[error]Ich Bin Ein Berliner!!!…[/error]
I’ve got to admit before you read all of this review, I have a major soft spot for Berlin. My Dad’s side of the family are Berliners and my Grandfather came from the suburb of Karlshorst and eventually came over here by parachuting out of a plane and getting captured by us Britons. He eventually met my Grandma and the rest is history.
I first went to Berlin in 1992 with my Dad and my Grandad, we always used to stay on the outskirts as we didn’t have the money for a city centre hotel. We had a tram ride and a small walk to the local S-Bahn station, with a walk across the main road using the crossing. It was the first time I saw the hatted Green and Red men that are famous across Berlin.
It was a long S bahn ride into the centre, on old run down trains, smelling of wood rot and urine. In ’92 I was 11 and really it was my first major capital city. We stepped off the train at Friedrichstrasse and the platforms were wet through from the rain that was pooring through the glassless roof. At this point in time I did wonder where my Dad had brought me to, their was grafitti on the walls, the trains, in fact where ever there was a surface there was some sort of street art.
The cabins in the middle of the platform reminded me of the wooden huts that you see in the war films, the ones that have the tobacco signs and sell that days newspapers. I just remember thinking “Dad, where the hell have you brought me on holiday.”
That holiday was full of thoughts like that and you have to bear in mind that it was only 3 years after the unification of East and West, there were major parts of the wall still visible. I remember standing by a very run down Reichstag, and across the river the wall was there in front of me and this side of the water were stalls with ex-miltary stuff for sale, including things like grenades and flags.
We were there for about 4 days and even after all of those thoughts about the city there was something about it that made me shiver inside and gave me goosebumps when I left.
It is now 2013, the city has grown and been rebuilt and has advanced into one of the most popular destinations for city breaks. As of this year I have been to Berlin at least 20 times, I used to make a point of visiting Berlin at least once a year and up until 3 years ago I achieved that.
Well where do we start! This depends on how many days you have in this fabulous city, and even after 20 years I still haven’t been to all of the places I’ve wanted to go and you do tend to repeat yourself, but Berlin is a very ‘happening” city and things change annually.
I think the first day should involve a little bit of getting to know your bearings. Most of the major tourist spots are within walking distance from Friedrichstrasse. I’d probably start by going to the Brandenburg Gate, this place stands out for me for many reasons but the fact that you can stand next to this colossal monument astounds me, it gives me butterfly’s to think that in front of one side of this, was a wall that separated East from West and standing by the columns would have been mines to stop people from going through.
From here head to the Reichstag, you can visit the dome but you must pre-register beforehand and print your acceptance letter out and take it with you. Times are limited and this is a popular spot, so getting in isn’t easy. Register at bundestag.de and ensure you have got access to your email and a printer.
From here you could go and head towards Potsdamer Platz, past the Holocaust Memorial and visit the Sony Centre which is also next to the recently opened Lego Discovery Centre or the Film Museum. Alternatively, head back towards the Brandenburg Gate, turn right and walk towards the Victory Column (Siegessaule), which in the old days used to stand in front of the Reichstag. For a small fee you can run up the steps of this and take some pictures of the Brandenburg Gate with your Gadget Camera, but to me its seeing the bullet scars on the side of the monument that really hits home.
From here head through the Tiergarten and have a small beer in the park before walking out the otherside and visiting the Zoo. As I previously said, there is so much to do here and its hard to get bored…
I love German food… The schnitzel, The wurst and the local beer. Everybody’s tastes are different but Germany and its capital has a lot to offer you in the way of cuisine.
I love the Sausage stands and the best time to taste these delights is during Christmas when the markets and stalls are all open, these can be found at places like Alexander Platz, Challottenburg and Kudamn. Currywurst is amazing, its a bratwurst with a curry tasting ketchup sauce on top with a sprinkle of paprika, it tastes amazing and although places like Currywurst Express offer them quickly, the best places to go are the on the street stands.
So my picks for food in Berlin… for a great Steak there is a chain of restaurants called Maredo, a South American themed restaurant offering a multiple choice of meats cooked to how you like it or on request on a hot plate to cook it yourself. For three meals, deserts and a couple of beers the bill was no more that €60 with tips and the service we received at the Potsdamer Platz location was great.
Another great little place is a well hidden restaurant called Amigos, which is located 5 minutes from Zoologischer Garten station. From the front it looks like a kebab house that you find in the UK, but walk through and there is a really nice seating area. They offer a wide range of Italian food such as pizza and pasta, but have a few German traditions. I had the Cordon Bleu Schnitzel in a Mushroom cream sauce, beautiful and there were no complaints from the others. The whole meal came to €25, a bargain for those traveling to Berlin on a tight budget.
