Berlin may not be on the top of your list when it comes to romantic cities. However, for the beloved & I, it's right up there. (Although we can make buying a microwave romantic). Germany’s capitol holds romance for us as it’s where we celebrated our first anniversary in 2012. It’s also where the tradition of seeking out a roof-top cocktail bar started, which is something for a near-teetotaller.
That was my first trip to Germany, a country I’ve grown to love on subsequent visits. This time, we gave ourselves five full days to explore edgy Berlin and I hardly recognise it. Gone is the grey West Berlin from the 70s and in comes the colourful, progressive version. All of this modernity blends into the grand, wide avenues (all the better to drive tanks through) of East Berlin and I can no long see an East/West separation. What’s more romantic than an iron curtain being pulled down so everyone can love each other again?
Combine this positivity with the very real reminder of the country’s recent history in the way of the Jewish Memorial/Roma Gypsy memorial, the new East Side Gallery and the fantastic DDR Museum amongst many historical sites is what defines why I love Germany. The DDR is a highlight and gave me a colourful backstory to the current series of Deutschland 86 which is even more gripping than the last. If the excellent theme tune to this series hadn’t entered my head before, it certainly planted itself there after an afternoon learning about how German Democratic Republic governed people living in East Germany in post-WW2. The DDR is incredibly interactive (reach a fun and full understanding of the past) though there are very many doors leading to the shudders of socialism I wish I hadn’t opened.
It’s impossible to think about Berlin without also looking back to the soundtrack to my youth. For others, it will be the Bowie connection, for me it’s the electronics influence of artists like Kraftwerk on people like Human League, Gary Numan and just about everyone that was around in 1982. I couldn’t stop singing Musclebound every time I saw ‘Spandau’ on the train info boards either.
Whereas the UK seems to bury the atrocities by romanticising its war heroes, Germany teaches the real history of their country to school kids in a solid attempt for it never to be repeated.
The fact that the space the Berlin wall had has been replaced by a gallery telling the world what the wall represented along with one on the other side of the road giving us the completed history of before during and after the wall tells me everything I need to know about brilliant Berlin. It seems strange that the bit of the wall that has been kept is so often fronted with smiling faces having their photo taken is an oddity, nonetheless, it is there.
Even the pedestrian crossing lights are quirky. The red and green Ampelmann survived from East Germany and now there are shops selling all sorts of products featuring the red and green men - and a pink figure - to tourists (like me - see photo above).
I never thought to stand in a queue outside a toilet would be how I enjoy a Saturday night in Berlin but that’s exactly where I found myself. It helped that it was a fine Spring evening and at the end of the actually, the short line stood a Burgermeister with their renowned burgers and chilli cheese fried (cheese, chilli con carne and jalapenos). It was a little disappointing to pass another branch of Burgermeister later in the trip, one with actual tables and chairs rather than the novelty of perching on a makeshift bar or sit on a crate in an old public toilet.
The city is generally more international food-wise, much like every other I’ve visited in the last decade. This pleases me a great deal and I loved coming across Rice On! In a shopping mall, Indian Village in a developing residential neighbourhood and COA (we built this city on wok and bowls) near the new Mall of Berlin. Our last dinner before heading back to the airport was enjoyable and speedy at Shibuya in Mercedes Platz. I really wanted to try this place after I’d spotted in on our first day. I’m not a big Japanese food fan but adore the country and this helped me in my mission to try little plates and see what I liked. Pretty much all of it. We visited the fall back Vapiano too which is continuing its European domination at a pace.
We had an excellent buffet breakfast on offer at the hotel each morning although did take advantage of our breakfast time flight by heading straight to Common Ground before we’d even checked in at the hotel. It set the scene to Berlin version 2019 which has added cosmopolitan to its abundance of attributes and here, I felt I could have been anywhere in Europe. Helped by so many Australian and/or British accents being heard from the staff.
