I was a late bloomer when it comes to travel. Growing up in the Outer Hebrides, travel anywhere other than the ‘mainland’ wasn’t really considered, nor was it financially viable. So until I was 19, Inverness was an exotic break from the day to day norm of ploughing the land, picking potatoes and killing deer with my bare hands. Now, 10 years later, I’ve lost a lot of those skills but I’d consider myself well travelled (at least for me) and I have done the majority of my global galavanting in the past 18 months. I’ll cover off all the places I’ve visited (it won’t take many posts), with tips on how to survive out in the big bad world, but first I’m taking you to Berlin.
My mum had never been abroad (aside from a 1 day trip to the North of France in her youth) until 2016 and I thought it important to go somewhere that wasn’t too far afield, somewhere that language wouldn’t be too much of a hinderance and somewhere with oodles of culture, history and class. We toyed with Rome, Paris, Venice and even New York. Ultimately we settled on Berlin, Germany’s capital and cultural hub and it was the perfect choice!
I’ve always been intrigued by this city and 5 nights seemed like the perfect stretch to see all the sights any wanderlust city breaker would want to see. Berlin is absolutely rammed with culture, art, interesting people, bohemian intricacies and a dark, troubled and moving history. It was a hub of activity during WWII and at one point I found myself standing in the ruins of the Gestapo HQ. If standing amongst all that rubble and the undetectable yet overpowering stench of death doesn’t move you then I question your humanity. I’ve always been fascinated with both World Wars and the impact it had on day to day life in Berlin, however it’s not all doom and gloom. The city has transformed most of this darkness into stunning cultural installations, such as the enormous and fabulously boho East Side Gallery which is draped in spectacular graffiti, strafes alongside the river Spree, and is 1.3km in length. If you’re an art lover you’ll love Berlin and if you love New York City, you’ll love Berlin even more. I saw a lot of similarities between the two (even though I’ve not been to NYC I know a lot about it and a lot of people who have).
One of the main things I learned while I was in Berlin was that you shouldn’t hold onto preconceptions of what a collective of people are like. I’d always found Germans rude when they’d visited Scotland, but as I was to discover very quickly, they are helpful, kind, sincere and they do it all with the kind of blunt honesty and directness that we shy away from in the UK. One man approached my mum and I in the subway station (we looked very lost and confused as we pointed up and down at the subway map) and after asking us where we wanted to go he pointed at an approaching train and shouted “that one” then promptly walked away; I loved it. If only we could take some of that efficiency into our daily lives, we’d spend a lot less time apologising and dancing around an issue and more time living. I especially enjoyed being shouted at for trying to order more eggs than were advertised on the breakfast board in a café. I just wanted three bloody eggs but according to the barista, two is enough.
The food was a bit of a let down, minus one restaurant and a couple of cafés we stumbled upon. To be fair, we didn’t research the best places to eat in advance so we were going adhoc for every meal. Sometimes the best places are discovered that way but so are some of the worst. In fact I was informed, when I returned to Edinburgh, that Berlin has some incredible Vegetarian and Vegan restaurants and although I an neither I do enjoy that sort of culinary endeavour.
We got an incredible deal for our entire trip. It took me hours to find the cheapest flights but eventually with the help of Skyscanner I got there! I found flights direct from Edinburgh to Berlin’s Schoenefeld airport, which is the further out of the two airports available but it’s not more than 25 minutes on the train. The flights were cheap, £67 return per person to be exact. My mind was blown, thoroughly blown. I thought at this point that I’d struck lucky and the hotel would be the crippler. Much to my surprise it was even more mind blowing (I have no mind left by this stage). Our hotel was the Hotel Angleterre in Berlin’s pricier shopping district on Friedrichstrasse. Before you go off moaning about how old fashioned the decor is blah blah blah, yes, it is pretty dated. However, I got the impression that it was trying to look like this. Our room (I don’t have photos unfortunately) had a deep red carpet and glossy wood panelled walls, so didn’t quite meet the standards of decor I’d like to one day impose on my own home. It was very clean, very warm (I sweated a lot) and best if all quiet. We did hear a function on the first night but it was so muffled and we were so wiped out that it didn’t pose a problem. We opted out of breakfast and instead went out in search of some German delicacies every morning but if we had taken the hotel breakfast it was an extra £16 per night which I think it obscene for one meal (this is pretty standard in the hotel trade). Oh and the price of the hotel! £122 per person for 5 nights. Now your mind is blown.
