Berlin: A city characterised by its intricate history

This is the third in a series on a Europe trip that myself and my husband Nick took in 2019. The first is about Amsterdam, you can read that first if you like. The last episode was about Hamburg, so check that out too! If you’re new to my blog, welcome! You might also like to know that last year I started to limit photography to 50 images per travel post, as many blog posts out there can be overrun with a little too many photos for your 4G connection, and perhaps too many of the same thing 😉

A big arch gate with a statue of four horses on top, during the daytime. There is a small crowd of people taking photos. The sky has many clouds.
We first saw the Brandenburger Tor at night when there was barely anyone there. Nick took this photo during the day.

Oh Berlin, you fascinating city. I almost called this blog post Berlin, we need to talk 😂

During our stay in Berlin we stayed near the area of Kreuzberg. I’m going to start by saying that I really enjoyed our time in Berlin, but I had the absolute worst of first impressions. As we walked through the streets to check into our Airbnb, we went through the suburb of Neukölln, which has a large Middle Eastern community, so there are a lot of Middle Eastern folks, as well as stores and eateries. There was also a lot of graffiti. I grew up in a neighbourhood that was actually quite similar to this! Sydney is extremely different from Berlin, obviously, and the neighbourhood I grew up in was home to some gangs, robberies, and violence, including shootings. I was also used to being stared at a lot by men. So as we walked through Neukölln, I honestly didn’t feel safe. I knew I was thinking irrationally, but the feeling was hard to shake as we walked through a dark building to access our Airbnb which was in a garden house.

The inside of a train station with escalators visible, and an entire glass surface showing the outside of the station
As we arrived in Berlin
Fried chicken on a rectangular white plate, on a table in a restaurant
Our entree at Korean restaurant Kimchi Princess, which we had on our first night in Berlin
A hot stone pot on a wooden plate, in a restaurant. There is also some soup and drinks placed on the table
Bibimbap, can’t go wrong with that

Fast forward 24 hours later and my “opinion” had completely changed and my thoughts were reversed. I’d read about the way Berliners see graffiti (mostly as street art – but graffiti of tags and male genitalia? – well, I beg to differ), we took a walking tour with a local guide who lived in Berlin and had German background, and we learned that hundreds of years ago, the lower-class folks would live in the garden houses – folks of higher classes lived in the houses that faced the street. We also saw patches of green and learned so much about the history of Berlin that I thoroughly began to appreciate the city.

We were due to meet our tour guide at 5:00pm. In the morning we discovered a lovely cafe for breakfast called Two and Two. Founded by a Japanese woman and French woman, that became our go-to over the next couple of days. We had only come across it because we were desperate for food and didn’t want to wait 40 minutes at a place we were hoping to stop at!

A table setting with two cups of coffee and two white plates with croissants and jam
Two and Two cafe was our go-to!

We had a look at the East Side Gallery and saw some of the remains of the Berlin Wall, with commissioned artworks on one side, and street art on the other.

A bridge with a yellow train running across it, as seen from across the water that bridge sits on. It’s a cloudy day
A view of a bridge from the East Side Gallery
An artwork on the Berlin Wall of two men kissing.
Officially called “My God Help Me to Survive this Deadly Love”, this famous artwork by Dmitri Vrubel had many visitors
A view across a street with some cars on it, showing a train bridge in the background and a television tower further away. The sky is very cloudy
The television tower in Berlin can be seen from almost anywhere, as Berlin is a fairly flat city

It was extremely cold and taking public transport would take around the same amount of time as walking, so we walked. We went to Alexanderplatz, where there was a market and the famous world clock. We had a giggle because it was the filming location of a scene from one of the films from the Jason Bourne franchise, and there was a quotable quote, “Bourne’s on the tram”.

A monument in a turret shape, displaying various countries and numbers on a strip in the middle of the turret representing what hour of the day is being observed in each city.
The World Clock in Alexanderplatz
A view of the Berlin television tower as seen from far away, down a quiet side street
I told you that you could see this tower everywhere…

Before meeting our tour guide, we spent some time in the Berlin Wall Memorial, where we could see part of the original wall and the “death strip” that had been preserved.

A section of the Berlin Wall and sectioned areas with wire fencing, blocked off by walls on all sides for preservation, all seen from a high vantage point.
A section of the Berlin Wall and the “death strip”, from the Berlin Wall Memorial tower.

Our tour guide was fantastic. He shared a lot of interesting facts about the city and we walked to spots in Berlin that we would never have known about ourselves without the tour. To start with, he showed us and told us the story about an old ballroom’s history, and we also stopped by a local bakery for a snack.

