Four Days In Berlin
This week we spent an incredible four days in Berlin and it took me quite by surprise. I knew very little about the city apart from the obvious historical reference points and, if I'm honest with you, it wasn't somewhere I'd ever particularly fancied going.
So when Sam and his best friend Mike booked up the trip for me and Mike's lovely wife Kim (flights, Air BnB all sorted and paid for before they let on) it came completely out of the blue. I was told great things about the city on social media but it didn't really mean a thing until we got there, the penny dropped and I fell in love.
It was more beautiful than I'd imagined with long and wide tree lined avenues, cobbled streets and old buildings, preserved beautifully in the 'old East' side of the city. Bars and cafes were on nearly every street corner and between them were doorways and walls adorned with graffiti in every shade imaginable.
The darkness of it's history, both from the War and the Wall punctuated every part of the city and has informed the way it's developed in more recent years in an incredible way. As our bike tour guide said, there isn't any other city in the world that acknowledges it's own haunting past in a way quite like Berlin. There were powerful reminders everywhere we went, from the obvious - relics of the Wall itself, old watch towers and bullet marks peppering the outside of buildings, to the more subtle - small brass memorials built into the cobbled floors to commemorate the lives of murdered Jews or the book sellers selling books at trestle tables, directly opposite the square where Nazis burned books in 1933.
As you can see below, our time involved seeing some of the sights that you might expect, a lot of cycling (the BEST was to get around), but also included an inordinate amount of food, drinks of all shapes and sizes, a lot of laughter, card playing and relaxing at the Air BnB (which the boys totally nailed). I'll let the photos do the rest of the talking but, if you're planning a visit anytime soon, the following tips might come in handy. I should say from the outset, I can't claim ANY credit for these as I took a back seat on the research front, "too many cooks" I like to call it but "just here for the ride" is probably more accurate.
See and Do
- Book a tour with Berlin on Bike. This was hands down my highlight and our tour guide Lauren (a South African writer) brought the city and it's stories to life. She described her feelings towards the city as "more powerful than a love affair" and her love for it was certainly infectious. Through chatting I discovered she is writing a book about Berlin in collaboration with a photographer, you can find out more about the project here.
- Visit the Tiergarten. Apparently bigger than Central Park and absolutely beautiful. Like most city parks it gave us a chance to take a deep breath and really take in all that we'd been seeing. We cycled through it and had a picnic on our last afternoon and it was a perfect end to our break. 45% of Berlin is made up of open green space so you're never far away from a spot to sit and rest your cycling legs.
- Buy a welcome card from tourist information at the airport. This cost about 30 euros each and gave us a 25% discount on the bike tour and free travel across the city the whole time we were there.
- Hire a bike. We went back to Berlin on Bike on our last day and did a short hire for a few hours. Berlin is absolutely geared up (unintended) for cyclists and is nice and flat so it's very easy even if like all of us except Sam (who was given the neon tour 'safety rider' jacket), you haven't saddled up for a decade.
- Wander. One of the best ways to get a feel for a city is just walking through it and it's a lovely feeling just going where the wind (wine/beer) takes you.
Eat, Sleep, Drink
- Visit the Hofbrau Beer Hall. This was one of Sam's 'must do's' and it didn't dissapoint. With a live Oompah band which got louder (and less monotonous) as the evening went on, great beer and traditional German food, it was really good fun.
- Brunch - We ate at a place called November (see the enormous platters below) and Allan's Breakfast Club (the Bloody Mary here was brilliant), both excellent with outside eating - great for people watching and whiling away a few hours.
- Dinner 'out out' - There is a strong Turkish influence in Berlin and whilst we didn't manage to get a traditional kebab (too full from brunch) we did have an excellent meal at Hasir - Mitte.
- Pizza - If you're a pizza fan then you can't go wrong with 'Zia Maria'. We sat here just a few hours after landing and dropping our bags off. With red benches lining the street, a great choice of stone baked pizzas and cheap beer it was the perfect start to our Friday night.
- Cafe/ Bars - Take your pick! There were so many to choose from, each with their own little quirks from consoles with retro Super Mario Bros to wine and sweets waiting for you in the toilets.
- Our Air BnB apartment was in the Prenzlauer Berg area which is one of the best places for eating and drinking. It was a beautiful spot and easy to get to the tram, trains or bike hire. The area is obviously home to lots of young families as there were Bugaboos and toddlers at every turn. As you can see the apartment was more than 'insta worthy' and had everything we needed for our stay. You can find a link to it here.
The boys have told us it's our turn next to book the next break away but I think we'll be hard pressed to beat this trip. Where's your favourite city break? If you've been to Berlin too I'd love to hear what you thought.