Walking around Berlin, I felt two things immediately. Firstly, the sense that people here are individuals, everyone seems to be doing great at their own thing and are openly happy.
Consequently, for a major city it really lacks any corporate feel that you might find somewhere comparative and this is aided by the fact that there is no visible skyscrapers of any kind.
In fact, the Berliner Fernsehturm or commonly referred to ‘TV tower’ (the skinny structure on the right hand side of the cathedral in the above picture) is the tallest structure in the city.
The second feeling I got while I was here is that like many great cities, you could spend years trying to discover its secrets and treasures yet would only scratch the surface.
After years of history study and a particular fascination with WW2, I was intrigued to visit modern day Berlin. I was interested in seeing how the city was shaped by its past which included not only being the heart of the Nazi regime, but the location of so much tension in the decades that followed until the divisive Wall fell in 1989.
I started with The Holocaust Memorial or the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. When you walk past it you’re immediately drawn by the unique look and somber mood it creates.
As you walk amongst these concrete slabs, which differ in heights, it emits a ‘trapped’ kind of feeling and I personally find it easy to imagine them as coffins, representing only a small fraction of the people who suffered during this dark period in history.
Inside the museum itself there are exhibitions pertaining to victims and personal stories about individuals and families. It is as you would imagine, quite a confronting place and a good couple hours at least is needed in my opinion to really take it all in.
My friends and I spent a day using a hop on hop off bus service to get around, since it was raining so much and seemed a good way to get some extra commentary about the city given the weather. Depending on when you got back on, the guides can differ and we had both an excellent one and another who largely kept to a largely German explanation of all the sites (despite the tour supposedly being in English too).
He actually stopped to ask who spoke German on the bus though at one point, with maybe half the occupants replying yes. His response was ‘why on earth don’t you all speak German?’ as he continued on in his local language only. We really had to laugh.
Following on from my side rant, the Topography of Terror was a recommendation from the other, lovely guide we had. It’s a combination of outdoor and indoor museum with a variety of exhibitions located at the site of what was once the headquarters for the SS and Gestapo.
The outdoor section is free and is essentially a part of the Berlin Wall itself, which has displayed a timeline of the events leading up to the rise of Hitler and continues chronologically until recently. I found the breakdown of facts and accompanying photos really interesting.
The beginning of the timeline at the Topography of Terror
Not too far away from the Topography of Terror you can find Checkpoint Charlie, the site which physically split the East and West parts of the city while the Wall existed. Checkpoint Charlie also was a symbol of the Cold War and represented the division of ‘east’ (Russia) vs ‘west’ (USA and the allies) mentalities during this era.
Today it is 100% a tourist attraction, if you can’t tell by my photo which has a McDonald’s in the background and a souvenir shop on the right hand side. Nevertheless, it’s still worth a visit if only to imagine what it would’ve been like here just 26 years ago when people in Berlin couldn’t even freely go about their own city and had loved ones literally separated from them.
Located perhaps 5 minutes walk from my hostel was the East Side Gallery, the longest section of the Berlin Wall left standing which has now been covered in art work and is an international representation for freedom. The art can change from time to time but there are some pieces of work which are well known and have been there for years too.
In addition to the East Side Gallery, the Oberbaum Bridge was also in close proximity to my hostel and is featured in a few films, one of the most notable being Run Lola Run. If you’re going to check out the gallery anyway consider giving it a look!
Berlin has a lot of variety when it comes to museums, including the popular Pergamon Museum, which is located in an area of the city called Museum Island where you’ll find many in close proximity.
Museum Island area
You can even rent these cool cars, found near the Museum area
Walking near the museums, admiring the greenery and general relaxed mood, I was suddenly shocked at the amount of people drinking!
In Australia, public drinking results in a fine so naturally as I kept crossing paths with Berliners who were happily strolling out in the open, beers in hand I was at first shocked, but I have to say I love it. Everyone has a great attitude to drinking here, unlike many Aussies back home who tend to adopt an ‘all or nothing’ viewpoint when it comes to alcohol.
Obviously, the country that holds Oktoberfest is going to have a strong love for beer which is evident in every bar and supermarket you walk into. There’s a ridiculous amount of it to choose from and plenty to keep you interested in tasting!
If you’re looking for a great snack to accompany said beer, then look no further than currywurst, which can be found at most street vendors. I would best describe it as cut up sausage covered in a ketchup/curry powdered mix of sauce which doubles for a yummy dipping sauce for the fries.
I noticed that you can’t get too far in Berlin without encountering a street performer or live music and the artistic culture of the city is prevalent in all areas of it.
Sadly, I wasn’t in the city on a Sunday which is apparently when you can find karaoke singing in Mauerpark, so if you can take the bad with the good in regards to singing it looks like a pretty freaking cool event to check out.
My creative exposure was instead delivered in the form of a walking tour focused on street art that my hostel offered. The guide was excellent and provided a great overview of the world of street art in Berlin and took us to various locations and back streets to see a few pieces firsthand.
Even just getting out on your own accord if you have the time and trying to scope out some street art is something I would recommend. It won’t take too long either since Berlin is truly a city exploding with creative expression everywhere.
Taken during a street art walking tour of Berlin
A few more pictures from around the city..