After the disaster that was Paris in August, it took me a while to get back into a travel mood but wanderlust hit again – and hit hard – in November. That’s when I spontaneously said to Edward that we should book a trip somewhere soon, and randomly suggested Berlin. He enthusiastically agreed and after a few lazy Sunday mornings spent in bed planning and researching flights and hotels, we were all set and ready to go.
We flew from Gatwick to Schönefeld on Boxing Day, only a few days after the Berlin attacks. It was never an option for us to cancel our German escapade but I was slightly apprehensive of the atmosphere in the city… I had no reasons to worry; the Berliners seemed untroubled and were very welcoming.
Day 1 | Brandenburg Gate, Holocaust Memorial & Deutsches Historisches Museum
After some confusion and much queuing, we finally picked up our WelcomeCard from the airport touristic information desk and headed for our hotel. We stayed at the TRYP Berlin Mitte, only a few minutes away from the busy Friedrichstraße. It was perfect: modern, clean, quiet and very comfortable.
We dropped our bags and decided to start the afternoon with a quick lunch at a nearby coffee shop, Café Balzac. We took our time to finish our drinks as we waited for the rain to subside. The Grey City wore its name well that week – it was rainy, windy and very cold!
Our first stop was Pariser Platz and the Brandenburg Gate. The Christmas tree was still up and a mini-market was taking place just down the road on Unter den Linden. The gate itself is very impressive; not only because of its size, but because it has been at the centre of so many political and historical events.
From there we walked to the Holocaust Memorial, a dramatic structure consisting of 2,711 uneven steles of plain concrete. The maze-like arrangement looks a bit like a very bland cemetery. It is a rather strange sight…
Our final stop was the Deutsches Historisches Museum. It was late afternoon and we were tired so we just strolled lazily through the exhibitions. We visited two, both quite interesting. The first one was about colonialism (I had no idea Germany had colonies in Africa!) and the second one covered German history until 1994. I particularly liked seeing old calligraphy, army uniforms and posters from the 30s, 40s and 50s.
We ended the day perfectly at the Supreme Burger Grill & Bar. The bar had a quiet but funky hip-hop atmosphere, and the food was divine. We both had ‘dirty’ burgers served with the best homemade fries I’ve ever had, and some drinks – a sparkling strawberry-lime mocktail for me and a stein of German beer for Edward. We were exhausted and after the craziness of the festive season, it felt amazing to just relax and enjoy each other’s company.
Day 2 | Panoramapunkt, Reichstag, DDR Museum, Alexanderplatz & Fernsehturm
We had planned to spend the morning exploring the Christmas market at Charlottenburg Palace but it was being dismantled when we arrived, even though it was supposed to be open for a few more days.
We headed to Potsdamer Platz with the idea of walking to the Reichstag from there but we decided for a quick stop at the Panoramapunkt first. It was a clear day and the view of Berlin was stunning. It was very windy so we didn’t stay long, but this totally unplanned visit ended up being one of the highlights of our trip.
After a lunch of traditional currywurst and brockwurst, we finally made our way to the Reichstag. The structure is impressive and its walls and columns are shockingly still showing damages from bullets fired during the Second World War. We photographed the building but decided not to go in; it was one of the only places with reinforced security measures and the queues were insane.
We finished the afternoon with a walk by the Spree and a visit to the DDR Museum. It was a bit crowded but totally worth it. They recreated an East German flat filled with products of that era – there was even an old TV showing news and archives from communist Germany!
Once again we ended the day in the most perfect way, this time with a visit at the Fernsehturm. We had ordered our Fast Track tickets online a few days before our departure and it was truly worth it; we waited only a few minutes before going through security and being escorted to the top of the tower where we were lucky enough to get seated places at the bar. We stayed there for a couple of hours, savouring our drinks and admiring the view.
There is this one ‘weird’ thing I like to do every time I travel… Visit a local grocery store. So after leaving Alexanderplatz, we stopped at a little supermarket on Friedrichstraße to buy some fruits and drinks, and explore the aisles full of foreign products. Edward was excited to find food from his childhood (he grew up in Germany) and we ended up bringing back home all sorts of German treats.
Day 3 | East Side Gallery, Checkpoint Charlie & Berliner Weihnachtszeit
The East Side Gallery is the last part of the Berlin Wall still standing in its original place; it was our first stop of the day. We travelled East early morning and as we got closer, the gap between the two sides of the city became more apparent. The architecture and atmosphere were very different.
The Wall itself calls for respect. For nearly thirty years, it was the only thing standing between two divergent worlds – separated only by ideologies. It is a must-see in Berlin, and a good (scary) reminder of what fear, hate and intolerance can lead to…
Our next stop was the famous Checkpoint Charlie. Unlike the East Side Gallery, it has no soul and felt more like a tourist trap than anything. It is disappointingly surrounded by a Starbucks and a McDonald’s, and there is a disinterested actor dressed a soldier (who spent the whole time looking at his own phone) standing in front of the building for selfie opportunities. Honestly, it was a total let down.
Thankfully, our next destination was much better!
When travelling to Berlin in December, it is compulsory to visit one of the many Christmas markets scattered around the city. Since we had missed the one in Charlottenburg the day before, we decided to go to the popular Berliner Weinachtmarket at Alexanderplatz. It was early afternoon and relatively quiet so we were able to enjoy the stalls. It was a truly magical experience; the fairy lights, the handmade nutcrackers and baubles, the traditional music… Just like in the movies!
We had planned to spend the rest of the day and the evening photographing the city, but the cold and heavy rain deterred us. We opted for a cosy night at the hotel instead.
On the fourth and last day, we spent the morning on Unter den Linden shopping for postcards and souvenirs. We had planned to visit the Tiergarten but most of it was closed to prepare for the New Year’s Eve celebrations. Since we were both exhausted, we decided to skip lunch and headed for the airport early instead. It was a pleasant train journey watching the sunset over the suburbs and listening to the German chatter around us.
Unfortunately, the rest of the journey wasn’t as pleasant.
Our flight back was delayed for several hours after we boarded so we were left to sit on the runway. To add to the pleasant atmosphere, there was a baby crying the whole time. We finally made it to in London – three hours later than expected – and were greeted with frost and the thickest fog I have ever witnessed. The drive home took us nearly five hours instead of the usual two and a half… We couldn’t see a thing!
This trip was different from any of my previous travel experiences. Maybe because Berlin is not as photogenic as New York, Paris or London? When I visit a new city, I usually explore and photograph it to the point of exhaustion and end up needing a vacation from my vacation. Berlin was different… We took the time to ‘chill’ and enjoy each other’s company without rushing for the next best shot, and it was truly relaxing. I came back home actually feeling rested and reinvigorated, and ready for the next adventure!