This weekend, I spent in Berlin with my man. Friday, we took a direct train from Amsterdam, and six hours later our train pulled in at Berlin Hauptbahnhof.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you: Berlin is an impressive city in terms of history and there’s a lot to see, but it isn’t the most beautiful or uplifting city there is in Europe… It’s not as breezy and light as Barcelona or Porto is for instance due to its tumultuous past, yet for that exact same reason, it does have this fascinating air of secrecy about it.
Berlin has a long and complicated history, marked by separation, war, holocaust, Nazism and revolution. Because a lot of these events are fairly recent (the Berlin Wall only came down in 1989) it still feels a bit like this is weighing the city down, perhaps also due to the many landmarks referring to them.
On the positive side, you’ll find beautiful parks with lots of green throughout the place, there are loads of quirky bars and cafes, you can shop til you drop and it’s an expressive and creative city too: street art (often on remaining pieces of the wall) is everywhere around you and the underground music scene is huge.
The hobbit, having a great interest in both World Wars and spy novels, spotted the Berlin Spy Museum from the taxi so he wanted to see that. Berlin is the perfect place for this museum, due to that above mentioned air of secrecy. It shows some interesting relics and fascinating stories about real spies who operated throughout the years and during the wars, but also shows some items from well-known fictional spies.
From there, we walked to Check Point Charlie, the most famous crossing point from East to West Berlin. In the current day and age, it’s also one of the most touristy places, with actors dressed up as soldiers for photograph purposes, dodgy looking people trying to hustle tourists for (possibly non-existing) tours and other shady characters playing the cups game with ignorant foreigners.
It feels a bit like nothing is sacred anymore; people were killed here trying to cross this border and while you’re letting all that history sink in at the information panels, people are trying to rip you off. Then again, this happens in every city at tourist attractions, so I probably shouldn’t hold this against Berlin.
First time visitors to Berlin shouldn’t skip a walk from the impressive Reichstag building to Brandenburger Tor and over Unter den Linden, the most famous boulevard of Berlin which will offer you a lot of famous sights in one go.
I had been to Berlin before, but I had never seen the East Side Gallery, a 1.3 km long open air art gallery with 105 pieces of art along the river Spree, a 10 minute tram ride away from the City Centre.
The area where this is located isn’t the prettiest, but you’ll get a good impression of the size of the wall and the political statements on it speak volumes.
Will I be going back to Berlin next year? Probably not, but if you’ve never been, it most certainly is a very interesting place to visit from a historical perspective.