I went to Berlin last month! It was my third trip to this grittily artsy city, still emerging from the everything, all these years after 1989. 1989! I still remember my German aunt, married to my American uncle, convinced that the world was going to end the night the wall came down.
I went to Berlin for the first time in 1993. What I remember most about that visit is the massive cranes, hovering above the rooftops. They were everywhere.
In Berlin in 2015, I met up with my friend Karen. We got our MBAs together at the University of Chicago back in 2004. She lives in Geneva now with her husband and two kids, but she had a weekend free and wanted to go somewhere sans kids so up we met.
The German language was what had brought us together in the first place. I had studied at the Uni Innsbruck in Austria many years ago. (20 years ago?How did that happen?) She, Freiburg. Not that speaking German matters anymore in Berlin. Everyone, and I mean everyone, speaks English. And so much better than I do German, despite my many years of superintensiv Deutsch.
It was hot when we visited. So hot. 100 degrees Fahrenheit, plus some. Words cannot explain. So don’t got to Berlin when it’s hot. Most restaurants don’t have air conditioning, and public transport doesn’t either. But also remember that I am American and I’m sensitive to a lack of AC.
But go to Berlin for all the other reasons. This was the Paris of the East then. This is the City of the East now. This is a big city, a large city…a London, a New York. The public transport is awesome and amazing and efficient. The city is massive and sprawling and beautiful. Everything is gorgeous. Berlin is gorgeous. Gorgeous and efficient! I want to live there. I think I might live there.
Here’s where we went, what we did, and what we thought…
Things to See and Do…
Discover Berlin Half-Day Walking Tour: Taking a walking tour of Berlin when it is 100 degrees Fahrenheit is not a wise idea. We lasted two hours before we left to get lunch. The tour was at its half-way mark when we departed. We loved our tour guide Philippa (a Brit expat), but we hated the heat. This is a very good value tour, which is great, but it also means that there will be 50 people on your tour, which is not so great. However, for the value-conscious, it’s worth it.
The DDR Museum: This is a small museum dedicated to life in East Germany before the wall came down. If you like old-school branding, this is the place for you. I loved it here and it only took us about an hour to absorb everything, maybe less.
Kreuzberg Food & Street Art Tour: This is a tour with a lot of potential but for me, it just didn’t live up to its value. We ate a lot of nice things but our tour guide, while entirely pleasant, was not very informative or interesting. Street art was discussed in a very minimal way. (I had to point out the Endless that I saw when we crossed the bridge into Kreuzberg!) Someone could have just given me a list of these places and I could have had just as good a time. (Although we enjoyed talking with the two other girls on our tour.) The reviews online for this are fantastic so I think we just got a bad guide. The places we stopped were great though.
Where to Eat and Drink…
Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg: One of the highlights of my trip was a Thursday night visit to Markthalle Neun. It’s similar to Maltby Street market and Lewisham’s Model Market. I drank some great beers at Heidenpeters and has some delicious snacks from the many vendors. The only downside was a lack of seating. Be ready to stand, a lot. (Which is a German thing. They love the tall tables.)
Lunch at Schwarzwaldstube in Mitte: We had plans to go somewhere else for lunch, but that establishment (who shall remain nameless) ignored us forever, so we decamped for Shwarzwaldstube and boy were we glad we did. This is simple, hearty delicious German food served in an environment somewhat akin to your elderly aunt’s front room. I loved it here and could have sat there forever, watching the people go by. However, it was 100 degrees Fahrenheit (have I mentioned the heat) and we needed some AC. Very relaxed, very perfect. (And yes, it is sort of funny that we went all the way to Berlin to eat food from the Black Forest but we didn’t really care about that.)
Dinner at Alarabi in Friedrichshein: In an effort to beat the heat, Karen and I waited until dusk to head over to Friedrichshein for dinner. Friedrichshein is rocking late at night. Crazy! We had some tentative ideas on where to eat, but stumbled across an outdoor table at Alarabi and quickly fell in love with the idea of Lebanese food. (Karen doesn’t get much in Geneva.) Alarabi is a nondescript place on a street crowded with restaurants. When our platter of food arrived, we were pleasantly surprised by the quality, the value and overall, the taste. We had a great time here which just goes to show you…don’t judge by appearance alone.
Murat La Barba, Mitte: We totally lucked out with this place. It was AWESOME. I had a huge heaping plate of pork medallions and delicious mushrooms, all washed down with some lovely Italian rose. I liked the simplicity of the space and the friendliness of the staff and would gladly eat here again and again.
Ottorink Wine Bar, Kreuzberg: Another highlight of the trip! After our food tour, I convinced Karen to come with me to this lovely little wine bar in Kreuzberg. (That had been my one request of the trip: visit a German wine bar.) We asked the barman how old he was when the Berlin Wall fell and he shared his amazing stories of the day. We liked it so much here that we went back to our hotel to cool off for a few hours and then came back for dinner.
Seriously, guys, I had such a great time in Berlin even though it was 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Imagine how much fun I would have had if it were cooler! It is a great city and one I can easily see myself living in. Maybe next year…