We managed to make brunch at Benedict too. The place is ‘all about breakfast’ as it’s served all day and being rated well meant there was a queue even on a Tuesday morning. The great thing here though – as I will never queue for food when we have so much choice – is that they took our names and we were able to go for a walk to explore a bit of Wilmersdorf, which like pretty much every other part of Berlin we’ve seen, seems affluent. I’d say Benedict, which is attached to Max Brown Hotel, was fine rather than spectacular. We received good service and was told they’ll be a long wait for food and yes, it was slow to come. Good job we’d already had the hotel breakfast.
For coffee, we popped to the newest branch of The Barn and returned to the original plus and to Bonanza coffee. Off the newbies, I loved the fabulous comfort of Coffee Drink Your Monkey (no, I don’t either) and we discovered the beautiful Japanese/Scandi Populas. I’m still after the striking Issey Miyake crockery they used here. We even walked in to the Italian flavoured Oak and pick up a fabulously fresh lunch alongside the coffees. It’s in the vibrant Neukölln neighbourhood which seemed to have more diversity than any other. It’s also a little bit more gritty, lets call it up and coming.
Also enjoyed coffees in Refinery and Buena Vida Coffee Club. Every coffee in Berlin was great so I regretted popping into Einstein as the large chains seemed the only option at Checkpoint Charlie. Still, it was interesting to see the comings and goings of the major tourist attraction outside the window. Curiously, even here, there was a lady sitting inside the tiny toilets wanting 50c unless you were a customer.
The only frustration in Berlin is the lack of free public toilets. I can just about get past the fact that they cost in public spaces but it’s disappointing to eat a meal in a food court and then having to pay to use the loo. In most cases, having something to eat will involve at least two visits as one will be to wash hands before eating. It’s the reason we didn’t eat in the Mall of Berlin as we planned to.
Even the department stores charge to use the facilities which, unfortunately, just puts me off going to them. We did, however, pop in for a nostalgic visit to the Peek & Cloppenburg where seven years ago I bought my beloved a leather jacket to celebrate our first year of love
The creative heart of Berlin is still beating loudly with actual flea markets popping up in neighbourhoods, ones with everything from WW2 gas mask, medals and cigarette holders. We chatted to the friendly guy selling every type of liquorice you’ve never thought off.
On the other side, there are modern creators presenting their clothes, jewellery and home wares made of recycled materials. This is the first time I’ve been to a city and not come back with a favourite neighbourhood. I can’t choose, they are all great.
As ever, graffiti is everywhere in Berlin. Some of it excellent art, and I imagine, commissioned, other bits are political and/or amusing and the rest are just there to ruin doorways and shutters, which is a shame. They just cannot leave a space alone, no matter how high or high dangerous it is to get to it. However, Berlin is clean and tidy, like pretty much everyplace I go to outside of the UK, something that has been well documented here.
There is centrally located Mitte where we trekked especially for a post dinner ice-cream at the immensely popular Cuore Di Vetro. We happened across a new ice-cream place in Jones when walking through Schöneberg on the last day. Of the plentiful flavours on offer, we chose Roasted Chicory & Coffee and Chestnut Whiskey.
I managed to slide into a couple of Dunkin’s, nee Dunkin’ Donuts, but now apparently much more about the coffee. I had my usual Vanilla Chai and marvelled at my chose donuts each time. I was coveting a Dunkin mug but alas our hand-luggage only decision prohibited that choice. Which is why we are never only travelling with hand-luggage every again. (That and the Flybe debacle which means we’re never flying with them again either unless they have a change of management and grow a heart)
If a zoo is nearby, we pretty much have to take advantage and Berlin zoo is considered the world’s largest due to its 1300 species. It’s wonderfully laid out and plenty of apes and monkeys for me to melt over.
Of course we did have a night cap cocktail back in our own hotel, Vienna House, Andels, as we had done in 2012 to bring in our first anniversary. Berlin is a place I can return to again and again and undoubtedly find something different to love each time.
We stayed at Vienna House Andels in April 2019