If you haven’t yet made it to Berlin, you’ve simply got to go – it’s the perfect city for a mini-break with so much to see and do there’s ample opportunity for exploring.
Where to stay?
We stayed at the Lux 11 hotel in the capital’s Berlin-Mitte district, East Berlin. Lux 11 is a luxury apartment house and we opted to stay in one of the ‘Value Apartments’, which was cool and minimalist in design, with sleek white decor and lines. Compact but giving you everything you need, there’s a little kitchenette so you can make your first cup of coffee on waking, a stylish monolith bathroom with rain shower and we were even lucky enough to have a little balcony, giving us the ideal spot to sit in the sun and watch the world go by. Perfect.
The Mitte district is one of the city’s most vibrant areas, filled with lots of great places to eat, unique boutiques and concept stores – in fact, there was a great one right next door to the hotel, where you can also breakfast. It’s also conveniently located a short walk from Alexanderplatz, a large bustling public space and transport hub from where you can pretty much hop on the Metro to anywhere in the city.
Of course if budget isn’t an issue, defo go stay at Soho House Berlin, natch, it even has a rooftop pool – need I say more?
What to do?
There is SO much to do it’s almost impossible to give a definitive guide. We were there for a weekend and really had the best part of two days for proper sight-seeing. Based on what we were able to cram in, our Top 5 are:
- The Brandenburg Gate – one of the best known landmarks in Germany, this is definitely worth a visit and even more so in the evening, when it is lit up beautifully and looks particularly striking.
- The Reichstag Building – home of Germany’s Parliament, the Bundestag, which was fully restored after German reunification and whose reconstruction was led by architect Norman Foster. The result of which is an incredibly impressive building that combines old and new, with Foster’s glass dome sitting like a cloche atop of a particularly fancy cake. If you pre-register you can go inside and enjoy the 360-degree view of the surrounding Berlin cityscape.
- Holocaust Memorial – also known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold, is a eerily simply and yet emotionally impactful construction of 2,711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field across a 4.7 acre site. In some respects it evokes the feeling of walking through a cemetery. Combines an interesting sense of anonymity with the enormity of the scale of personal lives lost.
- The East Side Gallery – an international memorial for freedom, the East Side Gallery is a 1316m long section of the Berlin Wall (the barrier that divided East and West Berlin from 1961 to 1989) located near the centre of Berlin on Mühlenstraße in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. Some striking and statement-making graffiti art to view here by 105 artists from all over the world, it is also a place to reflect on how terrible and how scarily recent the fact of having a wall dividing a city, a community, a place was – just awful.
- Checkpoint Charlie – another historical landmark, this was the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War (1947-1991). Now it’s a tourist attraction complete with ‘actors’ dressed as soldiers, but still worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Where to shop?
There are loads of great areas to shop and window-shop, but note – most are shut on Sundays, so if you’re there over a weekend then plan your sight-seeing for Sunday and get shopping the day before. The Sony Centre at Potsdamer Platz is worth a visit because it combines ‘mall shopping’ with stunning architecture. Malls aside though, you’ll find plenty of cool, edgy and unique shopping in Berlin, as it is home to many independent boutiques and stores, so go wandering and see what you stumble across. The Store at Soho House Berlin is definitely worth a visit, as is the fab little concept store we discovered right next to our hotel – Type Hype: where premium products designed and manufactured in Germany pay homage to the alphabet and fonts in a way that will leave you swooning over stationery! PS. you can also shop Type Hype online. Berlin also has a great array of vintage and flea markets that are perfect for weekend browsing – we visited an Antiques Market at Ostbahnhof that had some real gems, a lovely way to spend a lazy Sunday post brunch.
Where to eat?
The options are plentiful and I feel like I was constantly sampling something new. From the ubiquitous sausage (weiner anyone? – never gets old…) to schnitzel and sauerkraut, not to mention the dazzling array of beers, you’re not going to hungry! We visited and would highly recommend Tiergarten Quelle – for a traditional Berlin beer hall feel that’s full of locals – the food is great (enormous portions!) as is the ambiance, worth a little walk out of the city centre to visit. If hamburgers are your thing then you MUST head to BurgerAMT – it was billed to me as ‘where German hip hop artists go for burgers’ so I thought yeah, sure, I’ll fit right in… turns out on a Sunday afternoon the hip-hoppers are largely dormant, so I could chow down on my incredible burger and fries in peace. Tasty doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Oh, and also… Not something we had time to do, but if you fancy seeing Berlin via a tour with a difference, then check-out Mustang Safari, which takes you on a sight-seeing experience through the city in a convoy of amazing vintage American cars. Pretty awesome. The convoy passed us as we were en route on foot to the East Side Gallery and it looked like A LOT of fun.