Before leaving for Berlin, I’d heard the city described by some as ‘soooo beautiful’ and by others as ‘really stark and ugly’. Ha!
So after 10 delicious days exploring Berlin for myself, I guess I would say that it’s… both. Or as the charismatic Klaus Wowereit (prior mayor of Berlin) so famously put it: “Berlin is poor, but sexy.”
Either way, I fell head over heels (or really, warm winter boots) in love with the German capital. Berlin’s energy is electric; there is so much life, so much buzz and possibility, so much to be enchanted by.
Here are a few reasons (and lots of photos) to shed some light on why I left a chunk of my heart in this eclectic city.
1. Where I stayed: Prenzlauer Berg
On the whole, Berlin felt slow to me, but perhaps this was because I stayed in a gorgeous Air BnB apartment in what must be Berlin’s prettiest suburb. Prenzlauer Berg gave me the feeling of simultaneously going back and forward in time; traditional street markets meet asian-fusion burger bars, ornate buildings tower over the modern M10 MetroTram line, green, leafy parks filled with splatterings of street art.
Most mornings I’d find myself meandering along the tree-lined cobblestoned streets, past ample cafes, shops, bookstores, bars and restaurants with the biggest, cheesiest grin on my face. Quiet, quaint, central and creative – a dream!
2. What I ate: the food!
Berlin is a melting point of cuisines, and while I totally enjoyed a traditional pork currywurst (because you know, there’s an entire museum devoted to currywurst in Berlin!), the best meals I ate were dishes like gnocchi with roasted chestnuts, Turkish lamb kofta wraps, vegan tofu stuffed with mushroom, haloumi pita kebabs and spinat knödel dumplings und parmesan.
Plus of course, I had my fair share of butter croissants and handmade chocolates.
And the BREAD!! Oh God, the bread… 🙂
Berlin honestly delivered some of the best food I’ve had in my life. Whether it was from a restaurant, a market or cooked up in my apartment, everything was affordable, local, fresh and seriously tasty. (I snuck a couple of green juices in too!)
Which brings me to… Berlin is freaking cheap. At least compared to other parts of Europe I’ve spent time in, and DEFINITELY compared to Perth! Although sometimes I feel like I live in the most expensive city in the world… But, I digress. Berlin is super affordable.
I was living off about €15 – €20 (around A$22 – $30) a day for meals, sites, transport etc. and let’s just say that when I arrived in London the following week, I was paying a lot more than that! 🙂
4. Nobody cared what I did for work
At first I found it weird that none of the Berliners I met asked about my job and that no one seemed to own their apartment (or have any aspiration to) and instead, people seemed more interested in finding out what it was that I liked to do. Of course this ‘weirdness’ subsided in about 0.12 of a second, because AWESOME.
You know me, I’m all about self expression and creativity and doing what you love. I adored Berlin’s non-careerist culture, the devotion to the arts and this idea of not defining yourself by your day job. Or even your second night job. Berliners seem to have far more hobbies, creative pursuits and eclectic interests than us Aussies do (or give ourselves permission to explore…)
In fact, this was a big personal lesson that I took from this trip.
Of course I LOVE my job and I love working for myself, but hot dang I need to make sure I am always, always, always dabbling in the vast array of things I am interested in. It makes for much tastier conversation when we don’t talk about work constantly – don’t you agree?
5. The history
As you might imagine, there are some seriously dark and disturbing chapters of history to dive into in this city. Parts of Berlin (particularly in the east) are visibly riddled with bullet holes and the scars of two world wars. Sections of the wall that kept Berlin divided for almost 30 years during the Cold War still remain, albeit some strips more colourful than others!
There are countless war memorials, historic walks, museums to visit and galleries galore. What I found most fascinating, was the recent-ness of it all. Particularly the reunification of Germany, which happened only 25 years ago. It blows my mind to think that in MY lifetime, this city (and country) has undergone so much deep change and transformation. And continues to.
And that’s only the recent history!! There are so many layers to Berlin… All in all, this tumultuous past is incredibly intriguing for a 29-year old Australian lass who has never experienced any kind of serious government instability or hostility, let alone lived through war.
My tips? This free walking tour, the Memorial To The Murdered Jews of Europe (and the information centre down below), the Topography of Terror (give yourself lots of time for this one), the Brandenburger Tor, Berliner Dom and Museum Island.
