The city called out for me and I obeyed. In the streets of Berlin I wake up after a long winter sleep.
I have no yelling Irish man next to me crying Ich bin ein Berliner – the famous quote from John F. Kennedy when he spoke in Berlin in 1963. Instead I am sitting alone in a small pizza place in the district of Prenzlauer Berg enjoying a peaceful moment with a glass of rosé wine in my hand and a three Euro pizza. Alle Pizzen, 3 Euro the sign outside says, and it is correct. The pizza comes in platter-size Italian version and tastes ok.
Apart from a mother and daughter, an amorous couple are sitting next to me, and when they’re not kissing, they eat pizza. Looks like they don’t have that much to talk about yet.
I’m feeling happy. It’s been a long tedious winter and slowly it flows out of me as I take in new impressions from a city I have not seen in 15 years. The area here reminds me of Grünerløkka in Oslo, but seems a little more laid back. I see mums passing by on their old bicycles with a small cargo bay in front where they have placed their kids and shopping bags. Everywhere, people seem to be eating ice cream or chatting over a beer at one of the many cafes and pubs. Ah, I like it here!
Especially when I find Frarosa, a bar which I had read about beforehand somewhere. I pay two Euros, get a wine glass and then I help myself from the selection of bottles that are on the counter. It is like being at a friend’s house. While I enjoy the different wines, I study the painting on the wall and wonder for a moment if Quentin Tarantino has ever been here. The music is kind of his style … and I like it. In fact – I like everything about this place and I’m glad that it’s so close to my hostel.
Last time I was in Berlin, it was with my school. Apart from a visit to the Pergamon Museum (where all the girls crowded around a male statue, which was said to have the perfect body – well, his ass was certainly something!), visiting historic sites was not really included. This time I finally get to visit Checkpoint Charlie – a former border between the American and Soviet sectors back when Berlin was divided. The museum deals with the Wall’s history and shows the most incredible ways people managed to escape from East to West. I feel a touch of claustrophobia when I leave there. The thought of lying coiled inside a suitcase…
Potsdamer Platz is located not too far away, so when I decide to walk over there I pass the remains of the wall. Gray and porous it is captured by the numerous tourists who have either walked here or pass in one of the many sightseeing buses. Other ways to see the popular sights of Berlin is to hire one of the old Trabant cars. Today, they are painted in bright colours, and with the sign Trabi Safari.
The Potsdamer Platz construction had hardly begun when I was last here, but now the modern buildings are finished and house restaurants, cinemas, shopping centres and casinos, to name a few.
While here I long to be back in the part of town I came from, Prenzlauer Berg, with it’s charm, soul and high density of cafes. I decide to walk back to the hostel. U-bahn would have been better for my feet, but then I’d be missing out on some hot spots!
I wander up to the Brandenburg Gate, head along Unter den Linden to the Radisson Blu Hotel and view the giant Aqua Dome inside. 25 meters high, with one million litres of water. It is the highlight of the Sea Life Discovery Tour – a tour which, among other things, takes you in the elevator that goes up through the giant aquarium. I skip the whole tour.
Sunday I start the day with a stroll in Mauer Park market. There are several markets in the city that day, and I had originally planned to head down to the Tiergarten.
– No, I would recommend you go here instead, says the receptionist in my hostel and scribbles directions on a map for me. When I later have a chat with an Indian guy at one of the stalls in the market he nods his head in agreement. – Tiergarten is very professional, he says, – but this one is more … alternative … nicer… I have to agree, especially when I enjoy a glass of mango lassi from one of the stalls, while I study interesting and colourful crafts. And people, of course.
I feel that my experiences in this city get a little weather dependent. Of course, it is no fun to trudge around in the rain no matter where you are, but here the city seems to turn extra gray when it clouds over. It’s like the dark part of its history will have a last breath. Maybe I am standing in the wrong spot in town. I think it is rather depressing when I stand at the Ostkreuz station waiting for the S-bahn to take me to Warschauer Strasse. This is where I will find the East Side Gallery. Worn out buildings and almost grotesque rail lines that intersect in the little green that is…
It feels a little better down by the East Side Gallery. In front of me, I have now the world’s longest outdoor gallery. 1300 metres of Berlin wall that a number of international artists had decorated, shortly after the border between East and West fell. This is where you’ll find the famous image of Brezhnev and Honecker kissing – Kiss of Death – painted by Dmitry Vrubel.
I’m sitting alone on the cold concrete floor looking up towards the thin sliver of light 25 meters above me. When the heavy door closed behind me, I tried to imagine being really trapped in that room – for a long time.
This room is called the Holocaust Tower, and belongs to the Jewish Museum. As with the wall, the Jewish situation during the war and their part in history, cannot be missed while in Berlin.
When I leave the room I feel slightly dizzy for a moment, as the hall leading to other parts of the museum has floors that oddly slope. The architecture of this museum is really fascinating and kind of an attraction in itself.
I enter another area and find a plastic tree where people have hung pomegranate-shaped cards with greetings on. Pomegranate apple is an important symbol in Judaism. I pick up a card and hang it on the tree signed All You Need is Love – Soletraveller.
Berlin has many faces. Flashy and monumental buildings, hard communist blocks and the more charming apartment buildings in bright colours. In Kreutzberg I find more of these, in addition to a lovely small food market on Marheinecke Platz.
A lady here gives me some pieces of cheese to taste and she speaks so fast about the different cheeses and their prices, that I never get to indicate that I do not speak German. Now it’s too late. She will definitely be mad at me if I tell her now, so instead I slowly move away from her with a stupid smile.
Just like Prenzlauer Berg, I like this part of town too. I do not see as many cafes here, but here I also feel the lovely and relaxed atmosphere. The sun feels warm today I walk around with a smile on my face.
A girl and her Visa card. It should lead to some shopping. I have visited several shops. But the motivation to do this is simply not present. I do not feel like running in and out of fitting rooms, so I soon find myself out on the street again. That is until I find Studio 54, a strange and worn building. I hear music coming out from here while standing out in the Oranienstrasse and curious, I walk into the backyard. Here I find a remarkable gallery of characters made from iron. There is also a cafe and bar. Here I order a late but well deserved lunch. The sun feels great. Soon glüwein and pasta bolognese are on the table. The whole place reminds me of… Christiania in Copenhagen! When I notice the sweet smell of a spliff from somewhere, it is all clear to me. Christiania, for sure.
– In Australia we have small and sloppy asparagus, but here! BIIIIG asparagus. BIIIG strong women peal the BIIIIG asparagus …!!! I’m at Kookaburra Comedy Club laughing at the comedian on stage.
The German asparagus are quite big, she’s right. Very good too. The night before, I went out with a couple of Canadians from the hostel and ended up in a nice place in Oderbergerstrasse, where they served the best asparagus soup I have ever tasted.
I really enjoyed myself in all the cafes and pubs I chose to visit, whether it was for a beer or a snack. Music, atmosphere, people… – I think it is a great way to observe a city and its nerve. Needless to say my legs feel this is an excellent idea too, because my trip to Berlin is hereby named Berlin on a shoestring, shamelessly copied from Lonely Planet.
I flew with Ryan Air from Rygge to Berlin Shönefeld.
Price: 295, – incl. all taxes.
Train (S9) from airport to city centre costs € 2.80 when you buy an ABC card that applies for the three zones, A, B and C. (A Zone is the centre)
When I wasn’t walking from A to B I mostly travelled by U-Bahn. There are several solutions. I bought four tickets in one go for € 8,- It was less expensive than individual tickets at € 2.20 each. A ticket is valid for 120 minutes. See www.bvg.de