Germany was a place I’d always wanted to go to for a while, it’s one of those countries, much like France, Italy or Spain, that are very much firmly on the beaten track for most tourists in Europe. Whilst I’d been to France a number of times, ticked off a couple of trips to Italy and done a few visits to and from some slightly more unusual destinations in Central Europe, I’m pretty embarrassed to admit that I’d never yet ventured to Spain or Germany. I suppose that’s something I can easily change…
Although I’ve always fancied drinking myself under the table at a beer hall in Munich or playing princess in the beautiful Bavarian castles we opted to introduce ourselves to Germany with a four day visit to its capital Berlin.
Naively, I wasn’t prepared for Berlin to be quite so large, which meant quite a bit of walking from place to place; my new canvas shoes were mere shadows of their former selves by the time I got back onto the plane. Ordinarily I’d insist that on foot is the best way to see a new city, and in a way I’m glad I still did, but gosh was it hot!
Berlin is sometimes nicknamed the ‘Grey City’; admittedly it isn’t the prettiest capital, but I wouldn’t describe it as ugly either. It’s actually quite easy to see the unconventional beauty in the concreate expanse; it’s that kind of city which kind of doesn’t care what you think of it, it gives off an air of ‘I am, what I am’. It’s creative, it’s innovative, it’s changing, it feels very real here.
The Telegraph recently published an article explaining why young British creatives are quitting the UK to find a home in the infinitely more affordable Berlin, but being here, you kind of get it, and it’s about more than just saving a buck or two on the rent.
They used to say the city was ‘poor but sexy’, but Berlin is on the up, and now I think it’s just the latter.
Of course, Berlin is still pretty fresh from the traumas of the World War and the demolition of the Berlin wall but despite there being the rather sombre yet important reminders of these events that happened in its recent past, its vibe is one of re-invention and positivity.
Berlins Sights – A Self Walking Tour.
We were interested in getting to know the historical past of Berlin and the best way of doing this is to make your way around the main tourist sites.
The easiest way I found of finding your way around each historical site was to start from Alexanderplatz in the Mitte district of the city, a busy centralised hub with shopping and food outlets, and also a square that hosts Berlin’s TV Tower (Fernsehturm).
From here it’s an easy walk west towards the stunning Berliner Dom or Berlin Cathedral which sits on the bank of the Spree on Museum Island.
Take the canal side path south to visit a small district called Nikolaiviertel. This is Berlin’s oldest residential area which has been reconstructed to retain its medieval charm following a stint of bombings in 1944. Nowadays this place is a peaceful and pretty quarter with some excellent German pubs and restaurants. Our hotel was nearby this area, and it was ideal to visit of an evening to dine al-fresco by the riverside and watch the sunset around Berlin Cathedral.
Walking west towards Checkpoint Charlie, you discover the site of the well-known Berlin Wall crossing between the separated West and East Berlin, during the Cold War. This attraction has been reconstructed for tourism purposes, featuring a copy of the guard house and the sign. Although it’s an interesting place to see, most tourists stop by for a photo opportunity with the ‘guards’ in mock costume. For more detailed information about the site, you can pay a visit to the nearby museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie.
Further west, down the road you’ll come across the open-air museum / memorial; Topography of Terror. This site displays a preserved section of the Berlin wall alongside a short exhibition summarising the history surrounding it.
Bearing north, you can now take the road via Potsdamer Patz, which is a site has seen some major redevelopment in recent years, now a large buzzing square with modern shopping spaces, food retailers and lofty high-rise office towers. The urban renewal of this area was following the World War where the area was almost completely devastated by bombings and then continued to lay dormant throughout Cold War within the wasteland between the East and West.
The Memorial of the Murdered Jews is the next ‘attraction’ on the route. This particular site is presented in memory of the Jews who were victims of the Holocaust. The vast space dedicated to this installation is dominated by colossal concreate blocks which are systematically arranged in a grid pattern across the 19,000 square metre site. It is designed so visitors are able to wander between the slabs, an experience which is daunting and confusing, supposedly representing society losing touch with what it means to be human.
The famous Brandenburg Gate is next up! This is one of Berlin’s most important monuments, celebrated as a symbol of unity for the city; it was here that Ronald Regan commanded Berlin to ‘tear this wall down’. Today people can walk underneath the arch that joins the boulevard ‘Unter der Linden’ with Berlin’s park – Tiergarten, on the opposite side.
To the north you’ll locate the Reichstag, Berlin’s parliament building which you can visit following a quick online registration. Head to the outside terrace for views across Berlin, and take a walk up the Glass Dome for a 360 degree panorama of the capitals’ cityscape.
Finally, relax with a German beer or portion of Currywurst and then take a leisurely walk down one of Berlin’s prettiest streets the ‘Unter den Linden’, back towards Alexanderplatz…
1. Alexanderplatz 2. Fernsehterm
3. Berliner Dom 4. Nikolaiviertel
5. Checkpoint Charlie 6. Topography of Terror
7. Podsdamer Platz 8. Memorial of Murdered Jews
9.Brandenburg Gate 10. Reichstag
Have you been to Berlin? What were your thoughts?