Hello! I am back with a post that might satisfy the city break fans like me. Have you ever been to Berlin? Either way, I am bringing you with me on my three-day weekend in the vibrant German capital!
Ich bin ein Berlin-er
I had been to Berlin when I was 14 and I was eager to go back to discover it again with adult eyes. This time, my fiancé and I decided to spoil ourselves by staying at the stunning Pullman Schweizerhof. The hotel overlooks the zoo and its huge park. We couldn’t be happier to wake up every day in a king-size bed and admire the view made of orange-tinged leaves until the eye can see.
We had no plan to rush to see everything but wanted to use this trip to relax instead.
Check-in in hotel & the Holocaust Memorial
It took us 35 minutes by train to reach the Berlin Zoo station from Berlin-Schönefeld airport, on the opposite side of the city. After a most necessary bed-jumping test – we had a mythical Currywurst (a pork sausage with curry ketchup) the real German way: standing in the street.
Bellyful, we headed to the Holocaust Memorial. Arrived there, we were in shock. The installation is so powerful that it really took our words away. All these cement blocks are standing in memory of 3 million Jewish Holocaust victims. The Shoah is one of the themes I am the most passionate about since reading The Diary of Anne Frank aged 8. Since then, I visited the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps, I met death camp survivors, I read as much as I can about it. So in that memorial, in that country, I felt very emotional.
Brandenburg Gate, Friedrichstraße & Gendarmenmarkt Square
Moving on, we went to the Brandenburg Gate only meters away, where we took the mandatory selfies. We then went down the Unter den linden boulevard (“under the linden trees”) that our guide was recommending. Was it because it was a gloomy day or because there were construction works everywhere? Either way, we couldn’t find anything nice in that street congested with souvenir shops and cheap cafés. Not recommended.
Turning into Friedrichstraße, we stopped by in a few shops. I like to bring home a little souvenir (clothes or accessories) of each of my trips and in Berlin, I bought lovely golden hoop earrings. Right at a corner, we stumble upon the cute Gendarmenmarkt square and its Bavarian-looking buildings.
Checkpoint Charlie & Kreuzberg
A few blocks down, we were at the Checkpoint Charlie, the famous crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. It’s a shame it has become so touristic (fake soldiers posing for pictures, really?!). But still, this is history and it was great to see it by ourselves and reflect on what it meant at the time.
So now came the best part, finding a great food spot! We’ve been told that the Kreuzberg district is one of the most interesting parts of the city: diverse, creative, rebel, an old popular district… Something that smelt like Shoreditch in London – that was definitely for us. It was sunset time, the light was amazing (golden hour… you said it!). We were wandering among the graffiti walls, trying to choose between burgers, Korean barbecue or a drink in one of the many alternative cafés. We ended at Windburger and didn’t regret it.
Finally, it was time to go back to the hotel and enjoy our king size bed.
Alexanderplatz & Karl-Marx-Allee
We slept over and when we finally left the hotel it was already noon. Direction: Alexanderplatz, one of the main squares of the city. How disappointing! Malls and cement only. Well, there is the Television Tower (Fernsehturm) that offers a 360° view of Berlin but it is packed with tourists and I had already visited it. So instead, we took a walk on the Karl-Marx-Allee, a 4-lane boulevard in true Soviet style. We liked the opposition between modern and heritage because this is what Berlin is all about: contrast. Plus, the avenue is lined with trees and autumn colors were terrific! Don’t mind us taking pictures.
For lunch, we stopped at an old power station converted into a traditional restaurant, Umspannwerk Ost. Marco had a typical schnitzel (fried breaded veal cutlet) and I took a pumpkin soup with a side of sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) and potatoes salad. We couldn’t do more German than this!
Friedrichshain & the Berlin Wall
Our next destination was the Friedrichshain district. Aaah Friedrichshain! We heard it was another must-see area of Berlin so we had high expectations. And we didn’t get disappointed. Well, at first we wondered if we had stopped at the right station… All we saw was a sort of no man’s land with just railway lines and groups of punks sitting on the floor. Not that I mind, we were right in the heart of old East Berlin after all. But we had other plans for the afternoon! Fortunately, few meters away, we arrived in leafy little streets lined with cafés, restaurants and brunch places. We got lost, took many pictures, sauntered at the antique market and decided to stop for a hot tea and banana bread to further enjoy the vibe. We wanted to stay forever at the Cozys café, watching people passing by the relaxing Boxhagener Platz.
But then we realized sunset was on its way and we still hadn’t seen the Wall! So there we were, on the bank of the Spree river, admiring the East Berlin Gallery, a long stretch of the Berlin Wall and none other than the longest outdoor art gallery in the world. Its 1,3 kilometers count more than a hundred murals, signed by artists from all over the globe and symbolizing freedom and reconciliation after the fall of the wall. Inspiring and meditative!
Finally, it was night and we were hungry, again… And we hadn’t seen the Scheunenviertel district yet. There, not far from the stunning Neue Synagoge (New Synagogue), we found a Vietnamese restaurant called Monsieur Vuong. The place was crowded which meant only one thing: food was good! In that tidy street full of foreign restaurants, on a busy Saturday night, we felt like real Berliners.
… was short! Unfortunately, my fiancé started to feel ill and although we had planned a brunch followed by a visit to the famous flea markets (Berliners’ Sunday occupation), we had to stay as long as possible at the brunch place which was warm and then leave directly from the airport.
BUT, brunch was amazing! We went to the French Papilles in Neukölln. This Sunday, no fluffy pancakes but the staff was extra and my eggs benedict and pain au chocolat were perfect. If you ever go to Berlin, make sure to stop there for brunch, lunch or dinner.
If we had had a few more hours, I think we would have visited the Reichstag (Parliament) and its glass dome, as well as the Hamburger Bahnhof (contemporary art museum). Berlin is also the city of big malls, bears and electro music so I guess we’ll have to come back a third time to try that too.
To conclude, I’d say we loved the multicultural areas of Berlin like Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain and we got really inspired and moved by the historical places such as the Holocaust Memorial and the Berlin Wall. With all the parks, a rich food scene, and efficient transports, there’s no doubt Berlin is a good place to live. But is it that much of a cool city? To me, London is cooler.
Have you ever been to Berlin? If so, what did you like most? If you have never been, would you like to go?
You liked this Berlin diary? Don’t miss my Summer diary in Italy.
P.S: Our guide was Cartoville Berlin, the same type of guide we used in New York that we’d really liked.