48 Hours in Berlin: Part II

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Last week I wrote a blog sharing some of my favourite places and things to do in Berlin. This is Part Two with more great things to get up to and places to explore. I wish I could offer more but Berlin is such a big city that I did not have the time to fully explore it, so I am sure there are some brilliant places that I have left out. But if you only have 48 hours to visit Berlin like I did, then here this will help you use every one of those hours to full effect! I am a firm believer in walking as much as possible and would thoroughly advise anyone visiting Berlin (or pretty much anywhere) to walk as much as you can! Berlin is a great example of the benefits of this as there is such eclectic architecture as well as copious amounts of street art scattered around. Also, Berlin’s main attractions are all relatively close together, and with the help of a brilliantly efficient public transport system, it is easy to get from one side of the city to the other in a surprisingly short amount of time – but you should not have much use for trains or buses other than for the odd long journey. Anyway, moving swiftly onwards…

1. Berlin Wall Memorial

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The Berlin Wall Memorial is situated in Bernauer-Strasse slightly to the north of the city centre. There is not exactly an obvious way to go about exploring the memorial from when you exit the U-Bahn, you kind of have to figure it out for yourself. The best way to go is to head for the Berlin Wall Memorial Documentation Centre (or some really long name like that) which is an odd place to say the least, somewhere between a museum and an Ikea bathroom. En route to the Documentation Centre lies an array of information about the Wall and the area. Bernauer-Strasse was known as one of the “easier” places to cross the wall from East to West. The wall can still be seen in the form of metal poles which are alarmingly low, as if to tempt people into attempting to climb over, only to most likely meet a gruesome end. As well as the Wall the many tunnels are shown across the ground and there is also one last remaining watchtower to spot. The area is fascinating and the information provided is both hauntingly depressing as well as being something you have to read when visiting Berlin.

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2. East Side Gallery

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The East Side Gallery is a very well known attraction in Berlin. I have put it here for two reasons, the first of which being that it is brilliant to see in terms of its creative enterprise and the message it carries. For those who are unfamiliar with the Gallery, it is a large chunk of the Berlin Wall covered in graffiti – and not the shit kind that 13-year olds do under bridges before they go home and play Fifa. The East Side Gallery is located in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and is known as an “international memorial for freedom” with much of the street art reflecting this sentiment. The odd part, however, is that the Gallery itself (a very small park by the river) is the least interesting part of the area. Instead, the best art is hidden over various parts of the Wall, so if you really want to find the best examples you have to trek along the bulk of the wall, and in tourism season that is something that is not for the faint of heart.

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3. New Yam

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New Yam is a small community that provides a confluence of African culture, located just off the East Side Gallery. Overlooking the river New Yam offers a place to sunbathe and relax with an array of food and drink from across Africa. Littered by graffiti the place is superbly unique and offers a nice escape from the rest of the city. It was not a place I had ever heard about before coming to Berlin, instead I stumbled into it following a series of distractions. In typical me fashion, I was lured in by the bright colours and lingering smell of weed. I was quickly approached by a man from Ghana who guided me through the community and shared a spliff with me while he spoke of his time in Berlin since he left Ghana 14 years ago. New Yam provides different nights of entertainment throughout the week ranging from African themed beach parties to raves. It is a place well worth exploring, if anything just to talk to the very interesting people who run the place, or if you just want to get high…

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4. Topography of Terror

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The Topography of Terror is, in my opinion, the best museum Berlin has to offer. The museum is situated just off Wilhelmstrasse (we’ll get to that in a moment…) within the epicentre of Nazi history. The building previously served as headquarters of the Gestapo and SS during the Nazi regime, but now acts as an indoor and outdoor museum thriving off the harrowing history that floods the area. Apart from the general aurora of history haunting your every move, the museum offers a fascinatingly in-depth look into the history of the Nazi regime and their treatment of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and racial minorities. It’s the kind of stuff we should all have learnt about, but sadly the GCSE history syllabus failed in that endeavour

