I’ve procrastinated and procrastinated, but I’ve just never managed to bring myself to write about Berlin!! Berlin was one of THOSE cities for me…
A lot of people had raved about the city to me, which pushed me all the more towards having rather low expectations of the city, just so I wouldn’t be faced with a major disappointment.
I had carpooled with four burly men all the way from Munich (an over 5 hour journey for 20… Amazing deal!). Seriously, I highly highly un-recommend (I don’t think that’s a real word, but you get what I’m trying to say) sleeping during a carpool. But for the first time, my co-passengers were not in the slightest interested in small talk. Well, not with me at least, they chatted all the way (I can’t be sure about all the way, actually, but everytime I groggily came to my senses for a few moments, there was a full on German conversation going on around me).
Anyway, so I was rather grouchy when I reached the city, and the driver didn’t ask me where I wanted to be dropped off. So while the others got off at their preferred places, I found myself near the zoo. I was going to couchsurf with a Ukrainian lady so I took the metro, wandered around in circles for about half an hour, getting grouchier by the minute, and finally reached her apartment.
This was going to be my couchsurf #3 and I was already quite overwhelmed by the amazing hosts I’d had earlier. Irina was something else though!! She met me on the staircase and I was immediately put completely at ease.
Irina had spent 3 months backpacking in India some time back and she seemed to love my country as much as I do. It was past 6pm so I went in to freshen up. By the time I came out… Dinner was waiting for me!!
I usually have no idea how I’m going to spend time in a new city, nor do I know how long I’m going to spend there. Also, I try not to do any research about the place in advance, particularly if I know they conduct walking tours. The advantage is I’m never bound by any preconceived ideas and prejudices. The disadvantage is, though, sometimes I lose a lot of time, say, by finding out about a bus an hour after it leaves, missing a walking tour because I’m at the other end of the city or because a previous one didn’t finish on time etc etc. I think on this 5 week trip I lost about 3-4 days due to inconvenient travel times. It’s not too much, but it still is a lot.
So here, I’m going to post a modified version of what I did, switching some things around to make the itinerary more efficient. Of course, this reflects my preferences. I’m all about taking as many free tours as possible (sometimes I take the same tour with multiple companies to get different perspectives. I once contemplated doing the same tour with two different guides- one in the day, and one at night, but eventually didn’t!), eating as much ‘local’ food as possible and sleeping at night. In retrospect though, I regret not experiencing the nightlife ANYwhere. Stupid me. Places like Budapest and Berlin are famous for their nightlife, and I was sleeping
But then again, couchsurfing is a different kind of experience. So maybe it made up for the non-partying. I hope.
Oh, and I dislike most museums.
Start with Sandeman’s New Europe Free Tour of Berlin in the morning
Tours at 9am, 11am, 2pm and 4pm.
I didn’t on the first day, because I got late. Twice. Shame. Sandeman’s tour is a phenomenon in Berlin. I had done two walking tours before this, out of which one was Sandeman’s in Munich. Both had 10-15 people and started 15 minutes late to wait for latecomers. Berlin’s usually has 200+ people and is split under 4-5 guides. So even though I was barely 5 mins late, I was asked to come back another time.
Currywurst for Lunch and Alternative Berlin Tour in the evening
Tours at 11am and 1pm.
Hmm, I think when I was there the second tour was a little later in the day, so you could do the 11am Sandeman and 3.30ish (I think) Alternative tour comfortably on the same day.
Anyway, the Alternative Berlin Tour takes you to the Kreuzberg area by metro (so you need to get an AB metro ticket) and walks you through. Each tour is unique, so even though our group was split under two guides, we didn’t bump into the others at all.
This our takes you through the street art movement of Berlin (and that deserves a post of its own so it’s going to come up later). Kreuzberg was one of the poorest parts of Berlin and is now one of the trendiest areas to visit. Because it was an ‘underdog’ area, youngsters could rent places there and transform them into nightclubs etc. So now, all hi-fi corporations and brands want to take over, and they’re gradually succeeding. Kreuzberg will probably not be how it is now in a few short years.
The tour also took us to YAAM (Young African Art Market). Veryyyy chill place, it even had an artificial beach inside 😀 The Club-Mate in Germany is apparently a must have. It’s a caffeine drink, and is very typical (said my host in Munich), so I decided to hit two birds with one stone and had it here 😉
Currywurst was at first highly recommended to me by Mr Travel Andy and I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity when it was staring me right in the face. It is (evidently) a sausage, or ‘wurst’ with curry poured all over it. To be honest, it was nice, but I wouldn’t die for it.
Start your day with Berlin’s best Cappuccino at The Barn and then take Brewers Free Berlin Express Tour
Tour at 1pm.
