I love going back to cities I’ve been to before. It always gives me a completely different perspective. The first time around I’ll usually tick off a bunch of particularly touristy things, immerse myself in more of the history, go to a particular monument or climb that well known hill. The second time around is usually a bit different. I use it as a chance to actually properly get to know a city; where people go to eat, how they spend their lazy days, which bars or parks are best for relaxing or which markets give you the best stalls. I went to Berlin a couple of years ago and when I decided to head back that was exactly what I did. Last time I went I stayed on my friend’s couch, and while staying with a friend did give me a different view into Berlin, I still ended up doing a lot of the normal tourist things, from walking tours to museums. This trip, well lets just say it involved my body weight in food, hardly any central Berlin, hammocks and quite a lot of wine…
Flying out of Stansted airport on the first Thursday of July was a slightly more surreal experience than normal. Joining the plethora of stag & hen dos was a large number of metal heads, going to Rock AM Ring, and just as many ‘edgy’ types all heading to Barcelona for Primavera. Arriving into Berlin Schoenefeld, we knew we had a good half an hour or so before our train left, what we didn’t take into account however were the giant queues for tickets at the station. If you’re arriving at any form of peak time this is something have to consider, as you could easily be queueing for a good 20 minutes or so, depending on how many locals are in the lines. Other than that, the cost of getting from the airport is shockingly low (about 2.70 euros), and puts the price of getting to any of the London airports to absolute shame. Our hotel was located a short walk, about 5 minutes, from Zoologischer garten. We were staying in the 25Hours Hotel, situated on top of the Bikini Berlin shopping center and overlooking both Berlin Zoo and the city’s famous Tiergarten. The hotel itself is a design concept, with workspaces, a bakery and a particularly popular top floor which features a bar (Monkey Bar) and Restaurant (Neni). They let us check in early, which is forever a godsend when you’ve been up since 5am so we went to check out our room, and shower.
It’s at this point that I got reminded how wonderful hammocks are. It’s an easy thing to forget, especially as I’ve not really been in one for many years, but upon walking through the door into our ‘Jungle Room’ we were greeted by a view over the lush green of the park and a hammock strung across the wall sized window. Trying to fight off the urge for a nap in said hammock we quickly freshened up before walking the short distance into the lower end of the Tiergarten so we could get a pizza, alongside out first pint of the day in a beer garden by one of the parks lakes. In the quiet of early afternoon it was a relaxing place to eat a fairly average pizza, but it hit the spot we needed, having not really eaten since a Spoons breakfast in the airport many hours earlier.
This was followed by a saunter around the lower edges of the park, avoiding the large area of nudists and intentionally saving most of it for our planned cycle the morning after. The rest of the afternoon was pretty much spent in the hammock though, before heading out for the evening’s food. We ate at Soy! a completely vegan Vietnamese restaurant. We drank at a bar recommended by a friend called; Kaschk. Starting a theme for the trip, the service was pretty poor, they forgot to bring us our drinks and generally acted disinterested, however the food was all pretty good. We ate: fried dumplings (4,90), stuffed tofu clay pot (10,90), and one of the salads. Sadly, there was some unadvertised cucumber in the salad, and I hate the stuff, so Maddie ate most of that but the dumplings were particularly good; a great crispy outer shell and spicy filling. The night moved on to another friend-recommended bar; Mikkeller. On approaching the bar we could see it was heaving, and almost called it before even walking in the door. However, we persevered and discovered there was some form of collab. launch event going on and proceeded to spend nothing but tips for the rest of the night on particularly good beer. I do want to go back and try their yuzu sour though. More than a little worse for ware, having had next to no sleep and a lot of beer, we ended up back in the hotel drunkenly swinging back and forth on the hammock with some gin (again, this was being handed out for free outside out hotel…) before finally calling it a night.
Somehow waking up hangover free, the day started with breakfast from the hotel restaurant; Neni. This is probably the most decadent and over the top breakfast buffet I’ve ever experienced, honey slowly trickling out of a large slab of honeycomb, pots of shakshuka and 20 different types of tea all in a bright, vivid space with large windows and plants from wall to wall. After eating our fill we went to reception and rented a couple of the hotel’s bikes for the morning (some of the larger rooms actually come with bikes in them) so that we could go for a cycle around Tiergarten.
I’ve not actually got on a bike for a couple of years, despite having an exercise bike at home which I use semi-regularly. Spending a couple of hours cycling from the hotel, up through the park to Brandenburg Gate and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and then back down to the hotel reminded me how much I actually miss owning a bike. Both the gate and the memorial are things I saw on my last visit to Berlin so we didn’t dwell on either of them for too long. The memorial is worth spending some time over if it’s your first time in the city though, it’s a particularly moving sculpture. After a large breakfast the cycling was the ideal way to help us work up some form of appetite, so we jumped on the u-bahn to head over to Brammibals, the vegan doughnut cafe on Maybachufer. Being the gluttons that we are we ordered 4 of them, 2 to have then and there and 2 to save for later.
