My birthday treat from Husband was a long (and child-free) weekend away. We decided on a long weekend in Berlin. Husband had often driven through East Berlin on the way to Hungary as a child (before the Wall came down) but otherwise had only spent a day in the city for a football match. And I had never been to Germany (other than a stopover at Frankfurt Airport a few years ago).
I briefly considered a Hurtigruten cruise of the Norwegian fjords, which I have long wanted to do and was on my 40 before 40. We like to wander and stroll and discover places though, so being stuck on a ship didn’t feel right. What can I say; I like my freedom. (I’ll add it to my 60 before 60 list instead…)
I’d looked at the map of Berlin beforehand and quickly concluded that the city was massive. Just enormous. So, being the planner and organiser that I am, I wrote up all of the things that I wanted to see and do by area. I can highly recommend doing this because, like London, you can end up spending your time travelling back and forth across the city otherwise. Even so, prepare to do a fair amount of hopping on and off public transport – Berlin is huge.
Enjoying a long weekend in Berlin
Where we stayed
We booked a junior suite at nHow on the banks of the Spree. And I seriously cannot recommend the hotel enough. It was fabulous.
It’s a music-themed hotel where you can borrow a guitar or keyboard should you feel like a jam session before heading out. (We didn’t feel the need – or have the musical ability…). Another feature I loved was that the lifts played different musical genres. Plus, the carpets were amazing. Just look at them.
The breakfast buffet was extensive: a full cooked fry up, cakes, bircher musli, cold meats, cheese, yoghurts, everything you can think of. And sparkling wine for those who wanted to start the day off on a happy note (and, yes, of course I did).
It was also walking distance to a U-Bahn and S-Bahn station. We bought the 72-hour Berlin Welcome Card (€29.50) at the airport when we arrived, which got us into the city and allowed us to travel around. It also gives you reduced entry into loads of museums.
What we saw
I booked a free two-hour walking tour of the city centre with Sandemann’s to get a feel of the city. Our guide was the brilliant Franziska. I think we lucked out by getting in her group. She was German and knew so much about the city. We saw all the main sights in the centre: the Holocaust Memorial, the site of Hitler’s bunker, a stretch of the Wall on the site of the Gestapo headquarters, the tourist trap that is Checkpoint Charlie and the site of the Nazi book burning, outside Humboldt University.
I didn’t manage to get a good photo of the book burning memorial as it was a sunny day. Under the square they have created a space called Library, with white bookcases that could house around 20,000 books (about the number burned that night by the Nazis) but completely devoid of books. Alongside is this plaque, with a quote from Heinrich Heine:
That was only a prelude, there
where they burn books,
they burn in the end people.
Although Heine was writing about Spain in the 1500s, his words rang true. And his works were among those burned that night.
After our tour and a quick coffee, we headed to the medieval centre of the city, at Nikolaiviertel and then on to Alexanderplatz and the DDR Museum.
The DDR Museum was fascinating, a glimpse of life for East Berliners when the Wall separated them from the West. I read a thought-provoking book a few months ago. Stasiland by Anna Funder looks at how the Stasi was systematically built up over the decades to become part of East German life.
We then took a long walk around the Mitte area of the city before heading for dinner.
It poured with rain on our second day. Absolutely tipped down. So we started the day at KaDeWe – Berlin’s swanky department store. The food section was incredible.
After that we visited The Story of Berlin, a museum and atomic bunker. The bunker was interesting, but the rest of the museum was a bit of a letdown. There was meant to be an app but the wifi was down, so you couldn’t download it. Also, some of the English texts around the museum were missing. But the visit killed some time while the downpour continued.
We took it pretty easy on our last full day in the city, as it was my birthday and we might or might not have been a little hungover… Let’s just say that we were tired. That sound much better, doesn’t it? We wandered along the length of the East Side Gallery – graffiti-decorated remainders of the Wall. After that we decided on a little retail therapy around Alexanderplatz before testing out some bars.
I’ve only covered what we did and saw and already this post has become so very long. I’d like to share where we ate and drank in another post. Watch this space.