For someone who sat through eight long years learning German at school, I spend frustratingly little time using the language or travelling in German speaking countries. My holidays tend to target warmer climates, mountains or exotic foreign cultures instead.
Visiting Berlin is a thought that has fascinated me for a long time though. The city’s special aura means to me a mesh of historical significance, contrasts of new and old, edginess and creativity. My three-day stay in Berlin tried to encompass them all in a short space of time.
To grasp a little piece of Berlin’s complex history, we took part in Sandeman’s walking tour. The tour is a great way to bring to life the grand buildings of East Berlin.
The tour is free but the guides work hard to be awarded tips. Our guide, Zabi, was an expert in telling stories about the World War I and II, Cold War and today’s Berlin. His final story about Günter Schabowski’s announcement on the 9th of November 1989 that people from East Berlin would be allowed to travel through crossing points between East and West was very gripping. Hearing it whilst sitting on the steps of St. Hedwig’s Cathedral just off Unter Den Linden was a very special experience.
An example of when the contrasts of the city were evident was when visiting the Holocaust Memorial. The vast monument of 2,711 stone monoliths offers a brief opportunity for Berlin residents and visitors to reflect how it feels like to be a victim. When walking between the multiple stones, one can quickly have a sense of complete solitude and helplessness in the face of ever growing obstacles and the disappearing outside world.
To feel part of Berlin’s edginess and creativity we decided to stay in the Mitte area. Our choice of hotel was Hotel Lux 11 Berlin which was regrettably a disappointment. I very much dislike hotels which run a “Ryan Air type” of pricing model where every little extra comes with a big price tag.
The hotel rooms cost c.£100 for a night, nevertheless, the hotel charges extra to get a remote control for the air conditioning unit, wi-fi or breakfast and has a very late check-in policy (starts only at 4pm). The rooms were quite nice and clean but I wasn’t a big fan of the doorless bathroom-bedroom combo – thankfully I was sharing the room with my boyfriend.
Unlike the hotel, the Mitte area didn’t disappoint. We loved browsing the area’s shops, restaurants and cafes. A few recommendations are listed below:
1. The Grand: From a restaurant, which is named something as ostentatious as ‘the Grand’, one does not expect any small, understated bistro. The Grand is definitely very smart, posh and luxurious thanks to its grandiose decoration, a champagne bar and a menu which includes everything from 800g steaks to lobster tails. Although all of this might sound quite stiff and pretentious, we had lovely time. Our waitress was super-corteous, the food was very good and the final bill didn’t end up as bad as we had feared.
2. Chen Che – Teehaus Berlin: One of the largest minority groups in Berlin are Vietnamese. Mitte area has taken a lot of influence from them and the choice for Vietnamese food is impressive. We had fantastic food in the lovely courtyard garden which felt every bit authentic Asian thanks to its decoration, tasty juice cocktails and local waiters.
3. Yamyam Berlin: This small Korean restaurant was probably our favourite in Berlin. The simple dishes were absolutely delicious and served in a very friendly and efficient manner. We couldn’t get over the fact how chilled it was to just simply take a seat on the terrace, listen to the quiet hum of the city and get food in front of you in no time. In London even simple things are often a struggle…
4. The Kitchen Cafe & Lounge: It could be a factor of having lived in the UK for too long, but a good breakfast for me always includes eggs. We struggled finding breakfast places in the Mitte area that fulfilled this criteria, but nevertheless, the Kitchen Cafe & Lounge ticked many other boxes. On a fantastic sunny morning, on their outside terrace, we enjoyed a lazy brunch drinking lattes and eating our tummies full from the buffet breakfast table. The choices included different types of German bread, charcuterie, cheese, fruit salad and Danish pastries.
5. Ruben Carla: We were drawn to have tasty “tagliata” in this Italian style bistro. This was just as well because the menu didn’t include much else! Totally worthwhile visit though if you are a carnivore.
6. Type Hype: Attached to our hotel was Type Hype which is a shop-cafe combination which serves small snacks and drinks. It was a nice place for an easy-going glass of wine or coffee as well as a place to shop for some arty styled stationary, small leather goods and posters.
7. Maedchenitaliener: We stopped to only have a drink on the terrace of Maedchenitaliener but our neighbours were enjoying delicious-looking plates of pasta or antipasti platters. We loved the atmosphere which was very relaxed and informal.
A long weekend in Berlin was just a chance to scratch the surface of the mighty city and I wish I could go back to see more of the art scene and museums. The few days were enough though to refresh my excitement about the German language though and remind me that something closer to home can be just as exciting as far flung places.
Hirtenstraße 4, 10178 Berlin
Chen Che – Teehaus Berlin
Rosenthaler Straße 13, 10119 Berlin, Germany
Tel: +49 30 28884282
Open: 12pm – midnight
Alte Schoenhauser Strasse 6, 10119 Berlin, Germany
Tel: +49 30 2463 2485
Linienstraße, 136 – 10115 Berlin Mitte
Tel: +49 30 2790 9683
The Kitchen Cafe & Lounge
The Circus Apartments, Choriner Straße 84, 10119 Berlin
Tel: +49 30 2000 3939
Lux 11 Berlin
Rosa-Luxemburg-Str. 9-13, 10178 Berlin
Tel: +49 3093 6280
Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße 9-13 in 10178 Berlin-Mitte
Alte Schoenhauser Strasse 12, 10119 Berlin, Germany
Tel: +49 30 40041787
(c) Nordic Odyssey 2014. All Rights Reserved.