City trips, who doesn’t like them. They are great in spring, summer and autumn, but city trips are also a great way to escape from daily life in winter.
My boyfriend surprised me on my birthday, which is in December, with a short holiday to Berlin. Thus, we packed our little suitcases and a few days later we took the car and drove all the way to this historical city. Here an overview of things we thought you shouldn’t miss when being in Berlin.
1. Free walking tour
The first thing we like to do when visiting a city is to join a free walking tour. This is a great way to get a feeling of the city, hear about the history that shaped the city into what it is today and hopefully to get to know some hotspots for food and drinks. After reading some reviews we decided to join the “original Europe tours”.
A very bright and colourful American girl guided us along the main sights of Berlin Mitte. She told us about the Nazi book burning at the Bebelplatz, Checkpoint Charly and showed us the bullet holes in the Berliner Dome. The grey sky, wet buildings and muddy ground made her stories even more impactful.
Keep in mind that the groups might be big.
To explore the other side of Berlin we decided to join the alternative tour the next day. A tour which promised us to “Discover the alternative side to the city through its street art-laden walls and numerous community projects”. Unfortunately the tour was a lot shorter than indicated. We didn’t see many artworks nor received much information. Maybe another organization has better ‘alternative’ tours.
After the tour we hopped on the U-bahn to go to the area ‘Kurfürstendamm’. Where the Christmas market behind the TV tower was surrounded by fences to protect the crowd, here it was obvious that it was Christmas time. The smell of sugar coated nuts, Glühwein and sausages invited to have a look at the Christmas market around the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche. Not a big market, but the wooden huts, Christmas lights and cheerful people made it a cosy place to walk around.
Just outside the square we noticed a ‘curry wurst’ place with a line of people in front of it. I always believe that this is a sign that the food is good. So we walked over there and had a golden brown curry wurst, drown in curry sauce. This little shop, ‘Curry Wolf’, sold the sausages even for half of the price of the Christmas market and they were good!
Kurfüstendamm is also the place for shopping. When the weather is cold, you can go to Berlin’s oldest shopping centre, Europa-Centre with about 70 shops. Also a quick look at KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) is a must when being here. This gigantic warehouse, which from the outside looked a lot more friendly than it normally does because of the Christmas lights, has over 60.000 m2 of shopping area. You have to bring some money if you want to buy anything, yet you can also just walk around and be amazed by the luxury (at least I was).
In winter time the streets are full of Christmas lights, which makes the boulevard look very ‘Gezellig’ (cosy) we would say in Dutch. Whether you want to shop till you drop in classic international shops you will find your luck in e.g. Zara, H&M and Mango or if you want to go for more posh, brands such as Chanel and Gucci are not the only ones to be found here. Also if you do not feel like shopping it is definitely worth to go for a stroll through the streets.
Another warehouse in the area of Ku’damm you don’t want to miss is ‘Bikini’. No casual international chain stores, only trendy pop-up stores and a mix of local and international design brands. The green, robust metal framing on the insight and wooden ‘boxes’ in the middle give the building an industrial appearance. Their eye to detail is just incredible, especially the food hall also called ‘Kantini’ is so detailed, you keep seeing new things. When you enter Kantini you walk into a jungle full of tropical plants and exotic food. A Hawaiian poke bowl or Israeli hummus, nothing too crazy!
4. Palace of Tears
Palace of Tears is a free museum about the former border crossing station at the Friedrichstraße railway station. A place to leave the GDR to go to the West. However, for many people this was the place to say goodbye to their family and friends because they were restricted to leave. It became a place of sadness. The museum reminds us of the partition of Germany and the consequences and daily restrictions that accompanied it. Original porcelain tableware which was hidden in the ground to be preserved, photographs of families who actually made it to the other sides and videos of survivors who tell their stories. This interactive museum is absolutely recommended to visit. You quickly get a feeling of how it must have been at that time. If not all of your questions are anwered in here, there are many more museums to visit in Berlin.
5. Topography of Terror
Like Topography of Terror. A rather new museum, located on the remaining of the headquarters of the Gestapo, SS and Reich Security Main Office. This massive, grey block building is not to be overlooked. This was the place where the three institutions worked closely together to organize and carry out the holocaust through which millions of people were killed.
We were not the only one who read that this free museum is surely worth a visit. So many people, a few of them to recover from an exhausting, cold day on one of the loveseats and others to go through the panels full of stories and photographs. These illustrate the history from the time the Nazis took power until the end of the war. How did Hitler came to power? What were the Gestapo, SS and RSMO responsible of? And what happened after the war with the people who worked for the SS? All questions which will be answered here by means of gripping photographs and anecdotes. It surely had impact on us.
6. East Side Gallery
The East Side Gallery is a great mixture of art and history, it is the symbol of the Cold War. I had the feeling that some of the artworks – on the longest, still intact, remaining of the Berlin Wall – had no connection to what had happened, nevertheless, a great amount of the artworks were stunning! The famous Bruderkuss, a colourful shout out to ‘Save our Earth’ and a cute, beautifully detailed Trabant which drives through the wall from East- to West-Germany. For the one who loves art, this 1316 meters long open air gallery is the place to go.
-> Go by public transport
The great thing about Berlin is that you can easily travel around the city. Just buy a AB day ticket at one of the stations and you can go everywhere by S-bahn, U-bahn, train and bus within the AB districts. Here you find the places you mainly want to go to, such as Berlin Mitte, Unter den Linden, Kurfürstendamm, Schloss Charlottenburg and much more. You can try, but we thought Berlin is a little too big to walk everything.
Enjoy your trip to Berlin!