Are you cool enough for Berlin? I wasn’t, but I went anyway! After three years of lockdown I jumped on a plane to visit my twin and her partner.
With direct flights resuming from Glasgow International Airport to Berlin Brandenburg Airport, my partner and I touched down after travelling two hours.
Honouring on-going COVID precautions, we picked up masks in an airport shop, before jumping on the S9 train to Treptower Park.
As well as masks, we were surprised by the presence of plain-clothed police on trains. From a tourist point of view these guys look like conmen, but they were legit. To avoid being fined by them, we learned you must validate your ticket (at the box next to the vendor) before travel.
Off the train, we stopped at a mini mart to get a wegbier (journey beer) for the walk to my twin’s. There I discovered that cash is king in Berlin. Although a tech capital, most vendors, restaurants and bars in the city use cash.
After securing the beer, my twin and a tour of her home, we wrapped up against the cold and headed back to the S-Bahn. Exiting at Ostbahnhof Station, we walked 10 minutes to The Hampden by Hilton, to drop off our cases.
The Hampden was our choice because of its reasonable price, onsite gym and ideal location. As well as being near Ostbahnhof Station (with supermarkets and takeaways) the hotel is across the road from the stunning East Side Gallery.
Once a section of the Berlin Wall, The East Side Gallery is now a 1316-metre art exhibition by the waterfront. With 118 artists from 21 countries, the Gallery has been given protected memorial status. It is also the perfect selfie spot. While many snapped shots next to Vrubel’s iconic Fraternal Kiss, I preferred Morlay and Paulun’s Paix, Amour-Sagesse piece, for its colours and characters.
That night we headed back to the banks of the Spree, for a hot tub boat trip. This was living at its best! Following the river from Treptower park, we walked under the Abteibrücke bridge and along to the Berlin Bootsverleih mooring. There we were escorted into a heated changing room, complete with a minibar and dry bags (to safeguard phones and speakers while cruising).
Bag, bottles and ice bucket ready, we boarded our boat, which was 90% hot tub, 1% rudder and 9% bow. With sleet horizontally hitting our faces, but our shoulders submerged in warm water, we motored out of the mooring and down the Spree.
Sailing and sipping wine, we navigated through the legs of the Molecule Men statue, back under the bridge and past the Universal building. The bright lights, bubbly and banging beats made for an unforgettable trip.
The bubbly also made for a banging headache the next day! However, after a morning run and breakfast, I felt recovered.
Back to the train station, we boarded the S-Bahn to Hackescher Markt. There we met my twin and walked to Museum Island. As the name suggests, this area holds some of Berlin’s best artefacts and art collections.
Our first stop was The Pergamon Museum, a gallery that features pieces from ancient civilisations including those of Iraq, Rome, and Germany. The museum’s most striking piece was the reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate (eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon). It stretched from floor to ceiling, with navy glazed brick, featuring sand coloured dragons, lions and bulls.
Walking through the museum we reached another liminal zone, the Market Gate of Miletus. The 17-metre-high marble structure featured white columns and ornate designs. Reading the signs we discovered it was built during Emperor Hadrian’s reign, in an area now known as Western Turkey.
After a short stop for lunch, we headed next door to The Neues Museum. Highlights of this visit included the beautiful bust of Queen Nefertiti and the Berlin Gold Hat. Looking like a wizard’s accessory, the conical hat dates back to the Bronze Age. It was made of 490g of gold, and stamped with symbols of the lunisolar calendar.
Finally, finishing our trip to Museum Island, we entered the Pergamon Museum Panorama. Walking in to a dim lit, circular room, we ascended a steel stair structure, to gaze at a 360 degrees print of the ancient Roman city of Pergamon. As the lighting and soundscapes shifted (to reflect day and night) different characters were highlighted in the Yadegar Asisi masterpiece.
After a busy day site seeing, we headed back to our hotel for a nap, to prepare for the night ahead. This was needed, as Berlin clubs don’t fill till 1/2am. With -6 lows forecast, we decided against fruitless queuing at Berghain, and instead headed to Paloma Bar.
Walking to Skalitzer Strasse, we climbed a stairwell next to Kaiser’s supermarket, and (after a 20 minute wait) got in. With low ceilings, and a DJ booth on the dance floor, it had a great vibe. After a few hours sweaty dancing, we caught our breath on its veranda. Paloma bar – like all Berlin clubs – allows smoking indoors, so it was great to get some fresh air! While smoking is allowed indoors, selfies are not, so we took some mental pictures before hitting the road.
Around 5am we headed back to the hotel, to catch some sleep. Waking up at 10am I felt like I was dying. But, ever the busy tourists, we got up and got on with the day. I dragged myself on my morning run, and having missed breakfast, we headed to McDonalds, to revive ourselves before the train.
Stopping at Treptow Park, my twin and her partner led us to the Soviet Memorial. It was an eye opener. While I had been aware of the atrocities of Nazi Germany, I hadn’t known the magnitude of the Russian resistance during WWII.
Walking the park’s grounds, we observed the granite statues that paid tribute to the 80,000 Soviet soldiers who died while fighting to capture Berlin. As we climbed the mausoleum steps snow began to fall.
The snow came thick and fast that night, which was perfect for our next activity: a trip to the Medieval Christmas markets. Set in the RAW Compound, the markets featured food and drink stalls, child amusements, donkeys, archery and fire jugglers. Despite my hellish hangover, I enjoyed a bowl of goulash in the wintry weather.
After a very early night, we faced our last day in Berlin with renewed vigour, jumping in an uber to The Stasi Museum. Located on the grounds of the former Ministry for State Security HQ, we Googled our way to the 60s tower block. Once inside, we paid and climbed to the office exhibitions.
Walking through the rooms, we marvelled at artifacts including spy equipment, weapons, letters and images. The signage explained that after World War II, Germany was divided into Soviet, American, British and French zones of occupation. Berlin was largely Soviet, with the East becoming a soviet ‘satellite’.
Correspondence and photos gave us an insight into the lives of some of the 189,000 people who worked as ‘informers’ for the regime, spying on their neighbours. After hours of pouring through their lives, we headed out into the cold.
Following a final farewell meal, we thanked my sister and her partner and jumped on the S-Bahn to the airport. Next time we visited we vowed to bring more cash, speak more German and see more of West Berlin!