My time in Berlin has come and gone and I am so sad to be home. Berlin touched my heart and soul; I haven’t felt as at home in a city since I lived in Poitiers and am already researching flats and jobs abroad. J and I stayed at the nHow hotel in Friedrichshain which turned out to be the perfect location for us; just around the corner from one of Berlins seriously well connected train lines, and just a short walk over the bridge to ultra-cool Kreuzberg. The Berlin Wall’s end – or beginning, in our case – was also just down the street from the hotel, so we didn’t have to travel far to immerse ourselves in Berlin’s rich history.
Our flight from Glasgow International Airport was mostly uneventful apart from a last-minute abandoned landing by the captain as he decided the runway was too short and we shot back into the sky. It was a wonderful 27oC when we arrived on Sunday afternoon and it was clear that the weatherman had been telling fibs about the wet and windy arrival we had anticipated. It was at the train station that we – alongside many other travellers – encountered one of the few problems of the trip: There were no manned ticket stations, the ticket machines didn’t accept cards and would only accept the correct change, which we obviously didn’t have. If you plan on catching the S-Bahn or RE trains from Berlin-Schonefeld airport, then I recommend you bring 5 euro notes as well as coins, because we – and half the station – had to run to various food and drink stalls to break 10 euro notes to get change. It was a frustrating and delay-ridden trip with an accidental and totally avoidable long walk, but eventually we made it to our hotel.
The nHow is modern, stylish and well placed. The service ranged between friendly and enthusiastic to coolly indifferent, but the professionalism from the staff was consistent and excellent. We chose a neon pink and blue room and it was beautiful; there was a huge rainfall shower, a very large and comfortable bed and a beautiful view of the River Spree. Their food and drink prices were eye wateringly expensive at times but we just bought drinks from local shops and drank them in our room, super sleuth style.
Sunday and Monday were the hottest days, reaching 27 oC both days. Due to liberally and obsessively applying sunscreen throughout the day, I managed to avoid getting sunburnt for the most part; as always, my scalp is a little red and sore due to my vehement refusal to wear hats. After a quick change, we sauntered out to find nourishment. We had been told that we would struggle to find vegetarian and vegan food within Berlin, but that turned out to be a complete lie. The first meal we had was vegan, which was a tofu and vegetable Malaysian coconut curry from the riverside faux-beach bar and restaurant Pirates. It was outstanding, as was my slightly less vegan pint of Erdinger beer. We stopped to take a photo of – then a photo in – one of Berlin’s many Photoautomat then we turned in for an early night.
On Monday we ventured over the bridge into Kreuzberg, an up-and-coming urban area of Berlin which is home to an eclectic mix of people and places. One of the first things you’ll notice about Kreuzberg is the graffiti – it is everywhere and it is beautiful. It looks almost deliberately run down and grungey and has a definite hipster vibe about it. There are a plethora of vegan and vegetarian friendly restaurants around Kreuzberg, such as the Yellow Sunshine Burger. I had the vegan Hot Chili burger and J had the Halloumi burger with fries and they were both delicious. We also visited an Indian restaurant called Shaan that had a fairly extensive vegetarian menu and their Madras and Jalfrezi were absolutely amazing. I like my food hella spicy and they did not disappoint.
We also visited an amazing vegan shop in Friedrichshain called Goodies and its adjoining restaurant The Bowl which encourages clean, vegan eating. I have to say, if we had a store like Goodies in the west of Scotland then I could definitely be vegan. It had everything from basic kitchen essentials like stocks, rices and pulses, seasonings and spices, to a massive range of fake meats such as Tofurky, many variations of tofu, seitan and the aptly named Vleisch, as well as a load of vegan and veggie friendly cheeses and cold meat alternatives, such as vegan currywurst and chorizo. It also sold hair and body products and household cleaning products, as well as vegan-friendly shoes, so there was everything you would ever need to lead as “clean” and bio-friendly life as possible. The Bowl served literal bowls of food; I had the falafel bowl that had a beetroot-based falafel with roasted aubergine, sweet potato, mixed greens, chickpeas, avocado and a creamy, slightly spicy sauce. It was fantastic and I would definitely visit again when I inevitably visit Berlin again.
The wall was incredible to walk along and as a young woman born in the nineties, I do find it hard to imagine what it must have been like to have a wall – in some cases, two walls – and armed guards barring you from your family or indeed a better life. Sadly, due to deterioration and vandalism (WHY?!) parts of the wall are now bear and/or ringed off with fences. We did see a few people attempting restoration work but some of the art is now gone forever.
