‘Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate!
“I still keep a suitcase in Berlin” sang German-American singer Marlene Dietrich. I too feel this way after my brief but warm visit to historic city.
Back in March my girlfriend and I took a little trip to Berlin to see a band we love, The xx. They weren’t playing a show in Ireland so we figured we could travel to the gig, but also do a little sightseeing while we were there. We put together a two day trip with the gig falling on the second night. Obviously, we knew certain attractions we wanted to see, such as the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie and also the Brandenburg Gate. I packed for possible rain but mostly light wear. However, upon arriving in Berlin we were greeted with rain, snow, wind and then sun. It actually went in that cycle for the first day, so despite being in Germany, we felt right at home. The chill in the air didn’t freeze our spirits and after checking into our hostel, The Grand Hostel Berlin, we began to lay out our first day route. Now is a good time to mention the hostel. We received a free beer and a quick low down on must do’s before we even asked. The reception was fantastic and I highly recommend staying there if you venture to Berlin.
Sights For Sore Eyes
On our first day in Berlin we decided to be our own tour guides. We laid out a plan over breakfast and wanted to make off as many of Berlin’s amazing sights as possible. At first, we wondered where all the tourists were, as we were a little out of the center of the city. The outer circle of the city seemed a little behind the times and it looked as though the city hadn’t put too much money into bringing these areas up. On our first day we wandered through the area where our hostel was and ended up getting the best Kebab I have ever had. After filling ourselves up we made our way towards the city and saw a lot of the Nazi government buildings, built in a bland but imposing fashion. They were a representation of how strict and serious the Nazi’s were, and although they are less than unique to look at, their place in the city is very important. We passed by The Berlin Wall and the Topography of Terror but decided not to hang around too much as we were doing a walking tour the following day. We wandered through the streets to see all the beautiful buildings, and into the Gendarmenmarkt square in all its glory. It was a truly fantastic sight as you feel so small while surrounded by these massive buildings. The two buildings sitting on each side of the Konzerthaus are almost identical which is interesting because the detail which has gone into them. Throughout the day we felt we needed refreshments, so the German beer kept us motivated to continue our tour. We finished this little tour at Brandenburg Gate and it was a perfect place to do so. They’re wasn’t too much of a crowd and it was the right time of evening, just getting dark with the gate lit up. A magnificent piece of architecture and construction with a rather bizarre history.
We visited The Berlin Wall on our second day when we decided to take a walking tour, and whilst there we also popped into the Topography of Terror. It is an area of the city where you must have the utmost respect for your surroundings, as the story of why the wall was built and what happened over the coming years can be distressing. What is left of the wall has been protected but not overdone. It’s not tacky, not like Checkpoint Charlie which we found out was. The Topography of Terror is laid out in a minimalist fashion, very simple and sleek. They display the stories of the Nazi regime such as the treatment of Jews, how Hitler’s propaganda convinced much of a nation to turn a blind eye and also the end of the regime and the trials of the accused. It is a brilliant attraction in my opinion, something which added real insight to the wall experience. Checkpoint Charlie was probably the most disappointing attraction as it was filled with tourists, souvenir shops and and tacky memorabilia. Even the actual checkpoint ha two actors dressed as soldiers taking pictures with tourists for €5 a photo. We quickly made our way to a coffee shop to avoid the hassle. The tour also took in the Memorial To The Murdered Jews which I was blown away by. The pillars are built for you to walk through, and as you do you feel enclosed and trapped. It is meant to represent how the Jewish people would have left whilst living in fear. We also took in the Rotus Rathaus with it’s fantastic fountain, Neptunbrunnen situated outside in the court. A magnificent piece of sculpting and definitely worth taking in when you visit the city.
I see why tourism is high in Berlin, and why Berlin itself is on the rise. It is a blend of incredible history, both beautiful and inspiring, but also unimaginable. People come to discover that history and how people lived, but it now serves as a example of a city moving forward. Another one of the most appealing aspects about Berlin was how they have managed to blend the old with the new. You might walk past an old government building on the left hand side of the street, and directly across from you will be a new Samsung Innovation Center. It was fascinating because you often hear of cities being divided into an old and a new area. Berlin, despite its history and Wall, seems undivided.
The Search For Strudel
Eating and drinking were going to be a big part of our trip and we decided from the outset we would sample as much as possible. Not that this was a drinking trip, but we wanted to taste some real German beer. I had heard they are pretty strict when it comes to brewing and what they put in their beer, such as most only having 3 ingredients. We weren’t disappointed and the one that stood out most was at Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt. My oh my I have never had such a tasty, light and refreshing beer. The barman would ring a bell and the whole restaurant would turn and look. He and another barman would grab a huge new wooden barrel and prop it up on the table, then whack! They would tap it and start pouring jugs of beer straight away (well, after the first). We had plenty other blonde larger’s and German beers but Augustiner stands out.
In terms of food, I tried a Currywurst and to be honest I was very disappointed. It didn’t have flavor, just heat and a lot of fries. I also worked my way through a bakery and found some amazing treats, all of which were filled with cream which just happened to be a coincidence. We also fell upon the Holy Grail, a Haagen Daz ice-cream shop. It was like walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. They had essentially made meals out of ice-cream combinations, and I was lured to the dark side by a caramel and pecan flavord ‘dish’. I had an ongoing struggle to find an apple strudel but my wish came through as I found a cafe by Checkpoint Charlie. It was worth the wait, in all its warm, sweet and creamy glory. For dinner, we ate at Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt where we treated ourselves to two amazing lamb dinners and rounded them off with our second strudel of the day.
Ich Bin Ein Berliner
The day we packed up and got ready to hit the road we talked about how we loved our short trip and we would come back in the future. We felt welcomed by everyone we met, we saw all the sights we wanted and we also treated ourselves. Walking around the streets we felt safe and comfortable, and in our hostel everyone we met felt like a friend. I can’t recommend Berlin enough, even for a two day trip. You see so much and take in a piece of history at very corner. I would also recommend a walking tour. Most are free and fun. If you would like to read about the gig we went to, check out reclessreviews and search for The xx.