Total cost of travel and accommodation x 5 nights = £189 per person
Subway – This is a cheap and outrageously efficient service. The trains are always on time, people get on and get off without dallying but I don’t recall being shoved once. Although we walked most of our trip, we did occassionally hop on the underground for all of €3 (ish) which is a single ticket and has a lifespan of 2 hours so you can reuse it as many times in that period as you like. Just remember to validate your ticket before you get on the train. There are little ticket stamping machines dotted around everywhere.
Spring Weather – We went in March and it was bloody freezing. Snowed one morning but nothing we haven’t seen in Scotland before. It was really bitter though so I spent most of my trip in a beanie, enormous scarf and padded jacket. Don’t wear converse, your feet will freeze, take it from a fool aka me. If you’re walking around though you don’t feel it as much but be prepared and take some tissues for your chilly damp nose!
Euros – You won’t need a lot of money here. It’s not an overpriced city, unless you eat in some of the fancier establishments. We were averaging out at €50 per night for a 2 course meal with wine between two of us, which I don’t think is bad. I took €370 with me and came back with €10. For five days, public transport, food, some shopping and tourist sites that really is pretty decent.
TOP 3 TOURIST SITES
We saw a lot of the city in 5 days and we walked more than half of the ground we covered. It’s really hard to condense this down to 3 tourist destinations but in the effort of not boring you to death I’ve managed it.
The first photo when you read this post is one from here. It’s a haunting, peaceful and beautiful momument to the lives taken during the holocaust. You really feel what it’s all about when you’re walking through it, poured concrete trunks towering up above you. It’s quite isolating and I’d advise you don’t wander off if there are only two of you as it’s not easy to find one another again without a previously arranged rendevous point!
Topography of Terror
This was the first thing we saw and is built on the site of the Gestapo HQ. You can walk through the remains of the basement outside, seweage pipes still sticking out of the walls. Inside is a contemporary grey and white complex, which chronicles the story of the holocaust from start to finish. If you’re an emotional person you’ll find this very moving and quite depressing. Images of firing squads and pits filled with dead Jews are common place here so prepare yourself beforehand. I didn’t and I had to wipe tears away on more than one occassion. If you can, jump onto one of the English tours that’s in circulation throughout the gallery. It’s absolutely free and the information the tour guide’s possess is incredible.
The East Side Gallery
This took a bit of subway hopping to get to, but 2 trains later and we made it. Warschauer Strasse is the stop you want to get to on the U1 line. I’ve mentioned this before, but it really is spectacular and at 1.3km long it is a good way to fill an hour or two.
I would also highly recommend you go to Museumsinsel just to see Nefertiti’s bust!
The food in Berlin didn’t blow me away, but I wasn’t expecting it considering they’re stereotyped for eating sausages all day every day. That wasn’t quite the reality, although there were a lot of sausages and so much pastry knocking around. We stumbled across the best Italian restaurant I’ve ever been in on our second night. ‘Sagrantino’ is wonderful, from the environment to the location, the welcoming staff, flawless service and of course the stunning food. The portions aren’t huge, but they’re rich and filling. The wine is amazing and one Italian waiter kindly gave us a free glass of dessert wine each on our final night, because we did actually eat here 3 of the 5 nights we were in Berlin. You can never have too much of a good thing, as they say. You’ll find Sagrantino on Behrenstrasse 47 in Mitte, off Friedrichstrasse.