Travel Report: Cool Spots Around Berlin.
April 2013. My six-night stay in Berlin was a memorable one for a whole host of reasons. I rarely treat myself to fancy hotels, but when S and I booked our city break in the German capital we decided to get a swanky place right on Alexanderplatz, Berlin’s mammoth public square. Pretty much any Alexanderplatz hotel puts you in an outstanding location right in the heart of the city action. We went for H4 Hotel, which has some great discounts through booking.com if you play around with dates. For a deeper look at this excellent 4-star hotel, pay a visit to their website here.
April 2013. From Alexanderplatz it’s just a four-minute walk to Berliner Fernsehturm (The TV Tower). Take the elevator up to its lofty, 203-metre top floor observation deck. We were met with menacing dark grey skies that afternoon, which resulted in an almost eerie panoramic, as if we were looking out over a German version of The Walking Dead. I remember the entrance tickets being quite pricy and I see that today standard entry goes for €16.50 pp for adults. For the full range of ticket choices, including the queue-skipping fast track option, have a peek at their website.
April 2013. With just under a week to conquer Berlin’s sights, we decided to take it easy that first day and were content simply soaking up the city’s vibrant cafe culture. One of the first squares we hit was Hackescher Markt, an upmarket shopping and dining area and one of the city’s major transport hubs. The square dates back to 1750 and was greatly expanded by the German general Hans Christoph Friedrich Graf Von Hacke in 1840. The square was then named after him, while the year is honoured by the popular 1840 Restaurant, located right under Hackescher Markt Train Station.
At 1840 Restaurant you can either sit inside, where a railway theme prevails, or out on the square itself with the masses. Service can be slow, especially if you’re eating, but it wasn’t too bad for us as we just ordered drinks. I highly recommend the house banana beer (!) and I’ve read plenty of good reviews on the 1840 burger.
April 2013. As wonderful a city as Berlin is, there’s no escaping the fact that at some point you’ll find yourself face to face with its dark and grisly past. There are an abundance of World War II sights in the city and admittedly for some it can be tiring, depressing and overwhelming. If you’re only going to see one, I’d highly recommend Topography of Terror, a remembrance museum located right on the site of the former Gestapo Headquarters. Just outside the museum entrance stands the longest preserved section of The Berlin Wall. At 200-meters long, this used to mark the border between the districts of Mitte (East Berlin) and Kreuzberg (West Berlin).
April 2013. Inside Topography of Terror you should brace yourself for a hugely sobering exhibition on the crimes organised here between 1933-1945. Told through black and white photographs, video installations and authentic documents, the museum provides a thorough overview of The Nazis and their rise to power, right through to the last days of the war. Entrance is free, for more on Topography of Terror take a look at Visit Berlin’s info page.
April 2013. From Topography of Terror it’s just a thirteen minute walk to the open-air Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Unveiled in 2005 by the American architect Peter Eisenman, this 19.000 square metre complex of concrete slabs was unveiled in 2004 after a construction period of eighteen months and a bill of twenty five million Euros! I’d read that the memorial has greatly divided opinion among Berliners, with some branding it “overpriced, cold and ugly”.
My own experience of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was a quiet and reflective one. Dwarfed by the seemingly endless rows of stone slabs (there are 2711 in total), it felt a bit like I was wandering through a maze of unmarked gravestones. Those seeking clarity as to what Eisenman had in mind when he created the memorial can pay a visit to the site’s underground information centre.
April 2013. An unusual and discreet but highly significant Berlin WWII site is this ordinary looking car park, located between Potsdamer Platz and Brandenburger Tor. Back during The Second World War, right beneath today’s car park lay Hitler’s Bunker, where he and his wife Eva Braun committed suicide on the 30th of April 1945. Today nothing but this graffiti wall and an information board signals the spot, as local authorities were very wary of offering anything that would be considered a commemoration. For a deeper insight into the history of Hitler’s Bunker and some solid info on how to find it, take a look at this article by freetoursbyfoot.com.
April 2013. Away from World War II there are a bunch of Berlin Wall sights to choose from and it would be almost impossible to come here without even unintentionally bumping into Checkpoint Charlie. Yes it’s touristy and kitsch, but this was the most high profile border crossing during The Cold War and the location where, in 1961, Soviet and U.S. tanks faced off during The Berlin Crisis. Today you’ve got a checkpoint installation and some dudes dressed up as American soldiers. More often than not they’ll charge you for photos and even cover their faces with their hands if you try and grab a shot of them from across the street. But there can be no escaping Leighton’s camera!
Head for the Checkpoint Charlie Museum (Mauermuseum) for a much more authentic look at the border crossing’s eventful history. It really does a magnificent job in painting a picture of the times, with sections on life in East and West Germany, successful and failed escape plans, the vehicles of the period and of course the wall itself. For the full lowdown on opening times, costs and anything else you can think of, make your way to their website.
April 2013. Away from world wars, city walls and border crossings, come to Brandenburg Gate for another of Berlin’s most historical sights. This 18th century neoclassical structure might look gorgeous, but it also signifies another tumultuous period of German history. Completed in 1791 on the order of the Prussian King Frederik William II, Brandenburg Gate was supposed to signify a period of order and the end of the Batavian Revolution. Actually that wasn’t the case and the city soon descended into chaotic violence again. But hey the gate turned out really well!
April 2013. While we were at Brandenburg Gate, I was keen to take a moment to admire the amazing Hotel Adlon, where cash-splashers come to lay their heads down after a busy day in Berlin. This five star joint was opened in 1997 with a design based on the city’s original Adlon, one of Europe’s most famous hotels until it was all but destroyed in the final days of World War II. And if it seems like the hotel looks oddly familiar, you might be thinking of Michael Jackson, who famously dangled his baby, Prince Michael Blanket II, out of a window in November 2002. Wanna dangle your own baby out of a Hotel Adlon building? Check out their official website here for the associated costs.
April 2013. A totally unexpected city attraction we stumbled across was The Kennedys Museum. It’s an intimate little exhibition that tells the story of America’s famous family, with a special focus on JFK’s visit to the German capital in 1963 and his iconic “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. For the most part the narrative is strung together with a series of striking black and white photographs, though you’ll also get to see a selection of personal items and some projected images of JFK out and about in Berlin. UPDATE: The Kennedys has now became a touring museum, so is no longer Berlin based. For more info, check their website here.
April 2013. Much like British food, German cuisine seems to have an undeservedly bad reputation. During my week in the German capital I had no culinary complaints at all, in fact the standout meal by quite some distance came at this traditional German restaurant and beer garden complex. Situated in the northeast district of Pankow, Pratergarten is a Berlin institution known for its friendly service and top-notch chow. Washed down with giant mugs of Prater Pils, we opted for the incredibly tasty Wiener Schnitzel with potato salad and cucumber, alongside an equally divine bowl of Beef Goulash with bread dumplings. To look at opening times and online menus, here’s Pratergarten’s website.
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