It had been far too long – nearly 15 months – since I last visited Berlin. It was high time for a revisit. So on 8th October we boarded a flight at Manchester Airport for the hop across Europe to Germany’s capital.
This time I had my boyfriend Ben in tow, for his first visit to mainland Europe (and his first time flying Ryanair – talk about a baptism of fire)
I get nervous when introducing people to Berlin. I rave about the place so much that I worry the place will not live up to the high expectations I have set.
As usual, I needn’t have worried. Ben was just as entranced by the place as I am.
Things didn’t get off to the most auspicious start upon arriving at the airport, where I led Ben to the wrong platform to catch the train into the city centre. This proved to be a recurring theme of the trip. I had boasted about how I knew Berlin like the back of my hand. Unfortunately I was wearing gloves, and guided us to the wrong U-Bahn, bus stop or street on several occasions.
We started with a visit to the Berliner Dom which disappointingly is not a specialty nightclub, but the grand Berlin Cathedral. Whatever you think of organised religion, there’s no doubt that it has inspired some fine architecture over the years, and Berlin’s Lutheran cathedral is no different.
For the princely sum of 10 Euros you can wander around its innards and see the coffins of King Frederick and his consort, Sophie Charlotte, which are on view just by the exit to the gift shop.
From the cathedral it was just a short hop across the river to the DDR Museum. This was my third visit to this museum, but I was happy to share it with Ben. The warts and all story of life in the former East Germany remains an interesting way to while away a few hours. Trabants, the Palast der Republik, Freikörperkultur, all covered in detail. The model of the Berlin Wall remained a chilling sight.
In the evening, we headed to the Philharmonie Berlin to see a performance by the Berliner Symphoniker. Excitingly, we were bring treated to a world premiere: Alexey Shor’s Konzert für Klavier und Orchester Nr. 1. Beautiful stuff, and a side to Berlin I’ve never seen before. This is where having a classical music fan for a boyfriend is useful – I get to experience new things.
Day 2 started with a trip to Checkpoint Charlie. A poignant moment for Ben, whose grandfather served in Berlin in the 1960s – in his words, patrolling the Wall before it was a wall.
We then visited the The Checkpoint Charlie Museum. The stories of those who tried to escape remain as daring and inspiring as ever.
Since my last visit, the museum has been brought up to date with an exhibit on the current war in Ukraine, a reminder that oppression and violence are sadly not things of the past.
We finished off our Berlin Wall-themed morning with a trip to the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Straße — a poignant tribute to those who died trying to escape to the West.
In the afternoon, we headed to The Pergamon Museum. This museum of ancient cultures has since closed for refurbishment, so this would be our last chance to visit until 2043(!)
Unfortunately we barely scratched the surface of what the museum had to offer. Having explored the ancient civilisations of the Far East, the exertions of the day started to catch up with us. We ended our visit prematurely, having not even finished the ground floor of the museum. Still, there’s always next time… oh.
In the evening I headed out solo to explore the Festival of Lights. Every October, Berlin lights up its buildings in a spectacular show of lights and sound. It’s a huge exhibition, sprawling across the entire city, and I had to hurry from one exhibit to the other to try to see as many as possible.
My whirlwind tour took in the Brandenburg Gate:-
The Berliner Dom, again:-
The TV Tower in Alexanderplatz:-
I just made it to St Hedwig’s Cathedral before the lights were switched off at 11pm prompt.
Our third day saw us head to Friedrichstraße. We weren’t heading for the very fine railway station, but rather the adjacent pier for a ride on Reederei Winkler boat cruise.
After all the walking we had done over the past couple of days, it was quite a nice change to sit and let the city glide past. The weather was fine, so we sat on the upper open deck and enjoyed some drinks served at our seat.
The afternoon took us to the Stasimuseum. The old Stasi headquarters, tucked away in a harmless-seeming suburb of East Berlin, is now a museum to the vast, oppressive surveillance operation that saw every citizen of East Germany monitored to ensure their loyalty to the state. In these bland offices, decisions were made that affected countless lives, as orders were issued that saw dissenters threatened, arrested or worse.
The evening saw us head to the TV Tower, where we had dinner booked in the Sphere Restaurant, 207 metres above ground level. Fine dining as the twinkling lights of the Berlin cityscape slowly revolved below us – what could be better? An augmented reality app allowed us to see on our phones exactly what we could see from the window.
I haven’t even mentioned the gorgeous food we ate, not just at the Sphere but everywhere else too (I was approximately 90% schnitzel and currywurst by the end of the trip) nor the pub we visited where all the waiters were dressed in lederhosen (ahem).
So, that was Berlin, and it was as wonderful and exciting as ever. Ben has developed a taste for European travel, so we are looking at options for city breaks in 2024. There’s a whole continent just a short flight — or, dare I say it, a train ride? — away. The big question is… where to next?
(I’m thinking maybe Berlin)