Berlin, Germany: A modern city with a haunting history

Dates: April 11th – April 15th

Distance walked: 64.71km

Steps: 95,500

Temperature high: 23°C

As we stepped out on to the sunlit runway at the Schönefeld airport in Berlin, wearing our heaviest gear so as to avoid unnecessary excess baggage fees, it may have been difficult to make out the relief on our faces through the sweat. However after 12 hours of travelling that’s exactly what we felt when we touched down safely in Germany’s capital.

Our first evening was spent taking in the Friedrichshain district in the East end of the city, near to our accommodation. This hip location oozes personality as a variety of sub-cultures blend together to provide some fantastic bars and eateries with a distinct alternative vibe.

It’s the ideal place for a couple in their twenties to settle into a new city. We took in the bar scene trying our first German beer, a Berliner Pilsner, and shared an outstanding Currywurst at a local fast food joint, Burger Jam.

A German delicacy
This dish alone is worth the expense of travelling to Berlin

The city has a lively nightlife that extends into the early hours of the morning however we rounded the evening off early after a long day by stopping by McLaren’s Pub or simply ‘Puzzles’. If that sounds familiar then you may have heard it before on the US sit-com, How I Met Your Mother.

This Irish pub in the punky East of the German capital is rather strangely dedicated to the popular American show and boasts plenty of references and memorabilia.

Experience Ireland, America and Germany in this quirky pub
A must for fans of How I Met Your Mother

After a well earned sleep we set out to explore the famous sights within the city centre. We were not disappointed as we made our way through the city steeped in history which boasts many sombre yet spectacular views.

The Topography of Terror showcases the disturbing rise of Hitler and the Nazi party. It is situated where the now-demolished headquarters of the SS Reich Main Security Office stood. These buildings housed the Gestapo and the SS however now educate visitors about the atrocities carried out by these institutions during the Nazi regime.

Haunting history is on show at this memorial
A stretch of the Berlin Wall stands parallel to the Topography of Terror

Checkpoint Charlie was a crossing point between East Germany and West Germany during the Cold War. Today it is a tourist trap in what was the ‘American sector’ where you can now observe photographs of the site during the post-WWII era, examine a piece of the Berlin Wall and even a get your picture taken at a mock US Army checkpoint complete with Sergeants draped in the American flag, sporting thick German accents.

The East/West crossing point during post-war Germany
A photograph on display at Checkpoint Charlie

Perhaps the most humbling site within the city is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Two thousand, seven hundred and eleven concrete blocks rise and fall over a massive square south of the Brandenburg Gate to create a beautiful remembrance site for victims of the Holocaust.

It's easy to get literally and figuratively lost in within the concrete blocks
Flowers and tributes are often left by visitors in remembrance of victims

The remainder of our first afternoon in Berlin was spent strolling through the streets of the capital lapping up the beautiful weather and snapping pictures at other famous spots.

We paused at the magnificent Reichstag building after passing through the Brandenburg Gate, before making our way on to Museum Island and settling down to relax by the Berliner Dom.

There are few better ways to spend a spring afternoon abroad than laying by the fountain in front of the awe-inspiring cathedral, snacking on a bratwurst bought from a nearby street vendor, whilst listening to a busker play Beatles tunes on a rustic guitar.

Between banks of the River Spree on Museum Island
The Berlin Cathedral stands tall on Museum Island

During the evening we stopped in at Unsicht-bar for dinner. This ‘dark restaurant’ provides a truly unique gastronomical experience.

On arrival we were instructed to choose from a variety of set menus which only give clues as to the ingredients of each dish. After both opting for what we gauged would be a safe bet in the poultry menu, our waiter René led us into a pitch black dining room.

A sign inside translates to ‘Dark Restaurant’

The total darkness is softened by smooth jazz, nervous chatter from excited patrons and the bustling of the staff, shuffling their way through the room with astonishing ease.

No matter how hard you may strain, there is no adjusting to the unrelenting darkness. The sooner you accept your circumstances, the sooner you begin to enjoy what is truly a weird and wonderful sensory experience.

Day three of five saw us visit Markthalle Neun, an international indoor market situated in the graffiti laden streets of Kreuzberg.