It was because of this cappuccino (recommended by a German friend in Milan) that I missed not one, but TWO walking tours on my first day. My plan was to follow this itinerary. But since I missed the first day’s Sandeman tour, I decided to go for Brewer’s. Stopped over at The Barn and missed this walk too, and eventually just went for the Alternative Tour which was a little later.
In the evening take a trip on Bus no 100
I did that on my third day with my host, Irina. Bus no 100 is a normal local public transport bus. But it takes you through a number of important landmarks. So you just pay your regular bus fare and get to pretty much experience a tourist bus route. You won’t have a guide guide, but I was lucky to have a local with me who was more than enthusiastic about sharing whatever she knew.
Bus no 100 starts at AlexanderPlatz, goes via Unter den Linden (literally, ‘Under the Linden Trees’), through Brandenburg Gate to Tiergarten (Berlin’s version of the Central Park). You get to see the Reichstag (the German Parliament), the TV tower etc etc and finally end up at the zoo (that’s where my story began 🙂 , remember?). Then you sit in the bus going in the opposite direction and get back to where you started.
Day trip to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
A lot of tour companies offer this one, or you can go there yourself. I couldn’t make it, and I rather regret it. I did go to Auschwitz later in Poland, but Sachsenhausen is different. Primarily, Sachsenhausen was a ‘concentration’ camp, and Aushwitz was an ‘extermination’ camp. Also, later Sachsenhausen was later used as a Soviet era bunker so you get to actually see the transition. Could have, and would have, been super interesting.
Visit the museums on Museum Island, and otherwise
Yes, there is an actual Museum Island in Berlin. It has 5 museums, constructed between 1830 and 1930, and between them they hold some of the most epic pieces of history. I’m not a fan of museums, but most people I know are. Again though, I regret not visiting! But I’m more than sure I’ll return to Berlin.
That’s a model of Museum Island.
The only museum I went to was actually the exhibition centre beside the Holocaust Memorial (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe). It gave me the chills. Still does. What is humanity? Sigh…
There’s actually so much to Berlin that you can literally lose yourself there easily. I’ve barely scratched the surface on the scratch of the surface (see what I did there?)!! Every step, every turn takes you to a completely vibrant place. Berlin is one of the few ‘abroad cities’ I can see myself living in. Not London. Not New York. Berlin.
Berlin sort of reminds me of Calcutta. It’s not the cleanest city, per se, compared to the rest of the spotless country. It’s definitely poorer. Things are much cheaper than I had seen just a day or so back in Munich. Yet it is much more artsy, more vibrant, and, how can I say… More passionate?
‘Berlin is poor, but sexy,’ ~Klaus Wowereit
There’s so much history, from the Brandenburg Gate of the 1800s to the Berlin Wall of the late 80s.
The Berlin wall was literally erected overnight. Not the physical wall, but the barbed wire partition. Can you imagine waking up one morning and finding that you cannot visit part of your city? You ‘belonged’ to the side you woke up on that fateful day. 13th August 1961. If families were unfortunately split that night for some reason, say someone was visiting friends, they were split up for the next 28 years.
The wall was more to keep East Berliners (Communism side) in, rather than keep West Berliners (Democracy side) out. I wonder why the leaders didn’t realise something was wrong with their ‘way’ when they had to literally chain their people inside?
Today it’s just a tourist attraction. That’s me on the East Berlin side. The Western side is covered with graffiti.
My time in Berlin was quite mismanaged, but really well spent. I spent 5 nights there with two hosts (though I had planned for 4). My second host, Sarah, took me to this Kebab place near her house because I wanted ‘cheap and filling’ local food. That humongous Doner Kebab was under €2.50 and it was HUGE!!
(You may know Doner Kebab as Turkish… But it was actually developed by Turkish immigrants in Berlin. You can’t get local-er than that!)
I got to stay in two completely different areas of Berlin. With Irina, I stayed in Schonauser Allee, which, I was told later is one of the poshest areas of the city. And, oh, beautiful it was!! Sarah lived in Wedding, much more spacious, and home to many more immigrants. Completely different vibes in both the places. I feel lucky to have experienced two radically different faces of the city. No wonder I’m so pro-couchsurfing!!
Berlin is a huge city, probably partly the reason I was so comfortable there having lived in big cities all my life (Milan was less than 10kms in diameter- not kidding!!).
It is literally impossible to cover Berlin in one post. Let this one be a teaser to what’s coming up soon… More about what I saw and heard in this gorgeous city. The street art needs a post of its own.
TOO MUCH TO SAY. Head. Exploding.
Have you been to Berlin?