Shortly after the doughnuts we went round the corner to Anna Durke’s for ice cream and spent some time pottering around some of the quiet residential streets. I always like spending some time walking around areas that people actually live in a city, it helps you get a feel for what a city is actually like, away from all the tourist spots and crowds. Heading back to the hotel we took advantage of the free sauna situated on the top floor of the hotel, where you can sit sweating out all your impurities while looking out across the whole expanse of Tiergarten.
We didn’t do that much planning for this trip, and the Friday night really highlighted that. After doing some last minute googling for ‘Berlin’s best tacos’ and then matching it to the kind of area we wanted to spend the evening in. We went for Santa Maria Mexican Diner, splitting some jalopeno poppers (5,50), while I had the Chorizo Tostadas (9,50) and Maddie had the veggie equivalent (9,50). Everything was spicy, with plenty of paprika and we lucked out that it was happy hour, so got straight onto some frozen margs. All in, it wasn’t the kind of tex mex to have me singing from the rafters but enjoyable nonetheless. After this we tried heading to a punk bar called Clash, but sadly it was closed for a gig which the website hadn’t made clear. After wandering around trying to find somewhere nearby we gave up and jumped on the train for a couple of stops, going to a bar owned by one of the members of Scottish post rock band; Mogwai,
called Das Gift. Scottish/British themed it serves up a host of craft beers, wine and sausage rolls and as the evening passed it started to fill up, with a busy smoke-filled atmosphere set to a background of alt-rock. Drinking in Berlin bars makes glad we have the smoking ban in the UK and, the short 2-3 years where I could legally drink and it wasn’t in affect weren’t all that fun and being back in smoke-choked rooms reminded me of that. We moved around the corner to another bar and drank even more wine, before stumbling home at about 2am significantly more drunk than we were expecting to end up after our first misstep and the closed punk bar.
Saturday, and our last full day in Berlin, started slowly. We dragged ourselves to brunch in Kreuzberg, going for a place called Hallescher Haus which was half coffee shop and half design shop. On offer were a selection of basic breakfast items, from a breakfast mezze through to french toast. The setting was better than the food, which as mentioned previously was quite simple. It was what we needed to banish the last edges of hangover though and we followed this up with a walk around one of Kreuzberg’s flea markets. The flea markets of Berlin are famous the world over and after spending a good chunk of time looking at different stalls of knick-knacks and vintages clothing we headed back for a party-nap.
We were lucky, the time we were back at the hotel made us miss a short patch of rain that came through the city, but not wanting to risk getting wet in the afternoon we decided to go to a museum. It’s the main touristy thing we did, and we’d both been to some of the standard museums before so we went for one of the smaller ones, the DDR Museum. There was a bit of a queue, because everyone had the same idea of us for avoiding the rain, and it meant that inside it was heaving. It was too busy, and meant that we didn’t really get to do it justice, so after escaping the crowds we went for an early dinner at Shiso Burger. Shiso burger is one of the city’s newer burger joints and in a city that’s particularly famous for its burgers it holds its own by offering a fusion twist, with tuna steak burgers and sides of edamame. I had the Chilli Lemon Burger (coriander, lime-mayo and chilli sauce in addition to your standard burger toppings – 6,30) and sweet potato fries (4,50) while Maddie had the Tofu Burger (6,00) and normal fries (3,00). About 30 seconds away from the restaurant is one of the branches of Berlin’s famous coffee shop; The Barn. As it was early enough still for it to be open we sat outside, drank a coffee and shared a slice of baked cheesecake to round off the day.
Getting back to the hotel early enough we decided to make our last night in Berlin relaxed, especially with an early train in the morning heading out to the airport. We spent some time in the sauna and got ourselves a mini-picnic from the supermarket around the corner so we could graze on bread and cheese while we lazed in the hammock and watched a couple of episodes of Master of None season two. The hotel gave us a couple of takeaway breakfasts in the morning as we knew we’d not have time to eat properly, which was a nice touch.
I enjoyed my second trip to Berlin, and I feel like I’ve got to grips pretty well with the city over both trips. It’s a city rich in history, both ancient and modern, and if you’ve got a creative bone in your body I challenge you not to be captivated by its art covered buildings, numerous coffee shops and multi-cultural society.
Must See & Do
Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe
Alternative walking tour
Free walking tour
German History Museum
Visit one of the city’s fleamarkets
Eat, Drink & Coffee
Kimchi Princess (Korean)
District MOT (Vietnamese)
The Barn (Coffee)