Just days before the tragic events at Breitscheidplatz Christmas Market in Berlin on 20 December 2016, Liv and I had visited the city for the first time.
This was our first ever visit to Germany and although we weren’t in the city at the time of the disaster, we really felt how friendly people of Berlin were and how the now diverse and inclusive city has stayed strong through previous atrocities.
The trip was initially booked spur of the moment the day after Britain voted to leave the EU. So thanks Ryanair and #Brexit for an unforgettable trip (even if slightly more expensive due to exchange rates).
Berlin Christmas Markets
- Berliner Weihnachtszeit at Roten Rathaus is the market with an ice rink that circles around a fountain. It’s a beautiful setting with a ferris wheel too. We tried samples of spirits and great gluhwein – with rum of course!
- We also visited the Alexanderplatz Christmas Market in the shadow of The Fernsehturm (a TV Tower similar to Drake’s ‘Views’ album cover) which was a great place to try some German delicacies as well as crêpes and Kürtőskalács (like I tried in Budapest earlier in the year).
- We also went past the WeihnachtsZauber Gendarmenmarkt on a walking tour of the city. This is considered to be one of the best/ most famous markets that pop up over the festive season and sits in front of three beautifully designed buildings: the Konzerthaus (concert hall), the Franzozische Friedrichstadtkirche (French Church) and the Deutscher Dom (German Church) a replica to the French counterpart built a few years earlier. There is a small charge for entering this market
Our trip and sightseeing
We landed late evening on a Saturday night and were in Berlin until the Tuesday evening. Plus Berlin near Warschauer Straße was our base for the trip and was right by the East Side Gallery/ Berlin Wall. In a former school building, it was affordable with spacious rooms as well as an on-site bar, swimming pool, breakfast room, common room and courtyard garden. Our friends Joe and Leone also arrived in Berlin a few days before us so we were able to meet up for meals/ drinks and share recommendations.
On our first full day we’d planned in a walking tour with SANDEMANs NEW Europe Tours. Just like in Budapest we were treated to a free informative tour that took in some sights and gave us our bearings on the city. At the end, you simply pay what you feel the tour was worth. Our Scottish guide, Georgia, knew her stuff and had a Masters in German Studies as well as a huge passion for Berlin.
It started off at the Brandenburg Gate just past the famous Adlon Hotel where MJ dangled baby Blanket out of the window. We stood above where Hitler’s Bunker was situated, passed the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, saw a fenced-off remaining part of the Berlin Wall and the famous Checkpoint Charlie.
The tour ended at Bebelplatz, a large public square with the Opera House (no picture of us there due to the ongoing refurbishment), the Humboldt University (where Albert Einstein studied) and St. Hedwig’s Cathedral looking out onto it.
We finished up looking down (#lookdwn) into an unusual hole in the ground at an empty, white square room of bookshelves. This was a sombre memorial to commemorate the burning of “un-German” books and literature by Nazis that took place in the square and across the country in 1933.
By this point my feet were freezing and soaked. I’d brought totally inappropriate footwear for the holiday – Nike Roshes are basically like thin slippers in comfort but also in the amount of cold air and rain that gets to your feet.
After the tour we also took an opportunity to revisit the underground museum at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Super informative, touching and lots of upsetting history to take in along with video and audio accounts. I’m really glad we had a chance to do it.
Topography of Terror – a museum on the site of buildings which held the Gestapo and the SS during the Nazi regime from 1933 to 1945. You really need to set aside an hour or two just to simply take it all in. Plenty of stations of history to read and photos to appreciate. I learnt a lot about all the different people in society that the Nazis exterminated and how many Nazis escaped justice in the end.
We didn’t buy tickets to go onto the roof of The Reichstag (Parliament) building but did spend a while messing around outside with selfies and videos as well as trying to photobomb some old tourists on a day trip.
We had decided that we should also visit a concentration camp and after hearing lots of the history, we decided to make the journey to Berlin’s previous camp, Sachsenhausen. The site was silent and pretty eerie, plus we visited on the coldest day of our trip.
