Stating the obvious: Berlin is great. An eclectic mix of old and new, east and west, traditional and totally ground-breaking, here the economic powerhouse of Europe becomes playground for a keen tourist. Having spent 12 days in Germany this winter, I was lucky enough to catch a bit of the dynamic capital for the first time between work experience and seeing family. Despite only visiting for a weekend, my lone ramblings were easily the most fulfilling experience of this holiday – and I was privy to a middle-aged Zumba class in rural Brandenburg (be jealous).
Not really knowing what I was looking for, inexpensive, clean and reliable accommodation proved pretty easy to find. The variety is immediately obvious: from your standard International Youth Hostel, or the eccentric, DDR-themed ‘Ostel’, to more up-market Westin Grand and Amano Hotels. I opted for the ‘3 Little Pigs Hostel’, a colourful, renovated factory in Kreuzberg, where €72 bought a single room and breakfast for 2 nights.
Fantastically located, on the first morning I keenly set out on an all-out tourism extravaganza. Quickly learning that Berlin in 3 days wasn’t particularly realistic, certain sight-seeing sacrifices had to be made. Luckily, many typical tourist sights –the Brandenburg Gate, Bundestag, Checkpoint Charlie, Museum Island, Berlin Cathedral, Potsdamer Platz etc.- are packed into a relatively small, central area, so hopping from one to another couldn’t be easier. Exhibits further afield, like stretches of the Berlin Wall, and Charlottenburg Palace, can be reached by the fab BVG network of busses, ‘U-Bahn’ metro, or suburban ‘S-Bahn’ trains. I found that many museums also offered a student discount: frankly, it’s time to embrace that horrendous mug shot photo.
A short distance from traditional joys is an equally interesting side to Berlin. For a good few hours, I wandered lonely as a cloud through Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain – hip, fab and superkool inner-city districts – though, according to the Hostel receptionist, they are being steadily surpassed by nearby Neukölln. Nevertheless, the medley of indie clothing and record shops, clear historical influence and multicultural vibrancy is fascinating. ‘Humana’, a multi-storey charity shop down formidable old East Berlin Karl-Marx-Allee is particularly worth visiting. At night, too, these areas morph into a hub of clubs, bars, and shisha cafes. Certainly, the prospect of a first, hungover encounter with my new boss hindered a large one, but a few relaxed drinks out made for an enjoyable night.
And this is where the city’s variability becomes clear. In a single afternoon, I’d been to the evocative Holocaust memorial, nosy-ed around health food shops, and wandered through the central commercial precinct, revelling by night in minimalist electro, cocktails and Berlin’s complete disregard for smoking bans. Jam-filled donuts aside, I feel pretty smug having experienced Berlin.
Images courtesy of the author.