My guide was from London, but he had been living in Berlin for seven years because it’s the “coolest city in the world.” I have to say, he might be right. Berlin’s the kind of place where you can be whatever you want, and nobody bats an eyelash. Although it is irrefutably German, there’s also a strong expat community, and a thriving underground alternative scene. Plus so much of the world’s history occurred here, what’s not to love? And although Berliners are increasingly annoyed at all the newcomers, and despite many nay-sayers saying the new hip place is Hamburg or Leipzig, well…I’ll still stand by Berlin’s side.
So much of the world’s most important history took place here in Berlin. Brandenburg Gate is a must-visit: it’s Berlin’s most visited attraction and is a symbol of a unified city although not all that long ago it stood for a divided Berlin. See the Reichstag nearby, which is the seat of German Parliament. Although much of the Berlin Wall has been destroyed, a large section known as the “East Side Gallery” covered in artwork can be found along Mühlenstraße. There’s a fantastic Berlin Wall Memorial which is well worth a visit. There’s also Checkpoint Charlie. At a glance, it may not look like much, but it was once the site of a standoff between American and Russian tanks. It’s a symbol of the Cold War, and a kind of unofficial tribute to capitalism.
One of the most significant sights for me, however, is the Holocaust Memorial. It’s hard to describe – it’s an arrangement of concrete slabs, and they’re built so that each person who walks into it has a different reaction or a different interpretation. But it really is something special to see.
Friedrichshain is where you’ll find the East Side Gallery, the former Berlin Wall. It’s also where much of Berlin’s notorious nightclubbing takes place; Neukolln is another. Other areas are much more residential. Prenzlauer Berg is a hub for young families, but still has a great foodie, shopping, and art scene. Charlottenburg and Wilmersdorf are much more upscale neighbourhoods with a more cosmopolitan feel.
I’ve had a Berlin friend tell me about a nightclub where you ride an elevator quietly below ground and then all of a sudden you’re in house music heaven. You can hop on a beer bike and pedal around Berlin…while drinking beer! You can even rent out a whole tram. People drink beer freely in the streets – which is unheard of in Canada. It’s just a gloriously alternative place.
If you’re into doners as a late night snack, Berlin is notorious for providing the best of the best (there’s a restaurant in Kreuzberg called Hasir that’s legendary for its doner creations). If you’re not a meat eater, well, you might be out of luck. Wander any neighbourhood in Berlin and you’ll find all sorts of multicultural foods: African, Asian, Scandinavian, Australian (yes, Australia apparently has a food culture beyond Vegemite). If you want to sample everything, there’s a Sunday street food market every week in Friedrichshain.
In the summer months, these parks often play host to festivals and fun events. Volkspark Friedrichshain is 49 hectares of land for you to stroll along, enjoy a picnic, or read a book sprawled out in the grass. There’s also a pool, a toboggan run, and a famous fountain known as the Fairy Tale Fountain. It’s been my favourite park so far – probably because I live so close to it. There’s always such a relaxed, inviting feel in Volkspark Friedrichshain, even if there are dozens of children running around all over the place. But even the small, out-of-the-way parks scattered around the city are worth poking around in. Often they’ll have art displays or other cool attractions.
Berghain is the most popular nightclub and the bouncers determine who is allowed into the bar. The thing is, nobody exactly knows HOW they determine this. But don’t dress in your finest clothes, don’t take out your phone, and don’t come with a large group. Others worth checking out include Sisyphos (which includes a small lake surrounded by sand, and a pizza place), and Salon zur Wilden Renate…which is basically just a large circus.