I first went out to Berlin with school four years ago and fell in love with the city. Since then I’ve been back every year with school and most years returned on my own steam as well (it’s a dead cheap flight from Bristol). As a history nerd it’s a veritable treasure trove. Plus it has a very impressive and affordable public transport system and compared to other European capitals is very cheap.
This site is normally exclusively about history teaching but this post won’t be. It has some history but instead this is unashamedly a love letter to my favourite city. I’ve just got back from a week in Berlin and below are my top ten favourite things from the trip. This top ten does not include the more obvious things (Brandenburg Gate, Holocaust Memorial, Soviet Memorial, DDR Museum etc.) which are all good but we’ve done these bits before. Instead this is a selection of personal things I loved. Lots of these, but not exclusively, come from the excellent 100 Favourite Places by Slow Travel Berlin, which is well worth buying if you are going to Deutschland soon.
So in no particular order at all:
1. Freiluftkino Friedrichshain
There are a few outdoor cinemas in Berlin throughout the summer. We went to the Friedrichshain one in Volkspark. It’s a beautiful spot where you sit in a grassy bowl to watch a movie with a few thousand others. The films are either in English or German with English subtitles (great if your Deutsch isn’t that gut) and they sell popcorn and beer. What more could you want.
Wannsee is a large lake outside of Berlin. It is easily accessible from the city by S-bahn or the Deutsch Bahn trains and is covered in a normal day ticket. It’s a really lovely spot surrounded by forests where you feel like you’re nowhere near the city. Just north of the town is Wannsee Strandbad, a 100 year old lido, that is full of 1930s charm. There is a lovely beach, a flume in the lake and you can hire “beach baskets” which are big old shaded chairs which is great. Being opposite the Wannsee Conference House it is an odd experience, but well worth a visit.
3. Mauerpark Bearpit Karaoke
Every Sunday in Mauerpark, a former death strip in Prenzlauer, from 3pm a sound system is dragged into the amphitheatre and the karaoke begins. When we were there last Sunday there must have been a couple of thousand people sat there watching. It was great. Some people were amazing, some were dreadful, most were hilarious. Sat in the sun, with a beer, I can’t imagine many places more entertaining.
The 1.4 kilometers of Bernauer Strasse in the middle of Berlin have been turned into a memorial to the Wall. I’d never been to this bit of Berlin before the trip and was really impressed by the scale of the project. All along the street are very detailed information panels. There is a section of the wall that has been preserved with the death strip behind that really makes it clear how vast this oppression was. In the places where the wall has been removed are rusting metal bars as in the photo on the left. Well worth a visit.
5. Märchenbrunnen, Volkspark
I like a good old fountain and this one is a right weird one. Meaning fountain of fairytales, this one is found in Volkspark in Friedrichshain. It’s vast and surrounded by statues representing different fairy tales. It’s very curious – there are lots of dogs seemingly swimming in bowls. If you like weird, you’ll enjoy it. And if anyone can tell me what fairytale the statue to the right is I’ll give you a prize as I have no clue.
Tempelhof Airport ceased operations in 2008 and since then has been used by Berliners as a park. It’s a vast abandoned airport where nature is slowly taking back over and is fantastic. This is the airport that was used by the Nazis during the war and the Americans during the airlift so is oozing history. Out on the airfield you can hire bikes, skates or go-karts (our preferred option) and ride down the runway.
7. Buchwald Konditorei
I like cake. Buchwald Konditorei does very good cake. It specialises in Baumkuchen (tree cake) that is made up of lots of layers of very thin cake that when cooked looks like rings of a tree. It’s scrumptious. Plus their garden sat next to the Spree was really pleasant in the sun.
When Hitler ordered Speer to redesign Berlin as Germania he realised that he needed to test to see if the sandy Berlin soil could hold the vast structures he was planning. The Schwerbelastungskörper (“heavy load bearing body”) is the remains of this test. This vast concrete cylinder in the Berlin suburbs is a bizarre reminder of Germany’s dark past. Surprisingly well worth a visit – if you like massive bits of concrete at least!
Clärchens in Mitte is an old ball house from the early twentieth century that is full of ramshackle Berlin weirdness. It’s a restaurant (delicious Spätzle) and a nightclub. The main room is a vast ballroom that was full of the most random mix of people I’ve seen out for a long time – grannies, kids etc. It has a large feeling of Phoenix Nights or a really odd wedding.
Saving the best til last. Over the last two holidays my girlfriend and I have been cycling the MauerWeg, a trail that follows the route of the Berlin Wall – all 160 kilometres of it. It’s pretty well signposted throughout (although I’d buy the guidebook as in places it’s not great) and really makes you realise how huge and ridiculous this structure was. Throughout the route there are information panels, particularly to the people who lost their lives at the wall and lots to see – which is why it took us five days to get round. As a cycle ride it’s really good though as it’s so varied. There is lots of urban riding, but also vast sections along canals, through forests, around lakes and you even get to ride a ferry at one point. With the Berlin transport system it’s dead easy too – we simply got the S-Bahn or U-Bahn back to the centre each day and cycle hire in the city is cheap as chips (11 euros for the day seems to be the going rate).