Vendors from all over the world meet in this indoor market
An elevated view of Markthalle Neun

The theme of the day was Italy with stalls selling pasta, pizza, pesto, cheese, wine, bread and pastries all from Bel Paese. However vendors from all over the world were also crammed into the 120 year old building and visitors could indulge in Danish cider, pies from New Zealand, French champagne and Spanish tapas among other international delights.

French cheeses, wines and champagne for sale

The Italian theme continued into the evening as we sat down to what, in my very underqualified opinion, has to be some of the best pizza in Berlin at the Salami Social Club. Situated to the east of the city centre, it’s perhaps a little out the way for people on a short stay looking to capture the essence of the city. However, for anyone who happens upon this area I’d definitely recommend that you buy a beer, grab a slice and watch the comings and goings of the busy Frankfurter Allee for a tasty, inexpensive way to spend your evening.

Our penultimate day was kicked off with a trip back into town where we revisited our favourite street vendor to buy another Bratwurst, topped off with the local dessert a Berliner, en route to an outdoor art market which had been set up near to Museum Island. After meandering from stall to stall marvelling at the local artwork, we spent some time in the Mitte district. The central district of Berlin is home to many of the sites already named in this post however one which we stumbled across that hasn’t been mentioned is the Neun Wache.

Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Dictatorship

A mother sits solemnly in the room cradling her son, lonely and exposed to the elements of the passing seasons all year round through the opening above. There isn’t anymore to see than the image shown above, a bare room with a structure in the centre illuminated only through natural light above, however observing it in person is the only way to truly appreciate the sentiment. This memorial site is minimalist and beautifully constructed.

After being confined to a coffee stop for the afternoon due to getting caught in heavy rain outside the Brandenburg Gate, we returned to the hotel for a quick change of attire before seeking out another German delicacy for dinner, schnitzel.

Take a trip down to the Oderbaum bridge and you can sit down outside Scheers Schnitzel and enjoy some seriously good food. The chef informed us that the dish is traditionally Austrian and made with flattened chicken however in Germany it is made typically with pork.

As we have a trip to Vienna planned in June we decided to order two schnitzels of the German variety and save the original for a later date.

Traditional pork schnitzel accompanied with a German beer

A great way to burn off those newfound calories is to hop across the road by the banks of the River Spree and walk the length of the East Side Gallery. It’s a remnant of the Berlin Wall that stretches 1316 metres and is adorned with everything from mindless graffiti to complex artwork bursting with colour to touching murals and political paintings.

On our way home we took our time strolling alongside the wall, the longest open-air gallery in the world, as the sun set and snapped plenty of photographs of the stunning murals.

Colourful murals light up the wall by the river

In a city that has so much to offer it’s no surprise that there was still plenty that we wanted to do by the time our final day rolled around. An early morning visit to the roof of the Reichstag provided us with a panoramic view of Berlin. Visitors can ascend a ramp inside the famous dome that sits on top of the building for an even loftier view and marvel at the twisting metallic architecture springing up from the former parliamentary building.

A view from inside the dome atop the Reichstag

On the other side of Tiergarten, past the Berlin Victory Column, is the affluent town of Charlottenburg within the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf borough. It’s a half hour walk to the Victory Column where we caught a bus directly to the Charlottenburg Palace, the main attraction of the locality.

The building was completed originally in 1699 after being commissioned by Sophia Charlotte, Queen consort of Prussia, and later renamed after her following her untimely death. The sunlight complements the pastel yellow exterior walls and tourists can freely roam the courtyard and grounds. There are two interior wings, old and new, which are each accessible to tourists who pay a €10 admission charge (€17 for both) however we spent our time perusing the gorgeous palace gardens to the rear.

On show are glistening fountains, an array of meticulously maintained flowers and greenery as well as a large lake inhabited by a handful of ducks, swans and small fish.

A photo of the picturesque palace taken from the gardens

The final site that we squeezed into our trip was the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a protestant church which was badly damaged during the second World War and only a small memorial hall, containing remnants and artefacts, on the ground floor is accessible.

We spent our last evening kicking back in an Irish bar by the River Spree reflecting on our time in Berlin and looking forward to our next destination, Kraków.

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