The guided audio tours were €3 but allowed us stop at each spot on the site and listen to historical facts and written accounts from prisoners at the camp. The experience was eye-opening as well as saddening to think that we were stood at the same place where people had been tortured and killed. However, it is good to have the permanent memorial there so that people can find out about the history and hopefully stop such atrocities ever being repeated.
On our last day we visited the Berlin Wall. The East Side Gallery as it is known has giant murals all along it, some open and some fenced off. The wall was quite a sight and we took time to stop and take each piece of art in. Berlin is covered in street art and graffiti but this was a highlight, as was as being able to see the wall that separated the city for years. If you have a friend who has been to Berlin they will probably have some of these snaps as a Facebook / Instagram pic #cliché
Food and drink
Three days really wasn’t enough time to try all of the different places to eat, but we were there to see the Christmas Markets so I’m sure we’ll return again at another time of the year.
We found a lovely coffee shop on Friedrichstraße called Einstein Kaffee opposite one of Berlin’s many St*rbucks and shared one of the best take-away hot chocolates I’ve ever tasted.
Online research also took us to a Thai restaurant called Thai Inside that Tripadvisor reviewers had rated as one of the best restaurants in Berlin. It was a little pricey but packed with flavour and super filling.
We’d also heard from Joe that Burgermeister was the best burger he’d ever had in his life so I was quite gutted that I didn’t get to try one, considering I was on a roll of nine burgers consumed in December.
(Burger Bear at The Old Nun’s Head, Tongue n Cheek, Byron, Bill’s, BRGR, Wetherspoons, Giraffe, Burger King and McDonald’s)
Heading out to watch a British boxing match with no German fighters on the card proved to be a useless search on our first night, but we stumbled upon East West Bridge bar that happened to be doing (strong) happy hour cocktails all night at €3.80 each. The waiters were quite good and served drinks to the table so I managed to stream the short Anthony Joshua fight as well as the end of the Dereck Chisora v Dillian Whyte fight. Thanks to 3 for my unlimited data abroad, and my girlfriend for being so patient!
The bar called last orders at around 2am and we’d lost track of time completely – not the only time this happened on the trip. We met up with Leone and Joe and headed off in search of another bar to continue the night. Just across the road we found Dachkammer where I moved onto beer and sampled some of Germany’s finest, while we all talked and took shelter from the pouring rain. Before we knew it, the second last orders of the night and we realised it was past 4 o’clock in the morning!
The brilliant Dolores in the city centre has great burritos, quesadillas and more nachos and dip than a human could ever eat. It was popular with cool, young German hipsters and us cool, young tourists too.
We also gave Karaoke a go at Monster Ronson’s Ichiban Karaoke. It was across the road from our hotel so definitely worth a go. A booth was cheap at about €3 each for all four of us for an hour. We requested songs and belted them at our varying talent levels. We worked our way through plenty of Christmas songs, Beyoncé, show tunes, Mariah Carey and 90s rap. I also reminded myself that I cannot sing by valiantly attempting to solo Seal’s 1994 hit ‘Kiss from a Rose’.
All this at a fraction of the price it would be in London. We only got there at about midnight on a Sunday and it gradually got busier with a dancefloor and a stage for public performances. Smoking is still allowed in a lot of bars and clubs in Germany so it was a bit smoky at times and some weird old guys who looked like regulars were even smoking weed in a corner in between their performances. We got treated to some German singers, hostel backpackers, Irish ravers and our own two songbirds Joe and Leone singing Tina Turner – ‘Simply the Best’ and Alanis Morisette – ‘Ironic’.
We sampled our hotel bar and also went to a nightclub called Matrix on a Monday at about 1 in the morning which only cost us €3.
I’ve mentioned on the blog previously that I’m not really into History and not clued up on a lot of Europe’s past, however, this trip really taught me a lot in a short time about the continent that I’ve lived in all my life.
If you’re planning a trip to Berlin or have been to any of these places – let me know in the comments below.