Travel insights from Jenna Buege, contributing editor of The Compass
A Millennial’s Berlin Travel Diary
Ah, Berlin, there really is no other city like it. A place where old and new come together in a perfect amalgam; Berlin's history is complicated and its people are resilient. To the east, a flock of naked sunbathers relax in the Tiergarten, Berlin's largest green space once reserved as Frederick the Great's hunting grounds. And to the west, Berliners and tourists alike gather at the East Side Gallery where a section of the Berlin Wall still remains intact, once a great symbol of division now covered in graffiti and street art.
Berlin is a night clubber's paradise, a history-buff's dream and an urban explorer's favorite new adventure. I had the pleasure of exploring this fascinating city in what I hope was the first of many adventures I'll have in Berlin. Here are some of the highlights.
Day 1: Original Berlin Walks
After recovering from a serious case of jet lag, I was ready to explore Berlin and what better way is there to learn about a new city than a walking tour? Enter Original Berlin Walks, a tour company that offers a variety of themed tours such as Discover Berlin, Hitler's Germany and even a Berlin Food Crawl. Wanting to get acclimated with my surroundings, I opted for the Discover Berlin tour which was a whopping five hours long, but totally worth it. I strapped on my comfiest footwear and took-in all of Berlin's most iconic sights, including the Brandenburg Gate, Museum Island, Hitler's Bunker, Checkpoint Charlie and much, much more. Best of all, the tour made a much-appreciated pit stop for beer and snacks halfway through.
Day 2: Exploring the Tiergarten
Nestled within the hustle and bustle of Berlin's favorite tourist attractions sits the abovementioned Tiergarten, a 500-acre park that acts as the city's favorite green space. I approached the Tiergarten with two goals in mind: 1. to soak up some awesome scenery and 2. to find some delicious beer, and I'm happy to report that both goals were easily met. While riding along on my rental ofo bike(a Beijing-based bike sharing company), I stumbled upon Café am Neuen See, a magical little beer garden on the park's far west side. After refreshing with a tall glass of Hefeweizen and a baked pretzel, I was ready to catch one more sight: the Siegessaule, aka the Victory Column.
The Victory Column was built by Heinrich Strack in 1873 and symbolizes the Prussians' victory over the Danish in the Danish Prussian war. The column also happens to be extremely photogenic.
Days 3 and 4: Museum Island
Home to five massive museums, Museum Island houses some of the most impressive collections of art, artifacts and architecture in the world. So, on days three and four of my trip I museum-ed hard and did my best to admire all that there is to see my favorites of which were the Ishtar Gate located in the famous Pergamonmuseum and the bust of Nefertiti at the charming Neues Museum. Something I found particularly interesting about this part of town was the mark World War II left on the buildings. If you look closely at the Neues Museum, you can still see bullet holes and fragments of the old building which was reduced to rubble amongst the destruction.
If there's one thing Berliners know how to do right, it's relaxing and drinking beer by the Spree. I hit up Ampelmann for some cold beers and enjoyed kicking back in one of the beach chairs that lined the grassy park. The restaurant came equipped with the perfect scenery as party boats slowly floated by on the river and the sun colorfully set behind Museum Island.
Day 5: Odds and Ends
Of course it wouldn't be a great vacation without indulging in some local delicacies, and of all the food I tried in Berlin, my favorite was currywurst from Curry at the Wall. Legend says that the creation of currywurst was something of a happy accident when Herta Heuwer combined weisswurst, curry powder, black pepper and tomato paste in an attempt to whip up a quick meal post World War II. To Herta's delight, it was a hit and currywurst remains a Berlin staple to this day.
In addition to a wealth of history and tasty food, the city of Berlin is also famous for being weird, wacky and wonderful. So, what was my strangest experience in Berlin, you ask? Easy: MonsterKabinett. Electronic music and animatronic creations paired with the commentary of a zany tour guide, this "interactive art exhibit" beneath the Hackesche Höfe was unlike anything I have ever seen before. We navigated our way through several rooms in a pitch dark basement where we were instructed to yell, "I love you Big Mama," to a large metal spiderlike creature before being corralled into a mirror maze with an almost comically lengthy live monster show conducted by a three headed beast.
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