In February we visited Berlin. It was mostly cold, windy, rainy and leafless, which made occasional sunny days, tasting internatonal cuisine with friends, walks in the crisp winter air, buying flowers at the market, crazy museum hopping, daytrips and "photo excursions" even more enjoyable. I gave a lot of thought in writing an interesting post about Berlin and the best thing I could think of was to write about our favorite experiences, things that still bring a smile to my face (and if not a smile, then a certain feeling).
This isn't a complete guide to Berlin's not to miss places and experiences, because obviously there is much more. This is just a little recap of the activites we enjoyed most in this giant of a city. Hopefully you'll find some inspiration in it.
Going to a concert in Berliner Philharmonie concert hall, twice. I wanted to see the halls since I first saw the outside of the building. It was designed by Hans Scharoun, as a replacement for old building that was devastated during the Second World War. There are two halls, the bigger one that can host the entire philharmonic and the smaller one intended for chamber music. In both of them the terraces for the audience are built around the main stage, which provides for excellent views and sound from almost any spot in the hall. Except for such interesting architecture and a beautiful concert, for a moment I felt like a local, taking part in the city's cultural scene.
Taking golden hour photos of Molecule Man. We timed our visit to this sculpture created by Johnatan Borofsky, rising up from Spree river in the intersection of Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and Treptow neighbourhoods. It was late afternoon, sun was casting low shadows of the buildings on both river sides, and everything was glowing in yellowish shades. Sunny winter day, a hint of spring in the golden sun- that moment is anchored in my mind as one of favorites from our time spent in Berlin.
Savoring the Berliner international cuisine. I love traditional German dishes, but in Berlin, you can find an excellent ramen, kebab, kimchi or moussaka, a thing I am not used to back at home. So I couldn't resist tasting a little bit of everything, with my favorite restaurants being:
Salut- Mediterranean cuisine with strong Greek and Turkish influences, where for 6 Euros you get everything that fits on a big plate: various stews, veggies, salads and dips with a glass of black Turkish tea. Very tasty and as far as I'm concerned, healthy. I loved that place.
Cocolo Ramen- Japanese cuisine with the best ramen I had outside Japan. It's an authentic little place with few space, lots of steam, and a line you have to wait in till there's a free spot. Auf jeden Fall empfehlenswert!
Da Jia Le- I've never been to China, but I'm supposing that's something what real Chinese cuisine looks like. So much flavors, colors, spices, vegetables... I only wish I had something similar to this back home.
Making a day trip to Potsdam. As it is located only 24 km away from the city center, this town on a human scale made for a sweet escape from sometimes overwhelming size of Berlin. I feel like the perfect time to visit would be spring or summer, as it is a green city, situated on Havel river, that forms lakes all arround the town. Nevertheless, we enjoyed strolling down the Dutch Quarter (with its brick houses with gables, little shops and cafes), walked around the center, had a cheesecake and spent a few hours in the tropics of Biosphare Potsdam- a nice green and warm break from all the cold and grey days we had in February.
Discovering Egyptian and prehistoric art in spectacularly restored Neues Museum. On that day we already visited the Pergamonmuseum and Alte Nationalgalerie, tired, we just wanted to peek inside the Neues Museum because we read of its exquisite renovation work. What supposed to be just a quick peek, turned out to be a couple of hours. The building was destroyed in the Second World War, and then from 1997 to 2009 rebuilt by David Chipperfield Architects in collaboration with Julian Harrap. Why am I telling all this? Because it is the most exquisit work of renovation I've ever seen. The architects both respected the original while adding modernity and functionality to the building. It is such an interesting work that I suggest reading more about it here. The collections are astonishing (Nefertiti bust, Berlin Gold Hat) and the way of exhibiting is smartly and beautifully done.
Discovering KulturBrauerei. And by discovering I mean literally, as I never heard about this former brewery converted into a cultural center before (hence the name, "culture brewery"). What a civilized thought, an entire block dedicated to theatre, dance, movies, clubs, exhibition places. We peeked into most of the venues (think giant industrial spaces renovated and converted for modern needs while respecting the old feel)- a giant billiard hall, museum dedicated to everyday life in the GDR, Kesselhaus (probably the coolest concert venue I've ever seen), the movie theatre, a couple of bars... sadly we didn't have the time to actually listen to a concert or go to the movies, but left this place thinking: This is Berlin, edgy, cutural, fun.
Running around Krumme Lanke lake on a sunny winter day. Krumme Lanke is the last station of the U3 line at the edge of the city, from where you can walk to the lake of the same name surrounded by the woods that make you feel being further away from the city than you actually are. We wanted to make the most of perfectly sunny day in the middle of Berliner winter, and went for a run around the lake. Part of the lake was frozen, there where a couple of kids ice skating, a lady that dipped into the freezing water in a little hole in the ice, dog owners and runners taking a path around the lake, ducks on the water and birds on the trees, all in all a pretty idyllic day in the nature. It felt like spring.
