Late November… the days are getting shorter, cold and grey, it rains a lot, and the sun can be rarely seen on the sky. A time of the year when most people prefer to stay inside and avoid contact with the outside world. Despite all of this, the end of autumn is still a great period to visit Berlin. Why? Because the summer crowds, airfares and hotel rates drop as fast as the temperature, so you might end up spending a ridiculously low amount for some days in the capital of Germany. But don’t forget to pack warm clothes…
Probably the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind, when thinking of this city, is the famous Berlin Wall. And it’s understandable why. For 28 years, it symbolized the Cold War and divided the eastern communist bloc from the western capitalist bloc. Families got separated after it was built, and many people died trying to get past it. The construction of the Wall meant a loss in human rights and freedom. Its fall, on the 9th of November 1989, paved the way for German reunification, that took place a year later.
Moving on, to the present: nowadays, Berlin is a cool city, a mixture of massive, industrial buildings and 21st century skyscrapers. It has tens of museums and art galleries, modern, international restaurants and a vibrant nightlife. To be honest, I did not discover a pretty city, like other European capitals I’ve visited before. It doesn’t impress with its architecture; or, at least, it didn’t impress me. But there’s no doubt that it’s an interesting destination, perfect for many people, with a nice vibe and lots of history, especially if you’re passionate about what happened in the last one hundred years.
If you search a bit online, you’ll find out that the best way to move around Berlin is by bike – that if it’s not the end of November. Or winter. Renting one costs €10-15 per day, but since the weather was close to freezing, I had to pass on this opportunity and use my feet and the U-Bahn.
How to reach the city from the airport
Berlin is served by two rather small airports: Tegel (NW) and Schönefeld (SE); a third one, Brandenburg, which would become the largest and most important, is currently under construction. I flew to Schönefeld, which has its own train station. You can reach the city center in around 30 minutes, with either one of the following trains: RE7 or RB14. A ticket is €3.4 – really cheap, compared to a taxi or an Uber.
I recommend searching for a hotel in the Mitte neighbourhood, to be as close as possible to the action and points of interest. Still, don’t forget that Berlin is a large city, so staying in a central location won’t guarantee that you will walk less, especially if the weather isn’t suitable for renting a bike. I stayed at H2 Hotel (Karl Liebknecht Strasse 32a), pretty close to Alexanderplatz. It’s a modern, clean and tidy hotel, which offers complimentary breakfast (big plus for the great variety of food and drinks) and decent prices overall.
Guide to Berlin
Two days and a half are a compromise for Berlin. I won’t lie: off and on, I felt pressed for time. In the end, the itinerary is a personal decision. In general, I try as much as possible to go for a balanced one, and find the best combination between visiting landmarks, discovering new places, wandering the streets and chilling inside a cafe or a restaurant. The fun part starts now, here is what I’ve done in Berlin:
→ I’ve already mentioned the Berlin Wall, so here are the best locations to see its remains and find out more about its history: Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (memorial with free admission); Checkpoint Charlie (the best-known crossing point between East and West Berlin, during the Cold War); the East Side Gallery (more than 1.3 kilometers long and over 100 paintings, made on the east side of the Wall).
→ Pariser Platz is probably the most important square and hosts the Brandenburger Tor, a symbol of European unity and peace. It is surrounded by many iconic landmarks, which will follow below.
→ North of Pariser Platz, it’s the Reichstag building, home of the German Bundestag (or Parliament). Don’t miss the tour of the roof terrace and dome, which is free of charge. Once at the top, you’ll enjoy a lovely 360-degree view of the city. All you need to do is register in advance here – it’s easy, follow the steps and get a confirmation via email.
→ A bit to the south, it’s the controversial Holocaust Memorial, dedicated to the murdered Jews of the Second World War. The site contains 2711 rectangular concrete blocks and offers a moving tribute to the Holocaust victims.
→ Finally, take a walk inside Berlin’s most popular park, the Tiergarten, just west of Brandenburger Tor. Right in its middle you’ll spot the Victory Column, one of the major tourist attraction.
→ If you’re a fan of modern architecture or just interested in shopping, make sure to visit Potsdamer Platz, one of the most exciting building sites in Europe.
→ Did someone say that it’s time for a break? Well, after all that walking, it’s understandable. I’ve discovered two cool places in the area: the first one is a cafe situated in a former art gallery, called Die Espressonisten (Zimmerstrasse 90), while the second one is Rausch Schokoladenhaus (Charlottenstrasse 60). They’ve been making chocolate for almost 100 years now, having started back in 1918. In case you’re interested in seeing their creations, here is the link to their webpage.
→ Let’s head north-east: the Museum Island is a place packed with tourists. You’ll probably spot many of them in Lustgarten park, either taking pictures or just lying on the grass. The Berliner Dom is definitely the most impressive landmark, but there are a few others that are worth being mentioned, like the Altes Museum, the Neues Museum and Bode Museum. In total, there are over ten museums on the “island”.
→ Crossing the Spree river into Nikolaiviertel, the reconstructed historical heart of Berlin. The Rotes Rathaus, hosting the city hall, is located in this area. And let’s not forget the imposing Fernsehturm, 368 meters high, which dominates the skyline. For €13, you can take an elevator to the observation platform, situated at 203 meters from the ground, and enjoy the panorama.
→ Die Hackeschen Höfe is a one of a kind complex, consisting of eight interconnected courtyards. It hosts cultural institutions, a cinema, cafes, shops and apartments.
→ If you want to enjoy the famous Berlin nightlife, then you must go to the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg borough. It’s one of the hippest locations for sure, having a lot of bars, clubs (Club der Visionäre), street food vendors (Markthalle Neun), restaurants and cafes.
→ Bonus: Christmas Markets have always been a big tradition in Germany, and Berlin is no exception. The markets usually start at the end of November and last till the end of December. I wasn’t lucky to find them opened – they were still under construction, but if you are, here are some popular locations: Gendarmenmarkt, Alexanderplatz, Rotes Rathaus, Opernpalais.
How to characterize Berlin, at the end of the trip? Well, I believe this is the best way: it is not a pretty city. It has concrete tower blocks, a lot of graffiti, and the remains of the war and socialism can be seen everywhere. The streets are dirty and there are many homeless people. The city is a building site covered with rubble, steel, and glass.
But, in the same time, it is a beautiful city. It has amazing parks, impressive buildings and peaceful corners. It has some of the best museums and galleries on the continent. Its people are enjoying life each second. It is probably the center of modern history, and since the reunification it has some of the most exciting architecture in Europe.
Ich bin ein Berliner! Tschüss!
Author: Marian Bulacu
Live. Love. Travel. Make a difference.