I see Berlin as the phoenix of Europe, rising from the ashes of WWI, WWII and flying out from behind the Iron Curtain of the cold war, it has now become a city filled with alternative energy, hidden artistic hubs and quirky social hotspots. Many locals and expats that I’ve spoken to fell in love with the energy of the city and never left, and once you have visited it for yourself, I’m sure you will understand their decision.
Gaining Our Bearings By Bike
It was a bright afternoon when the squad hopped-off the bus in Berlin, so we quickly rented bikes from Fat Tire and pedalled off to enjoy the beautiful warm weather. We rode down past the beautiful Berlin Cathedral, the Brandenburg Gates (the former city gate); past the victory monument (erected after the German unification wars of the 19th Century), and into the Tiergarten, the former palace hunting grounds that is now a relaxing park, perfect for escaping the urban jungle.
Jordan got us a little lost on the bike tracks, but we ended up stopping at a beer garden (Cafe am Neuen See) and the squad enjoyed some sausages and beers (as a vegetarian that doesn’t drink, I had a salad and water) in the sunshine with a nice mix of locals and travellers around us. For dinner we had some doner kebabs, which might not sound very authentic, but were actually invented by a Turkish man in Berlin in 1971. Actually, if you’re looking for some gorgeous souvenirs, there is also a great Turkish market that gives you a slice of Istanbul in the capital of Germany.
A Little Bit Of History…
If you want to gain your bearings and see the entire city’s layout, one of the best free viewpoints in Berlin is the German Parliament House (Reichstag Building), however you have to book online and reserve your spot prior to visiting. I missed out last year, but luckily this time I got to see the city from the glass dome at the top of the building – a symbol of transparency in the government in wake of past horrors. On the way back, I stopped in Bebelplatz between the Opera House and Humboldt University Library, where there is a small perspex square that looks down into a white room of empty bookshelves, memorialising the site of the book burning during the beginning of the Nazi regime.
We spent the next few days exploring the city by bike and putting together the pieces of its shattered history. The dark smear of WWII still hangs heavily over Berlin, though the way that they have taken responsibility and strive to educate younger generations and remember the victims is exemplary. Before visiting Germany, I couldn’t grasp how anyone could’ve supported the Nazi party, but The Berlin Wall Memorial with its timeline of how Hitler rose to power was a very educational resource which I’d highly recommend you visit. I spent quite a lot of time at this memorial reading every plaque, so afterwards I headed across the road to Curry On The Wall to try some traditional currywurst sausage (they do a vegan version!).
Closer to our hostel, the grey, blocky Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is also an ambiguous tribute to that time period, providing an important but devastating memorial for the 6 million Jews that lost their lives during WWII. We then went to Checkpoint Charlie, the site the divided East and West Berlin during the Cold War, and onwards to the East Side Gallery, a colourful, peaceful protest to the atrocities of humankind in the form of street art on part of the former Berlin Wall. The most famous piece is ‘The Kiss’, though it’s worthwhile walking down the entire stretch.
Relaxing In Berlin
Summer was in full swing during our stay, so we headed to Badeschiff, a pool built inside of a river with a manmade beach on the shore. It was nice to relax in the sun, then cool off with a great view of the city. Afterwards, we had ‘the best burger in Berlin’ at Burgermeister, a tiny vendor under a bridge that certainly lived up to its reputation.
If you’re anything like me and live for the beauty of sunrises and sunsets when traveling, then I have a treat for you. One of the most convenient spots is right around the recommended hostel at the bridge between the Berlin Cathedral and the park. Actually, anywhere along that strip collects all the sunset colours and puts on a show each night.
As The Sun Sets On Berlin
However, if you want to do something really special, then you MUST visit Teufelsberg, an abandoned WWII spy tower on top of a mountain. Now adorned with graffiti and fully fenced off, you can pay €5 to have a wander around. Unfortunately, when we visited it was closed, but thanks to Jordan’s drone, we got a good look at how awesome it was and how good the sunset looked from the top. It’s a train ride out of the city and a hike through the forest to the site, but you can also visit the Olympic Stadium that was built for the 1936 Olympics, before WWII began.
After sun has set, Berlin really starts to shine. Even for someone like me that doesn’t drink, I really enjoyed the nightlife. From relaxed beer gardens, to quirky bars and insane nightclubs. Favourites from the squad and guides included: Souseefus, exclusive club you can’t get into. Considering the last time that I was in Berlin it was pouring with rain, I was so grateful to be able to spend these beautiful summer days exploring this awesome city a second time around. Filled with colour and vibrance in physicality and vibe, the Phoenix of Europe will leave you on a high.
The Recommended Hostel: Citystay Mitte Hostel
If your main priority is exploring all the amazing attractions that Berlin has to offer, and staying somewhere super central and convenient, then Citystay will be perfect for you. With spacious, comfortable rooms; indoor and outdoor common areas, and all of the usual facilities that any good hostel has to offer (laundry, bar, elevator etc), you will feel right at home at this fun accommodation. Citystay is situated less than a 5 minute walk from the television tower and some of the best shopping in the city in Alexanderplatz; an excellent square full of inexpensive restaurants at Hackescher Markt; and the chilled out vibes of the riverbank, where you can watch the sunset over the Berlin Cathedral with some beers in hand and friends by your side.