This past week I’ve been exploring the weird and wacky city of Berlin.Now Berlin has had quite a rocky and restricted past, with both Soviet and Nazi control; however, I think that’s the reason why Berlin is the way it is today. As any rebellious child would, after years of constraint, the citizens have become defiant and outlandish, and more importantly, accepting of all. The city is undeniably youthful. Many people dress effortlessly hipster, appear unpretentious, and in Berlin, it’s as if the trend is not to follow the trend. 😛
While in Berlin, I stayed in Kreuzberg, an offbeat neighborhood full of cool street art and alternative cafes.The colorful street art gives life to this district, and becomes an extension of the businesses themselves.
Here’s the local garage. The guy inside was waving hello. 🙂Here’s the local fire department.Additionally, there is also famous street art in this area. The East Side Gallery nearby is a section of the Berlin wall painted as a memorial of freedom, with beautiful and rather taboo murals symbolizing hope and friendship.The vibe is so artsy here, they’ve even branded their cross walk signal, Ampelmann, into cute mugs and other souvenirs. 🙂Now to learn more about Berlin’s unique street art scene I took a free alternative tour, which led me to some other unique art displays.
My Aussie guide started with an alley near Hackescher Markt, an area once used to help blind and deaf Jews escape deportation by employing them in a factory in this courtyard.After the war this area was abandoned, and became a place for squatters placing street art along these walls.Today, anyone can paint street art in this alley, and the displays are constantly changing.Their current feelings on Trump are pretty loud and clear. 😛The one untouched piece; however, is a beautiful painting of the writer, Anne Frank, one of the most famous victims of the Holocaust.Overall, the street art shows a lot about the attitude amongst Berliners: express yourself and be free. 😀From there we headed to my area of Kreuzberg where our guide showed a famous tree house called, ‘Baumhaus an der Mauer.’It was built in East Berlin, but technically located in West Berlin due to a defect if the walls ability to bend at the border. This house in no man’s land has remained, even after the fall of the Wall. I also spotted an abandoned military tank nearby.After the tour, I kept meandering Kreuzberg, which I discovered has a high population of Turkish immigrants. This lead to an abundance of Turkish cuisine in Berlin, most notably a dish called a döner kebab. I tried one at a place called Mustafa’s for around 6 USD. Like a gyro on steroids, they stuffed seasoned rotisserie chicken in a pita-like bread, then topped it with french fries, fresh Mediterranean veggies, garlic sauce and feta cheese. So good! Kreuzberg even has a bi-weekly Turkish market selling food and handicrafts. 😀
Now while here, I also enjoyed seeing the city’s historic sites. For this I headed towards Mitte, the central district, and location of the iconic Brandenburg Gate.This is essentially the Arc de Triomphe of Berlin. It was originally built as a peace gate, topped with a statue named Eirene. That was until the statue was stolen by Napoleon Bonaparte and taken to France. When Bonaparte was defeated, the statue was returned and renamed Victoria, the goddess of victory. Then during the Cold War, the gate was closed along the Berlin Wall. Finally, when the Wall fell, and East and West Berlin reunited, the gate reopened and once again became a symbol of peace. ☮
If you don’t want to snap photos of this landmark, you can drool over it inside Rausch Schokoladenhaus, a local sweet shop, where they’ve created a replica out of chocolate, along with models of other historic buildings.Now, in Mitte, I also took a free walking tour courtesy of Sandemans.Our Aussie guide showed us lots of important places like the Adlon Hotel, Berlin’s most expensive penthouse costing around 12,000 Euros/ night, and where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over a balcony. 😮All jokes aside, he really did take us to some important historical sites, like this rather unassuming apartment complex playground, which sits atop Hitler’s old bunker. This is the shelter where he spent his final days, slowly going mad before ending his life with wife, Eva Braun. 😮Next we passed by one of the few remaining sections of the Berlin Wall, along with the Topograhy of Terrors. The Topography of Terrors was the former SS headquarters, and now serves to educate visitors on the history of this location, like the coordination of mass genocide that was organized here.Next we passed Checkpoint Charlie, the former inspection point for Americans crossing from West to East Germany during the Cold War.Now-a-days, Checkpoint Charlie is just manned by some actors posing as soldiers. Hah!For once, I have to agree with McDonald’s. Talk about a cheesy stunt. Hah! 😛They’ll even take a photo with you and stamp your passport for crossing the checkpoint. Just make sure it’s not a current passport, since these fake stamps can invalidate your document. 😮
Now, one of the most interesting sites we saw was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.The name alone says a lot about the city. Berlin is blunt, open and honest about its past mistakes, in order that history does not repeat itself.
