way around the broad spiral ramp of the dome.
- A Walking Tour of Berlin
The issue with Berlin is that there are lots of amazing buildings and monuments around, but if you do what is expected of you as a tourist and simply go and look at it, you’re not really getting the full story. For this reason, Ginny and I decided to book a 4 hour walking tour of the city, in the hope that the guide could explain the significance behind the most popular sites. We booked this tour with Original Berlin Walks through Expedia in advance and it cost £11 each.
Our guide, Darren, was an Irish PhD student studying Nazism. He was clearly very knowledgeable and passionate about the subject and made an entertaining and engaging guide throughout the tour.
During the tour we learnt all about the Hohenzollern family and the four leaders who had collectively built Berlin up from nothing. Darren pointed out that while the city looked very old, it was in fact attempting to play catch up. For a long time, Berlin had been very ashamed of its history (understandably) and after the war, there wasn’t much that had survived the bombs and destruction. A lot of Berlin has therefore been rebuilt to look much older than it actually is, with the museums and cathedrals being reminiscent of Roman, Greek and Gothic architecture.
We also visited the site where books which were considered inappropriate by the Nazis were burnt in 1933. One of the books that was burned was by the nineteenth-century German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, who wrote, “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.” #chills.
The tour took us to the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe (commonly known as the Holocaust Memorial), which was designed by Peter Eisenman. It was here that Darren asked us to interpret the way the memorial had been constructed. Some of the group compared it to a graveyard, with jutting gravestones. Others noted that each stone was a different size, representing the fact that each person killed was an individual, not just a statistic. The artist who had designed the memorial had given away very little information on what it actually represented and our guide thought that maybe the memorial was difficult to interpret because the event itself (the Holocaust) was so difficult to understand.
We also went to visit the site of Hitler’s bunker, where he shot himself in 1945. This is literally just a patch of grass in the middle of a car park, so if you’re expecting something a bit more exciting, you’re going to be disappointed. The discussion around Hitler’s bunker started with a question, “Should there be a Hitler museum here?” Cue everyone getting seriously worked up and Ginny and I wishing we had brought some deckchairs with us. While it was very interesting to watch people debate with our guide and hear different points of view on whether Hitler was a monster or a man, this ended up turning a 4 hour tour into something closer to 5 hours. Save it for the pub guys!
All in all, I’m very pleased we did the tour and I was impressed by Darren’s extensive knowledge on the subject. It turned what could have been a standard explanation of the sites and the history into more of a philosophical debate at times, which was really compelling. From the reviews I have read on TripAdvisor about the Original Berlin Walks, Darren and all of the other guides are raved about, so I would highly recommend this if you’re visiting the city.
- The Berlin Wall
Although we did see part of the Berlin Wall during our walking tour, we didn’t see the cool part that we wanted edgy Instagram shots of, so we hopped on the S-Bahn and made our way to the East Side Gallery. It’s here that you will see the famous graffiti and is definitely much more interesting than the boring grey wall we saw on the tour.
This area of Berlin is so unbearably cool that it makes you desperate for some tortoise shell glasses and a pair of oversized denim culottes. A really good place to enjoy a summer evening overlooking the river, with an ice cream in hand!
- The New Synagogue
This was our last stop of the weekend, as we had not spent much time exploring the Jewish area. You can pay €3 to go up to the top of the synagogue but I really would not advise spending your money on this; there’s nothing worth seeing up there. There is an exhibition inside as well, but we bypassed this because by the end of the day, we were all learned out. This is probably somewhere more to be admired from the outside, as the exterior is much grander than the interior.
Things to eat in Berlin
This is probably the thing most people think of when they imagine German cuisine. A curry spiced sausage with homemade potato salad. Unfortunately, not one that I could try as traditional German food is quite meaty but I know that Ginny enjoyed it.
Falafel is probably not something you’d naturally associate with Berlin, but it’s actually on every list of what to eat when you’re in the city. Due to the large scale immigration of Turkish and Lebanese communities, you can buy this delicious and cheap snack all over the place. Ginny and I went to one of the more well-renowned places called Dada Falafel. This meal would probably go into the top 5 meals of my life and we only paid between €10-15 for all of this food, plus drinks.
Ahh the humble pretzel, also known as a brezel in Germany. This can be found in every bakery, food stall or café around Berlin and is a nice snack for when you’re on the go. If you’re passionate about pretzels, you may like to check out this list of the best brezels in Berlin here.
Now I grant you that a crepe isn’t the most German thing we could have picked for breakfast, but when it’s filled with Kinder chocolate, that’s kind of a game changer. You can buy these freshly made crepes in the ‘Black Box’ exhibition near Checkpoint Charlie, which is free to enter.
If you are after a more German alternative however, you can try a Pfannkuchen!
Travel in Berlin
- Airport transfer
We flew from Berlin Schoenfeld and decided to take a taxi to Mitte, where our hotel was. This cost around €35 on the way there and €40 on the way back to the airport, but between two people was worth it in terms of saving time. The journey takes between 20-30 minutes.
- Public Transport
A day pass for the U-Bahn and S-Bahn is €7, which is a better use of your money than paying per trip. The train/metro system is easy enough to figure out, but you may find yourself lost in the labyrinthine stations between changes, as we were on many occasions! There is no real city centre however, so walking between each destination (while do-able) is not a good use of your time when you’re on a schedule.
All in all, Berlin is a fantastic city and one that I hope to visit again and again. I know it’s normal to feel a bit sad about going home after a great trip, but Berlin really struck a chord with me in a way that only London and Budapest ever have before. The culture, the history, the carefree/liberal vibe and the multiculturalism all make for a place which really feels like home. I think I will need to take a few more trips there to find out whether this is infatuation or love, but it’s a place I can really see myself spending more time in whatever happens.
Thanks for reading,
~ Plane Emoji