A courtyard with an old building in the background,and a lot of greenery in the courtyard
Clarchens Ballhaus is an old building whose courtyard used to be a building that was destroyed
The dark interior of an old ballroom with stacks of chairs on the sides, old mirrors on the walls
This is a century-old ballroom, which remains intact

We came across a “hof” (the German term for the courtyards off the street) that our tour guide said was so full of tourists taking photos in summer that you couldn’t even make it to the back of the courtyard. We were lucky enough to see it without much of a crowd being there.

A laneway with coloured lights hanging from wires across the laneway like a canopy, some people walking in the middle of the frame, and street art on the walls of the buildings on either side.
This place is normally packed in the summer! We visited in spring.
Some people sitting at tables in a courtyard, behind them a building covered in graffiti.
There were a few shops in the area and a museum as well

On our tour we walked past the Neue Wache (“New Guardhouse”) memorial, where the remains of an unknown soldier and an unknown concentration camp victim are entombed. The memorial is largely an empty space, in the the centre a sculpture, Mother with her Dead Son, by Käthe Kollwitz. The sculpture is an enlarged version of the original, placed under the oculus, and exposed to the rain and sun. Kollwitz lost both her sons to war – the story goes that after her first son was killed, she refused to let her youngest son enlist in the war, but he died during the First World War. Her art, including this sculpture, was reflective of the pain of her loss.

A part of the Berlin Wall, made of concrete, with a hole in it showing the interior of the wall being made of criss-crossed metal
There is a barrer to protect this preserved section of the original Berlin Wall from people – people used to take parts of it and sell it

We passed the statue of Frederik the Great, our tour guide pointed out a public toilet that happened to be the oldest one in the city, and we also passed the spot where the Nazi book burnings occurred. Books that were against Nazi ideology were set on fire in protest. Now, the spot contains the Book Burning Memorial, a glass window in the ground displaying a series of empty bookcases below ground level. It’s large enough to hold the 20,000 books that were burned durning the book burnings.

A man, and a woman walking behind him, walking through large pillars of a memorial at dusk
Our tour guide taking us through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Nick took this photo, sorry it’s blurry!

To finish off the tour we had some hot beverages (the place we were originally going to go to for currywurst was closed), checked out the Sony Centre, and headed past the Tiergarten park and through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, before finishing up at Brandenburger Tor. I didn’t take a lot of photos on the tour – I was really just taking it all in. 💕

A very tall arch gate with many pillars, and a statue of four horses on top. It’s nighttime and the arch looks lit up.
The famous Brandenburger gate in the evening

The next day we wanted to see a couple of the sights that we saw on the tour in the daylight – particularly the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. We started the day rather late, though, and spent a long time waiting to eat at popular brunch spot.

A cup of coffee with coffee art, on a wooden table
Need coffee?!
A white plate with smoked salmon and poached eggs on toast, with a serrated knife next to the food
Typical brunch we Aussies love, heh
A view from the bottom of a building, showing the modern architecture of the building and the architecture of the roof, which lets light in
Looking up from inside the Sony Centre

By the time we really got walking and moving, it was about 2:00pm. 😆

We saw the spot of Hitler’s bunker, which is just the site of a parking lot now. It’s only marked by a sign with some historical information. The bunker still exists; apparently they tried to destroy it by blowing it up, but ended up building on top of it instead, so it’s not accessible.

Two men standing by a sign in front of an open carpark. The men are reading the sign, which has detailed information about Hitler’s bunker
The site of Hitler’s bunker, now a carpark.

We saw the Memorial again, which, as our tour guide mentioned, was often treated as a playground by children, running around between the pillars like a maze with their friends. The experience was designed to be disorientating, consisting of many pillars shaped like rectangular prisms, arranged in a grid. From the street, you don’t realise how big the memorial is. You also don’t really see how deep it goes into the ground.

The outside of a memorial made from large rectangular pillars, as seen from the street. Amongst the pillars there is a small museum building that blends in with the pillars
The memorial as seen from the street level
The memorial from the previous photos, seen where the pillars are only about as tall as a person
Still close to the edge of the memorial, where the pillars are not that tall
The memorial from the previous photos, seen at a deep point where the pillars of the memorial are very tall
One of the deepest points of the memorial – you can see how far it goes into the distance

Although we didn’t get to see inside the Reichstag building, we did walk past it and see a lot of people lining up and trying to get photos outside. We walked through the Tiergarten park after that. It was a beautiful spot of green in Berlin, with many tall trees – you know I love those. ☺️

