Berlin Wall. Cold War. WW2. Edgy. Raw. Under Construction. Historic. Cold. Rainy. Doner Kebabs. Beer Shops. Moving forward. Future City. This is how we would describe our week in Berlin.
We were excited to come to Germany’s capital city, a large international destination that only 27 years ago was separated in two by a menacing wall. An actual brick and concrete wall designed to prevent humans scaling it. A city that is slowly rebuilding its character and reputation. Numerous projects are in full swing, most of the central Alexanderplatz area is behind scaffolding as the U5 tunnel is underway, connecting the underground subway across the centre. Cranes can be seen all around the inner city, putting up modern apartment buildings and fancy office spaces. In contrast huge vacant, communist era structures lay dormant, covered in graffiti, filled with crafty squatters, waiting for the wrecking ball. An abandoned airport has been given a breath of new life, turned into parklands and creative space whilst an amusement park on the River Spree, once a sight to be seen, waits to see its own fate.
Even though the weather was absolutely dismal, freezing and rainy for four out of five days, we still were able to walk around the major sights on foot and thoroughly enjoy ourselves. Here are some ideas for DIY walking tours in the inner city suburbs of Berlin.
This inner city suburb is where we stayed in a cozy Airbnb share space. An area undergoing gentrification with lots of young couples and new families. It’s also full of cool places to eat and drink. There are cheap eats too – grab yourself a currywurst (simply German sausage dowsed in curry powder and tomato sauce) or a Doner Kebab (apparently not a middle eastern food at all but a German invention). There are the Wörtherstraße markets on Thursdays from 12-7pm and just around the corner is the KulturBrauerei, an old brewery that closed in the 1960’s and is now a creative space with a theatre, cinema, cafes and beer gardens.
This area also boasts the Mauer Park, a great spot for summer sun bathing, events and karaoke festivals. It also has a graffiti wall where artists can practice their crafts.
A big drawcard for tourists is the street of Bernauer Straße, where the Berlin Wall once stood. There are numerous sections of the wall that are now interactive memorials with gardens, images/photos, written information and audio. A section of the wall remains complete, as it would have looked with original guard tower and equipment.
The free Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer and Dokumentationszentrum museums are well curated, with artifacts and stories from survivors and locals. Climb (or take the lift) up to the lookout for views over the original wall. A very sombre and humbling experience.
This is the centre of Berlin with numerous tourist sites including the 365 meter TV Tower (Fernsehturm) located in the large public square Alexanderplatz, the Berlin Cathedral and Museum Island. When we were in town the annual Festival of the Lights was in full swing projecting animation and light shows onto the TV Tower every evening. A pop up Oktoberfest was also in this area close by to lots of shopping malls and cafe strips.
Just be aware that Alexanderplatz is surrounded by scaffolding and construction sites as the U5 subway station and tunnel system is being built to connect and extend the subway across Berlin.
Friendrichshain Eastside Gallery and Kreuzberg
The hipsters all hang out in these trendy suburbs that are full of bars and cafes to eat and drink and cool boutiques for shopping. There’s also lots of parks and gardens to chill out in and street art to inspire. Our favourite park was Görlitzer with lots of grassy spaces perfect for picnicking.
The Eastside Gallery is located in the suburb of Friedrichshain close to the river Spree and the ornate bridge Oberbaumbrücke. This is a must see – sections of the Berlin Wall that have been transformed into an open air art gallery full of murals. The art is socially and politically motivated and dates back to 1991 a few years after the collapse of the wall. We went a couple of times as it’s awesome and free!
The Tiergarten and its surrounds is where to go for politics and history. Here you will find the Reichstag Building – the German Parliament. Visits to the roof terrace and dome of this ornate building are free but must be registered in advance through their website.
After you have seen the spectacular views of Berlin, it’s a short walk to the Tiergarten, Berlin’s most popular inner city park, where you can stroll through manicured gardens, past lakes and wooded greenery.
Once your soul is calm you can then visit all the war memorials, museums and remnants of the Berlin Wall. These include the Soviet War Memorial, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Topography of Terror Museum and Checkpoint Charlie. All free to visit and although not very pleasant, are an important part of Berlin (and Germany’s) past.
Whatever you end up doing, Berlin is a city to watch. Throwing off the shackles of yesteryear, the people are heading towards a future which shines as brightly as the Fernsehturm on a clear night.