I didn’t expect to fall in love with Berlin. I imagined a busy, expensive and overtly touristy European city, but what I found was a relaxed, affordable and modern city with an almost Bohemian feel to it. This was only my second trip to Germany; I went to Munich when I was much younger and about all I remember is the amazing clock in the square and swimming in a lake with far too many fish in it! So, it’s fair to say my experience of Germany is fairly limited, but whether you have a week or just a few days I’d definitely recommend a trip to Berlin. We managed to cram a lot into the weekend whilst maintaining a laid back feel to our trip; I’m not sure if this is due to the relaxed atmosphere of the city or the incredibly efficient transport system but I’m certainly not complaining! Read on for six of my favourite city spots that in my opinion are not-to-be-missed for the perfect weekend in Berlin.
Berlin Wall Memorial
High on my list of things to do in Berlin was finding out more about the Berlin Wall. It’s strange to think that the Wall came down in my lifetime, I always imagine such momentous events as consigned to the history books, and yet this was so incredibly recent. We headed to the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse, the only street in Berlin still divided by the Wall. The memorial is a touching combination of facts, memories, images and of course the wall itself.
What I hadn’t accounted for was the overall width of the border wall with the various fences and patrolled areas preserved here to get a glimpse of how it once was. A small section is preserved in its entirety, sealed off to be viewed through cracks in the fence or from the memorial viewing tower. The stories and accounts are incredibly humbling and at times hard to read, even more so when you remember that many in the city will still recall its presence, with many my own age being born on one side or the other.
We stumbled across this little gem by the river Spree on our way to the East Side Gallery. It’s an eclectic mix of bars, cafes and street food with a communal seating area that spreads along the river. If you are as lucky as we were with the weather this is the perfect place to relax and spend a few hours chilling in one of the many quirky little seating areas. I loved that there was such a mix of people here, from the very young upwards, all enjoying the atmosphere and the sunshine together.
East Side Gallery
I’m a huge fan of street art (in the right places!), so naturally the East Side Gallery was a highlight for me. This unusual open-air gallery is a preserved section of the Berlin Wall that’s been given over in sections to numerous different artists to use as their canvas. This memorial to the fall of the Berlin Wall features over 1000m of murals, many depicting political messages and calls for the freedom of all people. It’s a busy street and a popular location, but it was sad to see quite a few of the original works with graffiti sprawled across them. Many of the images are still fully intact though and incredibly well done, not just in their design but in their depiction. Having travelled a little in Israel and Palestine the gallery was a poignant reminder of the walls that still exist today. One of the images that stuck with me most quotes the line “No more wars. No more walls. A united world”, I hope this will one day be true.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
This is certainly not for everyone; it’s absolutely harrowing. There’s two parts to this memorial 2711 concrete blocks of varying heights, and an underground information centre with stories, imagery and horrifying statistics. If you’re travelling with children I’d advise giving the exhibition part a miss as the pictures are haunting to say the least, but the above-ground memorial is definitely still worth visiting and reflecting upon.
I’m still pondering the symbolism of the 2711 blocks but the effect is certainly profound. Make sure you walk into the centre of the memorial where the blocks tower above you some 15 ft. The outside world completely disappears and even though you’re in the heart of Berlin there’s a distinct silence that can only have been intentional. It’s certainly an appropriate place in the heart of Berlin to stop and remember. Ensure you stop by the other nearby memorials as well, including to the Sinti and Roma, and gay communities.
Mauerpark Flea Market
Mauerpark is the perfect Sunday activity, especially if you have incredible weather as we did. This huge, outdoor market contains everything from car-boot style treasures to stunning local art, and pretty much everything inbetween. It’s a very popular destination so you occasionally have to elbow your way through to the stalls but it’s definitely worth the effort. This is a great spot for lunch too with all manner of street food options, as well as small, inviting seating areas featuring bars, strudel and more! I recommend the kartoffel flatbreads with a cheeky glass or two of prosecco to wile away the afternoon, just don’t forget about Bearpit Karaoke…
The atmosphere in Mauerpark when we visited can only be described as festival-like. Take time to simply soak it all in and find yourself surrounded by people enjoying the afternoon in their various ways whether through sport, dance or music. My absolute favourite find was Bearpit Karaoke. This weekly event sees thousands of people cram into the amphitheatre and surrounding slopes to witness performances by a huge range of people, and the atmosphere is simply fantastic! The talent varies considerably with members of the audience taking to the stage but so long as you’re having fun pretty much anything goes! Combine that with enterprising locals selling bottles and mojitos and you can’t fail to have a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.
These six places gave me a great feel for what Berlin is all about, and I think they’re a great starting point for first time visitors, especially if you only have a weekend in Berlin. We also visited Charlottenburg Palace, which has undergone impressive renovation works since the Second World War, the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag Building (book ahead for your free slot so you don’t miss out on visiting the inside as we did), and these should definitely also be on your list. Berlin was the perfect city break and I found it surprisingly captivating, I’m sure this will be the first of many trips (fingers crossed!).