The memorial consists of 2,711 concrete slabs, all with varying heights, laid out in a grid-like pattern. Their meaning is left open for interpretation.Some say it’s the illusion of order or the struggle for dominance. Personally I felt as if the slabs became increasing taller as I walked through them, almost in an overpowering and suffocating manner. Below the memorial they even have a museum with audio testimonials from Holocaust survivors. As well, they have countless other memorials around town, as a daily reminder of all the innocent lives lost.As a final view over this historic district, I went to the German parliament rooftop, Reichstag Dome.Entry is free, but you need to schedule an appointment in advance.
Afterwards I headed over to Karl-Marx-Allee, a preserved Soviet era boulevard in former East Berlin. In contrast to the vibrant district of Kreuzberg, this area is nicknamed “Stalin’s bathroom” due to the uniform tile plastered on all the buildings. 😛Now Berlin may have a reputation for its crazy night life, and I feel it’s well-deserved. As I was walking around with my coffee at 9 a.m. on Saturday, I heard the club music still going strong, and people walking around with drinks in black dresses and heels. I mean, they even have clubs here that start on Friday night and end on Monday morning. Like, people just keep partying. 😮While I’m not into raving for 3 days straight, what’s cool about Berlin is that there’s so much else to do!
I mean, for those that prefer arts and culture, they have a whole island dedicated to museums, aptly named Museum Island.They also have numerous other free art galleries, like Carlier/Gebauer.For a more upscale night out, they have posh hotel bars like Radisson Blu, where you’ll find AquaDom, the world’s largest freestanding aquarium.For the more spiritual, there is Berliner Dom, a traditional cathedral with stunning Baroque architecture.
For a taste of the outdoors, Berlin has numerous green spaces, and the sidewalks are spacious, clean and tree-lined.Berlin seems to have a good balance of new meets old, urban meets outdoor.For a second, I even forgot I was in Germany until I hit one of the plazas, Alexanderplatz, which has an outdoor carnival and biergarten.And get a look at what kind of shenanigans they were serving up here! Taco shell bowls filled with french fries, chili con carne, curried sausages and mushrooms, all slathered in a garlic mayo! My dad is a total carnivore and I know he would have loved this dish. 😀I think his only suggestion would be that it needs more meat. Hah! Have you considered a bacon bowl, Berlin? Just an idea. 😉
Now it’s this fusion of cultures and ideas that makes this city unique. In Berlin, it feels like you can be who you want, live how you want, express yourself, and you’ll be accepted. You definitely can’t find that everywhere.
Stay weird, Berlin. I love you for it. ❤
Berlin’s Festival of Lights
Now, without planning, I also arrived in Berlin during their annual illumination festival. 😀For one week, all of the major historic sites were illuminated at night with a variety of colorful projections.
Some were interactive, like the timeline of Berlin’s history, progressively hand drawn on the Brandenburg Gate.Others with fixed, but incredibly colorful, like the projection across Berlin’s Humboldt University.By far my favorite was the stunning slide show across the Berliner Dom, coupled with classical music, it was definitely a must-see site! 😀
I’ll start by saying Berlin is not the cheapest city.
Other than sampling a bit of local cuisine, I did most of my shopping at the supermarket, Kaiser’s. While restaurant meals are around 15 USD, staples like eggs, cheese and bread are cheap and always delicious…especially alongside some tasty local produce. As well, local transport in Berlin is around 8 USD per day, so instead I got my walking shoes on.
Just these little sacrifices make a big difference in the long-run. 😉
Well, I have one more day trip to share with you, then it’s off to Poland. I expect a completely different experience there, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. Until then. 🙂