Today marks ten years since I first set foot in the city of Berlin. Since then I have banged on about it regularly at quite some length, to anyone who is prepared to listen (a list which grows shorter with every passing day). And on this momentous anniversary, I’m afraid I’m doing it again. I won’t stop until everyone I know has visited at least once, so hurry up and get on with it, people!
My first visit was with my aviation geek friend Andrew, who wanted to see the new airport that was due to open that summer (ha!). So, if you ever get bored of me going on about Berlin, blame Andrew for introducing me to the place.
First impressions were not brilliant. We landed at the old Schönefeld Airport, which seemed to have been run-down in anticipation of the new airport opening. The attached railway station had zero customer-facing staff, just a row of ticket machines that accepted only cash or German debit cards, with very little explanation to the many arriving visitors of what ticket to buy or what train to catch.
Fortunately, things could only get better, and we had a splendid time wandering the city, visiting museums, riding the U-Bahn and spilling out of gay bars in the early hours of the morning (ahem). By the end of the trip, I was completely enamoured with the place.
It wasn’t until two years later that I returned for a solo visit. This time the focal point of the trip was to ride the CityNightLine sleeper from Berlin to Paris, which was due to be withdrawn at the end of December 2014. Before that, I managed to fit in a splendid amount of sightseeing.
Things started badly with a heavily delayed EasyJet flight which meant I lost my entire first evening in Berlin, not arriving until the small hours of the morning. Luckily my plans from day 2 onwards were not derailed, and I managed to fit in a trip to the Reichstag, the Computer Games Museum and a tour of the Olympic Stadium. I rounded off my visit with an exciting ride through the night from Berlin to Paris, for an onward Eurostar connection home.
I was back again in September 2016, this time as part of a two-stop itinerary – two days in Cologne followed by a further few days in Berlin. I remember booking this trip just a couple of days after the EU referendum, as if to make a statement that I still wanted to be connected to Europe, whatever 52% of my cuntrymen wanted.
Trains were involved again – this time on the outward journey, I used the superb Deutsche Bahn ICE service, whisking me across Germany in mere hours.
I packed a lot into those three days. I had a meal atop the TV Tower, visited the Stasi Museum, and took my friend Boris up the Victory Column. I also got a stamp on my hand that said “PANSY” at a drag queen karaoke night.
Berlin 2016, blogged: Just one post!
My third visit was two years later, in May 2018. As well as lashings of Currywurst, I visited the Checkpoint Charlie museum (where I got into a minor argument with their Twitter rep over their Ronald Reagan hagiography). I also enjoyed an LGBT walking tour of the city centre, seeing the city as it was experienced by Christopher Isherwood and his kind.
I also indulged in a spot of Freikörperkultur in the Tiergarten. There are no photos available of that (lucky for you).
I was back again in November 2019. A visit booked at quite short notice, as I noticed that November marked 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and there was a week-long celebration taking place in the city. It seemed the ideal time to visit.
The commemorative ceremony was indeed a special evening, a spectacular concert culminating with a firework display and (this is Berlin, after all) a techno rave.
Around that, I managed to squeeze in a trip to the U-Bahn Museum, the Bridge of Spies, an afternoon in nearby Potsdam, and the ramshackle Berlin Wall Treehouse. The trip nearly ended in disaster, as I lost track of time and arrived much later at the airport than planned, only just in time for my flight. I might have had to stay in Berlin for another night OH WHAT A SHAME.
Little did I know as I watched the fireworks explode that the world was a few months away from being plunged into crisis. The coronavirus pandemic put paid to a trip I was planning for summer 2020, and indeed any travel for quite some time. Berlin was particularly badly affected by the virus, and restrictions on travel meant that leaving the UK for any destination was a fanciful idea.
In November 2021, the rules on international travel had relaxed enough for me to pay a brief visit. The new airport, which we had originally hoped to use back in 2012, was finally open. This was also my first visit to Europe since Brexit went into full effect, so I got to wait in a queue at immigration for nearly an hour to get my passport stamped. THANKS FOR THAT, racists.
Although restrictions had been loosened, Berlin was still under the shadow of COVID, with masks worn everywhere, and I had to show proof of vaccination to get into my hotel and access any public building. Even operating on reduced power, the city still shone brightly. In my 48 hour stay I still managed to do a fair bit, including a ride on the new U5 underground line, and a visit to the Technology Museum.
Berlin 2021: I didn’t blog it, but check out this tweet thread about the U5 and a walk through the city, and some Instagram photos of the Technikmuseum.
So yes, I love Berlin. There is something to satisfy pretty much any interest – an… “interesting” history, fantasitc culture, decadent nightlife and amazing food and drink. Reminders of its dark past are everywhere, but modern Berlin is looking to the future.
The city is gentrifying rapidly – rents are going up and shopping malls and posh flats are proliferating where squats and dive bars used to be. But there is still – for now, at least – an edginess and unpredictability to the place that make a stay there an incredible experience. I can’t wait to go back, but I’ll have to, because I’m not going back until July 1st.
Berlin is possibly the only place, other than Liverpool, where I could see myself living happily. It’s unlikely that a full relocation will happen, but I’ll settle for visiting as often as possible. As I put it, back in 2012:
I am in love with Berlin. Not sure if it's a lasting love, but at the very least I'd like to stay with Liverpool and see Berlin on the side.
— Robert Hampton (@Hampo) June 3, 2012