I caught the FlixBus N100 overnight bus from Paris —> Berlin, with a stopover in Hannover. We went north from Paris, crossing through Belgium on our way to Germany. I got very little sleep, as I couldn’t get comfortable and am not good at sleeping in an upright position!
Day 1: I arrived in Berlin just after 8am, at the Berlin ZOB station. My friend Jono came to meet me. I bought 5-day Berlin WelcomeCard, which covers your transport and gives you lots of discounts. Note: If you are a student, it is cheaper to just get a week transport pass, as student discounts are usually better than WelcomeCard discounts, and they do accept foreign student IDs, as a general rule.
Jono and I went back to his place, where I stayed during my time here. After all the usual post-long haul-travel hygiene stuff, we went and got breakfast at The Future Breakfast Café, which has very recently opened. I got a cappuccino and some excellent matcha pancakes with green apple and black sesame-coconut whip. After breakfast, Jono and I parted ways for the day. I went and did a river cruise with the Reederei Hadynski company. The cruise was well-priced (10€ for an hour), and our guide, Alex, was interesting and funny in both English and German. After the cruise, I popped into the DDR museum, which gave a decent overview of what life was like in the days behind the Berlin Wall. Next, I had my first currywurst and frites at Bandy’s Currywurst, which I enjoyed, except I found the sauce to be a little too spicy for my liking. It was a nice spot by the river Spree, and not too pricy.
With a satisfied stomach, I headed down the Unter den Linden, taking in the sights along the way. Some people call it the Champs Élysées of Berlin, but I wouldn’t really compare it to that! Maybe more like the Rue de Rivoli. I went down to the Pariser Platz, which is where the Brandenburg Gate is. This was my first time seeing it. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great that first day, but it cleared up beautifully for the rest of my time there. I turned left after the Brandenburg Gate, heading towards the Memorial to the Murdered Jews. I had a quick look and walk through. By this point, my phone battery had drained exceptionally for some reason, so here began my dash to get my charger, back at Jono’s. I had left my cellphone charger at his place, and he was at work. He ended up working longer than expected, so I went across Berlin to get the key to his apartment. On the way from his work to his apartment, I had to change from the U-Bahn to the S-Bahn, and at this particular stop, the S-Bahn entrance was not well indicated. By the time I found it (which, as it turns out, was down a side street near the U-Bahn exit), I had 5% battery. Luckily, I knew the stop I had to get off at, and I quickly memorised the address. Basically as soon as I was on my way again, my phone had switched off. Upon arrival at the station, I found a map with the street names indicated, so I found the street I needed, and wrote down the instructions. It could have easily ended with me at the station alone for 4 hours, had I not memorised the address!
i charged my phone for a bit, and took my charger with me when I left again! I headed to Potsdamer Platz, checked that out, and then to Alexander Platz. I wandered around that area for a while, before meeting Jono for dinner. We ended up going to Shiso Burger, which was very good and much cheaper than I expected. Back to Jono’s after dinner, for an early night!
Day 2: I started back where I left off the day before, near Brandenburg Gate. I continued down the Unter den Linden, past the Russian memorial, and down to the Victory Tower. For 3€, I was able to climb up the inner spiral staircase to get a great view over Berlin. If you aren’t great with heights, this is a little scary, as the viewing platform is quite narrow (though well blockaded with metal fencing). From here, I descended down to the street, and wandered though the Tiergarten, which is enormous. There is a lovely little lakeside café in the park (the zoo side) called the Café am Neuen See. It was a beautiful, peaceful spot for breakfast!
I continued out to the other side of the Tiergarten, walking past the aquarium and zoo, down to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The old church was bombed during the war, and the damage has been left in remembrance. You can go in and see some artifacts and historical stuff. The new church next door is incredible - sort of like a combination between the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (not in size, just in design).
Next was the Topographie Des Terrors, which is at the site of both a part of the Berlin Wall and a Gestapo/SS hideout. The exhibition is free, and tells about how the Nazis got into power and how Berlin/Germany came to be in such a state during the 20th century. The horrible insects which happened to be flying around that day added to the ambiance! I would have liked a little more time there, but was a little rushed, as I was off to see a free midday concert at the Berlin Philharmonic. This concert was presented by students from Weimar, who were excellent. The closing performer was particularly noteable, as he was an 11-year-old legitimate piano prodigy, named Ben Lepetit, playing works such as Chopin’s Étude Op. 25, No. 12 (“Ocean”) with finesse.
