I did not care to see Berlin. GASP! I can almost hear the world wide web convulsively catching its breath in shock after that declaration. Going to Berlin was entirely my husband’s idea. The city never graced my list of places to visit, and I simply was not intersted in its offerings. It was one of those places that simply had no pull on me—like Brussells or Madrid. (Cue in another round of gasps and and perhaps a how-could-you or two.) I admit, I was very, very wrong about what I thought of Berlin. After a quick weekend in the city, it is now, without any shadow of a doubt, one of the very few cities I’d consider moving to in a heartbeat.
So how did Berlin make it high up in my list of favourite cities?
THE FIVE-POINT CRITERIA
When I start planning our travels, I always begin with a long list of cities or places in consideration. Working as a Project Manager (my awesome day job), I’ve learned to shave long lists to very concise chunks. For our travel list, I use a very basic five-point criteria:
Some cities in Europe check off the architecture-history-food-cool-love criteria in a wink. Rome, example, will have a piazza that can check off all five faster than you can say bellissima! But there are also cities—like newer cities in North America—that would struggle to deliver on beautiful classic architecture or meaningful history, and therefore not make the mark.
To my surprise, Berlin did not only meet the criteria—it did so in utter cool, and in sheer style.
1. BREAKFAST AT ORANIUM
We started our weekend in Berlin with breakfast at Oranium which is a few steps away from the hotel we stayed at, Arcotel Velvet. Apart from the beautiful interiors that fuse stunning ox-blood-red chesterfield-esque seating with modern chandeliers, the delicious food is actually nothing short of exceptional.
For the great food, cool light fixtures, and beautiful décor:
2. HACKESCHER MARKT
Just two minutes’ walk from Oranium is Hackescher Markt. Just following the smell of the grilled sausages will easily lead you there. On Thursdays and Saturday, an open market pops up offering everything from cheap and delicious food, vintage clothes and knick-knacks, fruits, organic produce, souvenirs, original works from local artists, and more. If we did not just devour a sumptuous breakfast, I definitely would have sampled the offerings.
For the curry wurst and vintage finds:
3. ST. MARY’S CHURCH (MARIENKIRCHE) BERLIN
About 750m from Hackerscher Markt is St. Mary’s Church which is said to be the oldest church in Berlin. Built in 1292, the church is very simple, almost bare compared to the grandiose churches of neighbouring France. What I love most about it is how the church sits right next to The Fernsehturm—a television tower that gleams and screams ‘modern day Berlin’ under the high noon sun. The juxtaposition of the old and the new is a photo mandatory, in my opinion.
For the juxtaposition of the old and the new, the history, and beautiful constructions:
Right behind the church is Alexanderplatz—probably the busiest square in Berlin. With a train/bus/tram station, a big mall, countless restaurants, and a couple of tourist spots, it’s no wonder that Alexanderplatz is constantly packed with people. We headed to the square to check out the tourist stops. First, we checked out The Fernsehturm (television tower) which we eventually chose not to climb given the very long lines and its uncanny similarity to the CN Tower from our hometown (Toronto). Next, we visited the World Clock which, although seemed hokey at first, turned out to be really really cool showing the times of the various cities in the world—all in one, turning and working clock.
Although there were restaurants everywhere we looked, I absolutely loved the ‘grillwalkers’ who actually wore their stores on their back. And before we left the square, we passe by Berlin’s City Hall also known as Rotes Rathaus (Red Cityhall) standing mighty and grand with its facade of red clinker bricks.
For the World Clock, the yummy currywurst, and the grand rathaus:
5. MARX-ENGELS FORUM
As we made our way to the Dom, we intentionally cut through the Marx-Engels Forum (and park) and checked out the statues erected for Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Seeing the founders of the Communist movement surrounded by Berliners sitting on park benches, having a quiet stroll, or walking their dogs, make the scene almost seem surreal.
For the suggestion of the ideals of Communism juxtaposed with a peaceful park:
6. BERLINER DOM (BERLIN CATHEDRAL)
As one of the world-famous landmarks of Berlin, the Dom makes a statement from the moment you lay your eyes on it. Also known as the ‘Protestan St. Peter’s’ —as it was built as an answer to the Catholic Church’s St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome— the cathedral is textbook Baroque in the sense that it makes an impression of grandeur and power from one look at it.
Coming from the park (Marx-Engels Forum), we stood across the street (Schoβpltaz) and took it all in. What we didn’t realize is that the main entrance was actually around the corner and was even more impressive. The build up finally reached its climax when we entered the church and saw the opulent interiors of sculptures, mosaics, gold leaf, and all things reminiscent of Italian Renaissance glory.
For the beautiful Baroque architecture and Renaissance allusions:
After two hours in the cathedral, we exited from the crypt to the aromas of coffee and freshly made crêpes. Although not exactly a German delicacy, I recommend stopping at the crêpestation as it gives you time to enjoy a beverage and a snack with the backdrop of what’s possible the most beautiful structure in all of Berlin. Enjoy the crêpe, but do not forget to look up as you chew, and also enjoy the view.
For the most beautiful snacking spot in the city:
8. ALTES MUSEUM (OLD MUSEUM)
Right outside the Berliner Dom is an unmissable structure that could easily be mistaken for a Greek temple. One of the most popular and most photographed museums in Berlin, the Altes Museum stands in pomp with its facade of 18 ionic columns, each one topped by an eagle. Its Greek and classical architecture is a perfect indication of its exhibit of antiquities inside. We spent some time trying to photograph the magnificent facade which proved to be difficult to do with the throngs of people hanging around the steps of the building our just walking around. I do not blame them—it’s definitely one of the most beautiful spots in the city.
For each of the 18 ionic columns that make one beautiful whole:
9. MERCEDES-BENZ GALLERY
From the Altes Museum and Berliner Dom area, our next destination was the Branderburg Gate which was a leisurely 1.7km walk straight Unter den Linden. Along the way, we made a quick but mandatory stop at the Mercedes-Benz Gallery—afterall, it is a German delicacy. We realized very quickly, however, it did not matter how much we salivated in the gallery, this was one craving we could not answer. We walked our mouths watering and pupils turned into the three-point star Mercedes-Benz emblem, and just bought giant pretzels from the pretzel cart standing outside.
Car fanatic or not, this is one gallery not to be missed:
10. BRANDENBURG GATE
Just down the street from the Mercedes-Benz Gallery is the most iconic landmark of Berlin: The Brandenburg Gate. Our walk down Unter den Linden, which literally means ‘under the linden trees’ is nothing short of pleasant. Instead of walking down the pavement close to the stores, we crossed the street and took the centre path wich was actually ‘under’ the linden trees. At the end of it, is the magnificent Brandenburg Gate.
Like any of the iconic landmarks in the world, the area around the gate was crowded with tourists, buskers, and other tourist-preying racketeers. With some patience, we were able to secure a quieter moment with the structure and got to appreciate it and what it stands for. For me, what’s so special is how the gate has been associated with anything and everything in Germany’s history: from being a party symbol of the Nazis and a backdrop to many Nazi parades and the distinct army march and salute that went along with them, as well as being a prominent figure when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and elusive peace was finally restored in United Germany. I cannot think of a more apt symbol for the city.
For everything it stands for