My friend, Nóra, and I hit the road again in August. This time our destination was Berlin. It was an approximately six-hour train ride from Kolding, the Danish city where we both live. To visit the German capital was among my travel plans for a very long time, and finally the day has come.
I’ve been to many cities in Germany, and I do like so many things about this country: the people with their outstanding diligence and discipline, the language that is music to my ears and the history … oh yes, the history, especially the events of World War II, captivated me at the age of twelve and haven’t let me go ever since. So, I say that it was just about time to see Berlin with my own eyes after hearing and reading a series of stories about this city that, not just in the past but also in the present, plays a crucial role in the life of the European society.
We did our research before we headed south, as always, but of course, there were some lessons in Berlin and about Berlin that we learnt along the way, while we were there. Below I would like to share three things with you for the sake of a better Berlin experience.
1. Where to stay in Berlin?
The decision you make about your accommodation is a major one, when you travel. It is not just a question about the facilities and circumstances of your hotel room, a soft pillow and a clean bathroom. When you choose your accommodation, you also choose the neighborhood that’s going to be your home for a given period of time, a place where you want to feel safe, where you will return every evening after a busy day, where you most likely want to spend some relaxing hours with good food and nice atmosphere. Then why not pick a location that you foreseeably would fit into and feel comfortable in.
When we needed to make up our minds about where to stay in Berlin, we narrowed the options down to Charlottenburg, the clean, historic and elegant district, or Kreuzberg, the young, international and creative. In the end, the latter was the one we took. And I believe Kreuzberg was the right choice, in fact, the perfect choice. Here are some arguments why:
- It hosts many nations and provides place for cultural blending. Good example is the weekly organized Turkish Market, where artisan jewelries and bags, locally produced vegetables, fruits and food prepared on the spot can be purchased from vendors not just with Turkish background.
- Every five meters – if not less – there is a privately owned and operated gallery, boutique, shop, café, bar or restaurant, which is typically tiny, charming and offers products on fair and reasonable prices.
- Kreuzberg is a place, where you meet more locals than tourists. Popular spots are the green spaces of the district, where people take a break from the big city life.
- It as a very rich and diversified food culture. You can try a different cuisine every day of the week, if you wish to do so.
2. What can’t you miss in Berlin?
‘Oh, no! Not another Cathedral again!’ is what you might think first. And I totally get it. In every city there is at least one, which is recommended for visitors. No wonder that after the 10th-20th cathedral or church that you see, you kind of lose your interest – especially if you are not particularly curious and engaged about their characteristic architecture and history that lies behind them.
During my travels, I’ve seen so many cathedrals that I cannot even count and remember. But you know what? Berliner Dom is the one that I will probably remember, not just because it is absolutely stunning with its baroque-like architecture, but also because I truly believe that it is the nr. 1 gem of Berlin.
For 5 euros (discounted price with student ID, otherwise 7 euros) you get access not just to the church itself, but also to the museum, crypt and the outer Dome Walkway, which gives a 360-degree view of the city. And I’m sure that the panorama is just as wonderful, if not better, in the dark with the evening lights, as during the day in sunshine and clear sky.
Side note: The Walkway is a great substitute for the popular observation deck in the Television Tower, if you would like to spare some money and kill two birds with one stone.
Right at the foot of the dome is Lustgarten, a public park that seemed like a very popular place to hang out both for locals and tourists. Its central location on Museum Island attracts all those, who would like to take a break from sightseeing and just chill for a couple of minutes or hours. After our visit to the Dome, we’ve spent some time in the park just sitting in the grass, taking some beautiful photos and embracing the vibe of this really cool, cultural spot. Highly recommended for everyone!
3. What rather not to visit in Berlin?
It was the only site in the city that I wish we have skipped. We stopped by Checkpoint Charlie during our walk from the Jewish Museum to the Topography of Terror. Luckily, it was on the way anyways, so we didn’t waste a lot of time on this one. I was very aware of the historical significance of this place, being the crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. Therefore, I didn’t wanna miss the chance to see it. What we’ve got was a jammed shopping street crammed with people blocking the traffic, with overpriced souvenir shops in every five meters and a wide selection of international fast food chains (no, thanks).
The white guard house on the picture was supposed to be the main attraction. Unfortunately, it was almost unapproachable, mainly because of the crowd of tourists standing in the line to take a quick photo with the ‘actors’ dressed as border guards.
There is also a museum, called Checkpoint Charlie Museum or Mauermuseum, on Friedrichstraße, which presents life in Berlin during the Cold War. We didn’t go in, so I cannot give any input about that, but it might be a better choice for quality experience, than Checkpoint Charlie itself.
I guess it is true to say that it is simply impossible to like everything that you see at a destination. Wherever we go, we always face some positive surprises and disappointments. I had great expectations towards Berlin and thank God, it didn’t let me down. It definitely delivered the two most important things that I am looking for in a city: amazing food on reasonable price and well-preserved historical character.
You, Berlin, are definitely worth another visit!