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It's been a while since my Favourite European Cities countdown, and we have a solid new contender for the title - Berlin, the home of techno. For my boyfriends birthday it was a no brainer, since he loves techno we packed our backpacks and headed to Berlin for an exhausting 48 hours.

I'm usually quite good before we go away, and I mean really good in researching what to do to make the most of our time there. With Berlin, I definitely underestimated the size of the City. The history of the city and the East and West divide from the Cold War and the fall of the wall in 1989 was something I was eager to see but I was amazed to see how much this still had an impact on modern society.


TRAVEL


From any kiosk at the airport you can buy a Berlin WelcomeCard for 48 hours which is very reasonably priced at €18.50. These cards covered us for travel on the trains, buses, subways, undergrounds and metros for 48 hours once validated - make sure you validate your ticket before you travel or else you will be hit with a hefty fine (which I learned the hard way in Milan). There are other price/duration options which you can see hereWith many, many travel options to choose from we opted for the S-Bahn which is a rapid transit railway system which is reliable, quick and frequent. With a little hesitation, help from a Scottish family and a lot of speed walking we managed to navigate our way to Alexanderplatz using the S9 and the S5 from Schoenfeld Airport. 


HOTEL


The hotel we had booked was in Alexanderplatz as we figured if we got lost we could use the famous TV Tower as a beacon home. Once we arrived it was a short walk to our lovely hotel - Hotel NH Berlin Alexanderplatz (which we got for super cheap via LastMinute.com Mystery Hotels). The rooms were huge, all of the staff were very friendly. The hotel had a bar downstairs where we watched Germany beat Algeria 2-1 in the world cup. Alex sampled the German beer whilst I had some delicious cocktails. All the German men were screaming at the TV screens and the atmosphere was miles ahead of the pubs back home (even though I had no idea what the jeers meant!)






TV Tower in Alexanderplatz

TOURS

  • Street art, graffiti and Berlin’s coolest districts
  • Development of a unique art and nightlife culture after the fall of the wall and reunification
  • Backstreets and urban conflict zones
  • Protests, riots & demos
  • Controversy, gentrification and urban development
  • O2 World and the Media Spree
  • East Side Gallery
Usually we wouldn't go on a tour, but with so little time in the city we needed to see as much as we could. This tour was recommended to us by some friends and I couldn't recommend it enough! We met a lady called Leen at Brandenburg Gate for an alternative tour of the city. The tour focused around Graffiti and Gentrification of the city. We hopped on the metro to Tacheles which is an amazing abandoned department store turned Nazi prison in the district known as Mitte. The building is covered in graffiti style murals, paintings and posters and was taken over by artists when the wall came down. From the fall of the wall in 1989 until 2011, artists occupied this space with workshops, sculptures, studios, cinema, nightclub and exhibition space. In 2011 Nordbank who owned the building scheduled an eviction, but it was not carried out. Over the next year with many threats and protests the artists eventually left after living there for 22 years. The building now remains empty with CCTV cameras and fencing on to stop people inhabiting the building once again. The thing I loved most about Tacheles is that all of the artists that were living there were following their dreams, exploring their talents and weren't consumed by money and the idea of a nine five job just to be miserable and pay the bills. Creativity wasn't stifled, it was encouraged and the product of this is incredible. 



                                                

       
After we left Tacheles we headed on a graffiti tour of the streets and Leen told us about all the different crews which tagged the area and also about the artists who were being commissioned to graffiti walls by companies. I learnt a lot about gentrification of the area and couldn't help but feel some similarities towards Manchester, WHP and the Northern Quarter ... but that's another blog post entirely. After wandering around Mitte, having some of the best ice cream and having a few drinks at the coolest place ever (can't remember the name or even where it was!) we headed towards the East Side Gallery. On our tour, Leen kept stopping along the route and talking to us about different pieces of art, old squats and places she liked to go with her friends - this was exactly what I wanted from a tour guide, a little of the beaten track and all about the current culture of Berlin.