Staying at Myer's Hotel in the neighbourhood of Prenzlauer Berg. We travelled by car, a long way from Regensburg to Berlin, on an icy winter day. It will surprise no one that we arrived in Berlin exhausted and feeling a little bit down. Impeccably clean, warm and cozy room, kind welcome and funcitonal wifi were just what we needed to recharge and start feeling excited about finally being in Berlin. Thanks to its location, we got to discover the before mentioned Kulturbrauerei and Cocolo Ramen on our first day. We slept like babies that night. Next morning, breakfast (a thing I love most about staying in a hotel), got us feeling completely spoiled- all sorts of fine teas, scrambled eggs and sausages, jams, cheese, salads and sweet croissants were served in a calm atmosphere of Myer's dining room. But our favorite part of this breakfast, was maitre d'hotel, a lovely, polite, witty lady, with whom we shared some interesting talks and laughs! After two days spent there, we felt fresh and ready for further exploring.
Climbing the glass dome of the Reichstag. Reichstag building is home to Deutcher Bundestag, a parliament of Federal Republic of Germany. The building dates at the end of the 19th century, caught fire in 1933, and was further demolished in the Battle of Berlin in 1945. British architect Norman Foster was entrusted with the renovation project, which was finalized in 1999, its main feature being large glass dome over the main hall with 360 degree view of the city. Visiting the dome is free of charge, and eventhough it requires prior registration, it is well worth the effort. Spiral ramp takes you to the highest level of the dome, from where a panorama of the city opens up. The glass and steel construction itself is asthonishing with the views of the city in all directions and the view of the debating chamber below. I read that it is the second most visited landmark in Germany, right after the Gothic cathedraln in Koln.
Browsing Markthalle Neun on a Saturday. As one of the few remaining historic market halls from the 19th century, it is renovated in 2011, reopened as a lively and hip gathering place where you can find regional and eco products, stands with international cuisine, flowers, (very) tasty sweets... We visited twice, hopping from one stand to another, tasting the pies and the burgers, getting hooked on Frau Zeller's sweets and buying prettiest flowers to add a dash of spring to our lives. It is a very busy place on a weekend, buzzing with locals and tourists alike, so prepare for a little waiting for a table.
Watching the play of colored lights on the roof over Sony Center central Forum. First time I visited Berlin, as an art history student attracted to modern and contemporary architecture, Sony Center was one of the sights that impressed me most. And each time I come back to Berlin, I have to rewatch the play of lights on its baldachin looking roof. The complex is built on an empty area of Potsdamer Platz, which was completely destroyed in the war. Designed by German architect Helmut Jahn and iluminated by French lighting artist Yann Kersale, each night the colors of the roof alternate from cyan to magenta, mimicking the sunset.
Walking from the Brandenburger Tor to the Siegessaule Monument on a very windy day. When we came to Berlin this year (it was our third visit), we had a list of things we haven't seen on our previous trips. Seeing Siegessaule Monument in person (and not from a bus or a car) was on the list. It was a nice walk from the Brandenburger Tor, except for the famous cold Berliner wind that blew that day, which made us wrapping our coats and shawls around us tighter as if that could fight the cold. But the wind also provided with clear blue skies speckled with thick white clouds. A photographers dream. It was too windy for our taste to climb all the way up, so we circled around, took a few photos and headed back to the warmth of our car.
Paying a visit to Jewish Museum. It is hard to say that this was one of my favorite experiences, but certainly was one of the most memorable. A museum hosts exhibitions of German-Jewish history, its strongest feature being one of the buildings designed by the American architect Daniel Libeskind. In a zig-zag form, it evokes broken Star of David or a lighting bolt, but when you enter the building is when you truly start feeling the horrors of the Second World War. Looking at the photos might work, but when you actually enter the voids inside of the building, with its tall concrete walls, with only a ray of light coming trough a cut high above you, with no heating and no airconditioning; when you walk on the metal faces of Schalechet instalation by Menashe Kadishman, trying not to step on them, but not succeeding, making a gruesome noice and echo, is when you start feeling uncofortable in your own skin. For me, it is a museum that directly challenges your emotions.
Taking a break and marveling at blue light in the quiet interior of Gedachtnis Kirche. A church that was badly damaged in the Second World War, got a new attire in the 1960's. Architect Egon Eiermann, along with stained glass artist Gabriel Loire, designed octagonal church with separate hexagonal tower next to the remnant of old church, a damaged, but still standing bell tower. The walls of the new church are made of concrete honeycomb with 21 292 stained glass inlays. The colour scheme was inspired by Chartres Cathedral, and it does resemble the atmosphere of French Gothic churches, but in a new, modern way. Gentle blue light that emanates from the walls made me coming back to this place, again and again, when I felt like taking a break from the city buzz.
While writing this post, I kept discovering new sights, parks, restaurants, entire neighbourhoods we haven't been to. Again, Berlin was to big and complex to cover it all at once, but that's a nice thing. To discover something new each time, and a reason to visit again.
What are your favorite Berlin sights and experiences? I know there's something I missed! Let me know.