Old and New Berlin

I learnt so much about Berlin, in Berlin. There’s so much history here, and some of it not as far back in time as you might think. Did you know the Berlin Wall only came down in 1989? Fast forward 27 years later to our long weekend in Berlin in June 2016.

8 Tips: 

  1. Buy a welcome card (€27.50 for 3 days) – includes travel, discounts on museum entry, 25% off base flying and more!
  2. Pick up a base flying pamphlet from the tourist information office underneath the TV Tower, there’s a coupon for a free video! (worth €19)
  3. Get an early bird ticket (€49 instead of €79) if you arrive at the base flying desk on or before opening time
  4. Get all your tourist ‘stuff’ done on a weekday if possible to avoid lots of people
  5. Be prepared to use public transport, this city is BIG!
  6. Check out different suburbs like Kreuzberg, Mitte, Charlottenburg,Friedrichshain – they all have something different to offer!
  7. If you’re interested in seeing the Reichstag building, book online before your trip!
  8. Start your holiday on a Thursday, makes the weekend seem so much longer!

Thursday – Flight to Berlin

Tick tock tick tock. Work day over! Long weekend begins!

Off to Berlin with Easyjet from London Gatwick. We started the holiday with a big glass of wine and some Nando’s at the airport.

At the other end we had the challenge of finding our way to the hotel. After purchasing train tickets (€3.30 each) common sense led us towards the signs for Berlin city centre but we still ended up on the wrong train. Thankfully a station attendant came to direct us to the right one.

alexanderplatz stationThirty-eight minutes later our train arrived at Alexanderplatz and we checked into the Holiday Inn, a short walk from the station.

Friday – Museum Island, Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin Wall

What’s with breakfast in Europe? Why does it seem so hard to find? At ‘hangry’ stage we settled on a sandwich and coffee. It was actually pretty good.

Our pre-trip research led us to the tourist information office at Alexanderplatz to buy the Berlin Welcome Card (€27.50 each). The card lasts for 3 days and includes all local public transport and discounts for a range of restaurants and activities. See tip 1!

museum islandThe first REAL sightseeing of our trip started with Museum Island. There are lots to choose from including international museums but we were saving ourselves for the museums dedicated to Berlin history in a different part of town. Museum Island even has a museum that contains a sculpture of the bust of Queen Nefertiti, discovered in Egypt.

brandenburg gateThe Brandenburg Gate was next. We later learnt that this gate was part of the Berlin Wall border and very much a centre point of Berlin history including where a number of famous speeches were made. The Checkpoint Charlie Museum has a photograph inside of the Brandenburg Gate covered by a large sheet so that people on either side could not see through. Around 136 people died trying to get to the other side of the Berlin Wall, which only came down in 1989!

jewish memorialA short walk from Brandenburg Gate is the artistic and very moving Jewish memorial. There are rectangular concrete blocks of all sizes that you can walk through, almost like a maze. The blocks do not have any writing on them and symbolise the large number of Jews killed in the Second World War.

jodie currywurstAfter the Jewish memorial we stumbled across Maximilians Pub and tried our first curry-wurst sausages for lunch with chips. It was so tasty but so big we easily shared the plate between us. We washed it down with a beer and had a chuckle at the boys sitting on the table behind us with a cardboard cut out of the Queen with a cigarette in her mouth. Guess – bucks weekend.

checkpoint charlieSo I mentioned Checkpoint Charlie before. It’s now marked by a picture of a soldier in the middle of a street near a shelter where tourists are getting their photos taken with guys dressed up as soldiers. This point was also along the Berlin Wall border and was the famous crossing point for foreigners. Did you know that West Germany was occupied by USA, France, Great Britain and Soviets (Russia) occupied East Germany? There’s so much information in the Checkpoint Charlie Museum (€9 each with welcome card) it took a souvenir t-shirt with a map showing these defined areas for us to finally understand. There is also a very famous sign at Checkpoint Charlie that says ‘you are leaving the American sector’.

We couldn’t get enough of this very recent history so we bought a ticket for The Wall Panorama (€7.50 each with welcome card). The main attraction is the panorama itself which shows what it was like when the wall was still in tact at a specific section of the Berlin Wall. The panorama is powerful, so well done that it feels real. On the way out we looked at lots of photos from 1989-1990 when the Wall came down including of tourists just like us, sitting in carved out sections of the Wall.

Catching the train was the fastest way of getting to our next stop – the east side gallery. There’s graffiti on the west side of the Berlin Wall and what I would describe as protected murals on the other. This includes the painting of the famous fraternal kiss between Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker in 1979.

After catching the train home and a quick change, we were soon on another train to Friedrichshain. We’d had a few tips about how trendy this area of town was, and could see why when we found the streets lined with restaurants and cocktail bars. The choice was distracting! We walked around for quite a while before settling on a Japanese restaurant. The food was fresh and delicious and we enjoyed it with a lovely German wine. Total cost? €40 for both of us including starters, main and bottle of wine.

We kept the quality and shallow pockets going with a cocktail nearby at €3.80 each before catching a train home.

Saturday – Base Flying, exploring the surrounding suburbs of Berlin and ‘prosting’ in its oldest beer garden!

Now that we were competing with lots of other tourists for space on the train and general sightseeing, today’s plans were focused on more of the unknown areas of Berlin.

