Although many of you will already know, as well as writing about fashion, I love writing about travel and the places that I have visited. I thought it would be nice to start a few new segments to my blog, one of them being this: EscapeGuide - which'll be centred purely on places that I have traveled to outside of London. So, to kick of this series, I would like to share with you my experience of: Berlin.
Me and three of my closest friends decided to travel to Germany in December for a mini break to experience the Christmas markets and explore a new city. None of us had ever been before, so this was the perfect chance to discover what Berlin has to offer. And let me tell you, the city did not disappoint.
People know me as someone who is very attached to London, and the life I lead here. Even when I go on holiday, I usually can't fully relax as I get home-sick very easily. But something about being in Berlin was different. I can't really explain it, but the city felt electric to me - I was instantly attached. The people are relaxed, the atmosphere is positive, and I just felt like I'd come home again. Four days was definitely not enough time for me - if I had it my way, I'd be in Berlin as I'm typing this, and that's quite a big thing for a self-confessed London addict to say.
The Berlin transport system is a positive thing about the city - simple to say, it's easy. Train's come regularly, are quick, and the 'tube map' is easy to navigate (make sure google maps works on your phone as well, as it's the easiest way to figure out what lines and what stations you need for which attractions). The easiest ticket to purchase while you're exploring the city is the Berlin WelcomeCard. It's not the cheapest, but it covers all travel costs for trains and buses while you're in Berlin, including to the airport if you purchase a ticket for all three zones, and it also offers reduced prices for attractions. But be warned - do NOT purchase the ticket online and then 'redeem' at the airport. This proved to be an absolute nightmare as the system in Schonefeld airport is very outdated and I had to pay extra just to have the ticket printed out. There's no use - just wait until you've arrived and purchase a ticket at the airport stand, or any train station in the city on a ticket machine - it's much simpler.
What to see and what to do
It's important to plan your trip to Berlin in advance with what you want to see, so that when you land on German soil, you can easily map out how to get around the city and what's-near-what. Here are a few of my top choices from our visit:
This eclectic museum/gallery is the place to go to for cool photography, contemporary art and exhibitions (most recently, a beautiful delve into the life of Pina Bausch). What we enjoyed most was the bookshop, which was packed with unusual hard-back finds (many of which I desperately wanted but couldn't afford), art works, accessories, and rare postcards.
Nearest station: Anhalter Bhf (S2, S5, S25) or Potsdamer Platz (S2, S5, S25, U2)
2. The David Bowie Walking Tour
Calling all Bowie lovers out there - if you want an insightful tour of the city and a chance to learn about the glam-rock idol, then this is perfect for you. I thoroughly enjoyed it - the tour guide was extremely passionate about both the city and David Bowie, and we learned so many incredible facts about Bowie's life-changing time in Berlin. We even managed to visit the recording studio where the ever-powerful 'Heroes' was written and recorded (Iggy Pop, one of my favourite singers, even recorded The Idiot and Lust for Life in this building - how cool is that?!). The tour is long (was supposed to be three hours but ended up being around four and a half), but stick around until the end - it's worth it just to visit the bar where Bowie frequented regularly.
Book a tour here , or to visit the Cafe Neuses Ufer , hop on a U-Bahn train to Kleistpark or the S1 to Julius-Leber-Brucke
3. The Berlin Wall Memorial
It's safe to say that if you're visiting Berlin for the first time, you'll be more than interested to see remains of the infamous wall. Hop on an S-Bahn (more specifically, S1, S2, or S25) train to Nordbahnhof and not only will you see plenty of Berlin Wall remains, but you'll also learn a lot about the history of how the wall was built, and the lost lives of those who got in it's way.
