Berlin is one of my favourite cities in the world. I’ve been many times before (I actually spent six months living just a couple of hours away) but every time I visit, I find something new and interesting to see or do.
We stayed at Apartments am Brandenburger Tor, and when they say they’re at the Brandenburg Gate, they really mean it! We were just around the corner from the Gate, and therefore easy walking distance to the Reichstag, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and Potsdamer Platz. The main station, Museum Island, Alexanderplatz, Checkpoint Charlie and the Jewish museum were all within a half hour walk as well. Perfect!
The apartment was bright and spacious, and the location was pretty quiet despite being so central. There’s a little supermarket just along the street and a couple of restaurants below the apartments. We tried out a few (and of course had some Currywurst from the street vendors) but couldn’t stop going back for more delicious breakfasts at Cafe LebensArt on Unter den Linden. The decor is really nice, with huge windows perfect for watching the world go by, and a retro feel with black, red and brown colour scheme and black-and-white photo canvasses. And here’s a sample of their breakfast menu:
James had been to Berlin before but extremely briefly, as he was just transferring from plane to train on his way to Poland, so he only had time for a quick walk around near the station – just enough to pique his interest! And although I’ve been lots before, it’s mostly been in the winter, so it was nice to be able to walk around and take our time seeing all the sights. So we spent most of our time just wandering, but we did proper visits to the Reichstag, the zoo, and the Jewish museum, none of which I’d been to before, plus Checkpoint Charlie which I had.
I’ve walked past the Reichstag a hundred times before and always just kept on walking, thinking that whatever’s inside, it could not possibly be worth waiting in the huge queue, out in that big open square (often in a blizzard the winter I lived in Germany!) They’ve changed the system though: you queue in a much smaller line at a kiosk across the street, and book in for a time slot – I think we went around lunch time and got a slot in the early evening. Then you return 15 minutes before your time slot, go through security, and you’re in. You all shuffle into the lift (no advance warning of this, so take note if you’re claustrophobic!) but it’s a very fast and smooth ride up to the roof, where you get an audio guide and wander around at your own pace – or if you’re me, spend 10 minutes frustratedly pressing all the buttons on the thing and claiming it’s broken, only to eventually be told it starts automatically when you go into the glass dome… whoopsie. Anyway, the guide is interesting, with a lot of information and history about everything you can see – the views across the city, the structure of the building and the chambers below where the current parliament (Bundestag) meets. And I almost forgot – it’s free!
We had really great weather during our stay and were enjoying walking around, so decided to carry on our fitness kick and walk to the zoo, which is “just” the other side of the Tiergarten park. With hindsight, the Tiergarten is enormous – 210 hectares, which is up there with New York’s Central Park at 335 – plus my usual good sense of direction kept failing me so we kept shooting out one side or the other, and zig-zagged all the way to the zoo. So by the time we got there we were already exhausted! It’s a really good zoo though, a great variety of animals and nice large enclosures. There’s an aquarium too, but since we’d spent half the day meandering around the park we stuck to just the zoo! I spent ages watching the seals playing in their pool and befriended a sassy old vulture 😀
Checkpoint Charlie and the Jewish Museum are both really fascinating and definitely worth a visit. Checkpoint Charlie was a gateway between East and West Berlin, and is a museum of life on either side of the Iron Curtain. It particularly celebrates the ingenious ideas people came up with to try to smuggle people across the border, and the amazing individuals who risked everything to help reunite thousands of strangers with their loved ones. I’ve been to Checkpoint Charlie twice and it’s been absolutely mobbed with tour groups both times, so I’d recommend trying an early morning or late afternoon visit to see if you can avoid the crowds – the building is a series of interconnected little rooms and stairways, so it’s easy to trip over people when it’s busy! There’s also an art exhibition in Checkpoint Charlie too (on the top floor I think) – to be honest I found it a little incongruous, but it didn’t detract from the overall visit – I just skipped it and carried on.
The Jewish Museum is a lot more spacious and has more of an art gallery feel to it, especially because the architecture of the building is stunning. I felt a bit less of a personal connection with the exhibits than with those at Checkpoint Charlie, but I think part of that was just because there’s such a huge wealth of things to see, and we were rushed for time unfortunately, as we had to get back to the Reichstag for our booked slot there. But I’ll definitely go back at some point and take more of a stroll round.
We had a really good thorough nose around the Hackesche Hoefe (above). They are a collection of little courtyards, with a variety of shops etc. Some are rather pricey but it’s a nice place to wander around. One courtyard was the perfect spot to relax, with a bench, tree and fountain tinkling away… I could have sat there for hours… and then some small child came along and started shrieking so that was the end of that idea 😉
Last couple of photos from our wanderings: the TV Tower at Alexanderplatz, and the Cathedral.
Any recommendations for my next visit?