The best city. Simply the best. Better than all the rest. I love Berlin. I’ve visited nearly 10 times now and love it more each time. Do you have one of those places? Where each time you discover deeper layers, better and more interesting than the last?
Berlin, on the outside, is a collection of amazing architecture – the intimidating Reichstag, the Brandenburger Tor, the starkness of the Jewish holocaust memorial. Potsdamer Platz with its rigid angles, Kufurstendamm with the posh KaDaWe. But then there are the things you don’t see. Hitler’s bunker, where in the last hours of the war he committed suicide. Now, a parking lot sits on top. The former Nazi bunker, with 1.8-meter-thick enforced concrete walls, converted into an art gallery. A true transformation from ugly to beautiful.
And the biggest thing that we don’t see – the wall. That wall that so much history is centered around, that wall that led to divisions unforeseen and still existing today. It no longer stands but the effects are everywhere.
For all these reasons, good and bad, I’ll say it again, I love Berlin. It has innumerable facets and moving parts, and it only gets better with time. The rest of the country seems to agree, with young entrepreneurs flocking here, a thriving tech industry, and more hipsters than you can shake a stick at. Hence, here is a whole post for you on alternative sites in the city, plus where to get your cold-pressed green juice and buy your ironic overalls.
By plane: Berlin has two airports, Tegel and Shonefeld, with flights arriving from both near and far.
By train: Fast and direct train connections from all over Germany with Deutsche Bahn.
Weather: Berlin can be positively frigid in the fall and winter months. Bring your long underwear and scarves!
- Fit Food: Superfoods and Organic Liquids, St. Oberholz, Radieschen, P103, Coffee and Cookies, Dada Falafel, Funk You Natural Food
- Detox to Retox: Das Hotel, Kimchi Princess, BRLO brewing, Tak Tak polish food
- Chocolate: Laderach, Rausch, Ritter Sport Factory store
- Arcotel John F
- Movenpick Hotel Postdamer Platz: 4 star hotel within walking distance to many main attractions. Great staff.
- Melia Hotel: beautiful hotel directly on the Spree river. Large spotless rooms with spa bathrooms. Avoid the poor excuse for a tapas restaurant on site.
- Baxpax Downtown Hostel: clean, centrally located, free WiFi, and lots of public lounging areas for meeting new friends. They also offer single rooms with en-suite bathrooms for reasonable prices.
- Heart of Gold Hostel (Mitte)
- Circus Hostel (Friedrichshain): funky hostel in a funky area with a microbrewery in the basement.
It started as all good days do, with a jog 😊 Maybe part of my jogging love is the diversity of sites you can see within a half hour. I made a beeline towards the Tiergarten, formerly the King’s private hunting grounds, and took a winding path towards the Brandenburger Tor. Making a left, I pass perhaps my favourite series of buildings in the world. The Reichstag, formidable to say the least. The Bundestag, modern, grey, cold. Passing over the bridge and down the stairs, the modern architecture behind the Reichstag along the Spree river always gives me chills. Up the stairs again, and suddenly you feel the East side of the city – the architecture changes, the mood changes. The wall may be gone but the spirits are not.
Time for breakfast/brunch. P103 on Potsdamer strasse, a gallery/café, offers all varieties of eggs and good coffee. Or, since you’re a hipster, you better head to Radieschen, a vegan/vegetarian café offering daily soups and lunch specials. The white bean and sweet potato stew was delicious. Next door at the organic market, you can stock up on fresh veggies, nut butters, and house made vegan baked goods.
Having some work to do, it was time for a metro ride over to Rosenthaler Platz – a hopping intersection of the city, and hipster centrale. St. Oberholz, a co-working café, is Grand Central.
Pay nothing on the ground and first floor – just grab a coffee, use the free WiFi, and laptop-it-up to your heart’s content. On the third and fourth floor, pay for a co-working space by the half or full day, and experience a slightly quieter setting. I was in heaven from the moment I walked in. Young minds discussing, working alone, all sipping coffee, tea, beer, or cocktails. An atmosphere of creativity, friendliness, and openness.
Down the road, Superfoods and Organic Liquids, as the name might suggest, sells healthy stuff. The Asian salad, at 8 euro, comes packed full of goodness – spiralized carrot and cucumber, raddichio, spinach, black rice, quinoa, edamame, ginger, chilies, and a cashew miso dressing. Fresh as you can be and a perfect punch of flavour.
The afternoon was spent shopping down Kastanienallee – a fantastic collection of local designers, book stores, funky cafes, and stationary shops. The place to pick up a truly unique item of clothing or souvenir.
All that shopping has to make one thirsty. Mikkeller, the beloved brewery founded in Copenhagen, has opened its doors on Torstrasse, just a stones throw from St. Oberholz. Inside you are guaranteed to meet some friendly people at the bar and sample some truly unique brews.
However, if you really love your American IPA, the famous Brewdog brewery has also opened a location just down the road.
