At first glance, Berlin appears extremely drab and dare I say it, quite dirty looking. Which was surprising considering its Germany’s capital. To be honest, spending time in another German city would not normally be my first port of call, however this trip was a trip of convenience. Having some time to kill between a back to back work trip, what I found was a gritty city that delighted the inner ghetto inside me. With the temperature quite cold for a low body fat carrying person such as myself, in addition to the sheer size of the place, I limited myself to some key areas to fully enjoy. Naturally I decided to forgo the usual tourist hotspots like the Brandenburg Gate and the plethora of museums, and opted for a more alternative experience. Enjoy the highlights below!
Staying in Ostbahnof was the ideal location to explore my preference of East Berlin and also be able to lightly touch the eastern area of Mitte, which is arguably the centre of Berlin. Walking through the commercial Alexanderplatz, you soon reach Hackesche Hofe. A posh but vintage open air market of sorts. The colours of the building are welcoming with pastel pink and yellow highlights, alerting you to the fact you’re in the vintage part of town now. Handcraft shops, courtyards to explore, trendy eateries and coffee shops provides a nice gentle start to the capital. Heading further north you soon hit Kastanienallee. A long straight street, continuing and emphasising the hipster trend with its vegan restaurants, old school vintage stores and local vibe. However the neighbourhood that won me over was Kreuzberg. Reminded me a lot of how Shoreditch in East London is now. Unfortunately it was apparent gentrification has happened. Nonetheless the vibe is pretty cool here, with its ethnic diversity, restaurants, bars, shisha lounges, not to mention any spare wall, even doors have been adorned with some kind of street art. Last but not least is Friedrichshain. Directly adjacent to Kreuzberg and linked by the pretty cool looking Oberbaumbrucke bridge, the most prominent introduction is easily the East Side Gallery.
Things to see, eat and drink
The East Side Gallery is a poignant stroll looking at the murals displayed on the stretch of the what is now the remaining parts of the fallen Berlin Wall. Don’t forget to see the riverside part of the wall where graffiti is passionately drawn. Heading north at the end of this stretch you must explore the Urban Spree where I believe the best examples of the city’s street art can be seen. The area is full of food trucks, old buildings converted into rave houses or recreational activities, perfect way to just admire the creativity on display. Close by was the only museum I wanted to check out being the old school geek I am; Computerspiele Museum. A treasure cove charting the history of video games through the ages with all the original machines on display, with even some great old arcades to play and reminisce. I absolutely adored the mock bedrooms from the 70s, 80s and 90s. As a child of two of those decades made me all warm inside as I grabbed an old Competition Pro joystick!
Keeping with the street theme, my dining options naturally edged towards to comfort food. Doner Kebab is the most popular fast food in Germany, like how curry is in the UK. Every corner there is a kebab house and all pretty much will serve your basic need of kebab wrap cravings. Hasir Burger is a small, heaving burger joint in the heart of Kreuzberg, juicy and delicious. Literally next door is Maroush, serving real Shwarma if you’re facing Doner fatigue. In all places, salad is optional.
No trip of mine would be complete without checking out one coffee spots. Berlin has no shortage of trendy third wave coffee houses so I was really spoilt for choice. The Barn, Funk You and 19 Grams were easy highlights each with their own distinctive decor and atmosphere. Whether you’re there to spark your creative flow, catch up with friends or take time out to just enjoy your coffee, each place service crazy deliciously smooth caffeine fixes.
As I’m sitting at Berlin Tegel airport reflecting back on the last days wondering if I actually enjoyed my time here. Solo travelling enabled me to just walk, explore and really admire all the amazing street art. Which probably deep down is one of the reasons I came here and the city does not disappoint in that regard whatsoever. Sellers of spray cans here must be doing extremely well. If I was in my 20s or even early 30s then for sure I would be addicted with its haven of raves, whilst still being relatively cheap compared to rest of Western Europe when it comes to to food and accommodation. With almost dismissing the city, it was when I saw the photo I took which headlines this article, I realised what Berlin was all about.
The wall that separated Berlin and indeed Germany, sometimes coined the wall of shame or the iron curtain, was a division formed to protect democracy. Freedom was provided at the end of the Cold War and fall of the Soviet Union. In the end, there was a reunification. I remember watching this moment as a child on the TV, people were crying of happiness. Soon, capitalism kicked in and sure enough Berlin became one of the hippest cities in Europe. And it is this. This spark. This hope that was provided with the fall of this death strip wall kickstarting a breeding ground of creativity and entrepreneurship. In the current climate of the world, where not only physical walls still trying to divide us but also moral walls that threaten our liberties. Seeing that colourful street art through the cracks of concrete, is the glimmer that we still have hope. Yes, I know it could be argued the freedom also invited violence and poverty. However seeing Berlin splattered with art, a thriving youthful, diverse energetic generation paving the way is what Berlin is truly about and represents. As always, I am blessed to have experienced it. Peace&Love.