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, a couple of trips to Italy and done a few trips 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 for Berlin instead after discovering that Germany’s capital was hosting their own beer festival in August, the Internationales Berliner Bierfestival. This event that promised 2,400 beers from 22 beer regions and live music from Strausberger Platz to Frankfurter Tor.
So, apparently not having learnt from last summers trip to Rome in what was, quite possibly the hottest damn heat I’ve ever sweated through, we arrived in Germany at the first week of August thinking we might have taken a wrong turn over the North Sea and mistakenly landed on the surface of the sun. (!) Why do I keep forgetting that they have these stiflingly hot summers on the continent?!
After navigating our way into central Berlin via the U-bahn we headed up to Alexander Platz and took the short (but hot!) walk to the start of Karl-Marx-Allee for the Beer Festival.
Internationales Berliner Bierfestival
The Internationales Berliner Bierfestival is an annual event celebrating the hundreds upon hundreds of different beers from across the world. There was a huge representation from Belgium and Germany, naturally, with a large beer tent at the end for the Bavarians (there’s a lot of drinking, dancing and drinking whilst dancing – on the tables of course) but you could also seek out lesser known beers from across the globe, including a very strange beer mixed with banana syrup, which didn’t quite sit well with me. I think I might stick to the Kriek.
You can purchase an event glass for a small fee or choose to pay the ‘Pfand’ (deposit) which is refundable once you return the glass. It sounds like a bit of a faff to begin with but you soon get used to the process.
There’s also a great choice of street food from the great Currywurst which you have to try (literally a sausage with tomato ketchup topped with curry powder, simple yet it works), Pizzas, the fantastic Langos (I went a little mad for these after finding a love for these in Hungary, for some reason you can’t readily get them in England, apart from a tiny stall in Camden Market) or just choose to munch on whole pickled gherkins, if you’re into that sort of thing. I wasn’t a fan, but my partner Jamie assures me it was ‘very refreshing’. Uh-huh? Yeah, I’ll take your word for it.
The event has a great energy to it, there’s a lot of laughter and with our basic German and others’ basic English we managed to muddle through some conversations with our table-mates, and then when we didn’t know what each other were on about, just laughed some more! As it turns out Berliners are super friendly and very welcoming. This place was also the best remedy for the midday sun; cold beers and pinching a seat in the beer garden in the shade.
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 this is the best way to see a new city, and in a way I’m glad I still did, but gosh was it hot!
It isn’t the prettiest city, but it’s not 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.
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. We chose to walk from our hotel located to the South of Museum Island, towards Checkpoint Charlie, past the Topography of Terror, through Potzdamer Platz and then to the famous Brandenburg Gate and Tiergarten and finishing off with the Reichstag Building.
Berlin was well into the 30’s now, and after wandering around Museum Island and hiding in Rausch Schokoladenhaus for a good hour or so (for the amazing chocolate sculptures and the even more amazing air-conditioning) we were craving something more.
‘There’s gotta be a swimming pool around here?’
Google was my friend, telling me there was a pretty awesome looking converted barge floating on the River Spree complete with man made beach.
It was a bit of a walk away from the nearest U-bahn stop; we walked from Schlesisches Tor, through a trendy, up and coming area down the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg area.
Once there it looked like we, along with the rest of Berlin’s twenty-somethings had the same idea; there was pretty hefty queue to get in. So unfortunately we had to melt in the car park for half an hour.
But it was worth it. Despite it being crazy packed, and the beer being kind of average, Badeschiff was really pretty cool. You’re in your bikini on the bank of the Spree with this incredible view across the river and it’s cold, it’s so cold. Bliss!
Badeschiff has a small burger hut by the beach, but we were keen to try out the famous Bugermeister in a renovated public toilet (you heard me right) underneath Schlesisches Tor station.
Bugermeister is one of those places that kept cropping up on the travel blogs and guide books and after reading up about this place so much, I knew it was just one of those places that you have to visit at least once.
The burgers are cheap, cheerful and prepared quickly; there’s nearly always a bit of a queue but it subsides fairly swiftly. Once you’ve ordered you are provided with a ticket, then when you’re number is called on the screen you can collect your burger. A bit like the ‘Argos’ of the burger-world, if you excuse the lame comparison. But the burgers are good. And I’m still dreaming of the cheesy chips!
The atmosphere is student-esque, very casual and sociable, and it’s just generally a pretty unique place – where else can you say you grabbed a burger at a former public toilet?
Okay, so Berlin. You were an interesting place, you don’t instantly fall in love with it, but you get a kind of longing to go back as soon as you leave. It’s ultimately a pretty cool place, with cheap street food, great street art and an awesome relaxed vibe. Only problem was that our break was too short; four days doesn’t seem enough to get around this immense city – it’s massive.
Things I missed out on was lounging in Berlin’s beer gardens. There looked to be some great one’s around the city, but because we’d drunk for two days solid at the beer festival, we didn’t fancy much more in the last two days. I also missed out on discovering more of Tiergarten, Berlin’s huge city park. Once we’d got to the entrance, we had a quick wander about, but it was far too hot to venture too far, so this got missed off the itinerary. Lastly, I would have liked to have time to take a train out to Potsdam which is the largest World Heritage Site in Germany, with pretty parks and glorious palaces.
Looks like i’ll have to come back!
What is FP?
The Fernsehturm. What is it about being in a new place which makes you want to climb to the top of the tallest thing in the city? I’ve no idea, but I’m a sucker for a view. Granted, the TV Tower takes up a fair chuck of your time; queuing for the tickets, queuing for the barrier, queuing for the lift and then queuing to come down again… But Berlin is this huge city and it’s great to be able to get a good bird eye view over Museum Island, Berliner Dom, and all the way down the promenade to the comparatively small but still impressive Brandenburg Gate and out to the fantastically vast Tiergarten.
For an alternative option you can go to the top of Park Inn Hotel – if you want a view actually of the TV Tower instead.
Nikolaiviertel is an area just on the bank of the Spree close to Alexander Platz. It’s the oldest residential area in Berlin, so if you are craving a bit of old architecture after being overwhelmed with concreate in the rest of Berlin – this is where you need to head. This quarter was a quick five minute walk from our Hotel and was the ideal place grab dinner or drinks by the waterside, with a fantastic view of the Berliner Dom to the north.
Playing spot the Berlin Bear. These cute little painted sculptures (apparently called Buddy Bear’s I’ve since learnt) pop up everywhere.
Badeschiff. If you visit Berlin in the summer like I did and it gets too hot to function, you thank me for this recommendation.
The Beer Festival. It’s pretty awesome. There’s not many places you can sample this range of beer in one place. It’s easy to navigate, pretty quiet during the day (no queues!) and free admission. I’d certainly come back to Berlin for this one.
Street Art. The East side gallery is something else! I’ll leave you with a few pictures.
What were your thoughts or Berlin? Have you been to another place in Germany? Let me know your recommendations!