A chilly week in March is as good a time as any to explore this concrete maze of near history, art future and adopted Berliners from half a world away. This is a first attempt at travel writing having actually travelled somewhere, rather than my usual mantra of being a tourist in my own city.
Despite my unshakeable belief that the best travel advice comes from the locals, I hope that something of use can be gleaned from my muddled attempts at piecing together a city which refuses to be labeled.
I quickly realised that part of the appeal of Berlin for a weekend is that it is electrifying at night as well as during the day. If you didn’t need sleep, you could always find a place to explore, no matter the hour, and your time is maximised.
Three Days in Berlin: Evening 1
As reluctant clubbers at the best of times, the infamous clubbing scene passed us by, but night walks were a firm favourite. From our local area of Kreuzberg, to the East Side Gallery by streetlight, Berlin comes to life after dark.
The bounce of the eerie yellow street light on the white concrete Berlin wall adds shadows that you could miss during the day. We were one of two pairs of visitors, and it seemed that 10pm on a Sunday was in fact the perfect hour to peruse the symbols of repression, peace and hope.
Three Days in Berlin: Day One
Sunday mornings are made for the Mauerpark Flea Market. After narrowly avoiding a projectile-vomiter on the U-bahn (it was still early enough to be going-home time), we followed the groups of Sunday shoppers to this sizeable market, stuffed with vintage, handmade and everything in between. Cups of Glühwein continue to steam in the cold March air, and dogs nose excitedly at the feet of the food sellers.
Berlin takes its tumultuous history seriously, from WW2 to the cold war, and rightly so. Particularly impressive is the Topography of Terror, a stark, concrete box marking the flattened SS headquarters which seeks to portray an accurate picture of the circumstances which led to the fear and bloodshed – no matter how uncomfortable a journey that may be.
A Sunday afternoon was a good time to wander in – free tours in English are offered at 3.30pm and the knowledgable guide brought the story to life, pointing out the fascinating evidence demonstrating the frailty of the line between complicity and active participation in the war crimes which took place.
A bit of lighter relief came in the form of a visit to the Aquarium. Although dry, the chilly weather was getting a bit too pervasive and the time had come to revert to childhood and explore tropical tanks, humid imitation rainforests, and those little bridges they often have from which to watch the koi carp swaying below.
Three Days in Berlin: Day Two
With a little pre-planning, arrangements had been made to visit the Reichstag dome which is free, but requires advanced registration.
The morning is early, the views foggy but fantastic. Glass and metal reflect the cityscape in every curve. This peculiar dome perched atop the seat of German parliament is worth the bag-searching, yawing into coffee and catching the first of the morning rays.
The iconic Brandenburg Tor is just a short walk away – get your selfie and marvel at the ease with which Berlin offers space to walk, think and move. It feels airy as much as industrial, yet these snapshots of old stone history don’t feel enclosed by the nearly-modern.
Three Days in Berlin: Day Three
A full day – my birthday, in fact – is dedicated to museums. As a lover of the ancient, odd and lost, Museumsinsel is a dream come true.
This ‘island’ of museums is home to some of the rarest items and most famous artworks on the planet. It is under construction when we visit (March 2016) but still offers up admirable photo ops at the exterior.
We buy a multi-pass to visit all the museums – I wasn’t joking about it being a passion of mine.
Five museums live on this section of the Mitte district, cradled by the Spreekanal. If, as I see it, the place of a museum is to bring history to life, then they are admirable.
Personal highlights include walking the route to the 8th gate of the City of Babylon in the Pergamon Museum – the lions are looking fantastic for their (approximate) 2,591st birthday – I think to myself, on my own 22nd.
Confession time: I am writing this 18 months after my visit. Somehow it has taken me this long to return to the Berlin of my mind, and this is what remains.
I vaguely remember a rough and ready burger joint called Kreuzburger (the one actually in Kreuzberg, there are multiple), a stylish apothecary bar and carrying squashed pack lunches of cheese and bread in a bid to save on money.
Normally, my visits to new places revolve around (vegetarian) food and I will make more a feature of it the next time I write about a place on Out Searching.
We stayed at a now-defunct but beautiful Air Bnb close to Moritzplatz station, and lived on a 3 day travel card. Be warned – the train guards do not take kindly to non – or incorrectly – stamped tickets. You must validate your ticket before travel, and on the correct side of the ticket(!)
Whilst this account has been living in my head for over a year, I hope it is of benefit to you to read it. Whether you’re here out of interest or as a planning stage for your own weekend in Berlin – I hope you have enjoyed spending some time on this blog. Come back soon.