TV Tower, April 2013. My six-night stay in Berlin was a memorable one for a few reasons. I rarely treat myself to fancy hotels, but when S and I booked this city break, we decided to get a swanky place right on Alexanderplatz, Berlin’s mammoth public square. It was a great central location, just a four-minute walk from Berliner Fernsehturm (The TV Tower). Climbing up to its lofty top floor, we were met with menacing grey skies, which rendered the resulting views pleasingly moody. I can still recall standing there gazing out across Germany’s capital, excited by the prospect of all the places we’d yet to discover. It was the first day of our trip and neither of us had any idea it would be our final holiday together.
Holocaust Memorial, April 2013. From Hitler’s Bunker and the Topography of Terror to Brandenburg Gate and The Reichstag, Berlin stands as a fascinating legacy of The Second World War. There are countless museums, a hatful of memorials and several excellent walking tours. And yet few of these experiences prove as sobering as the simplicity of The Holocaust Memorial (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe). A 4.7-acre complex of concrete slabs unveiled in 2004; construction took eighteen months and came at a cost of twenty five million Euros. For me, a wander through its narrow alleys was a strange and disconcerting experience, dwarfed as I was by endless rows of what felt like unmarked gravestones. For many it’s a detached and vague affair, so those seeking context and clarity can pay a visit to the site’s underground information centre.
Checkpoint Charlie, April 2013. In wild contrast to the thought-provoking oddness of The Holocaust Memorial, an altogether different vibe prevails at the tourist-infested cheekiness of Checkpoint Charlie. Hordes of visitors descend on this former Berlin Wall crossing point daily, to the point where many proclaim to be sorely disappointed with what they find. Grinning families pay to have their photo taken with mock guards, while more economically minded folk block the view with a skyline of evil selfie sticks. Still, a little imagination and it is possible to get a sense of the area’s Cold War history. To really lose yourself in all those escape attempts and learn more about the infamous 1961 standoff between US and Soviet tanks, duck into the nearby Berlin Wall Museum and battle the crowds for a serious dose of information overload.
Berliner Dom, April 2013. Cathedrals are cathedrals, right? Seen one… While I kinda agree with this sentiment, it’s hard not to be at least a little impressed by the scale of Berlin’s lavish and somewhat pompous Dom. Taking on multiple roles of museum, house of worship and concert hall, there’s enough going on here to satisfy even the most committed atheist. If gazing up at the ceiling’s dazzling mosaics quickly gets boring fear not, there are dead royals to pay respects to, a 7269 pipe organ to be in awe of and a 267-step climb for excellent views across the city. The Dom’s complex is massive and it’s pretty much access all areas, so you could easily spend an hour or so exploring.
Pratergarten, April 2013. Much like British food, German cuisine seems to have an undeservedly bad reputation. In a week spent in the German capital I had no culinary complaints at all. In fact the standout meal, by quite some distance, came at this traditional German restaurant and beer garden complex. Situated in the northeast district of Pankow, Pratergarten is a Berlin institution known for its efficient, friendly service and top-notch German chow. Washed down with giant mugs of Prater Pils, we opted for the incredibly tasty Wiener Schnitzel with potato salad and cucumber, alongside an equally divine bowl of Beef Goulash with bread dumplings. While by no means cheap (the bill came to around 50 Euros), with food and drink this good you’ll no doubt feel it was money well spent. Though it doesn’t look like much from the outside, the restaurant boasts an informal beer-hall vibe, while its beer garden (Berlin’s oldest) is chock-a-block with traditional tables and chairs nestled among the chestnut trees.