Prices of drinks can range pretty wildly depending where you are in Berlin. Most bars in Kreuzberg were very affordable, such as Que Pasa’s 4 euro cocktails and cheap beer can be found in every bar, restaurant, café and shop. Drinking on the street is permissible in Berlin and you will see many a Berliner walking around with a glass bottle of beer and no one bats an eyelid. As much as I’m sure we’d love to be able to do this in Glasgow, you can see why walking around, drinking from a glass bottle would be an issue in the town. We visited a little bar called Ginchilla, a dedicated gin bar as well as serving a wide variety of cocktails. Being awkward, we obviously didn’t order any gin and opted for White Russians and a mysterious cocktail called a Tesserakt; the only information you were given about its contents was that you could order a sour or fruity one. It came complete with a sour gummy rat, but it was one of the pricier joints we visited: cocktails started at 6 euros and the gins, whilst being a 40cl measure, started at 7 euros and went up to 20. Cost aside, all the drinks were very well made and it had a familiar vibe of Glasgow about it.
I can’t praise Berlin’s transport system enough. An all-day ABC (which allows you to travel all round Berlin as well as to Schonefeld airport) was under 8 euros and lasted until 3am the next day. Most stations have an S-Bahn or U-Bahn train as well as additional line, which could be an S, U, Underground or Regional train, as well as access to various buses and trams. It took us less than half an hour to arrive in Postdamer Platz from Friedrichshain, where we visited the Sony centre for some amazing ice cream before heading towards the Reichstag, Branenburg Gate and the mysterious and thought-provoking Jewish Memorial. The steel-grey blocks rise and fall with a definite fluidity and appear, from a distance, to all be the same height and width. Enter the columnal labyrinth, however, and you find that the path rises and falls in every direction and some of the columns are over 6ft high. You will accidentally bump into and cross paths with other visitors and it is very easy to lose your sense of direction. I felt that it gave you a sense of the complete disorientation and helplessness felt by those held in the concentration camps as the sea of grey seemed never ending and I somehow ended up coming out of the other side of the monument, proving that there is far more than meets the eye to this attraction. At times I did feel anxious and oppressed by the imposingly tall blocks, but being obnoxious and hilarious, we played a short game of Marco-Polo and shouted “Gaaaryyy!” in its various forms at one another (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Youtube “Gary” from Fallout 3 and you’ll see what I mean).
Due to the wonderful sunshine, we were reluctant to visit some of Berlin’s numerous museums. We did venture into the Salvador Dali exhibitation which displayed a varied cross section of his work, invoking a bit of an existential crisis. We also visited The LP12 Mall of Berlin which was massive and beautiful, housing a wide variety of stores, including high-end names such as Karl Lagerfeld, Desigual, Hugo Boss and Mango to name a few. Berlin is lucky enough to have a Uniqlo store and we each bought ourselves a few treats. I am super keen to buy a new pair of Adidas Superstar trainers and one of the stores in the mall had a gold striped pair that I owned once upon a time with a 95 ero price tag. I decided against the purchase, arguing that I had no room in my hand luggage, but as payday is literally around the corner the shoes may yet be mine. After that, it was a quick visit to Checkpoint Charlie and then we headed back to the hotel for a nap and a few drinks.
Street food and cafes are abundant in Berlin and it was easy to feel overwhelmed by choice. Again, being a couple of veggies didn’t hold us back in the slightest and we enjoyed a coffee, croissants and pretzels from a lovely little bakery around the corner from Schlesisches Tor that I can’t remember the name of before sampling some of Urban Canteen’s veggiewurst and what were the best chips I’ve ever had in my life. There are several street food cantina’s selling falafel, kebabs, currywurst and other tasty treats and you can’t walk 50 metres without smelling something delicious. As I said earlier, there are also many stores that sell take away food as well as snacks and drinks and a 0.5L bottle of Berliner beer will set you back about 1E60, which is pretty cheap buy our British standards.
One thing that irritated me the whole trip though was my own lack of German. I managed to suss out signs quite quickly depending on where they were placed, such as beside exits or on trains. I kept throwing French into the mix, which confused some of the kind waiters we met and realised that I didn’t even know the word for “sorry” to apologise for my weak repertoire, mainly just Hello (Hallo!), Thanks (Danke!) and Bye, which is Tschüs (pronounced Tchews and often said with a little sing song lilt!). Some of the people we met spoke French so that allowed me to communicate a little better, but it was mostly people speaking to us in German and realising quickly that the two, wide-eyed idiots sitting opposite them did not, in fact, understand a word they were saying. So all in a bit awkward, but many Germans had excellent English so that helped immensely. I’m a firm believer that English is not – and should not be – the common language of the world and aim to improve my German ten-fold by my next visit, especially if we want to live there.
Berlin is a fantastic city that you can spend well beyond three days in and it has something for everyone, whether you want to have a party weekend, immerse yourself in its rich history or sample its excellent cuisine. Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg have a refreshingly young scene with a welcoming vibe and awe inspiring art. Go and visit Berlin!!