[alert]Move Around By…[/alert]
The one thing that is truly amazing is the transport system in Berlin, you have S-Bahns, U-Bahns, Trams, Buses, Regional Trains, Boats, Bikes, Taxis with the first few covered by a one ticket system. A tageskart can be bought for around €8 and lasts until the early hours of the morning.
The main stations are Hauptbahnhof, Alexander Platz, Friedrichstrasse and Zoolgischer Garten. But bear in mind that a lot of Berlin is walkable and sometimes you don’t realise what your going to be missing by catching an S or U Bahn. This includes the beautiful Tiergarten that runs from near the Brandenburg Gate to the Zoo, there are mini stalls selling beer in these places and you get to witness the older generation having a game of chess in the park.
If you are there for a while, consider getting yourself the Berlin City Pass. Not only does this come with unlimited travel for the time specified, but gets you reduced or even free admission to a wide range of places and even discount off food outlets. Its surprising where you can use it.
If you get the chance get yourself on one of the boat tours, the Spree river trips can help you see some fantastic sights along the way but take note as these are seasonal and generally run from April to October.
[success]Places to Shop…[/success]
The first place that you have got to get yourself to is the department store KaDaWe which is located right next to Wittenburg Platz U-Bahn station. This famous shop has 7 floors of goodies including a fantastic technology department with some of the best known brands available including some of the rarer ones. The 6th floor is full of fantastic foods, this hall can offer you alsorts from sushi, to the finest chocolates to pidgeons that are ready to roast! The 7th floor is the restaurant, the smells coming from this place make your mouth swell with saliva and before you know it, you’ve got yourself a wet collar.
For the gadget freaks out there, a chain of stores called Saturn or Media Markt will bring you the latest gadgets, some of which are much cheaper than here in the UK (so long as the Euro stays nice). Many of the DVD’s and Blu Rays will work in the UK, just double check the languages. You can also pick up a couple of CD’s of UK artists that aren’t available in England plus they sell CD’s by David Hasselhof! (I never said Germany was perfect).
Kudamn is the place to be though for all of the fashion outlets with the likes of Prada, Gucci and shops that offer Louis Vuitton. In fact there is a shop for all budgets and all tastes along this stretch of road. It is also one of the only places I have seen a Steiff shop that sells very very expensive Teddy Bears!
Other places to consider for a bit of spending is Friedrichstrasse but that’s if you can get past the Bugatti showroom!
[info]Places to Stay…[/info]
Berlin offers a wide range of hotels, pensions, guest houses and hostels. Suiting budgets from €10 per night up to thousands. If you can go to town and spend a fortune the Ritz Carlton at Potsdamer Platz will fit the bill, if you fancy hanging your child off a balcony (like Michael Jackson) then the Hotel Adlon near the Brandenburg Gate is the one.
I on the other hand stayed at the Holiday Inn Express near the Stadt Mitte (Town Centre). I chose this over the other hotels as breakfast was included for the €59 per night, not that Berlin is lacking on places to eat but I always feel a hotel breakfast is important to help your day along. The hotel had WiFi in the lobby, clean and tidy rooms and was literally up the road from Anhalter Bahnhof S-Bahn station. It was also just 10 minutes away from Potsdamer Platz and Checkpoint Charlie.
If your on a tight budgets there are many hostels, budget hotels and pensions around the city and all within easy reach of the transport links. Start with Hostelbookers.com and see what you can find.
There are many ways of getting to Berlin, when I was young my Dad used to drive us to the city, stopping off at a few places on the way. But of course the majority of the major airlines fly from the UK into Schonefeld or Tegal airport, soon to be replaced by the Brandenburg Airport.
I flew in this time with British Airways, at the time of booking I managed to get a return flight for just £80 return, I then decided to take advantage of their upgrade offer of just £69 and fly out in Club Europe (It was actually my birthday). The key with these flights were that although I flew out of Heathrow airport, it actually worked out cheaper than booking with Ryanair from East Midlands Airport especially when you consider that 1 bag is free with BA.
Club Europe was great, priority check in, airport lounges, first on to the plane, massive seats, proper food and first off with luggage! The service as always with British Airways was great and the flight comfortable. I really do feel that sometimes by flying with a reputable company, it makes the travel experience a little less stressful.
Other ways to get to Berlin include a slow coach that takes you from Victoria Station in London and drives across Germany until it reaches Berlin, this is a very cheap option but will take a while. Driving is a great idea, if you have got the time and do fancy visiting a few different places.
I couldn’t recommend Berlin enough, the city is magical and I love every bit of its diverse cultural. There is something here that appeals to Males and Females of all ages. For more information on Berlin, please use Google.