We’re not usually the touristy-tour types, but were recommended the Fat Tire tours as a great way to see a lot of Berlin’s historic sites in one swoop. We took the tour on Monday afternoon when the scorching-hot weather was a bit more chilled out – not that it was a tough cycle as we stopped every few minutes for a new sight. Berlin is a much more laid-back city to cycle around than London with a mutual respect (or at least tolerance) between pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, so it was very enjoyable.
The 6-mile ride took us through a big chunk of the centre-west of the city including most of the main squares, churches and palaces, the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie, into the pretty Tiergarten (with a beer stop in the middle), and more sober sites such as Hitler’s death place and the Memorial to Murdered Jews. Our guide Nick was funny and informative, filling in my woeful knowledge gaps of German history.
On a semi-related note, we also visited the Stasi Museum which is way out in the east of the city. It’s quite hard to find the entrance amongst the complex of faceless concrete buildings that made up the Stasi HQ, but once you’re in the museum contains a good collection of memorabilia, including all the ingenious places they hid cameras and spy equipment. There’s a whole floor of rooms – offices, boardrooms and even a kitchen – done out in the style of the time which makes it feel quite eerie, like the officers have only just upped and left.
Berlin is full of graffiti and street art. Most of the time it’s quantity over quality, with every building’s ground floor dabbed with tags and scribbles which just ruins the otherwise attractive townhouses. But there are several more organised areas where serious street artists go to work creating really interesting things.
Tacheles is a huge semi-derelict building which has been in its time a department store, Nazi SS headquarters and an electric company’s showroom. It’s now home to a collective of artists who use the building and grounds as a showroom and studio. Every inch inside, from stairwells to windows to ceilings, is covered in layers upon layers of graffiti, stickers and posters; it’s quite overwhelming to see. The courtyard in the back hosts more art installations and several bars.
The Stattbad, out in the northwest of town, is another disused building turned gallery – this time an old swimming baths. We went along to a night-time event here but probably turned up too early as not much was open. There was a great room of screenprinted posters though, and it was worth going just to wander around the creepy abandoned changing rooms and empty swimming pool.
There was a section of the Berlin Wall very near our hotel in Friedrichshain – the longest section still remaining – named the East Side Gallery, which was given over to artists to create murals celebrating the fall of the old regime. Some panels are just given over to scribbles but in general the murals are interesting and well-preserved.
And here’s just a few more of the better street art dotted around the city.
We stayed at the Michelberger Hotel in Berlin, hopelessly attracted to the shabby-luxe decor exhibited on its strange animated website. Housed in an old factory building in the south-east Friedrichshain area of town, it’s budget-priced but super-stylish. Rooms range from the compact ‘Cosy’ to the larger ‘Luxe’ rooms, which are each done out in a unique style from modern chalet to full-on golden opulence. We booked into a Loft but had to spend the first night in a Cosy because they misunderstood our booking – not a big deal as even the cosy room was comfortable and amply-sized. (Less cool was the 4am fire alarm on our first night, probably set off my someone cheekily smoking – not fun!).
The clean white walls-meets-vintage furniture look of the rooms was really effective and quite inspiring for my future new house! The real pull of this hotel though are the communal spaces which are beautifully decorated, right down to thoughtful little details like the fresh flowers in vintage glass bottles. There’s a pretty courtyard out the back and a cafe-come-bar next to reception which serves great coffee and cake – and the €9 buffet breakfast is really tasty.
It’s situated a little out of town but well-placed right opposite Warschauer Strasse U- and S-bahn stations, and a 2 minute walk to the south takes you over the river Spree into the Kreuzberg area, the current ‘trendiest part of town’ according to our taxi driver. (This cabbie was brilliant; he was trying to improve his English so gave us a little personal sightseeing tour as we made our way into town).
If you fancy trying the Michelberger if you’re ever in town, book on Expedia for a good deal.
I had high hopes for eating in Berlin. Not, unfortunately, for traditional German food – all that bratwurst is no good for a veggie – but it’s famously a city that loves its long brunches and kaffee und kuchen breaks, as well as having a reputation for good Asian food including Thai and Vietnamese.
I think we did pretty well food- and drink-wise, visiting a mix of places I’d researched and random drop-ins. First food stop was at our hotel, the Michelberger. We sampled the coffee and cake in its cafe/bar upon arriving and found it very good. They also put on a great buffet breakfast every morning for €9 which included fruit, cheese, breads, croissants and muesli.
Later on we found ourselves in the centre of town near Alexanderplatz on a beating hot evening, and were happy to discover Berlin has a brilliant happy-hour cocktail culture, with drinks starting at around €3.50 in many places. After a quick margarita we settled for a Tex-Mex place called Las Cucarachas a few doors down on Oranienburger Strasse. It was by no means the best Mexican food ever but it was perfectly edible, and the supersized strawberry daiquiri was a winner. Happily the food was happy-hour half-price as well as the cocktails so it was cheap enough that we weren’t peeved at the lack of quality.
We went more refined the next day, with brunch at Hans Wurst vegan cafe. It’s a lovely laid-back place that also hosts art and music events. The Sunday brunch is a help-yourself affair of various rice and bean salads, houmous and guacamole, and blueberry muffins for after. You could choose what to pay between €9 and €12 – I guess depending on how many times you re-visit the table! Good coffee and fresh juice, too.
In the evening we’d pre-booked into Re:make, a smart – and expensive – place near the galleries of Auguststrasse. We sat in a pretty courtyard and my tasty veggie options were goats cheese and tomato confit followed by generously-truffled pasta. My favourite part was the delicious bread which came with no less than four types of salt for dipping – and even the lemon butter was homemade. Unfortunately Josh wasn’t so impressed with his steak which was a bit overdone and came with boring raw vegetables.
On Monday we tried in vain to find Cookies Cream (warning: mad website), another veggie place I’d heard good things about, but it was nowhere to be found. We had an OK slice of pizza instead, then went in search of cake to make up for the disappointment. Luckily we found Eins with no problems; a darling little deli/cafe with lovely looking salads and pasta, and our berry meringue cake was stunningly good.
Fortified by the cake stop, we did a long cycle tour in the afternoon, stopping for a refuel at a cute little place in the middle of the Tiergarten – it had a meaty BBQ going for the carnivores and I had a nice plate of potato salad. In the evening we went to the Kreuzberg area near our hotel, which our airport taxi driver said was the trendiest part of town. Even at ten on a Monday the streets were lively and restaurants busy, with all types of food from Italian to Indian on offer.
We ate in Buddha’s Kitchen, a Thai place on Falckenstein Strasse. Summer roll and steamed bun starters were delicious, as was my tofu massoman served with heaps of crunchy slivered veg. (I forgot to take my camera out this night, boo). For a starter, main and alcoholic drink each the bill was just €21 which is quite amazing for food comparable to some much more expensive places in London. Afterwards we had yummy gelato ice cream from a big stall across the street.
Coffee shops in Kreuzberg
I loved how in general how many little eateries and coffee shops of good quality there are in the city, and liked how they don’t mind if you just want a drink or snack then move on. And of course, a city that loves its cake as much as Berlin does can’t be wrong.
All the places we went to are on my Google map. Posts on Berlin street art and the cycle tour coming soon, and lots more photos on Flickr.
Very much enjoyed my long weekend in Berlin. Just got my rolls of films back, here are a few snaps for a start. Keep an eye on my Flickr for lots more, and blog posts on Berlin’s food, street art and history coming soon..!