20 Jun A Photo Essay: Berlin, Germany
Berlin, Germany, is a city that has always intrigued me. There really is no place quite like it. The history from the past combined with the culture of today has created a contrasting mix full of surprises. During our five days exploring the city, we dove headfirst into some fascinating experiences. We learned about the evolution of Berlin’s coffee culture, dug into the street art scene, learned about WWII history on a Berlin Bunker Tour and at the Topography of Terror Museum, and visited iconic sights such as the Reichstag dome, The Holocaust Memorial, Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, and the Berlin Wall, to name a few. And of course, we found some great spots to eat, as well. Our visit also coincided with the holiday season, so we just had to make our way through plenty of fantastic Christmas Markets, too.
Even though our days were filled with all of the above sights, we left Berlin with an even bigger list of things we still want to do and places we want to see. I guess that is what makes a destination great—when you feel the need to return before you’ve even left, you know you found a match.
Here are some of our favorite experiences while exploring Berlin, Germany:
We didn’t go up the Fernsehturm, aka the Berlin TV Tower, but we admired it from the base and whenever we spotted it towering high above the city. It sure looks pretty against a bright blue sky, doesn’t it?! I’d love to go to the top someday, but it just didn’t make the cut this time around.
One of my favorite cafes we visited in Berlin was Distrikt Coffee. I ordered the buttermilk pancakes with bananas, maple berry preserve, citrus butter, and basil, and wow, was it good! I’m not sure if this exact item is still on the menu, but everything we ordered was delicious and the coffee was fantastic. It’s worth a stop either way!
One of our adventures in Berlin was joining in on a street art tour. We learned all about the different types of street art, the legalities of street art in Berlin and around the world, how it gets up on the walls, and about various artists and their different styles of art. I never realized how in depth of a topic this could be, but it was fascinating to dig in, especially in a city where street art has such a deep history.
We spent over an hour walking around town discussing street art and looking at different pieces, and then it was time to try out some painting of our own. We went back to a working artist garage and learned how to create our own piece of art with spray paint, stencils, and a variety of other tools. Micah and I had so much fun testing out our skills, and we were able to take a handmade souvenir home with us!
Markthalle Neun is a food hall located in the Kreuzberg neighborhood. It was the starting point of our coffee tour, which was perfect since we had it on our list to visit anyways. We enjoyed browsing all the offerings at the market and settled on lunch at the BBQ stand. It was tasty and a fun atmosphere to boot!
Kaffee 9, located at Markthalle Neun, was the starting point of our coffee tour. We spent the next couple of hours learning about the evolution of coffee, types of coffee, different brewing and roasting methods, and the local coffee culture in Berlin. At Kaffee 9 we did a coffee tasting where we learned about various roasts and elements of coffee. We stopped at a variety of coffee shops throughout our tour–one was located in an old warehouse and another was a Turkish coffee shop where we were served in the cutest little Turkish cups!
When I was researching restaurants in Berlin, I kept coming across Burgermeister, so we decided we had to give it a try. We loved the small location under the U-Bahn tracks, and the burgers and fries were delicious, too. They definitely lived up to the hype!
One of the Christmas markets that we went to was located on the roof of the Neukölln Arkaden shopping mall. It actually happened to be closed due to wind when we arrived, but thankfully they were still selling gluhwein for those of us who made the trip. Even though it was closed, we were still glad we took the time to find this special spot. The views from the roof were pretty and there was a lot of neat art there, as well. The area is normally a rooftop bar, so even if it’s not the holiday season, it’s still worth a visit!
The Brandenburg Gate is one of the most iconic landmarks in Berlin. During the Cold War, it was a symbol of division between Berlin and Germany. Now, the gate is a symbol of unity and peace in the city.
The Reichstag building is the current home of the German Parliament. You can visit the glass dome on the top of the building with advanced registration, and it is certainly quite the sight to see. Even with cloudy skies, the dome was beautiful. The staircase spirals around the inside of dome and all the way up to the top. Glass panels in the middle of the dome create an interesting stream of reflections, and you can look down into the room below to see the place where many government decisions are made. The unique construction brings light and ventilation into the building below, which creates a sustainable and energy efficient building.
The Holocaust Memorial, or The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, is located a short distance away from the Reichstag. This memorial was opened in 2005 and it is a central memorial site for contemplation, remembrance and warning. Architect Peter Eisenman designed the site with 2,711 concrete slabs of varying heights, and the sloping floor creates a different sight from every direction. There is an underground information center for the memorial that provides more information on the victims and locations of the war.
To dig into more Berlin history, we decided to go on a bunker tour called the Dark Worlds Tour which gave us a peek inside the hidden tunnels and shelters that were built underground during WWII. The bunker we walked through is one of the few remaining bunkers around today, and it is located behind an unassuming door in the stairway to the U-Bahn. We couldn’t take photos inside, but we did learn about what life was like for Berlin citizens during the war when 80% of the city was destroyed by air raids.
We also had to walk along the East Side Gallery which was the former Berlin Wall. Today, it’s one of the most popular sights in Berlin–the wall is 1,316 meters long and the longest stretch of the Berlin Wall still in existence. Right when the wall came down, over 100 artists came to paint the East Side Gallery and within a year it became a protected memorial.
History has always been one of my favorite subjects, so I have a hard time visiting a destination without learning about it’s history, even when it is heart-wrenching in a city like Berlin. So, we also paid a visit to the Topography of Terror Museum, which is located on the former site of the Gestapo and SS headquarters during the Nazi regime. The museum documents the timeframe from when the Nazis took power all the way through to the end of the war and it tells you about the crimes that were organized there. There are photos, articles, and videos that walk you through the history. It is an insightful, yet somber experience.
On a brighter note, much of our trip was focused around Holiday Markets! During our entire two week trip, we made our way through a variety of markets in Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava and Berlin. Each city put its own distinct spin on the markets, and we loved finding the similarities and differences in each one. In Berlin, we ate quite a few of our meals at the Christmas Markets and found several delicious treats.
Currywurst is a must try no matter when you visit Berlin–it’s a street food staple of German sausage and fries doused in ketchup and topped with curry powder.
Candy coated macadamia nuts were one of my favorite sweet treats that we found.
I can never resist sweet potato fries, especially when they are crispy like this!
And, you can’t go to a Christmas market without sampling some toasty, warm glühwein!
One of my favorite Christmas Markets in Berlin was the Christmas Rodeo Design market. I found so many items I wanted to purchase–it was filled with funky jewelry, artistic prints, and a large variety of other handmade goods.
We had a blast exploring Berlin, and even though we were only there for five days, we were happy to fit in a wide variety of experiences. Berlin has so much to offer, and it’s a city we’d certainly love to return to one day!
Have you ever been to Berlin? What are some of your favorite sights to see there?