‘These days the divide is no longer obvious.’
The wall is down, freedom reigns true in this capital city and tourists find themselves asking where it is and where it was; whilst stepping obliviously through history from East to West and back again.
Since the fall of its world renowned Wall, Berlin has established a reputation as one of the most creative and cultural centres in the world. A city of many faces, one known equally as a hub for hedonists as a draw for historians, also increasingly as a destination for families seeking out leisure time in the green zones of Tiergarten and Mauerpark. Throughout, the city’s bohemian ways are equally matched by the many upmarket areas, high-end hotels and Michelin-star dining spots.
There is construction everywhere, as is Berlin’s way post World War II that saw 80% of all buildings destroyed by bombs, it constantly reinvents itself. The Mitte borough in particular has been completely revamped since 1989 brought the birth of a new era, once within East Berlin and home to prestigious government and company buildings, museums and theatres and the German parliament.
During my recent visit to Berlin I opted to explore on foot. There’s something about walking a city that strips away the barriers and leaves you with your senses heightened to the sounds and smells. Where whiffs of beer and coffee intermingle with exhaust fumes and the chatter of friends passing by meets with music as it drifts from an open window. Everywhere life in it’s raw and real form embodies you speaking true to the notion that one must walk a place, to truly know it.
Even though my independent meandering was varied and plentiful, it was anchored by the lessons and information imparted on me by my guides on the numerous free walking tours that I joined. With just 4 days on the ground, I opted for these tours for a balance of history, East and West and a look at the artistic grunge that has earned Berlin a reputation for being one of the coolest cities on earth.
Walks and areas included in the post:
- 1. Free Walking Tour Introduction to Berlin for Background.
- 2. Historic and Third Reich Tour
- 3. Street Art and Alternate Tours
- 4. Cycling or Walk Potsdam
Some pics too offer an idea, included below.
The DDR Museum offers a look at life in the East block.
The iconic Brandenburg Gate which has been the background to countless protests for freedom over the years.
The Konzerthaus Berlin.
A place not to be missed is Berlin’s Museum Island with its impressive ensemble of five museums on an island in River Spree.
The Jewish Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Germany, designed by architect Peter Eisenman with its two thousand, seven hundred and eleven grey concrete slabs.
Museum to Russian Soldiers, a controversial addition to the city as many Germans had terrible memories of the invasion.
The view from Sanssouci towards Potdam.
Pure chocolate and apple stubble is obligatory.
The Meierei brewery on the river, a good spot for lunch.
Over and above these tours listed you’ll find the option of a Green Tour and Taste of Berlin tour, or you may opt to do a self-guided tour of the main sites yourself. Berlin is an easy city to explore and is well sign posted. Linger at Check Point Charlie and get your photo taken with the guards there, it’s obligatory really.
Also the Check Point Charlie Museum or Mauermuseum provides an excellent look at the ways in which people tried to escape East Germany and brings that period of history to life, ensuring that it is not forgotten.
Remains of the Berlin Wall.
Enjoying a lunch break and some winter sunshine.
Berlin is a surprisingly warm and welcoming city, one that seems to bear no judgement but simply embraces all as they are. My one guide told me that of the over 3.5 million inhabitants in the greater Berlin area, hardly any had a real job, they simply ‘all lived on art, culture and the appreciation of good living’.
Thierry Noir is a French artist who is claimed to be the first street artist to paint the Berlin Wall.
A virtual antique when it was designed in the 1950s, the Trabant was East Germany’s answer to the ‘people’s car’.
East Berlin themed street shopping.
Information when planning your trip to Berlin.
- There are numerous direct flights into Berlin’s Schönefeld and Tegel airports, both very well connected to the city centre of Berlin and the surrounding area.
- South Africans require Schengen visas to visit Germany.
- It’s a great saving to buy a VisitBerlin Welcome Card for the 1-6 days that you will be there, which includes public transport and discounts at many of the partner museums, galleries, bars, restaurants or clubs. Public transport in Berlin operates on an honesty system. There are no barriers at train, tram or bus stops, though underground inspectors will fine you up to €40 on the spot if they catch you without a ticket.
- The walking tour companies that I recommend are: New Berlin Tours | Alternative Berlin Tours | Potsdam Tourism.
- The South African Rand doesn’t go far with the Euro, but don’t be trapped by expensive restaurant, there are excellent value options and very good convenient stores and supermarkets if you’d like more independence. Don’t pass on Döner kebab, which is as Berlin as can be. There are stores selling them on every street and all are good. If however, something more upmarket and vegetarian makes you happy, visit CHIPPS for some serious eating.
- You’ll find every kind of accommodation here, I stayed in an Airbnb in Mitte and then moved across to Hotel Gat Point Charlie, a modern no frills hotel perfectly positioned and at excellent value.
- I visited in March and the temperatures hovered at about 2-5 degrees celsius, but mostly the sun shone and streets were filled with walkers, cyclists and enthusiasm. I’d suggest Autumn or Spring, as Summer months are set to bring the crowds and the walking tours will be much larger. Either way, just dress accordingly, gloves, jacket, boots and a hat – and you can go anywhere.
One of many stores in the Mariannenplatz area.
A sign of welcome to the Syrian refugees that are arriving in the city.
Read my – Up close and personal look at Berlin’s Street Art.
Watch my Video. An Alternate look at Berlin.
Find affordable flights with Travelstart to Berlin here.
Read more of my Freelance Writing work here.