It comes as no surprise that Berlin is one of the most exciting cities in the world for backpackers, young travellers, and those who want to take part in unique underground nightlife experiences. While Berlin is the capital of Germany, it is considered one of the poorer cities in the country where many attractions are free, abandoned, or just a great steal. The entire world shook at the fall of the Berlin Wall, which is a great place to start your journey in this historically rich city.
The East Side Gallery is a section of the Berlin Wall covered with paintings from commissioned artists. Stretching 1.3 kilometres long, the colourful wall simultaneously conserves a piece of the bleak concrete that divided German families for 28 years and stands as a vibrant, worldwide memorial for freedom. Be sure to check out the impressive mural of the hoard of people rushing to cross the wall once it collapsed.
Another incredibly striking commemoration is The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, or The Holocaust Memorial. Composed of 2,711 concrete blocks on a sloping field, the powerful memorial sheds resemblance to a graveyard at first glance. As you weave in and out of the grey slabs, the ordered system somehow becomes a maze.
Depending on your tastes and desires, it is important to know where to stay in Berlin. In general, the West part of the city is more modern and commercial with lovely boutiques for shopping. The East part of Berlin is usually considered younger and alternative, with bars illuminated by candlelight, and a host of unforgettable nightclubs. Because the streets are very long and wide, the expanse land beckons you to wander. Do as the Berliners do and rent a bicycle to explore the city.
Museum Island is worth a visit for its spectacular architecture and art. Centrally located in the city, the island is home to a variety of old and new museums. Explore Alte Nationalgalerie, home to a beautiful collection of 19th Century art.
Another impressive museum is Gemäldegalerie, boasting a range of European paintings from the 13th to 18th Centuries from revered artists such as Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Vermeer. You can find this museum in the Kulturforum museum district, just west of Potsdamer Platz.
If photography strikes a chord with you, journey through the Helmut Newton Foundation. The museum exposes a new temporary exhibition every so often so that each time visitors have the chance to see new images. The breadth of Newton’s life work is on display, ranging from immaculately composed fashion editorials to the most intimate shots taken at home.
Neuköllen is a tranquil neighbourhood with surrounding parks and cosy cafés. If you are in the area and in the mood for Japanese, visit the noodle house Men Men. A self-service canteen, Men Men provides a variety of slurp-worthy ramen noodles, rice dishes, salads, and gyozas. Taste the slightly spicy Miso Ramen or fresh Avocado and Shrimp Salad!
If you’re looking for more quality Asian food, both Monsieur Vuong and Dudu Restaurant are musts. In the heart of the sleek boutiques in Mitte, Monsieur Vuong is one of those restaurants that is always packed, and for good reason. The warm, orange walls are welcoming, as is the friendly service. The menu is limited, but everything on it is delicious, especially the curry and noodle dishes. Try the crispy shrimp rolls and ginger, lemongrass tea.
Dudu Restaurant in Mitte is great for groups as the modern restaurant creates a communal atmosphere with bench seating. The seafood is fresh and the dishes are brimming with flavour. If you want something satisfying that doesn’t leave you too full, go for the Sui Cao Soup with Beef Dumplings.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating things about Berlin is its vastness and the number of buildings that have been deserted over time. An exciting place for discovery is the abandoned amusement park Spreepark. Located in the north part of Plänterwald, this once bustling park had to be closed because it was declared insolvent. Guided tours were available after the park shut down, but since the City of Berlin bought Spreepark, security has not been so friendly to intruders. If you’re still keen on risking it (because the worst security can do is just kick you out), there are weak areas of the fence facing the Spree River that allow access into the park. The eerie creaking of the derelict Ferris wheel and moss covered log flumes instantly transport visitors to another dimension. For the most part, the park is very quiet and you may think you have an entire amusement park to yourself, but there will be other people just as curious as you wandering about. All becomes make believe as rollercoaster tracks spill out of a monster’s mouth and swan boats appear out of tall grass. A few dinosaurs have been removed from the scene and the ones that remain have graffiti sprawled on them. If you listen carefully, you may hear a distant groan of the toppled Tyrannosaurs Rex… until a security guard eventually snaps you back to reality.
Reality is somewhat of a subjective term in Berlin’s nightlife. Jump through the rabbit hole and you’ll find yourself in Zur Wilden Renate, a multi-floor club featuring theatrically decorated rooms. On the other side of the spectrum, Berghain prides itself on minimalist design of steel and concrete, and was voted as one of the top clubs in the world. If you’re looking for a raunchy Saturday evening, dress up in leather and head to Kit Kat Club where once a week, fetishism rules the dance floor.
Berlin is a historically rich metropolis that pays tribute to a once painful past. Now, the youth thrive on what remains and have created an energetic hub that welcomes anyone and everyone from all walks of life.
Words & Photography / Sheri Chiu