The Dominion of Deutschland: Berlin
June 16, 2016.
With every new city or place, there’s a funny tingling sensation that comes along. The excitement of exploring what’s about to come – the flavours, sights, scents and soul of the city. This feeling generally leads me to the city centre in most cases, the heart of all the action. Only after I get to feel the pulse of the area, do I move to exploring the more offbeat, quirky places. And while the free walking tours do justice to the first part, I really recommend traveling with some local to get an authentic experience for the second part. For me, the travel companion took the form of an old college friend, who, by that time, had spent about 18 months in the city – sweet spot between a local and a traveler.
We decided to meet at the famed Brandenburg Gate and walked towards the German Reichstag, covering the usual suspects in between. We then stumbled upon this old, dilapidated, broken down area called RAW (pronounced ‘Air-à-Way’), and here’s where the fun began! RAW was essentially a derelict train repair yard, but which had been refurbished by street painters and artists. It was a colourful myriad of graffiti, skating rinks, parkour arenas etc. Next, we were off to the much talked about East Side Gallery (aka Berlin Wall). Vibrant, lively and full of murals, graffiti, caricatures and paintings – some political, some historical and some straight up hilarious.
We then explored the Hackescher Markt located in the central Mitte neighbourhood. Easily one of the best set of boutiques (apparel, antiques, cafés and other quirky shops) you’ll come across, with a good mix of local street food (more on that shortly) thrown in. Shoutout to the CRAZY tie studio which housed a rainbow of alluring ties – all of which, ofcourse, highly unaffordable.
I truly believe, that the fun of traveling lies in its spontaneity. It’s the unexpected moments of a trip – for better or for worse – that you’d remember the most. We had our dose of spontaneity when we found ourselves at the doors of the Berlin Konzerthaus! Safe to say, what followed were the best couple of hours of the day. Witnessing a large number of very elegantly dressed people certainly piqued our curiosity, and we followed them to the ticket counter of the Konzerthaus. As we’d guessed, there was a big-name symphony orchestra about to play. Wonderful exhibition of old school western classical music.
TIP: Always carry any sort of student ID, if you can. We purchased the €100 tickets for €20, thanks to our (expired!) student ID cards.
The next morning, I had some time to myself, before my friend could join me again. I thought I’ll make use of it by exploring the rich history of Deutschland. So, I headed to the city museums. Now, for a history fanatic, you couldn’t be at a better place. Berlin has loads of museums – you could potentially spend days exploring them. But if I were to recommend you one museum which really stands out for me – it has to be the Jewish Museum. Not only is the architecture extremely peculiar (it has multiple buildings in an axial formation), it is one of the most moving eulogies on the Jews, especially the children. A must visit, if you ask me.
One of the best ways to explore the city would be to hop on the 100 or 200 City Bus Routes, and just devour from the window. Get off at whichever stop seems interesting, and just walk around that area! I traveled through the Mitte, the Alexanderplatz, TV Tower et al in this way. By early evening, my friend had rejoined me and we decided to head to one of the many parks the city has to offer: Mauerpark. People enjoying their barbeque grills, live music, groups playing football – this park had the entire range of shenanigans. But the best part of the day was about to come.
Berlin has an underground scene of sorts – not of music, or of contraband – but of indoor sports. That’s right. Garages and underground alleyways of table tennis and carrom rooms! Spray-painted rooms full of people with beer glasses in one hand and a TT racket in the other. Oh what a sight to behold! Ofcourse I had to play. How could I not? Probably one of the best experiences in Berlin.
Our final stop for the night was back to where we had started our sojourn from: RAW. Albeit, this time it was for something different. It was as if a chameleon had changed colours. The RAW experience in the night is lightyears away from our time there during the day. Chalk and cheese! Music, lights, dance, party and all that jazz – RAW turns itself into one of the hottest nightlife scenes in downtown Berlin. So much so, that there are no cameras allowed. It is nuts! No stopping the party till the sun comes up.
Street food and Nightlife
Unlike other cities like Prague or Amsterdam, where the cafés steal the show, I really found Berlin to be one place where the street food rules the roost.
Let’s start with Berlin’s favourite snack: Pretzels! No dearth of pretzels around the city. Quite literally, every nook and corner has small shops selling freshly baked ones. You’ll even find enterprising locals selling a variety of flavoured pretzels – right from cheesy varieties to outrageous options like avocado and Bombay masala pretzels (not kidding!) My favourite, though? The classic fresh ones sold from street-side wicker baskets with the right amount of saltiness. Ravishing!
But the fuel that Berlin runs on? Bratwurst and Currywurst. After all, you’re in the land of wursts! Traditionally consumed by factory workers in 20thcentury Germany, this dish is now an integral thread in the fabric of Deutsche culture. Once again, no shortage of wursts across locations and price ranges. Enjoy them with the Berlin “senf” and you’ll swear by this dish for life!
But the fuel that Berlin runs on? Bratwurst and Currywurst.
Finally, the Turkish Döner Kebabs. With so many Turks in the city, their influence on the culinary palate is inevitable. And if the result is anything to go by, Berliners would only be thankful. The beauty of Döner Kebabs is in its versatility. It can be consumed as a fast food, or something to munch on-the-go, or as a full-fledged meal. Look out for authentic Turk shops to get the best experience.
I will elaborate more on the nightlife of Berlin specifically in the post dedicated to the party scenes across various cities in Europe (coming soon). For accommodation options, do checkout the post on hostels, AirBnBs and couchsurfing across Europe (coming super-soon).
Till then, hope you’ve enjoyed coming along with me (vicariously) to this brilliant city. If you did, do check out the blog posts too.