After the concert, I went to meet up with Melanie, an old schoolmate who happened to be in Berlin at the same time as me. We went to the Panorama Punkt, which has the fastest elevator in Europe (24 floors in 20 seconds, which sort of hurts your ears!). There is a nice café up there and a viewing point, both of which we did. The café is a little pricier by Berlin standards, but worth it for the view and the elevator experience (it does cost to go up the elevator). We went to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews to go to the information centre there, but there were too many groups at that time, so we parted ways for the day. I went to Checkpoint Charlie, and to the Die Mauer exhibition by asisi (5€ on Tuesdays for students) - a panorama experience of what life on both sides of the wall would have been like on Sebastianstraße on a November day, sometime in the 1980s. I headed back to Jono’s after that, stopping in the way for a kebab at Yücel Kebap (you will need a bit of German outside of the tourist areas of Berlin - here I had to make use of my knowledge of the language).
Day 3: After breakfast at Cappuccino Café, which was probably the most average of my dining experiences in Berlin, I went to explore Museum Island. Before the museums opened, I went to Bebelplatz to see the memorial of the book burning, which consists of a small, misty, glass square in the Platz, through which you can see the stacks of empty, white bookshelves below. I then bought a reduced price, 1 Day Museum Island pass for 9€, and dashed through the Neues Museum and the Pergamon Museum in record time. The Neues Museum holds the bust of Nefertiti, among other Egyptian, European, and Asian antiquities, while the Pergamon Museum is known for its Islamic artifacts, including the Pergamon Altar (currently not accessible) and the Ishtar Gate. At midday, I went to meet up with Melanie at the Reichstag building. We went back to the information centre at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, and this time were able to go in. So many sad stories of the numerous Jewish people who were murdered in the Holocaust. Not long after leaving, we also came across the site of Hitler's bunker, where he and Eva Braun met their end. The remains of it now lie buried beneath a simple car parking area/apartment complexes from the GDR days, and unless you pay attention to the signs (which I did not - thanks to Melanie for pointing it out!), you wouldn't even notice that it was anything special.
We went to Café La Perle for lunch (and a place to charge our phones!); I had a sandwich and a doughnut - which is actually what a Berliner is. I still can't work out what the jam inside was; maybe prune? Date? Apple? Its taste was familiar, yet mysterious. After lunch, we crossed over the river to check out the East Side Gallery - a long stretch of the dividing wall, which has now been covered with murals by well-known and lesser-known street artists. "The Kiss" by Dmitri Wrubel is the most famous work. Find out about some of the other famous works here.
We met up with Jono at Treptower Park - the second-largest park in Berlin. He took us to see the impressive Soviet War Memorial, commemorating the 80,000 Soviet soldiers who fell in the Battle of Berlin. We then went to find the Spreepark - an abandoned amusement park. You can't go past the fences nowadays (unless you are with a tour guide), but you can see quite well from the legal side of the fence, and joggers go running on the paths around it. Some people do try to sneak in, and we came across a group of (possibly) Polish people around our age who had tried it. They were caught by security, and immediately kicked out. The signs around the park are quite menacing - "Do not enter! Violators will be prosecuted! Guarding with dogs! Danger to life and limb!". The area itself has quite a horror movie feel about it - in the forest, behind metal bars, lie a disintegrating Ferris wheel, an eerily-still teacup ride, a fallen-over dinosaur, and many other empty attractions and ruined buildings. The Berlin city council are doing some work to the site, though I'm not too clear on what exactly they are planning on doing with it.
We walked back along the river Spree, as the sun began to set. We then went for dinner at a place Jono had been recommend, called Knödelwirtschaftswunder, where they serve different types of German/Austrian dumpling. I took a bacon one and a cheese one, served with salad and pickled Sauerkraut. Jono and I also split a dessert Knödel, which if I remember correctly was rhubarb and strawberry flavoured. All of the above was very good, in any case, and the glowing Trip Advisor reviews are well deserved.
Day 4: Jono and I met up with our mutual friend Tabatha, who is one of the many Australasians now living in Berlin, at a Swedish café called Okay Café. The name doesn't sound very impressive, but it was actually a Quite Good Café. Accompanied by the essential morning cappuccino, I got the Sweet Toast - brioche toast with ricotta, berry compote, honey, and fried rosemary. The food and the company were both great.
