Remember this post back in January? A couple of weeks ago I made good on those plans and spent a long weekend in the German capital.
It wasn’t a meticulously planned trip. Weeks of back-to-back work deadlines meant that I hadn’t researched ahead as much as I usually would, but a decent guidebook (Rough Guides – always good for providing context about a place), blogs and helpful tips from the hostel we stayed at filled in the gaps.
How do I get there?
We flew with Norwegian Air from London Gatwick to Berlin Schonefeld. A mid-week flight at a reasonable hour in April was £70ish – not bad, and a big improvement experience-wise on Ryanair & easyJet. Just don’t expect great airport shopping at Schonefeld: duty free wasn’t a big consideration during those years behind the Iron Curtain.
Where should I stay?
Hostels have changed so much in the last decade. No longer the preserve of grubby backpackers, they’re often more like budget boutique hotels for the under 30s. Most offer double and single rooms alongside the traditional dorms for travellers who want a bit more privacy. Call me cheap, but I always check out the local hostel options ahead of a city break.
Circus Hostel was our home for the couple of days we spent in Berlin. The place definitely lived up to Berlin’s hipster credentials, housing its own bar and craft beer brewery in the basement (open until 2am most nights). They also distil their own gin, which you can buy from the front desk.
But they got the fundamentals right: clean, well designed rooms rooms, a good buffet breakfast for €5, incredibly helpful English-speaking staff and links with tour companies if you were stuck for ideas on what to do. The only real negative was the tram noise from the busy street outside.
What should I see?
For visitors, it feels like there are two sides to Berlin. There’s the nightlife, hopping between different techno clubs that occupy former industrial sites and emerging, blinking, at 9am the following day. Or there’s the historical approach, seeing places related to WW2 and the city’s divided past. I’m not much of a clubber, so we erred towards the latter, with a few hipster burger bars and street art thrown in for good measure.
- Berlin Wall Memorial – The longest surviving stretch of the Berlin Wall, this park also holds a memorial to the 136 people who died trying to cross into west Germany. Worth seeing as the sole place you can see the Wall as it looked to Berliners between 1961-1989.
- East Side Gallery – Another stretch of the Wall, but much more decorative. Artists were commissioned to paint murals here in 1990 to act as an ‘international memorial to freedom’. The site coils 1.3km along a main road (‘gallery’ is a bit misleading), but the art is striking and sums up the pain and frustration of communities severed by politics.
- Bowie Berlin walk – As I mentioned in my January post, one of the compelling reasons to visit Berlin was to get a sense of the place that inspired the Thin White Duke in the late 70s. We considered tracking down each Bowie location ourselves, but this walk turned out to be a much better idea. Our tour guide was a real expert, not just in Bowie trivia, but the city’s social history. So while we learned that Bowie landing in Berlin was a happy accident more than anything, we discovered how young west Germans would seek refuge in the city to avoid compulsory military service, fuelling its party scene. We parted ways after a drink at Cafe Neues Ufer, Bowie and Iggy Pop’s local a few doors down from their old flat, which is now an easygoing gay bar (that also sells cheesecake. Progressive or what?).
- Bauhaus Archive – Bauhaus style aficionados should hit up this small museum for the sake of completism. There are better exhibits on this art school across the world, I reckon, but its worth visiting here to get a sense of the Bauhaus diaspora. It also holds some rare items, like this original woodcut for the 1919 manifesto that introduced Germany to the Bauhaus vision.
What should I eat?
Shiso Burger was a cheap & tasty pitstop in Mitte, crammed elbow-to-elbow with young locals and tourists eating Asian influenced burgers. A familiar format for anyone who eats at London burger places like Patty & Bun, but satisfying nonetheless. Close to where we stayed on Torstraße, Noto was a great little neighbourhood bistro for an evening meal or some wine and cheese. Avoid the veggie main dish – its a bit of an afterthought compared to the meat options. We also ate at a near deserted Dada Falafel at 12:30am after exploring the city after dark, and were pleasantly surprised at how fresh and absolutely dirt cheap the food was.
Absolutely. And next time, I’ll make room for cocktails at some of Berlin’s more eccentric nightspots and really see what it has to offer in the way of vintage shopping.