I have to say, I think Berlin has been one of my favorite cities to visit in the world to date and if I didn’t have a limited time on my Interrail train pass I would definitely have stayed longer. However, even another week in Berlin wouldn’t fill my desires and I know I’ll be back next year. I really think I want to live in Berlin one day.
Here’s a little more about Berlin. . .
It is no surprise that the capital city of Germany is also its most populous and well-known amongst the world. Berlin is classified as a city-state as its 3.6 million inhabitants warrant its own state, too. It is the second most populated city in the European Union.
Berlin is known for festivals, its diverse architecture, nightlife, contemporary arts and a high standard of living. After the World War II the city was divided into two separate cities; East and West Berlin – divided by the infamous Berlin Wall until 1990 when the wall was destroyed and the city became unified once again. The city is rich in history and culture as well as a thriving living destination of millennials. There are not many things that Berlin is not.
First Impressions. . .
I arrived at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon on a drowsy Monday of late March after the hour and a half train ride from Hamburg. I’m staying at the Sunflower Hostel on the East side of Berlin. At the time, it was my favorite hostel I’d ever stayed in and I met more people than I could ever have imagined meeting in my short two-day stay; they made Berlin an amazing experience for me. The hostel itself captures Berlin’s whole culture without ever leaving the bar in the lobby. Friendly, open-minded people of all backgrounds coming together in like-minded ways – it’s everything I imagine Berlin to be.
Sightseeing in Berlin
Immediately after dropping off all of my gear, I went sight-seeing; starting with the East Side Gallery, one of the only remaining parts of the Berlin Wall. I wanted to do more research on Berlin’s history before seeing it; however, the artwork on the wall did a pretty good job of catching me up on my slack.
The art told stories and showed moments in its history to make it an interesting walk down the wall-line the whole way. It is just a shame there has to be a fence line in front of the wall blocking it of its entire creativeness because of modern day graffiti-ists.
Berlin is full of graffiti which I learned all about on my free Alternative Berlin tour provided by the hostel.
Searching for culture
After rushing through several free tourist sites such as the Holocaust Memorial, Brandenburg Tor, parliament buildings, and the TV Tower, I headed back to my hostel. I was more interested in the cultural side of Berlin than any of the site seeing, so I decided to focus most of my time here trying to figure out the culture.
When I got back, I immediately met Emmy. A Brittish Girl from a small city an hour and a half outside of London. She was very interesting and was studying near Düsseldorf; where I just was. She invited me down to get drinks in the lobby later and left. I then met Angie; a Taiwanese girl from Taipei taking the opportunity after quitting her job to travel Europe. She as well was very entertaining and works in the field of PR which was an immediate connection. I invited her to join Emmy and I and we headed down to the lobby.
Not even 10 minutes in the hostel and I had already made friends for the night. Once downstairs, we met Julian. A Romanian working in Oxford, England. He had plenty to say (mostly about himself) but did indeed have a lot of interesting travel stories. Later, we met three Americans who were doing a Eurotrip before visiting a friend studying in the U.K. We talked with them a while and agreed to meet them when we went out. I love the hostel I chose.
Friedrichshain Club District
So we went out to a really neat alternative bar district that I later learned in my tour was an abandoned Nazi train station and squatting houses. They were pretty much left as-is so it was really different to experience a bar outing in those rough conditions, however, I 100% recommend finding it.
As the district doesn’t have a name and is fairly hidden from public eye, I suggest taking the alternative walking tour that leaves from the Sunflower Hostel. Your guide takes you there and gives you more information which will make it an even deeper experience when you are downing a German beer there later that night.
Free Hostel Tour
In the morning I woke up and met downstairs in the lobby for the alternative tour of Berlin as mentioned above. The tour was led by a Scottish guy who had been living in Berlin for the past five years. We learned a lot about the graffiti art, music, abandoned buildings, and everything else that makes Berlin’s culture what it is today. It was exactly what I was looking for in Berlin and it made me fall in love with the city even more.
Among the things we learned on the tour were:
- Clubs in Berlin are famous for opening on Friday and not closing until Monday.
- Around 80 People were shot in the 80’s while trying to escape East Berlin and hop the wall to the West side. Although 80 could be inaccurate because the German government covered up a lot in that time.
- The YAAM area (Young African Arts Market) is filled with artistic culture and plays a very important role in housing refugees today.
- East and West Berlin mentalities have flip-flopped since the wall came down. The West, which was once known for a better life in Socialism no longer wants the big-chain, socialistic stores and express this by rioting at the construction of one on their side of Berlin. Thus, you won’t find any big chains there.
- Squatting houses are not segregated and judged in Berlin as they might be in other areas of the world because the people of Berlin no longer want the reputation of their Fascist past. Therefore, they are allowed and supported by the government. They are even, in some cases, sites of political movements.
Witnessing Berlin’s History Through Anne Frank
After the tour, I decided to go to the Anne Frank Zentrum. It was small, and most of the things I read at the exhibits there I could’ve read online. However, for 3 euros (for students), it was still really neat to see original documents and even her diary itself.
That night, I went out to a local band’s show- The Low Flying Ducks. To my surprise, the venue was perfect. It’s a real alternative bar underneath the city train tracks in a back alley. Actually, the door was locked when I arrived and we had to knock to get in. The place was called Hangar49 and I really recommend it.
Two days in Berlin is nowhere near sufficient. But in all honesty, I don’t think there is an amount of time sufficient to get a grasp on what Berlin is. It is one of those places that you just have to keep coming back to. It is one of my favorite cities in Europe and the World.
More Attractions, Bars, Restaurants
- Potsdamer Platz – important public square at the center of city’s history
- Alexanderplatz – public square and hub of all public transportation in Berlin
- Museum Island – site of five internationally significant museums located on island in Spree river
- Franken – low budget bar representing the charm of an English pub with electricity of a Berlin dive bar
- Street Food Thursday – get the taste of every culture in the world weekly at Markthalle Neun