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5. Wilhelmstrasse

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Remember that bit where I was all like “we’ll get to that in a moment…”. Well, this is that bit. Wilhelmstrasse is the road that goes between the Topography of Terror up past the Brandenburg Gate to the Reichstag Building. However, it is much more than a road. Wilhelmstrasse is the road that housed several of the most prominent Nazi offices and buildings. Of these buildings, some of the more prolific one’s are the Reich Chancellery, the Foreign Office and the bunker where Hitler committed suicide. Perhaps the most significant part Wilhelmstrasse is that it is where Hitler was sworn in before addressing the crowds of people from the window of the Chancellery. In 1934 Hitler commissioned Albert Speer to re-design the Chancellory as he  deemed it unworthy of himself. This new building was also built on Wilhelmstrasse and epitomizes the Nazi architecture that was meant to make up Hitler’s “World Capital Germania”. Most of the buildings were destroyed during the allied bombing, but there are still traces of the grandiose Nazi architecture which are worth seeing. The street also offers information on current buildings as well as those which were destroyed.

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6. Prenzlauer Berg

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Tucked away in the north-east of Berlin is an area called Prenzlauer Berg, just a swift 20-minute walk from Alexanderplatz (15 minutes if you’re desperately trying to escape morphing into a year 10 school trip). The area is worth exploring for a number of reasons, for one it is perhaps the closest you will come to experiencing the real Berlin, away from all the tourist traps. If I haven’t said already, East Berlin is a lot better than the West. With all the flourishing creativity, the east has a lot of art available to the passing eye, as well as a dynamic collection of buildings and a whole host of different food. The area feels a little bit like Paris with its cobbled streets, towering trees and bistro cafes. If you are visiting during the weekend, be sure to check out Kollwitzplatz Street Market which serves as the heart of this vibrant area.

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7. Potsdamer Platz

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Back to West Berlin, Potsdamer Platz is a very short distance from Wilhelmstrasse. A far more modern part of the city, Potsdamer Platz is a glossy somewhat futuristic looking public square. Since German reunification the area has laid witness to a number of major redevelopment projects which have resulted in a very modern looking nod to the future. Despite being a bit more, erm… luxurious we’ll say, the area has many high-end restaurants, a shopping centre and a cinema. But the real attractions are the architecture and the U-Bahn which is what I would imagine an underground station from Star Wars to look like.

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8. Museum Island & Berliner Dom

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Museum Island is not exactly an island, but more of a protrusion of land shall we say, not that I’m at all fussy about such things. Anyway, Museum half-island, which has recently been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, lays refuge to an array of different museums including the Altes Museum which houses the Prussian Royal Family’s art collection, and the Neues Museum, which exhibits Egyptian and Early History collections following its renovation after suffering extreme damages during the Second World War. In addition to these are the Alte Nationalgalerie and its array of 19th-century art, the Bode-Museum with its displays of Byzantine art and the Pergamon Museum which holds many reconstructed historically significant buildings. All of the museums cost to enter (the best way to do this is probably to attain a Berlin Museum Pass) but you do not have to go into any of them to enjoy exploring the pretend island. The architecture itself is once again more than enough to leave you in awe, showing a completely different side of Berlin. This is the same for the Berliner Dom, the immense cathedral that looks as if it belongs in the Italian renaissance. The Cathedral was originally built in 1454, but the current version was finished in 1905. It is one of those buildings that words cannot do any justice. Like the Notre Dam in Paris, you need to be there looking up at it to fully realize both its beauty and momentous size.

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I hoped you enjoyed this and for anyone going to visit Berlin, I hope you that it proves useful for you! Berlin is a brilliant and a unique city that is incomparable to other cities I have visited. Where many cities in America mimic one another or other cities share a certain charm or absence of culture (cough Abu Dhabi cough) Berlin is completely its own city. It is a place that lives off its recent tragic history while at the same time looking ahead to its very prosperous future. The architecture reflects this with its combination of baroque and neoclassical buildings as well as more modern “edgy” buildings. What separates its architecture from other leading world capitals is that is has a very low cityscape. Other than the TV Tower, which looks all the more astonishing due to the lack of equally tall structures, there is no absurdly tall skyscraper. Berlin is also a very spacious city which means that everywhere you go will feel relatively peaceful. It is a very chilled-out city blossoming with creativity and a sense of freedom, yet also a city that has not forgotten its past which lingers throughout like a bad taste. It is a city you have to visit.

– Charlie

All photographs are my own.

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