On our first ever visit to Germany we spent a lovely long weekend in Berlin, staying at the perfectly placed Hotel Aldon Kempinski … a very grand building right by the Brandenburg Gate which towers over the hotel’s out door bar and restaurant, so an interesting place to sit and take in the view! We didn’t realise at the time but this is the very hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over a balcony above fans and press below … this controversial act obviously not something the hotel uses in their promotional material – since 1907 it has been one of the most famous hotels in Europe with VIPs and dignitaries staying and leaving a more suited history to the place!
Walking along the wide tree lined avenues from the hotel we were surprised by the openness of the squares, streets and wonderful green areas everywhere – apparently one third of the city is in fact composed of forests, parks, gardens, rivers and lakes! The buildings are oh so grand with vast palaces of ornate architecture and everything was incredibly clean … it was a real pleasure to stroll around in the calm and friendly atmosphere. With the River Spree and Havel running through the city there is every opportunity to sit by the water (something we love very much) for many a refreshment break as there is no shortage of wonderful cafes and restaurants with umbrellaed terraces and wonderful views! We did take one of the many boat tours which was a great way to see the city from a different perspective and to get our bearings … don’t miss visiting 5 of the most important Museums in the city that are all clustered together on a small scenic island – with vast important collections and gallery spaces! Also, on more than one occasion, we took one of the many rickshaws that whizz around all over the city! An experience, as they seem to have free reign and we rode on pavements, cut across traffic and sped into plazas and places of interest which was unexpected, great fun and we found our guides incredibly knowledgable and entertaining too, so worth every penny!
Back near the Brandenburg Gate is the eerie looking Holocaust Memorial which is a sloping site where varying in height, concrete slabs are set standing tall in a grid formation … the effect could be seen as cold, grey and bleak but as you meander, through and along the rows of blocks, it is incredibly beautiful in its simplicity and feels defiantly strong and positive! We liked the fact that it was interactive too – private as if you were alone, lost in a maze in one instance but then suddenly a shared experience as you turn a corner and enter a group of people sitting on the smaller slabs or interrupt children playing hide and seek around the towering blocks! A must see!
Another must see, with a completely different feel about it, is the long sweeping piece of the Berlin wall that is still standing on the East Side and is now an International Memorial to Freedom and a gallery – originally painted by artists from all over the world but now with layers of random graffiti upon it too! Set on the Spree river, with more cafes and restaurants, this area was very lively and had a young student, arty vibe about the place! The wall was fascinating to walk along on both sides as it is literally plastered with art, graffiti, messages, tags and plenty of atmosphere! We didn’t really know what to expect regarding how many bits of wall there may or may not be left around the city … this piece of wall is substantial and the longest stretch standing but there are hints of the wall in other areas that are less obvious – we spotted artistic, metal representations of where the wall once stood – it’s amazing too to think that cut out chunks of the wall have gone all over the world to stand in museums and memorial sites since it’s demise!
The television tower, which is an odd, tall pole of a structure with a sphere at the top can be seen from all over the city and is a great marker as to where you may find yourself! And an area right by it that we enjoyed very much was the old part of the city, the Nikolai Quarter, where we ate very well and found smaller, independant shops in narrow cobbled streets. One regret, and a big TIP here, is if you wish to visit the stunning Reichstag Parliament building then book online well in advance of your trip – by the time we realised you have to book into a time slot (it’s free), we couldn’t get in! The British architect (and favourite of ours!) Sir Norman Foster was brought in during the early 90s to redesign parts of this historical building and added the stunning metal and glass dome, with roof terrace, that glimmered in the sunshine every time we passed by and we were gutted we couldn’t go in and view it, in all it’s glory – am sure the panorama from up there would be amazing! Next time!
Berlin is the perfect place to spend a Sunday as they are fully geared up – offering markets, an abundance of eateries and lots of cool places to chill out and while away a lazy Sunday afternoon – it was brilliant and everyone was out making the most of the great weather too! We opted to spend the day at the vibrant Mauerpark, in the Mitte area, where you’ll find a huge flea market – interesting to walk around with lots of quirky wares on display and many a colourful character to barter with – along with many food stalls well set up with pizza ovens, BBQs and the like, where we had freshly made Strudel, traditional sausages and straight off the grill mackerel washed down with a few drinks in the open air beer garden – perfect!
And once you’ve filled your boots with delicious food it’s time to walk it off and stroll around the actual park it’s self where you’ll find it busy with friends and families hanging out and freely BBQing as it is allowed without issue … many musicians and full on bands of all types of music will pitch up and play so you can meander through and choose to sit on the grass around tunes that suit your taste or mood!
But the main attraction must be the Bear Pit Karaoke which is held in a graffiti covered mini amphitheatre and literally attracts thousands every Sunday! Free, great fun, thoroughly family friendly and entertaining this Karaoke session goes on for hours! All very positive and relaxing but we have to say that it was so very shocking to see that the whole park was covered in rubbish as people just dropped, left and discarded litter without batting an eyelid and no one seemed bothered or even appeared to notice … we couldn’t understand it at all as there were children playing and everyone was enjoying the space but at the same time leaving glass, over flowing rubbish bins and food waste all over!! Very strange as Berlin was so clean and cared for!
Anyway, we loved this city full of vitality with it’s many facets from grand to quirky, from traditional to cutting edge, from tranquil to Karaoke madness which will forever keep it interesting and a place we would very much like to return to!