Could I love a city just as much as London and New York?
Dear readers, I think I may have just found a city to fill this role.
Berlin has most of everything that can put a city on the new cool list. With an international community, growing food scene, vibrant nightlife, and to top it all off, lots of green parks to fulfil my nature loving side. Although not yet comparable to New York and London, it is certainly developing into the up-and-coming new hip kid on the block, as famously declared by its former Mayor, Klaus Wowereit, “poor but sexy”.
I landed on a sunny afternoon and jumped into a cab straight to the hotel located in Ku’damm on the west side of the city. The radio was pumping out the number 1 hit ‘Ain’t Nobody’ by Jasmine Thompson & German DJ Felix Jaehn. The whole city appeared to be in a very summery and happy mood indeed.
The first night in Berlin was a Thursday. And Thursday evening is when the weekly street food market comes alive in trendy Kreuzberg on the East side of the city. It would be a crime to miss this!
Because the street food market is only open once a week, as you can imagine, the space was extremely crammed with foodies. It resembled jumping into a Northern line train on a Monday morning, with no room to spare.
Walking around this place when I was hungry was indeed difficult, almost mesmerisingly dizzy, my belly grumbled as the whiff of gourmet cooking filled the air.
It was a whirlwind of lots of food from different stalls, followed by lots of organic cider. Three dishes down, I couldn’t eat anymore, or so I thought. When I passed this Taiwanese burger joint from Bao Kitchen, I couldn’t resist as there was always room for a bao 🙂
Walking back from the market full of goodness in my belly, I passed by a few places I had marked on my wish list for future trips. Bar Raval stood out as a very authentic Spanish pinxtos bar started by a few chaps from Barcelona just next to Gorlitzer Park. A must visit for next time!
I began my tour of Berlin at Potsdamer Platz, the centre of Berlin. It felt very barren and industrial, which was strange for an area called the centre of the city. Then, I spotted some actors dressed as soldiers standing near a few remaining pieces of the Berlin Wall. I realised that at this very spot, the Berlin wall bisected the city during World War II, hence the significance and emptiness.
Walking from here into Tiergarten, a beautiful large urban park (about 2/3 the size of Central Park in NYC), led us to the magnificent Brandenburg Gate. At this famous monument, the crowds gathered to admire it in the open square. And I spotted this gentlemen enjoying his moment as he spinned an old music machine to entertain the kids dancing around him.
A short walk from here, I arrived at the moving site of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, designed by a New Yorker, it was constructed with 2711 columns forming a vast maze-like instalment at various heights and getting deeper as visitors headed inside the monument. The light bounced off the various column, and produced a calming yet solemn effect.
Checkpoint Charlie was the last sight seeing stop of the day. This was the point where the East crossed into the West. The checkpoint house had a queue of tourists waiting to take a photo at this historical meeting point. I was especially mesmerised by the sign “You are leaving the American sector”, perched as it were, decades ago in the same spot to visitors passing by.
I headed towards the north of the city, and felt instantly relaxed as I landed in the leafy suburbs of Prenzlauer Berg. The tree-lined streets exuded a welcoming atmosphere of laid-back fashion boutiques, outdoor restaurants and cafes, as well as beautiful cobblestones leading up to urban apartment blocks.
We had dinner at Si An, one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in the neighbourhood. The colours in our food was complemented by the vibrant red wood tables and traditional Vietnamese cooking. A great spot to watch people go by on a sunny Saturday late afternoon.
The BioParc in Valencia has always been my favourite zoo in the world. With minimal barriers between the animals and visitors, the zoo was constructed with natural habitats for the animals to roam about, and was a fantastic experience. I was excited to hear that Berlin had a similar zoo and included this as part of my very packed itinerary.
After coming close and personal with the animals, I was proud to say I made a few new friends in the petting zoo!
Afterwards, I grabbed a hearty lunch at KaDeWe (Kaufhaus Des Westens), which is translated into English as the ‘Department Store of the World’. It is an old fashioned German department store, filled with items from everything to everywhere, just the candy shop occupied about 1/4 of the 1st floor. In the top floor food hall, it was a culinary heaven with its many types of food offerings. Of course I had to try the traditional German fare, a veal roast with potatoes and sauerkraut as I looked onto the Berlin skyline.
Before heading back to London, I was curious to checkout the longest spread of artwork on the Berlin Wall. Situated on the East side of the Spree river, the entire walk along the artwork took me 20 minutes to complete, with lots of photos along the way as each section was absolutely mesmerising.
My über Berlin trip ended with a drink at the Strandbar in Mitte, transformed with sand, palm trees, and deck chairs facing the river views. After taking a sip of my drink, I slipped into the deck chair with my toes curled up on the sand, and I can honestly say I absolutely love this city!
P.S. I leave you with this travel tip: you don’t need to arrive at Tegel airport too early for the flight back, as the German efficiency will get you from arrival to departure in less than 10 minutes. I was certainly impressed!