German art critic and writer Karl Scheffler wrote in 1910 that “Berlin is a city that never is, but is always in the process of becoming.” 120 years on, this statement could not be more true. Berlin is a city in flux, battling with its national socialist demons of the past whilst simultaneously infusing its inhabitants with inspiration and hope for the future.
Berlin holds a special place in my heart. It was the final place I visited before the global pandemic struck. I have been lucky enough to experience Berlin 3 times, entranced by its summer glow and the silvery clouds which cloak the city in winter.
Yet, there is so much more to Berlin than meets the eye. This is a city where culture and history are inseparable – and the scars of Germany’s past are impossible to ignore.
Top 3 Attractions
1. The TV Tower
One of my favourite moments when visiting Berlin will always be getting a glimpse of the TV Tower from my plane window. Once a symbol of Communist power in the former German Democratic Republic, today the tower epitomises the country’s reunification. Visitors can take an elevator to the top and are met with stunning views of the city, particularly at sunset. Tickets can be expensive, ranging from free entry for children to anything above €18; but the price seems insignificant when met with Berlin’s panoramic view.
You can book your tickets here.
2. The Brandenburg Gate
Even for visitors who wish to avoid major tourist attractions, the Brandenburg Gate is an absolute must. The gate emphasises Berlin as a cosmopolitan city of the 21st century, whilst also reminding Germans of the Cold War division between East and West that haunts its history. I don’t feel at home in Berlin until I see the Brandenburg Gate, so I would recommend visiting the attraction on your first evening. You might just catch a glimmer of the sunset through one of the entryways.
3. Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Inaugurated in 2005, the Holocaust Memorial is situated right in the centre of Berlin and stands as a constant reminder of Germany’s sombre past. With an increasing number of tourists utilising the concrete slabs as a backdrop for upbeat selfies, it is important to note that this is a place of reflection and respect. Berlin can quickly feel fast-paced, but I would still suggest taking some time to slow down and think. The memorial is the perfect place to do that.
The Hackesche Höfe are a vast cultural melting pot and offer an escape from Berlin’s hustle and bustle. These eight uniquely restored courtyards are comfortably hidden away from view, just a few streets away from the city’s better-known avenues. Partially damaged in the Second World War and neglected under the GDR, the courtyards now house an eclectic mix of offices, cafés, boutiques and flats.
Located next to the prominent East Side Gallery, the Oberbaumbrücke is one of Berlin’s most beautiful bridges, connecting the former East and West. If you find yourself needing a break from Berlin’s chaotic atmosphere, the Oberbaumbrücke is the perfect spot for relishing views of the Spree River and finding some time to breathe.
This former industrial site captures the artistic mindset of many Berliners. Warehouses have been transformed into clubs, bars, cafés, beer gardens, flea-markets and creative workspaces. More adventurous travellers may wish to explore the indoor climbing wall and skate-park, whilst others may simply wish to stroll through the site and admire its vibrant graffiti.
Travelling around Berlin
The German U-Bahn is one of the most reliable forms of transport in Berlin. The system is incredibly easy to navigate and means that you can travel between landmarks within minutes.
The Berlin Welcome Card can be purchased online or at local airports, enabling free public transport across the city and discounts on main attractions. Depending on how long you wish to stay in the city, the card can quickly become expensive, but you also don’t have to worry about transport costs for the rest of your trip.
Instead of wasting away your money on tourist buses, I would recommend taking the 100 bus line. Bus tickets can be as cheap as $2.90 and this particular line passes most of the centre’s biggest sights. Free audio guides can be found online, allowing you to sit back and take in Berlin’s spectacular vistas in an authentic setting.
No matter how you decide to travel around Berlin, make sure you always buy a ticket to avoid being caught “schwarzfahren” or fare dodging. This can be met with hefty fines.
More information about the Berlin Welcome Card can be found here.
Top 3 Spots for Food and Drink
Germany always ranks highly in the world for beer consumption and prides itself on making high-quality beer through its “Reinheitsgebot” or purity law. The Hofbräu Wirtshaus Berlin offers hearty German meals and live Bavarian music performances throughout the evening. My fondest memories of Berlin were made here, dancing with my friends on the stage before we took a late-night walk back to the hostel.
Sometimes eating out isn’t about dressing fancily and dining in one of the city’s finest restaurants. If you want to feel like a real Berliner, stop by one its many “Imbissbuden” or fast food stands. Many Berliners like to order a Döner or Currywurst (a curried sausage dish) and enjoy their food whilst chatting with friends outside the stand. This is the pinnacle of German living.
3. La Stella Nera
Something that always brings me back to Berlin is the sheer variety of vegan and vegetarian restaurants, often considered one of the best vegan-friendly cities in the world. La Stella Nera was by far my favourite vegan restaurant. It specialises in making thin-crust Neapolitan pizza, pasta and other Italian dishes. La Stella Nera was the perfect way to end my summer fling with Berlin, enjoying quality food along one of its cobblestone streets.
Berlin is constantly evolving and adapting to the modern age. This “poor but sexy” city, with its glamour and grunge, beckons artists, hipsters and dreamers from around the world. I hope that it has intrigued you too. If you are even slightly interested in what Berlin has to offer, I would recommend putting it high up on your post-pandemic travel list. The city is sure to remedy your wanderlust in no time.
Words by Katie McCarthy
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