I absolutely love travelling and I am lucky enough to have ticked off many of my exotic bucket list destinations over the years. However, when it comes to classic European cities I have not been that adventurous. I’ve always wanted to go interrailing but never got around to it, opting for a girl’s trip to Magaluf after finishing school instead. Intrigued and given the reins to plan a weekend away with G this January, Berlin was my top choice. Having studied History at University, I have always wanted to explore Berlin’s culture and heritage and it did not disappoint…
Booking with Ryanair holidays (a risky strategy that paid off) we got flights from Stanstead and the journey could not have been easier – check-in online, no queues for bag drop and an efficient airport system. We arrived within no time at all (the flight was only 1 hour and 20 minutes!) and the German system, of course, was more organised than ever. I actually did not feel as though I was in another country, it was that easy. We hopped on the train at Schönefeld Airport before joining the underground system, U2 at Alexanderplatz. We checked into our hotel Titanic Gendarmenmark Berlin, and it looked like a photograph. Marbled interior with 1920s themed décor, the chandeliers, huge mirrors and satin and velvet sofas made the entrance welcoming but sophisticated.
After heading up to our room to get rid of luggage, we freshened up and went out for a wander. 72 hours is not long to turn a city inside out, but it was the perfect amount of time to see all the sights whilst still being a relaxing holiday where G and I could spend some quality time together.
One thing to note if you plan to travel to Berlin – take the U-Bahn everywhere. It is so tempting to grab an uber or a taxi when you are on holiday because you feel as though it is an easy and comfortable option for you whilst you are away. But the U-Bahn is one of the easiest public transport systems I have ever used. Having a few different lines that run in straight lines, you cannot go wrong with this underground transportation and what’s more it is so cheap. You can cross the city in less than 30 minutes for €2.80!
Our first afternoon was spent wrapped up warm with an umbrella, seeing Checkpoint Charlie, walking around Gendarmenmarkt and venturing up the Fernsehturm (the TV Tower which is the tallest building in the city). We headed up the tower for dinner at The Sphere restaurant which rotates around its axis every 30 minutes – it had incredible views of the city lit up in the dark. Unfortunately for us, it was snowing and therefore we could not distinguish one grand building from another as we would have been able to if we’d come in June. Also, the restaurant itself was average and probably not a recommendation; the food and décor was extremely old fashion (the interior had a spaceship feel with metal lamps, dark red leather chairs and huge girders in the ceiling) – a lost opportunity in my eyes! Although, we had booked a window table for the experience and it definitely was that. Overall, definitely book tickets to get a view from 666ft viewing platform, but leave out the restaurant.
Our first full day arrived and reenergised from our luxurious night’s sleep, full of German continental breakfast and raring to get going, we spent the morning seeing all the classic Berlin sights including the Brandenburg Gates, Reichstag and the Holocaust-Denkmal – all impressive structures with so much emotion and history behind them. It was great to finally see all of those things that I have only ever flicked past in a history textbook. The former two sights were magnificent and no pictures are able to do them justice.
A cold morning of sightseeing called for a vanilla latte stop before we braved the cold again and wandered down the Unter den Linden, a wide boulevard running from the Brandenburg Gates all the way down to the Berliner Dom on Museum Island. In Berlin, you walk past striking building after striking building, so much so that you almost don’t recognise the enormity and magnificence of some of them. This road is home to many of Berlin’s most important historic buildings so it is definitely worth strolling down when you have a couple of hours spare.
We paid to enter the Berliner Dom, which was another great stop of our Berlin whistle-stop-tour. You are able to walk up to the top of the Cathedral’s dome to witness even more stunning views of the city and although we had to endure the drizzle, it meant that we had the dome to ourselves! After a morning of much needed culture, we stopped for lunch at a small German restaurant before enjoying a toned-down afternoon exploring Alexanderplatz, browsing some German shops (there were so many dream/inspo homeware stores!) and of course, stopping for another hot drink and a slice of carrot cake (you’ll soon learn that this became a daily ritual).
To end the day in true German style there was only one thing to do – have a wiener schnitzel with potato salad at an authentic restaurant, ‘Lutter and Wegner’. It was noted in the guidebook and I would highly recommend.
Another blissful night of sleep meant that we were ready to go again on Saturday. G took me to the Deutsches Historisches Museum, which showcased the country’s origins up to this day. It is the largest museum in Germany with unique exhibitions, artefacts and films taking you through the country’s history, with everything from knight’s armour, to original motor vehicles and even parts of the Berlin Wall. But after this stint we got to see the real deal at East Side Gallery which is where the famous Berlin Wall strip is located. Splashed with the colour of graffiti artists and painters we had our photo taken in front of ‘The Kiss’, the renowned image depicting Brezhnev giving Honecker a passionate kiss.
Next on our agenda was to head to Charlottenburg, an area west of the city where it is buzzing with shops, tourists and boutiques. The main area we went to was called Kurfürstendamm, a fashionable hotspot with beautiful architecture including Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche, street artists and shops. There we ate chocolate fondue, went into an all-year-round German Christmas shop (the dream), saw Germans in lederhosen cracking whips and a traditional band playing Germanic tunes. A must in this area is Bikini Berlin. Described in the guidebook as an ‘ultra-hip boutique mall’, I was unsure whether it was worth our time – it was. Photobooths, independent shops and Instagram food pop-ups galore, this shopping mall was a winner. From hanging swing seats in the canteen area, to champagne and smoothie bars, to bespoke fashion retailers and a rooftop that overlooks the Berlin Zoo, this has to be visited if you’re heading this way.
Having squeezed in as much as possible in 72 hours we wanted to unwind for our final night and so decided to take advantage of the 5* hotel that we managed to get our hands on. We had a pre-dinner cocktail in the bar before tucking into steak and salmon in the Beef Grill Club.
Holidays always go too quickly and before we could get settled, it was time to pack. We made the most of our last breakfast before heading out for a short walk around Gendarmenmarkt to catch some fresh air. We then made our way back to the airport the way we arrived.
Berlin was an amazing city and I am so glad we can now officially scratch it off our travel map. Visiting in January meant that it was freezing and the weather was undesirable for the majority of our stay (a lot of drizzle – but it didn’t snow!). But this made packing a lot easier as it was my favourite attire – fluffy jumpers and my teddy bear coat! Visiting Post-Christmas markets, the tourist attractions and sights were bare and we did not need to pre-book restaurants, bars or tickets. It does seem a quite outdated city in comparison to London and Paris, but its authenticity and variety meant we could experience the city to its fullest without just bumping into more tourists and we could immerse ourselves in the culture in a natural and genuine manner. I would recommend going for a long weekend, like we did, as I found it the perfect length to achieve both the cultural and social side of the classic city.