I guess this post about Berlin will be the last one about travel for a while because I’m running out of things to write about since I can’t do any travelling right now. I’ve been to quite a few places that I haven’t written about, but it was all many years ago, and it would be a bit useless to write about that. This blog post is about Berlin, which I visited in October. I realise this was sort of a long time ago too, but luckily, I took lots of notes and pictures, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
Alvaro and I used Berlin as a meeting point. Instead of him coming to Slovenia or me to Spain (we’re long-distance), we decided to visit a new place together. We chose Berlin because his friend lives there, and we were supposed to stay in her apartment. The two of them managed to mess something up, so she actually left for Venice on the day we landed in Berlin. We stayed in her flat anyway and managed to see quite a bit of the German capital in the four days we spent there.
My first impression of the city was positive: it reminded me of London. I saw the English capital in the international shops and restaurants, in the groups of foreigners and in the street performers. Berlin has a population of 3.5 million and is less crowded and chaotic than London, though. Its streets also seem to be more spacious. The first evening walk from the flat to the supermarket confirmed the rumour: there’s a kebab place about every three hundred metres. On the (vegan) bright side, many of them seem to be offering falafel as well.
Be careful …
We managed to get a fine (60 euros each) on our first full day in the city. We bought tickets for the metro, but we didn’t validate them. The thing is that most undergrounds I’ve seen use a system where you have to validate the ticket in order to be able to enter. But in Berlin, you can just enter, and then they have these small machines where you should validate your ticket, but you can board the train even if you don’t. This is exactly what we did, not because we wanted to get a free ride, but because we didn’t know how it works and didn’t take enough time to figure it out. Two guys (who didn’t look like controllers at all) entered and demanded our validated tickets. There was no option but to pay.
Other than the metro, we mostly walked and rode our friend’s bikes. They were both in pretty bad shape; we spent one whole morning trying to inflate a tire which was somehow flat again later that day. The hours we spent on bikes or walking were the best because Berlin has many parks and pretty neighbourhoods to drive or walk through.
What to see in Berlin
I honestly don’t remember exactly what we did each day (and my notes aren’t that good), so I’ll just write about what we saw and enjoyed! If I had to state five things that I love about Berlin, they would be the parks, the remains of the wall, the vegan scene, the gay scene and the international vibe.
The Berlin Wall Memorial is the part of the wall where you can read various information and historical facts about the Cold War. There are also pictures of everyone who lost their lives trying to cross the border between West and East Berlin. Another interesting part of what’s left of the wall (which was 150 kilometres long) is the East Side Gallery. This part is full of graffiti made by artists from all over the world. Checkpoint Charlie also belongs to the same category; it was one of the most important crossing points between the two Berlins.
Another must-see is naturally the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe which is at the same time peaceful, sad and sinister. We also visited the Topography of Terror where the headquarters of the SS and Gestapo used to be. It’s an indoor and outdoor museum with various pictures and lots of informative texts. It’s hard to imagine what used to take place inside the walls of what now looks like an average modern museum. All of these sites are completely free to visit.
Naturally, we also visited the famous Brandenburg Gate, a neoclassical monument built in the 18th century. Not far from it lies the Reichstag building where the German parliament meets. We only saw the Berlin Cathedral from the outside, and the same goes for all the museums on Museum Island. Museum Island is the northern half of an island in the Spree river. The island is home to six museums, hence the name. We ran out of time to visit any of them because the nice weather and the beautiful parks took too much of our time.
What we didn’t really find that interesting was the square Alexanderplatz and the nearby Fernsehturm Berlin. Alexanderplatz is a public square, a major meeting point and a transport hub. It’s usually full of people, especially tourists, and surrounded by shopping centres. Maybe I have a bad memory of it because that’s where we got out just after we were charged 120 euros for not validating our tickets. Fernsehturm Berlin is a television tower and the tallest building in Germany (368 metres). It has an observation deck and a bar, but we didn’t visit it. It honestly doesn’t look like anything special, even though the view is probably good.
We rode our bikes through Tiergarten, one of the largest urban gardens in Germany. It’s an inner-city park and in my eyes the German version of Central Park. We also visited Spreepark, an abandoned amusement park a bit further away from the centre. I was desperate to see the old attractions, but unfortunately, we couldn’t enter the ex-amusement park itself. We did, however, take a nice walk through the forest-like park. My absolute favourite was Tempelhof, a park which used to be an airport. Berlin Tempelhof Airport was one of the first airports in the city and stopped operating in 2008. Today it’s visited by tourists and locals alike; people go there to do sport, just walk around or have picnics. It’s one of the most incredible urban gardens I’ve ever seen.
Berlin is kind to minorities
Berlin is a city of foreigners and of different languages, races and ethnicities. On its streets, you can hear people speaking English and other languages all the time. The city also has a lively LGBTQ scene with gay districts such as Schöneberg, the first gay district in the world, and various gay bars and clubs. And then there’s the vegan scene: Berlin might be full of kebab and currywurst shops, but it’s possible to get both in a vegan version. Not to mention all the vegan restaurants and cafes!
We visited Alaska Bar, a Spanish vegan restaurant, for my pre-birthday dinner. I honestly had the best patatas bravas with aioli ever, smoked salmon made of carrots, Spanish omelette with chickpea flour and an »octopus« dish made of mushrooms. We’ve also been to Thai Inside, where I had good vegan pad thai and spring rolls. I managed to get a chia pudding and coffee with plant-based milk in the most random café near Tempelhof, where I really didn’t expect to find anything. We also found a random burrito place that did vegan burritos near the East Side Gallery and of course Brammibal’s Donuts. They had lots of vegan doughnuts, but I didn’t like the one I tried. I think it’s me, not them, though.
We also made some meals in the apartment. We lived close to Lidl, Muller and DM, so it was easy enough to get basically any vegan food. It really is ridiculously easy to be vegan in Berlin.
Music in Berlin
Berlin is also a city of music. There are street musicians on every corner, some of them very good. We even managed to attend a private jam session through a friend of our friend. Alvaro joined in, and it was one of the coolest experiences ever. A friend of mine advised me to visit Berghain, one of the most famous clubs in the world. It’s a techno place that’s apparently hard to get into, but we didn’t even try. We’re more into concerts than clubs, even though I’m sure it would be fun.
Berlin made me feel like I could actually live there. Maybe it was because I stayed in a flat or because I saw bits of London in it. Or perhaps because I knew I wouldn’t feel out of place even as a stranger. Me living in Berlin is probably not going to happen, but I’d really like to visit it again at some point! As should you if you haven’t yet; Berlin really has something for everyone.