The weekend after Barcelona, Ed and I hit up Berlin for the Half Marathon. I hadn’t been to the city since I was a kid and he’d only been to party, so it was great to spend a few days together exploring and refamiliarising ourselves with the city. We hadn’t realised just how vast Berlin is. It’s MASSIVE, and by no means a compact city, so expect to do a lot of walking and hopping on and off of trains. We were lucky to have really great weather in early April, I know it can be pretty bleak in the winter months, so I’d suggest sticking to the summer months for the best experience. I’ll admit I do have a few mixed feelings about the city, but that’s not to say I didn’t love a lot of it. It’s a cool place, but with a strong ‘insider culture’ your best bet is exploring it with friends who live there, or ones who know the city inside out. That said, if you’re a newbie to the city and don’t have friends in the hood, here are few of the places we really enjoyed...
The beating heart of Berlin and my favourite part of the city, Mitte is a real mix of high and low culture. The web of streets has cool boutiques, sky-high murals, modern galleries, parks, and lively cafes and bars that spill out onto the street. Whether you want to wander, shop, eat or drink, Mitte is the place to do it. Alte Schönhauser Straße is a good place to start. Sit outside in the sun at Monsieur Vuong, a great Vietnamese spot that’s popular with the locals, before hitting up Aesop, A.P.C., Monki and Acne Studios that are all nearby. We also loved District Mot too, a super kitsch Saigon street food place too (don’t know why it’s all Viet food around here!) and Zeit für Brot for a cinnamon bun and a coffee.
It might be a tourist sight but you can’t go to Berlin and not go and see the Brandenburg Gate. A short walk from the best streets in Mitte, the Gate is a symbol of the city’s turbulent history. It’s changed in its significance a few times, but now remains as the national symbol of unity and peace. And it’s pretty damn impressive.
Hop on a bike and cycle through Kreuzburg. One of Berlin’s grungiest neighbourhoods, it’s its most creative too. There’s graffiti on everything, it’s very bohemian and open-minded, and there are some cool stores and bustling cafes to explore. For epic burgers, giant portions of fries, and cold Astra, try The Bird on Kottbusser Damm. It’s when the sun goes down that it really comes alive. Expect late, late nights in this neighbourhood. And if you’re in town to party, the infamous Watergate and Berghain clubs aren’t far.
East Side Gallery
This 1.3km stretch of the Berlin Wall is both an international memorial of freedom and an open air art gallery at once. Right after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, the east side was painted by 118 artists from 21 counties. Some of the these works have been more recently restored, but there’s still a lot of the original paintings. It’s a politically-rich mural that’s definitely worth a walk by.
Simon Dach Straße, Friedrichshain
When you’re thirsty after visiting East Side Gallery, head to Simon Dach Straße, the home of the city’s Happy Hour. It’s got a; Bars and restaurants line the street, spilling out on the pavement. It’s got a colourful, bohemian atmosphere, and students and young professionals flock here after work. On the surrounding streets, there are quirky clothing stores and more laid-back cafes, and don’t miss the Sunday flea market in Boxhagener Platz.
When you’ve walked through the Brandenburg gate, keep walking up Straße des 17 Juni to Tiergarten, Berlin’s oldest and largest park. On a sunny day, it’s the perfect place to take a picnic or just a stroll through, and if you find yourself so inclined, Berlin Zoo is here too (which on the scale of zoos, looks like a pretty good one actually). Our hotel was right next to the park so we enjoyed walking through Tiergarten every day.
Club der Visionaire, Alt Treptow
When it comes to Berlin and going out, you really need to be in the know or with locals. Prepare to be knocked back a few times and not allowed in places… One place we did really love though was Club der Visionaire, an open-air electro sun terrace-come-club on the canalside. We went on Saturday night but its really known for its mega Sunday afternoon parties.