Last year, I finally made it to Berlin for a long weekend of cocktails, street art, currywurst and jazz. Given Berlin's history, there were naturally one or two sombre moments too. Gritty and cool, Berlin also boasts some grand architecture and picturesque streets. Of course, the ugly soviet tower blocks are evident too, but Berlin was much more attractive than I had ever imagined.
My getaway buddies and I were pleasantly surprised at how favourably the city compared cost-wise to London. Eating out was actually affordable and I didn't feel 'ripped off' as I often do in the English capital. By the time my few days in Berlin came to a close, I was seriously considering moving there, especially when I heard about the excellent rent-controlled apartments that are there for the taking.
Here follows a list of what I did on my fun and fascinating weekend in Berlin......
1) Checkpoint Charlie
A popular tourist attraction, but also a place of great historical importance, Checkpoint Charlie was the crossing point between West and East Berlin. These days, tourists have their photographs taken with actors dressed as military policemen posing next to the guardhouse. The street is lined with souvenir shops and camera-toting visitors swarm the area. Even if you don't seek out Checkpoint Charlie, it is highly likely that, as we did, you will stumble upon it at some point during your visit to Berlin.
I loved this somewhat decaying and seedy area. Stomping ground to members of the counter-culture, the buildings are covered in graffiti, the bars are cool and the vintage shops and live music venues combine to make it the hippest area in the city. It reminded me of certain areas of London back in the eighties before they became gentrified and boring.
You can't leave the city without sampling this classic Berlin dish! It can be purchased on practically every street corner. It is simple, but extremely tasty - German sausage smothered with curry sauce. Mine came with a freshly baked bread roll, but it is sometimes accompanied by fries. There are veggie versions available too!
This is Berlin's gay neighbourhood and boasts an abundance of bars, restaurants, cafes and quirky shops. It is a lovely area with pretty squares and wide boulevards. We spent a wonderful Sunday afternoon bar-hopping and exploring the attractive streets.
5) The Jewish Museum
An excellent museum focusing on Jewish history and culture. The building itself is fascinating from a architectural perspective and the Fallen Leaves art installation is a moving tribute to the Jews murdered in Europe.
6) B-Flat Jazz Club
We headed here on Sunday night. There was a hefty twelve euro cover charge, but once in, the drinks and snacks were reasonably priced and the entertainment superb. Most of the tables were located relatively close to the stage. A great venue.
7) The Berlin Wall
The iconic Berlin Wall is a must for visitors to the city. We were there on a rainy Monday morning, which somehow seemed appropriate. The surroundings are bleak and the soviet-style tower blocks look down on the wall from across the river. It is a thought provoking an evocative memorial and an experience not to be missed.
On Sunday morning we made a beeline for this park to join browsers at the weekly flea market. It is a delightful place to wander through. Antiques, arts, crafts, trinkets and food are on offer and the atmosphere is laid back. The stall holders are friendly and helpful. It was, without doubt, one of the highlights of the weekend for me.
9) Holocaust Memorial
Berlin's memorial to the six million Jews who were victims of the holocaust. It is an area of 19,000 square metres comprised of 2,711 concrete blocks. You can enter the memorial on any of the four sides. When we left the maze of pillars, we sat adjacent to the huge structure gazing over it and taking in the enormity of it all. Very impressive.
10) Museum Island
Five major museums are located on the island, situated in the middle of the river. Bridges lead you over to the complex. If you love ancient history and art, you are bound to find something you appreciate here. At the Neus Museum, we saw the bust of the Egyptian Queen Nefetiti, incredibly well preserved and Berlin's most celebrated exhibit.
11) U-Bahn and S-Bahn
We used the U-Bahn (underground) and S-Bahn (overground) system several times each day. It is cheap, clean, reliable and comprehensive. The one thing you have to remember is to get your ticket validated after you have bought it or you could get fined! A practical and speedy way to get around.
13) The Brandenburg Gate
We strolled down the broad boulevard leading to the eighteenth century neo-classical Brandenburg Gate because we couldn't miss the most famous landmark in Germany!
14) Amrit Restaurants
A chain of Asian restaurants, numerous and easily recognised by a display of oriental parasols outside each of them. We found ourselves eating at Amrit time after time, especially as we had one or two meals elsewhere that hadn't been that special. The menu is extensive, varied and great value. With every main course, you are served with a complimentary portion of salad and rice. The cocktails are fabulous!
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