6. Berliner Dom
I have a thing with old churches; there is an indescribable, ethereal magnificence about them. So it’s no surprise that I fell in with the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) and promptly began to cry upon entering.
Yes, there were tears.
No photo will ever do the interior justice, so when you visit, please promise me that you’ll cough up the reasonably hefty fee of €7 to go inside won’t you? Take the steep stairwell right to the top. After all the huffing and puffing, you’ll be gifted the most breathtaking view of the city.
7. East Side Gallery
This remaining 1.3km stretch of Berliner Mauer (the Berlin Wall) is now an outdoor gallery – possibly the largest outdoor gallery in the world – and it is FAB. Yes, there is unfortunately loads of vandalism on the paintings, but for me, the walk along the length of the gallery felt ripe with the energy of freedom, expression, creativity, resilience and human connection.
Plus, COLOUR! Berlin can be very, very grey… But the East Side Gallery is one particular piece in the puzzle of this city that is vibrant.
When you visit, spend some time in quirky, grungy, alternative Kreuzberg (the suburb the gallery passes through); I only had an afternoon here, but it is WICKED. I ate the best falafel of my life in Kreuzberg. And I’ve always loved the Bloc Party song 🙂
8. The Festival of Lights
Coincidentally, I managed to catch this annual festival while I was in Berlin and it was definitely a highlight (ha!) of my trip. Sights like the Berliner Dom, Brandenburger Tor, the TV Tower and Humboldt University were LIT UP with colour and photos and video and illumination and oh gosh, I loved it.
Standing out in the freezing cold, drinking Glühwein (mulled wine – so yum), listening to buskers playing for the crowds and watching the light shows will stay with me as one of my most favourite memories.
9. Public transport
I’ve never liked public transport. After living in Melbourne for 7 years and constantly complaining about trams (let’s be honest – Melbourne’s public transport system is not its strong point…) I’ve lived on a train line in Perth for a few years now, which is reasonably handy, but SO limited when it comes to really getting around the city. I’ve just never lived anywhere where the public transport actually feels… Like I’d use it.
But Berlin! I think you’ve got it sorted! The system makes sense! It’s straightforward. It’s safe. It’s inclusive. It’s efficient. It’s clean. It’s cheap. Plus, naturally, bonus points awarded for the BRIGHT YELLOW trams.
So many markets! Farmer’s markets, flea markets, Turkish markets, art markets… Don’t you think markets hold such a sense of community, trade, resourcefulness and local-ness? Such important stuff and SO FELT here.
My Saturday morning stroll through the produce markets on Kollwitzstraße in Prenzlauer Berg was nothing short of delightful and while the Mauerpark Flea Markets were a little hectic, they were definitely worth a visit. Apparently in Summer the weekly karaoke session there is hysterical. Here’s some more Berlin market tips if you’re interested.
11. The (huge amount of) parks
While Berlin can feel quite concrete-y at times, apparently one fifth of the city is actually covered in trees. That’s a lot of GREEN, and these parks are seriously impressive! I spent quite a few mornings running through the amazing Volkspark Friedrichshain (think winding paths and stairs, fountains, a volleyball court, open-air cinema, swimming pool, ponds, a bar and restaurant…) as well as the lush and HUGE Tiergarten park in central Berlin.
Also: Laying in front of the Berliner Dom on the Lustgarten is lovely and Mauerpark is full of life. There are so, so many more though! Like, 2,500!!
More for next time… 🙂
12. The hope!
I was lucky enough to have some interesting and enlightening conversations with a few Berliners, around what it means to be a young person in Germany today. Identity, patriotism, racism, economy, opportunity, frustration, war, guilt, immigration, tolerance, acceptance…
And HOPE. The city is brimming with hope! After being bombed and bulldozed and divided and rebuilt, there is undoubtedly an exciting, promising energy that is palpable in Berlin.
So in the short time I spent in this beautiful city, I feel very grateful to have glimpsed a kind of “growing up” that I didn’t have and will never have had; something I will never truly understand, but to me, Berlin seems to offer the kind of future you want to be apart of.
I am glad and grateful to have opened my eyes, ears and heart a little more in my time there. I truly fell in love with Berlin.
I would love to hear from you in the comments! Have you been to Berlin? Did you love it? What were your highlights? Or if you’re yet to visit, have I perhaps planted a little seed? 🙂 And as always, you’re most welcome to share this post with your friends, family and followers.