The inside of a park with stone paths laid out on the ground. There are some people walking and the sides of the path are surrounded with trees
Berlin was so green!
A view from the middle of a road, with road lanes on either side of the median strip, and bright green trees outside of the road. There is a tall arch pillared gate in the distance
Snuck a photo from the middle of the road
The inside of a park showing the path leading forward but with a path going from left to right. There are many trees making the park resemble a forest
Tiergarten is big and beautiful
The inside of a park, a completely grassy area with many trees providing shade to the foreground
This could be any park… my photos don’t do Tiergarten justice!
The inside of a park, looking like a forest, with a dirt path leading into the distance
A part of the park with bicycle-friendly paths
The inside of a very green park with colourful flowers in the foreground and big trees in the background
We spotted a lot of pansies in Germany
A waterway like a canal, with many lush green trees on etiher side
A nice waterway we passed while walking around Berlin

To end the day, we ate at a burger joint named Burgermeister – it had some pretty wicked burgers!

The next day we started with breakfast, at Two and Two. I love that cafe – it’s definitely one of my favourites out of all the ones we visited on our trip. Nick and I both ordered baked eggs, and the flavours of the baked eggs, salad and bread were just fantastic. The cafe makes a good cafe au lait (“coffee with milk”) too, which doesn’t seem to be very well done anywhere else (or just tastes like a latte, which is incorrect – the prime difference is that it doesn’t use espresso and uses “hot coffee”).

A white plate with ciabatta bread, salad, butter in a small cup, and a small pot of baked eggs
This tasted fantastic
A path with tall, leafless, barren-looking trees on either side.
A small park called the Anita Berber park, called for this lovely photo

Then we jumped on the subway and went to Tempelhof, an abandoned airport in Berlin that is now a ground for people to hang out on the weekend. Some people even go paragliding on the old runway. It’s quite an incredible space.

A man dressed in a navy jacket and pants, wearing sunglasses, with his hands in his pockets. He is standing in an open concrete area. The sky is very blue with many clouds.
Nick wasn’t keen on getting a photo, but I took one anyway
A woman seen from behind, with her arms in the air. She’s standing on an open stretch of concrete, and the sky is very blue with a lot of clouds.
I thought this would make a cool picture. I was right. 🤪
An open concrete area with someone paragliding. In the foreground to the left is a woman watching. There is a person rollerblading to the right in the distance. The skies are blue with many clouds
It was wild watching this guy (on the left on the grass) control this!
A woman on a bench-sized block of concrete painted red and white. She’s smiling with her legs crossed and is wearing a light blue sweater. In the background is a lot of grass but with areas sectioned off with tape.
Nick took this photo of me just chillin’ out.
A building with the sign “Berlin – Tempelhof” with a plane towards the left. Much of the foreground is open space
The old airport building. Not in use.

Following that, we made a point to go to Mauerpark. Every Sunday, this park opens to the public with flea markets and food stalls, and an area of the park with a mini concrete amphitheatre turns into “Bearpit karaoke”, where anyone can sit on the steps and a couple of guys run a karaoke show that welcomes anyone to sing to whatever tune they like. We watched it for a bit – great vibes! Of course, because I love the ambience of markets, I enjoyed looking at all the second-hand goods, homemade crafts, and interesting piles of merchandise people were selling in the stalls.

A small crowd of people in front of a couple of rows of food stalls.
Mauerpark is alive every Sunday!
A barren area of a park where the grass is withering away, with people sitting down for a picnic and some walking
Folks chilling out in Mauerpark
An open concrete stage with an umbrella on it and some people setting up music from a computer. To the sides and in the foreground are an audience of people watching the event
Bearpit karaoke!

Since we hadn’t had a currywurst yet, we ate some that we bought at the market. It was delicious, even though our tour guide had said, “well it’s basically a sausage with sauce. It’s like going to New York to find the best hot dog and it’s just a hot dog”. 😆

A man’s hand holding a small cardboard tray of chips, chopped sausage and sauce
Tasty currywurst!

We caffeinated ourselves with coffee from a hip coffee spot called The Barn, then browsed the streets of Kreuzberg and looked in a vintage clothing shop or two, and finished the day off with a bowl of ramen. 😌

A small suburbian park, with both concrete and grass, and a television tower in the background
I can’t stop taking photos of this tower, can I?
A bowl of ramen with egg, dry seaweed, and sliced pork
Love a good bowl of ramen.

And so ended our trip to Berlin. We were pretty underwhelmed by our Airbnb and I think we were looking forward to the next part of our journey, even though we knew Berlin has so much more to offer. We are sure we’ll be back one day.

Thanks for tuning into this blog post about our 2019 Europe trip! You can check out the hashtag #cookesEU19 on Twitter or on Instagram for summaries and photo highlights!

🇨🇿 We’ll see you next time for a blog post about Prague!

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