Once we all went our various ways, I went to the Jewish Museum, which I had been meaning to visit earlier, but never made it to. If you are into contemporary art or architecture, you will appreciate the simple, but powerful, exhibits. At the moment there isn't a lot, as it is all under construction until 2019. The most interesting part was probably the Kadishman "Fallen Leaves" work - 10,000 steel faces lie in the Memory Void room, and visitors can walk on, touch, etc. them, which creates quite a racket. The faces represent not only the murdered Jews, but all victims of violence and war. There is also the "Garden of Exile", which is quite similar to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, on a smaller scale. Getting out of the museum was a bit of a mission - it isn't well signposted. For those wondering, there is a little door to the gift shop, near the exhibition entrance, and that's how you get out.
The next place I went to was the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse - 1.4kms of border strip in various states of repair/disrepair. I spent a lot of time here - there are so many little information boards, ruins, etc. This area is known as the "death strip" - partially because it was a place where many tried to escape from the East, but also because there was a cemetery within the wall boundaries. There is a new cemetery a little further back now. All along the memorial site, there are markers showing where buildings used to exist, and markers for the different places where escape attempts occurred. One of the most impacting points was the Reconciliation Church. It sat within the death strip bounds, and became inaccessible. It was blown up in 1985. A new memorial chapel has been built over the foundations of the original church; this small, circular building is even made from the rubble of the original building.
I went to the nearby Mauerpark after spending most of the afternoon at this memorial. From 1961-1989, this "no-man's-land" was off-limits, as part of the border strip. Parts of the wall are still there, and when I was there, about 3 street artists were there, adding their touch to it. I wasn't there on a Sunday, but it is a happening place on Sundays, with markets and karaoke!
By this point, I realised I hadn't eaten anything since brunch, so I found Schokochino Café, and grabbed a quick sandwich and OJ there. I popped over to see the Reichsbahnbunker (but didn't go inside) - this building was an air raid bunker, then POW camp, then used to store textiles and fruit, then became a hardcore techno club, and finally became an exhibition space as of 2008. My final sight-seeing that day was the Tränenpalast (The Palace of Tears), which was originally the customs site for the Friedrichstraße railway station. Many tearful farewells and family break-ups happened here, when the lucky few from the East were granted permission to cross over to the West. The small, free museum has information and artifacts from the oppressive border control system and those who had to go through it.
I met up with Melanie again after that. It was her last night in Berlin - though almost not, thanks to the discovery of a WWII bomb beneath the central train station! Luckily, her train departed a couple of hours before the station closed to defuse the bomb. We got currywurst from the Currywurst Museum; my Round 2 currywurst was better than Round 1, though both were good. We then wandered over to the Brandenburg Gate to see it by night; it was beautiful, especially with the moon visible just beyond.
Day 5: Last day in Berlin! In the morning, I met up with lovely soprano friends Ella and Polly at The Future Breakfast Café (or Dirtiest Café, thanks to Polly's autocorrect; thankfully, it is actually quite new and clean!). I was a little low on cash, so just got a simple croissant and daily cappuccino (I only do that when I'm on holiday!). As I am not often around fellow singers, especially Kiwi ones, at the moment, it was really nice to be able to chat about things that I don't usually get the opportunity to!
I spent the rest of the morning on the train to and at Charlottenburg Palace domain. I didn't go in the palace; I just wandered around the grounds and gardens. I strolled around, listening to Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 - it felt as appropriate a place as any (the palace was commissioned by Sophie Charlotte, the wife of Friedrich III, Elector of Brandenburg)! After that, I headed to Silo Café to catch up with my friend Will, who works there. I wasn't there long, as I stopped in while waiting to hear if another friend was free to catch up or not. It was great to catch up, and my bottle of LIMAI was refreshing on a hot day! I didn't end up meeting my other friend, so just went and wandered again, with the general mission of finding a key ring in tourist shop. I bought a sandwich (such a New Zealander!) at Der Bäcker Feihl along the way, near Potsdamer Platz.
Once I found my key ring, I went back to Jono's to get ready to leave, and then went to the Berlin ZOB station to catch my N100 bus back to Paris. I slept better this time, though I had a rather bizarre seat neighbour, who may or may not have been debating whether to vape in the bus (he didn't in the end), and injecting himself with something, which I can only hope was insulin.
I loved my time in Berlin, and got to see and do so many things. There is so much more to do, though, so I'll just have to go back some time!