We started the day with an English breakfast (€10 each) at the Hackescher Markt (not a spelling mistake!) before making our way to the Park Inn. Why were we on our way to another hotel? Because that’s where the Jochen Schweizer base flying is… well… based.

park inn

Park Inn

Insert tip 3. On a Saturday the base flying opens at midday and to get the early bird discount you have to be there either before 12 or on the dot. Once you’ve paid and signed the waiver, it’s time to catch the lift to the top floor then climb some stairs to get to the VERY top. If you don’t want to do the base flying, you can still go up and enjoy the view in a relaxing deck chair for €4 each. There is a small shop where you can purchase things like a coffee or a beer. For us it was a beer to celebrate! (€4 each)

The base flying itself was an incredible, adrenaline filled experience. The staff there are friendly and funny to help you relax but also professional which is of course reassuring! You can watch the full video of my jump here or parts of it in the vlog showing the highlights of our time in Berlin.

We caught the train to Kreuzberg, south of central Berlin. A shop at Kottbusser Tor station lured us in with their pretzel display (1 pretzel & 2 waters €3.70) and here we met a very interesting man. He asked us where we were from and as soon as we said “Australia”, he told us that he had been bitten by an Australian snake and showed us the bite mark on his arm surrounded by swelling and purple bruising. At this point we were confused and he clarified by telling us that he breeds snakes and spiders and sells venom to pharmacies. Well! Who else will we meet today?

kreuzberg mapKreuzberg is great part of town and while we could have explored there more, we decided to try another area of town for lunch – Mitte. It was a happy moment for me mostly because there was a sleepy kitty stretched out on the chair inside the restaurant. Only one guess for where we settled ourselves for lunch. The restaurant was called Blaues Band and had a beach feel to it that a bit of sunshine from outside helped with. Cost €22 for both of us which I probably would have paid just to sit next to the cat for an hour.

cat at blaues bandDeck 5, a secret bar was next. We’d read that it was set up on what used to be a fifth floor car park of a shopping centre. It was fun to find and worth it to feel the sand between your toes and have a great view! It costs €1 each to get in then you can pull up a deck chair, buy a drink and make yourselves comfortable! When you buy a drink they give you poker chips to encourage you to return your glasses each time you buy a drink, and get € back when you return the glasses for a final time. Clever!

prater beergardenThe sun was still shining so we made our way to Prater, Berlin’s oldest beer garden. They even have the portable stairs used to look over the Berlin wall. It felt like being back at Oktoberfest with tables full of people drinking beer and eating sausages. It rained for a short while but it wasn’t enough for people to leave. We were under cover at the time, ordering two sausages, baked potato, gherkin and corn on the cob (€15).

The second final destination for the night was Acud Club Studio Gallery where we enjoyed a vodka and Club Mate (pronounced ‘marter’) in an outdoor area at the front of the venue. Turns out they were recording the live music being played at the venue for live radio. The sun finally went down and we walked to a park nearby where lots of people were sprawled out on the grass, some swinging their legs above the pond in the centre. We joined them on the edge of the pond and finished our Club Mate before making our way ‘home’.

drink at the pondHome, otherwise known as the Holiday Inn, Alexanderplatz upgraded us to a larger room on a higher level (therefore better view!) for our final evening. The air conditioning didn’t seem to be working in our original room (could have well been the operator/s!) so they offered us another room without hesitation. Thank you Holiday Inn!

Sunday –  Breakfast along the Spree, Charlottenburg and the Topography of Terror

We always do this. Sleep in, leisurely get ready then start the search for breakfast on an empty stomach. But not just any breakfast. It has to come with:

  • a view
  • a menu with tasty food options with a reasonable price tag and/or
  • an off the beaten track experience

Turns out we are picky, even when hungry! Hangry on the other hand is a whole different story (see Friday). We had started to become ‘hangry’ when we found Friedrichs106 cafe along the Spree (river). The food was good, it was reasonably priced and the view couldn’t get much better. Hangry crisis averted.

reichstag buildingAfter breakfast we walked towards the Reichstag building. Insert tip 7. It was still beautiful to see from the outside and it led us to a festival going on near the Brandenburg Gate. There was live music and never-ending market stalls with all sorts.

We made our way on the train over to Charlottenburg, an area of town we had yet to explore. It presented us with a very different vibe and options. Of particular note was the large shopping centre and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Unfortunately it poured down with rain and of course we had no umbrella so we caught the train to a station closer to our hotel. During this time it stopped raining.

topography of terror

Topography of Terror

On our zombie walk to find lunch (very similar to breakfast), we stumbled across the Topography of Terror Museum. This site was the headquarters for the Nazis during World War II. There is so much to read and learn here, you need to allow 1 hour to avoid rushing. We had our second curry-wurst of the trip nearby but sadly it was nowhere near as good as the first one.

It was soon time to collect our bags from the hotel and head to the airport. We made a quick cocktail stop along the way to celebrate a fantastic time in Berlin and joined many other commuters on the train to the airport. On our journey, the driver announced in German that the train had gone one stop too many and we had to go back the other direction one stop to catch another train to the airport. After everyone had an initial panic we all made it onto the right train. A friendly local lady had even stopped to help Harry and I having seen us with the train map and no doubt worried looks on our faces.

I don’t know why we were so worried… I would have happily stayed in Berlin for another day or two!