East Side Gallery was everything you would expect, each section colourfully painted with murals. My favourite was the one above with the bricks missing from the wall with the imagination and vision of what's on the other side of the wall. All of the wall was impressive though and it made home feel awfully grey. After the 3.5 hours, and a few more murals, the tour came to an end. I would whole heartedly recommend this tour to anyone, an adult ticket is priced at €12, but I would have paid double that. 


SIGHTSEEING


As our first day consisted predominantley of modern culture, we wanted to see some of the historical culture the city had to offer. Top of the agenda was the Memorial for the Fallen Jews of Europe.







The memorial consists of 2711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid shape. All of the slabs are different heights and the concept was said to create a 'confusing' atmosphere. It also looks like a cemetery although the leaflet does not mention any comparison. The atmosphere was nothing like I expected with people running around, playing hide and seek or running across the tops of the slabs. The atmosphere turned much more solemn when we entered the exhibition in the information centre which was underground. The entire space was completely silent, despite being crammed full of people. The walls were covered in pictures of jewish families and their horrific stories. By the time I left the exhibition I felt sad and a bit depressed, which was how I expected to feel. Despite it being quite overwhelming I would still advise anyone to visit as it is such a pivotal part of the history in Berlin.

Our next stop was Gruselkabinett an old air raid bunker. The bunker itself was really eerie but has been ruined by the attractions inside. The bunker consists of three floors, the middle floor is a medical history exhibit which is creepy and like something from Goosebumps. The top floor is a maze in pitch black with men in masks lurking ready to jump out on you (I turned back after 30 seconds and left Alex to travel solo). The underground is an authentic bunker with the original seats and thick iron doors which was used during the war. The whole atmosphere was really creepy but I probably would not recommend visiting here as it is doesn't feel very authentic with all the gimmicks. 


Next time we travel to Berlin, we are definitely going on the weekend rather than the start of the week as most of the nightlife we were looking forward to experiencing began towards the end of the week just as we were heading home. As we were speaking to some people who live in Berlin they were telling us there were often parties which would start on a Wednesday and carry on until Monday night. That being said there was a huge amount to do every night of the week with Weekend Club open every night and right in Alexanderplatz. We took a walk down to Berghain anyway (so we know where it is for next time of course).







THE BITS THAT GOT AWAY

With such a short space of time in Berlin there were things we wanted to do which we just didn't have time for. Here's the 3 things that you should do and then let me know if they are worth going back for. 


1. TEAM ESCAPE BERLIN/ TRAP BERLIN /EXIT BERLIN /THE ROOM BERLIN

If you are a lover of computer games and thrillers then these are perfect for you. Each of these are live escape games where you and your team have to solve the clues to break out of the room/scenario that has been created for you. These games are hugely popular in Budapest and we can see them cropping up more frequently across Europe, particularly Berlin and Prague. If you are going for a stag do or you are just a big kid then take the plunge and see if you've got what it takes to escape the room.

2. SHOOTING RANGE

With glowing reviews from everyone who has been you can spend your afternoon in a shooting range with the instructors Hendrik and Thomas who will make sure that your visit to the shooting range is the highlight of your trip. Again, this would be suitable for a stag do or any thrill seekers. Whether you have been shooting for years or are an amateur you will be made to feel comfortable. To book your explosive visit - check out the website here

3. BERLIN ZOOLOGICAL GARDEN

As a lover of animals, I can't make my mind up if I love the zoo or hate it so I visit a zoo in every city and like to see how happy all of the animals are. Amsterdam is still #1 with all the animals happy and interacting with people, Barcelona is a close second with an amazing design but I still wasn't happy about the big cat cages. I would have loved to go to the zoo in Berlin but it takes up a full day and we just didn't have the time. Next time though it is a definite!

Overall, I had an incredible time in Berlin but with the East and West divide 48 hours was no way near enough. I intend to visit Berlin in the future, hopefully in summer again but on a weekend to see more of what this amazing city has to offer.


Until then, I am heading to Greece in a few weeks for the uncharacteristically long duration of a week. If you have any recommendations, let me know - we are going to be based in Rhodes


Em x