4. The East Side Gallery & Berlin Graffiti
The East Side Gallery and museum is another opportunity to learn about the vast history surrounding the Berlin wall, how and why it came to be, and the aftermath. The museum is incredibly informative and well presented - it feels as though you're practically walking back in time and experiencing the effects of the wall yourself. Visiting the long strip of wall that is known as the East Side Gallery itself is also incredible - the artwork and graffiti is known as a monument of "freedom of expression" for those who felt the effects of the wall and those who want to remind people that we can still fight for freedom. I didn't have enough time to truly appreciate how much there is to see here, and I wish I did, because what I did see was incredibly moving.
Graffiti is another thing to look out for when visiting Berlin. Artists spend a lot of time creating vast pieces of artwork around the city, and if you're on the way to visit the East Side Gallery, then I recommend visiting this collection of graffiti as well. Take a right from the station, walk down for a couple of minutes, and on your right, past the photobooths, you'll see some metal stairs leading down to a market space, and a pixelated Che Guevara piece will be the first article of graffiti that you'll see. The artwork here is vibrant, unique, and very much photogenic- if you want some quintessentially Berlin photographic opportunities, then this is the place to go.
Take the S-Bahn (S5, S7, S75), U-Bahn (U1), or Tram service to Warschauer Straße
5. Alexanderplatz and the German Christmas markets
If you're coming to Berlin in the Winter, then it's likely you'll visit around Christmas-time to see the markets. Germany, ofcourse, is infamous for its adoration towards the Christmas holiday, and if you're coming for a short visit, then the best place to see the markets is at Alexanderplatz, which is in the heart of the city. The market is enormous here, packed to the brim with German delights such as bratwurst, sweets, and knick-knacks galore, as well as large scale funfair rides. You can also buy handmade goods from independent stalls, and it's great to visit in the evening when all the lights are up and shining.
For us, the trip became very bittersweet, as on my final day, as I was waiting in Schonefeld airport, an attack happened at Breitscheidplatz market. Words literally cannot describe the ache I felt in the pit of my stomach when I heard the news upon landing at London Stansted, especially considering I was yet to hear from my friends, who were still in the city. For the Berliners - I will never stop praying for those who lost their lives, or their loved ones that day. So if you are planning on visiting the markets next year, plan ahead and keep yourself safe.
Visit Alexanderplatz on the U-Bahn (U2, U5, U8) or S-Bahn (S5, S7, S75) and rail lines connecting to the airport.
6. Brandenburg Gate at Pariser Platz, The Cathedral and the Reichstag building
These three breathtaking pieces of architecture are a must see whilst visiting Berlin. Brandenburg Gate at Pariser Platz, aka the first picture in this post, is an 18th century neo-classical monument, and one of the most well-known landmarks of Germany. Once a site for many tumultous historical events, it is now considered a symbol for unity and peace, and is a must see for those of you who enjoy architecture (and a good photograph). A mere block away is the Reichstag building, which is now the placement of German parliament (the modern Bundestag). The word Reichstag merely refers to the building in the modern day sense. An interesting fact, the building was also the location for the 1987 open air 'Concert for Berlin' where David Bowie performed 'Heroes' to a crowd of West Berliners, whilst the East Berlin residents, listening on the other side of the wall, were being attacked by the police (something you'll learn more about if you go on the David Bowie walking tour). And lastly, the Berlin Cathedral, one of the main works of 'Kaiserzeit'. Breathtakingly intricate, almost overwhelmingly so, and best appreciated in sunny weather (we, unfortunately, had to see it in the cloud and fog).We didn't go inside, but you can pay admission, between five and seven euros, to discover more.
To visit the Brandenburg Gate or the Reichstag building, take the S1, S2, S25 or the U55 to Brandenburger Tor, and to visit the Cathedral, take the U2, U5 or U8 to Alexanderplatz, or the S5, S7, S9 or S75 to Hackescher Markt
So there you have it - my mini-guide to visiting Berlin. I really do highly recommend visiting this incredible city, even if you only have a few days to spare. I hope you guys enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing about my trip! If you liked this little segment, let me know, cos' I have a good few more places I'd love to write about, and more places I'd like to visit in the future.
(Look out for a new style chat coming soon!)