Berlin or Bust – a Short Break:
I’m getting to be quite a regular visitor to Berlin. I’ve been on several occasions over the past couple of years primarily to come review a new production of a circus show at the splendid CHAMÄLEON Theatre in the Hackesche Höfe area. This year I was here to see their latest show FINALE (watch out for my review).
Since my first visit two years ago, I have fallen in love with this vibrant, unpretentious, massive multicultural metropolis, which has the perfect combination of glamour and grit. Whether you want to explore its culture, history, cutting-edge architecture, wonderful food or its renowned music and party scene there is something for everyone.
Where to stay – The Park Inn Hotel:
The Park Inn Hotel is the tallest hotel in Berlin, it is very centrally located in the Alexander Platz area directly under the iconic TV Tower and close to many of the best sights in the city. It has excellent transport connections including a subway (U Bahn & S Bahn) station and numerous bus and trams so its very easy to get anywhere in Berlin and it was only a half an hour bus ride from Tegal airport. There are plenty of shops on its doorstep including big department stores like C&A and Primark, which are situated beneath the hotel and a rather nice department store opposite, called Galleria. There’s also a thriving street market, which on Sunday when I was staying there, had live music and people sitting out drinking beer in the sunshine.
It is housed in a super high purpose built block, providing central accommodation for business clients and tourists alike. What it lacked in personal touch was made up for with its great location. Staying on the 33rd floor I had the most magnificent view over the city too.
My room was small with a separate shower, toilet and sink. Simply designed with clean lines and modern furnishings there was a desk/table and a comfortable bed. It lacked added extras like shampoos and body lotions and there was no mini bar but I had a small fridge which was handy and a coffee machine which considering I’m one of the worlds biggest coffee addicts was a must for me!
Breakfast was a plentiful buffet; there was lots of choice from tasty German breads and pastries, cold meats, cheeses, fresh fruits, mueslis and my present favourite a delicious yoghurt bircher. There was also a good choice of hot food, eggs, bacon and veggie options and to drink fresh juices, coffee and tea.
I recommend getting a Berlin Welcome Card, you can get them online and pick them up at the airports when you arrive. They cover travel on buses, trams and Berlin’s the U-Bahn and S-Bahn. It’s a rather unusual system where you clock in at a machine with your ticket on your first journey and from there on in you don’t have to use your ticket again which makes things very easy. It also gives you discounts on numerous attractions.
My stay was brief but I always try and discover something new on each visit in the short amount of time I have. Here are some of the highlights of this trip.
Places to explore:
This time I took a well overdue trip to Checkpoint Charlie, located on the corner of Friedrichstraße and Zimmerstraße. Checkpoint Charlie provides a reminder of the former border crossing, the Cold War and the partition of Berlin. It has been the setting for many thrillers and spy novels, from James Bond in Octopussy to The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.
The Berlin wall was erected in 1961 by the East German government to prevent its citizen fleeing to the more prosperous West. Shortly after the wall was built, President John F. Kennedy ordered the U.S. forces to build three checkpoints at different points in the wall through which diplomatic corps and allied forces could enter West Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie became the most famous.
At the barrier and checkpoint booth on the original site, you can get your passport stamped or your picture taken with the guards. In true tourist style, I couldn’t resist having my picture taken.
The East Side Gallery
East Side Gallery is where the Berlin wall legacy lives on. In 1989 the Berlin wall that had grimly divided East and West Berlin for 28 years finally was dismantled. The East Side Gallery is a testament to a time of change and a reminder of what once was. It now displays more than 100 paintings over a 1.3km stretch in what is the world’s largest open-air mural gallery.
Artists from around the world have created a gallery full of hope and an expression of euphoria and optimism. I relished taking this fascinating walk along the wall and the opportunity to see such a vast collection of wonderful colourful thought-provoking paintings, which depict a mixture of political statements, and artistic visions. It is a feast for the eyes and must do for visitors to Berlin and a great photo opportunity!
Berlin Cathedral and Museum Island
I walked from my hotel to Museum Island in the Mitte borough to where the impressive Berlin Cathedral stands regally alongside the River Spree, creating a stunning landmark on Berlin’s cityscape.
The Berlin Cathedral is the largest church in Berlin, and is also known as Berliner Dom but has never been a true Cathedral because it has never been the seat of a bishop. The current building is one of the main works of historic architecture of the “Kaiserzeit” and was finished in 1905. It is the city’s most important Protestant church, with architecture inspired by the Italian High Renaissance and the more florid baroque style. The monumental dome and elaborate decorative and ornamental design is quite magnificent.
Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to properly explore Museum Island, but I walked around the area just to be able to take in the enormity and beauty of it all, the entire complex is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, built on a small island on Berlin’s Spree River between 1824 and 1930. There is a unique ensemble of five museums – Old and New Museum, Old National Gallery, Bode Museum and Pergamon Museum. It’s definitely a place I would like to spend the entire day exploring.
The DDR Museum (known in German as the Deutsche Demokratische Republik or DDR) is located in the former governmental district of East Berlin, right opposite the Berlin Cathedral and on the River Spree. I received a reduced rate entry with my Welcome Card.
The DDR is an interactive museum, which gives you a great insight into living behind the wall in East Berlin in the post-war years under Communist rule. It creates an immersive experience of everyday life, as you are able to see, touch, listen and engage with activities and experiences of the time. You’ll be able to learn how kids were put through collective potty training, have a simulated ride in a Trabi (an East German car), experience what it might be like to sit in an interrogation room, check out the food rations and discover that it was a popular time for a nudist holiday!
Coffee, lunch and brunch
I discovered a couple of great cafes for coffee, lunch and brunch, many Berlin eateries embrace healthy eating, there is a ample choice for veggies or vegans, plus there are plenty of opportunities to drink beer!
The Cinema Café is just around the corner from the CHAMÄLEON Theatre surrounded by lots of great shops and small courtyards, perfect for exploring. It is apparently the first bar to open up in the Hackescher area after the wall came down.
It’s a bit of a one-off with a smoking room on one side, it has wonderful dark and sultry feel reminiscent of bohemian Paris with a great selection of old film memorabilia. A Great coffee stop in the evenings it’s also a good place for a beer or two.
Spreegold serves a fantastic array fresh food, from a multitude of delicious healthy salads, great brunch options and a dinner menu, which includes steaks and burgers.
A short walk from my hotel in Alexander Platz it has a cool modern feel with long wooden tables and window seating as well as an outdoor area.
I enjoyed a tasty quinoa salad with grilled chicken, which went down a treat and my friend opted for the Eggs Royale, which looked delicious.
I also came across a great lunch spot called the Little Green Rabbit, It was beautifully spacious and airy with an eco, green feel to it.
It serves a fabulous selection of salads, which you can choose to your own liking, fresh juices and rather tempting looking mashed potato dishes. I was lunching with a vegan friend so she was very pleased that there were plenty of options for vegans too.
Sundays in Berlin all the shops are closed, so be sure not to plan a shopping day, although I know there are lots of good flea markets to go to as I discovered on my last trip. I only had a couple of hours left in the city before heading home to London and was delighted that the sun has made a welcome appearance, and the cafes and street restaurants were spilling over with coffee and beer drinkers listening to music and enjoying the weather.
Farewell Berlin …. until next time.
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