Earlier this summer, Rico was asked to attend a 3-day conference in Berlin for work and we knew we had to take the opportunity to go together, extend the stay through the weekend, and see what Germany’s capital city had to offer. Unfortunately, we only had Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon—roughly 48 hours—to ourselves, but we made the most of it! Despite the staggering heat (it hit about 100°F / 38°C at its peak) we zipped around the city to soak in the history, culture, art and delicious food. After two nights in the hotel for work, we checked in for two nights at our Airbnb smack dab in the middle of the heart of the city—Mitte.
We had a bit of time right after arriving and before the conference began to get our first taste of the city. Wandering near our hotel, we stumbled on a wine festival in Potsdamer Platz and stopped for lunch, indulging in some traditional German food—the Schinken Special with bratkartoffeln and coleslaw. This was a delicious start to our visit! Our next bout of free time (and opportunity to grab some food outside of the hotel) came at the end of the conference Friday afternoon. After dropping our things off at our apartment, we sought refuge from the heat and provisions for our hungry bellies at Café Oliv, where we recharged our batteries with couscous, avocado toast, orange juice, and lemonade.
We spent the rest of our Friday afternoon and evening lounging at Tiergarten, the city’s most popular park. This afforded us our first chance to use the city’s public transit which was a pleasure to deal with throughout our stay. There are plenty of train routes (the U-Bahn is primarily underground while the S-Bahn is partially above ground), tram lines, and buses, and we took full advantage during our stay. After frolicking through the park’s paths alongside the many bunnies inhabiting the forest, we arrived at our true destination: Café am Neuen See. As the name suggests, this café and biergarten sit on the banks of a small lake wholly within Tiergarten—the place was absolutely buzzing on this Friday evening and offered a glimpse into the atmosphere and community that make Berlin such an enjoyable city to visit. We split a margherita pizza, sat by the water, and even jumped into one of the rowboats and made our rounds in the lake! It was here when we knew we would fall in love with the city.
Our one full day happened to fall on Brittany’s birthday, and what better way to spend it than on a 4-hour walking tour in the blistering heat!? We did this tour with Insider Tour Berlin and we would highly recommend it. Our guide was young, easygoing, funny, and most important of all, very knowledgeable. From our starting point at Hackescher Markt, we weaved through James-Simon-Park, crossed the bridge to Museum Island, appreciated the Berliner Dom from the outside, continued west down Unter den Linden, past the striking war memorial at Neue Wache, down to Checkpoint Charlie, along fragmented remains of the Berlin wall, to the unassuming site of Hitler’s bunker, up north through the evocative Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and finally to Brandenburg Gate. Doing this tour early in our visit allowed us to get oriented, provided us with historical context, and gave us ideas of things to go back to.
We had hoped to visit the Reichstag building, but we made the mistake of not pre-booking. We’ll have to make up for that next time! On our way back toward our apartment, we stopped at the Berliner Dom to check out the inside and climb to the top of the dome. The inside of the cathedral offered a refreshing respite from the summer heat and the views from the top of the dome were incredible. Though Berlin isn’t a traditionally beautiful city thanks to the battering it took in the Second World War and the lack of personality in its communist-era architecture, it’s still a sight to behold and somehow retains some kind of quirky attractiveness. We grabbed dinner at Zula in the artsy, previously East Berlin neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg, where we split hummus and falafel wraps and caught the end of one of the Euros tournament games. Refreshingly cool gelato from Eiscafé Annamaria was a perfect cap to the day.
The next morning we grabbed the U-Bahn to Charlottenburg Palace and Gardens at the western edge of the city. We enjoyed walking the grounds on such a beautiful day (luckily it had cooled off a bit and it was no longer oppressively hot) but unfortunately the palace itself was under construction and covered in scaffolding. This is the risk you take when visiting somewhere old and in constant need of maintenance in the summer! Back toward the center of the city we walked through the Topography of Terror which chronicles in detail the dark history of the Gestapo and SS. Germany makes a point to not hide from its past. It’s almost chilling how direct the country points to its mistakes and owns the tragedies that occurred at the hands of the Nazi party—they recognize that education, particularly in history, is an effective way of guiding the future to a brighter place. To decompress after our visit, we headed to Hackescher Hof, a collection of interconnected alleyways offering shops and restaurants. We grabbed pasta and salad from Oxymoron and wandered the lanes before grabbing a cab to the airport to fly back to London.
We are typically drawn to places of obvious physical beauty, whether breathtaking natural landscapes or attractive medieval cities with cobbled lanes and cutesy architecture, but something about Berlin’s youthfulness, energy, and abundance of immensely impactful modern history drew us in and we truly fell in love with the place. The city certainly deserves more time than we were able to give it, so I have a feeling we’ll be back sometime—and this time we’ll pre-book our visit to the Reichstag building!