I made my way to the Boros Bunker for my 17:30 tour I had booked earlier. The Boros collection is a modern art exhibition, rotating every four years, housed in a former Nazi bunker in the Friedrichshain district. Visits are only allowed via private guided tour, and they are extremely popular – book in advance.
This was easily one of the best art tours I’ve ever been to. The staff, clearly passionate and knowledgeable, guide you through the eerie exhibition. Remnants of both the war and the bunker’s role as a techno fetish nightclub in the 90s are clear – technicolor paint on some walls and Russian calendars marking off days carved into others. Then, there is the art itself. An intriguing mix of artists are carefully chosen for each rotation. The works are a commentary on the present day, on the strange world we live in now. Katja Novitskova shows the superficiality and volatility of our current reliance on social media and internet. Guan Xiao gives a truly eerie look at the one child policy in China, through an amazing sculpture display. No pictures are allowed and I firmly believe each person experiences it differently – so it should be seen in person.
It was dinner time and time for an old favourite – Dada Falafel. High class fast food, the decor is funky, the live music is good, and the food even better. Flavours of the Mediterranean and Middle East are the theme – the Tabbouleh salad is perfect and the fried halloumi is salty, gooey, rich. The hummus is one of the best I’ve tasted.DAY 2
Hotel Room exercise anyone? Maybe just a plank or two? No? Your choice 😊
The sky was positively amazing – dark and foreboding on one side, the sun blazing on the other. Not sure what might occur, I ducked into Coffee and Cookies near Potsdamer Platz. Breakfast offers are simple but good. Oddly, I saw no cookies.
Continuing on to the Dali exhibit at Potsdamer Platz, there is a fascinating collection of Dali’s early sketches, a completely different view into him as an artist. His ultimate progression to surrealism is what most of us know – this exhibit will surprise you. The Kupferstichkabinett (Museum of Prints and Drawings) houses rotating exhibition, a personal favorite of mine being Frauen, Stiere und Alte Miester (Women, Bulls, and Old Masters) from Pablo Picasso. An insightful look into the long and colourful career of Picasso.
If you couldn’t find something yesterday at Kastanienallee, then Bikini Berlin is your ticket. A new concept mall near the famous KaDaWe department store, Bikini is full of local unique design shops and restaurants. Homemade ceramics, cashmere scarves, funky kicks, handprinted greeting cards – it’s all here.
Funk You Natural Food has juice extraordinaire – the Fire Starter juice was spicy and refreshing and just what I wanted. For something a little stronger, Darwins Lab upstairs makes a mean cocktail.
Across the road, please tell me you’ll check out & Other Stories? Founded in Sweden and housing all things Scandi, this store is my favourite. Cozy sweaters, retro jeans, oversized scarves, leather boots, and simple minimalist jewellery are scattered around on wooden tables, clothing racks, and stacked on wooden crates. Upstairs is a mammoth beauty section, with delightful-smelling candles, all manner of makeup and accessories, lotions, potions, more clothes, more jewelry, and ever-present beautiful staff members, dressed to kill in the stores’ neutral oversized garb and looking far too chic.
Evening comes, and that means it’s time to head to true hipster land within hipster Berlin – Kreuzberg. The new new place, soon to be old, is positively packed full of shabby chic bars and restaurants.
Kimchi Princess draws me in. The traditional Korean “Bibimap” – a hot stone bowl filled with rice, marinated meat, vegetables, a spicy sauce, and topped with a fried egg is heaven. The yolk breaks, everything gets mixed together, delicious crunchy rice from the hot stone mingling with everything else.
Ssanghwacha tea helps ease the spicy edge.
Das Hotel, a cramped, smoky, loud bar, will let you mingle with the best of them. Go home smelling like an ashtray, but with good memories 😊
For a nouveau experience on the traditional art exhibition, the “Alive” series of art exhibitions often runs through Berlin – including From Klee to Kandinsky, Hieronymos Bosch, and Van Gogh. Entering a black room scattered with bean bag lounge chairs, settle into a comfy spot. Sensory 4 technology is used to make the screens around you come alive, the paintings transforming in front of your eyes. It’s totally immersive and accompanied by music. A beautiful and unique way to experience art.
Having passed Tak Tak polish street food earlier in the trip, I knew I had to come back for some proper Polish delights. Choosing Barszcz Czerwony, a beet soup with sauerkraut and mushroom filled perogies, I was happy as a clam. The broth, naturally sweet from the beets and with a tang of lemon, was a perfect offset to the hearty mushroom perogies inside.
Feeling the need for some stimulants, I headed to The Barn Coffee Roastery. These guys are serious about their coffee. All kinds of grinds are available for take-away, but I stayed put for a double shot of Kayon Mountain from Ethiopia.
A lovely sweet and dark coffee with no need for sugar or milk. Strong as hell. I vibrated back to my hotel for a break and some packing before wandering over to BRLO brewhouse, a craft brewery below the Gleisdreieck metro station. It’s packed full of fun people, good beers, and great food.
While Berlin is packed with old history and famous landmarks, it’s full of alternative places and new history too. More on the old stuff soon 😉