Have you ever had it where everyone keeps telling you to go to this new fancy restaurant in the city that does the best scallops they’ve ever had, so you go home and excitedly tell your boyfriend about it and book a table for Friday evening… you turn up with high expectations, ordering the scallops along with a few other dishes that looked divine on Instagram… you ooo over everyone’s plates as they’re brought out around you, getting hungrier by the second before your meal finally arrives. You close your eyes as you take your first bite and well… it’s just a bit, average. You feel uncomfortable admitting it but you just can’t figure out what the hype was all about and would probably have had a better meal at your local.
That’s exactly how I felt about Berlin.
It wasn’t shit. It was just, alright, you know?
Everyone had told me how cool and hip it was, how something was happening around every corner, and how much I would love it. But to be honest I just felt like I was holiday-ing in an industrial American city with the odd old beautiful building sandwiched between a Zara and an H&M.
AS you can tell this post isn’t going to be one of these, ‘oh my gawd Berlin was amazing, here’s 10 things you need to go and do right now’ posts. It’s more of an honest, highly opinionated account of my personal trip, so don’t get offended if you truly do love Berlin – we’re all different right?
I didn’t dislike everything about it, the food is as great as everyone says it is (so much so that my next post will be all about it!) and there is some truly stunning architecture. But there was a lot that just didn’t meet up to my expectations.
Firstly, Berlin is actually massive, and not a lot is close together. Imagine the sights of the centre of London were spread out so wide that you had to get the tube to Stratford just to see Big Ben… yeah, its crazy huge.
Secondly, it smells. Like a dustbin. And no one likes that.
And finally, it just didn’t have that charismatic pull that I more than often get in places such as Verona, Toronto or San Francisco. The graffiti was cool, but for a city that has experienced such a dramatic amount of history I was expecting to feel a deep level of genuine culture and a distinct personality.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect to love everywhere in the world – trust, Bangkok is my idea of hell – but I’d just heard so much greatness and I just didn’t get it.
So this is more of a pro and cons list than a top things to do post, highlighting some of the sights that really are worth a visit, and those, well, that just aren’t…
I love me a bit of green space in a city and it’s something Berlin has gotten right. Everywhere you go are huge parks with beautiful tree lined paths, spaces to picnic and apparently even park karaoke on a Sunday.
My particular favourite was Viktoriapark, although not large in size, in contains a beautiful waterfall perfectly located under the monument.
The Brandenburg Gate
Berlin’s most famous landmark is The Brandenburg Gate, a site known for many historical events including the media coverage of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Once a symbol of division for Germany during the Cold War, it now represents European peace and unity and is a truly striking structure.
Close by to the Gate is the Reichstag, Berlin’s famous gated parliament building. The building itself is worth a visit if you are in the area but more so if you book in advance and enter the gates to the circular rooftop sphere for views of the city.
The TV Tower
For even more impressive city views, a visit to the TV Tower is a must. We faced the last minute long queues, purchasing a ticket for the observation deck and bar. Upon exiting the lift we were slightly confused as the bar is in the same area that any other ticket gets you, yet headed over for a much needed cocktail.
After waiting for a barman to make his long overdue appearance, we finally ordered and enjoyed a fruity drink – with our backs to the view. Might want to rethink the bar design guys. It was a good cocktail and we spent just over an hour admiring the buildings from above. There is also a rotating panoramic restaurant on the next level that I imagine would be enjoyable if you don’t mind the steep ticket price.
If you’re in the mood to shop till you drop than Berlin will sort you right out. Everywhere we went there was a mall or German version of Oxford Street, and I have never seen so many Zaras so close together. One rainy afternoon, Laura and I stepped into the wonder that was KaDeWe, Europe’s largest department store. A mixture between Harrods and House of Fraser, this 7 storey building contains a huge range of products including a luxury food and drinks floor where we stopped off for a hot drink. Normally I’d be put off by the idea of shopping whilst on holiday but when it’s rainy, you’ve seen all you want to see and desperately want a cuppa, KaDeWe was just what we needed.
The Berlin Wall
I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect with The Berlin Wall. I roughly knew where remains were located but didn’t realise how horribly dense it would be with slabs of concrete coating thick barbed wire.
The best place to see the wall is the Topographie des Terrors. The museum itself is set in a lovely open structure yet we found the exhibition so hard to follow. Big stands with essays of information and printed photographs filled the room, an important and interesting account of the Gestapo and SS headquarters. However it did just feel like a textbook had exploded and my slightly hungover mind struggled to take any of it in.
Across the road from the museum is Checkpoint Charlie, the famous crossing point between the East and the West during the Cold War. Once a symbol of separation, it’s now a heaving tourist attraction. For a few euros you can pay to have a picture with two guards playing dress up on a road filled with souvenir shops. Yeah, it was pretty crap, an un-classy way to attract attention to an important part of Berlin’s history.
The Jewish Memorial
Similarly, the ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’ was a huge disappointment. A vast space filled with over two thousand coffin shaped slabs of concrete is open to be explored by the public. The installation itself wasn’t overly offensive, it felt impersonal without a name, date or identity to speak of, but the surrounding area that had been allowed was hideous.
Rows of tacky shops and fast food stands line the street directly opposite, turning what is supposed to be a symbol of the travesty of the Holocaust into an attraction filled with giggling, disrespectful tourists. There is no justification to what happened in the war but come on Berlin, you have to do better than that.
The East Side Gallery
On the other hand, a representation of the city’s history I actually really enjoyed was The East Side Gallery. Running along the river for just over a kilometre, the famous graffiti gallery painted on the Berlin Wall is definitely worth a visit.
Panels of fantastic artwork were commissioned in 1990 as a memorial for freedom, a documentation for a time of change.
A lot of Berlin was destroyed in the last century so you have to understand that most of it has either been restored or completely rebuilt. Expect a lot of industrial style roads with the odd beautiful piece of architecture. You won’t find typically European quaint or cute streets here.
My favourite was of course the Cathedral. The building is stunning and if Berlin was my home, than this is where you’d find me.
With the Cathedral as my favourite building, I knew that the Charlottenburg Palace would be right up my street. Built in the 17th century, it was commissioned by Sophie Charlotte, the first Queen of Prussia, for her summer residence in Berlin. Many of the Royal Family then used the palace, with Frederick the Great expanding its size a century later.
A ticket to the building and grounds cost €12 with an extra €3 to use your camera – never in my life have I had to pay to take pictures! I was very excited to see its dramatic outline as I’d seen in the guidebook. Safe to say I was more than disappointed when I saw it was caked in scaffolding…
Still, Laura and I very much enjoyed our trip to the palace, beginning with a fantastic headset tour of the interiors. Like everything in Berlin, most of the rooms within the palace were restored, yet it was an interesting morning and great activity to avoid the rain.
The gardens were also beautiful, with the mausoleum hidden within the trees, where many of the Royal Family lies.
The Orangery is also definitely worth a visit for a hot cup of coco in the gorgeous vintage interiors.
Let’s face it, we don’t have much in common and although we had some great times together, I just don’t think it’s going to work out. It’s not you it’s me… I’m just a cute town, skyscraper city, sunsets and snowy mountains kind of girl and well you, you’re like the edgy skater guy who despite being alright to look at just isn’t capable of the deep meaningful conversation that I’m looking for.
Maybe I’ll come back one day with a fresh outlook but for now, I think it’s time we said goodbye.
Have you ever been to Berlin? I’d love to know what you thought and if you felt the same way as me!