Berlin is a city condemned forever to becoming and never to being.Karl Scheffler
The first thing that pops into mind when you think about Berlin is the Wall (at least in my head). Torn down in 1989 after being there for more than 20 years. The differences between West and East Berlin are still visible up until this day imo.
So here are 7 things I did in Berlin (of course I did more than these 7 things, but these are the sites and activities that I find worthy of mentioning).
1 Eastside Gallery
This is probably one of the most-known places in Berlin! This is where the remnants of the Berlin Wall are. They’re full of graffiti, depicting communist propaganda or some satire on the war, other graffiti is showing how the artist wants peace, etc. It’s a very colourful piece of history, eye-catching in between all the ‘grey’ communist surrounding buildings. You can still feel a slight difference when you enter the eastern part of the city. It’s more ‘grey’ and there’s even more graffiti everywhere, can’t really say I saw buildings without graffiti in East-Berlin. Side note: watch out for those guys who play street games, they’re just out to steal your money, they actually ran away when a police car passed by!
2 Checkpoint Charlie
This is a very American part of the city (duh!). The checkpoint was used as a crossing point in the Berlin Wall. The name Charlie simply comes from the NATO phonetic alphabet, the letter C stands for Charlie. The American post is still there, and you can even get a stamp in your passport! On the other side of the street you have another remnant of the Berlin Wall, together with pictures of how it used to be, and some history. There’s not lots to do here, but still an important historical site you must see when you go to Berlin for the very first time! Side note: watch for the line of cobblestones near the checkpoint, they mark the former location of the Wall.
This is where the Bundestag (the German government) is meeting. It is originally built late 19th century to house the ‘Reichstag’, the then government. It is only since 1999 that the building is being used again for governmental meetings, since it was in disuse after the fire of 1933.
The large glass dome at the very top of the Reichstag has a 360-degree view of the surrounding Berlin cityscape. The dome is open to visitors by prior registration. We didn’t get the chance to visit the dome as we were on a kinda tight schedule! So if you are going to Berlin, you should definitely book your visit!
4 Gedenkmal Juden
Be prepared to feel weird when you leave this site! It is designed by the American architect Peter Eisenman. The site consists of 200,000 sq ft (19,000 sq meter) covered with around 2,700 ‘stelae’. The stelae vary in height throughout the site and are built upon a sloping field. There is an underground ‘Place of information’, which holds the names of about 3 million Jewish Holocaust victims. He designed this with the sole purpose for the visitor to leave with uneasy, confusing feeling. This is exactly what you feel when you walk around the quiet stelae. Although you can take nice pictures there, it’ll feel two-sided to do so, because of the symbolic representation.
5 Brandenburger Gate
This monument was built on the orders of the Prussian king Frederick William II. It is built on the site of the former city gate that marked the start of the road from Berlin to the town of Brandenburg an der Havel. This town used to be the capital of the Margraviate of Brandenburg (a major principality of the Holy Roman Empire).
The Brandenburger Gate is one of the most well-known landmarks of Germany. It’s the monumental entry to Unter den Linden, the renowned blvd of linden trees.
The Gate was often a site for major historical events and is today considered as a symbol of European unity and peace.
Nowadays, the place is swarming with people who try to take a typical or an atypical picture with the gate as the background. The gate is a beautiful example of neo-classical architecture (if you’re interested in that) and atop it is a quadrige, which is a chariot drawn by four (quad) horses.
Housed in a former factory in the Neukölln part of Berlin, the owners Silke and Sarah really make you feel like you’re having a holiday somewhere else, even somewhere else than in Berlin! The idea was ‘who needs another normal hotel in Berlin, especially in Neukölln?’. They redesigned the former factory halls into a place where you can escape and be at peace. There are all kinds of huts or trailers, each one has a name and a different kind of vibe. We slept in the Berghutte, which thinks of a hut in the mountains! It was a small wooden hut, but it had everything we needed. We could even sit outside of our hut, relax and have a glass of wine, like in a real mountain hut on a clear summer day. Bathroom and toilet are shared with the 4 or 5 other huts/trailers in the hall. Every morning, staff brought down a few croissants, some juice and coffee, which was complimentary, so that was a nice surprise!
We actually had the breakfast in their bar, it was super fresh, you could ask for any coffee you wanted and even eggs, just the way you eat them!
The neighbourhood was central to a subway station and walking distance to some nice restaurants (we ate delicious pizza in Terra), expect to see graffiti everywhere though!
7 Neni/Monkey Bar
Located in the 25Hours hotel on the 10th floor, so you have a sight over the Berlin Zoo, which makes a nice way to pass the time while sipping a cocktail with a jungle-like name, like Hakuna Matata. The entrance to the bar on the ground floor has an industrial and hipster feeling, which grows stronger once you enter the Monkey Bar. There is a wooden seating in the form of stairs built around the bar, so it seems like you’re watching a spectacle in an amphitheatre. Low cushions and tables let you relax with your drink and the bites that you can order are delicious as well!
Tip: during winter time, go outside to walk around on the terrace, so you get an almost 360º-view of the city.
You’re in the Ku’Damm neighbourhood, so don’t forget to drop by the KaDeWe, a large shopping mall, known for its luxury brands.