Tips for top terraces

Tips for top terraces

Rooftop terraces are all the rage in Berlin this summer. Clear blue evening skies, with just wisps of pink cloud promising more fine weather for the following day, provide a perfect backdrop for sundowners.  The legendary Berliner Luft and the vast Himmel über Berlin have magical qualities and combine to create a heady mixture.  And the views are to die for. Here are just some of the places you can go to chill out and get that top of the world feeling. You won’t want to go to bed before sunrise…

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Iconic poster for the film ‘Wings of Desire’

In the thick of Berlin-Mitte the Amano Hotel and the Monbijou Hotel both have Dachterrassen (rooftop terraces) with cocktails at around 10 euros and a feel-good, relaxed atmosphere. The Amano is larger and busier and open in the afternoons as well, from 2pm at the weekends. Service starts at the Monbijou at 6pm.

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Monbijou at sunset and Amano at midnight

For dizzier heights, try the Panorama Terrasse at the Park Inn on Alexanderplatz. The view is amazing, almost as good as the Fernsehturm for half the price. But it’s only open in the afternoons. Base Flying is an optional extra for dare-devils.

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The Humboldt Terrassen in the blue box opposite Museum Island are also only open in daylight, but not so vertiginous. Here, you are much closer to the all the historic sights in the city centre and can check the building progress of the Humboldtforum at close quarters.

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Afternoon sorbet on the Humboldt Terrassen

Techno-loving night owls should head for the Weekend Club at 7, Alexanderstrasse. Berlin’s clubbers know the best view comes at dawn when the sunlight bursts through the windows of the ‘Haus des Reisens’, the former Soviet tower block that contains Weekend. It now has a roof terrace too on the 12th, 13th and 15th floors; a great example of Berlin’s underground rave scene being raised into the stratosphere.

Die schwule Party GMF im Club "Weekend" mit gleichzeitiger Eröffnung der Terrasse am Sonntag (05.06.2011) in Berlin. Foto: XAMAX

Weekend Club terrace

But my favourite roof terrace in Mitte has to be at the Hotel de Rome. With stunning close-up views of Frederick the Great’s historic Berlin, cocktails and light meals cost a little extra. But the location is worth it. There’s still time to catch an Italian or Cuban night on Monday or Tuesdays in August.

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Historic Berlin views from the Hotel de Rome

Potsdamer Platz is the only high-rise complex in Berlin and has some pretty breathtaking rooftop bars. The lift of the 25 storey Kollhoff Tower whisks you up to the Panoramapunkt in only 24 seconds. There’s a café bar here at 103 metres, open until 7 pm. For later cocktails, the Grand Hyatt Hotel at Potsdamer Platz has a summer terrace open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Just around the corner, the exclusive 40 Seconds Club has stunning 360 degree views of the capital. Here, the urban jet set parties from midnight to morning.

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Potsdamer Platz from the 40 Seconds Club

Less slick and showy, more shabby-chic are two well-loved Berlin rooftop terraces on the top of shopping mall car parks. In Prenzlauer Berg, join the ‘Freiluftrebellen’ on Deck 5 of the seventh floor of the Schönhauser Allee Arcaden car park. Only the sea is missing – plenty of sand and sky. Cocktails are only €7.50 here and pizzas, wraps and salads available too.

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Join the ‘Open air rebels’ in Prenzlauer Berg

The ‘Klunkerkranich’ (‘Wattled Crane’) is the Neukölln version. On hot days there’s a cool-down hose, in winter there’s a heated hut. All year round you have a view of every roof between Neukölln Arcaden and the Fernsehturm (TV tower.) Breakfast is served from 10am and entry is free until 6pm when the entertainment starts. This is a totally relaxed zone, run by hippies and supported by the local council. All ages welcome and you can get a beer for €2.50.

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Sundowners in Neukoelln, looking west

Charlottenburg has plenty of Berlin sky on offer too. Top pick is the Monkey Bar on the 10th floor of the 25 Hours Hotel at Bikini Berlin.  Special features include floor to ceiling views of the Zoo and City West and some quirky interior design details. Cocktails come in at an average of 11 euros and are best sipped outside on the terrace by the swaying palm trees. Open until 2am at weekends.

Terrasse der Monkey Bar, 25 Hours Hotel, Budapester Straße, Charlottenburg, Berlin, Deutschland|Terrace of the Monkey Bar, 25Hours Hotel, Charlottenburg, Berlin, Germany
Summer Jewels

Summer Jewels

There’s a heatwave in Berlin this week, with temperatures well over 30 degrees every day. But even in the city centre, there are some cool areas where you can escape the crowds, the glare and the traffic. Head for ‘Monbijou Park’ and you will discover an urban summer paradise with a fascinating history.

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Monbijou Park – from Oranienburgerstrasse

In Berlin the past is always present. This city has endured and lost so much and acknowledges the pain. Yet it remains buoyant, buzzing and forward-looking. It picks up the past and runs with it. Monbijou Park is a case in point. Situated between Oranienburger Strasse and the River Spree, it was once the site of a beautiful royal palace, ‘Schloss Monbijou’.

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Schloss Monbijou in 1740

The name ‘Monbijou’ was first used to describe the palace by Sophie Dorothea, mother of Frederick the Great. She lived there from 1712 until her death in 1757 and enjoyed entertaining guests with lavish dinners, balls and concerts. The palace continued to house members of the Prussian royal family until the beginning of the 19th century when it became a store for the royal collections of paintings, jewelry and porcelain. In 1877 Kaiser Wilhelm opened the collections to the public as the Hohenzollern Museum. This is how an American visitor in the 1880s captures the atmosphere:

It was a bright sunny afternoon, and the golden light came in long slanting lines through windows opening on Monbijou gardens, beautiful even in winter, and lay upon the tessellated floors of the corridors in patterns of shining glory. (‘In  and Around Berlin’)

By 1885 St George’s church had been built in the palace grounds, for use by Berlin’s Anglican congregation. Even after the fall of the monarchy, Schloss Monbijou continued to function as a museum until the Second World War broke out. Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect, intended to have the palace relocated to the gardens of Schloss Charlottenburg as part of his grand design for the monumental new city of Germania. But his plans were never realised. In 1940 the palace windows were walled up and the museum contents were removed for safe-keeping. The building was gutted in an air raid in 1943 and Schloss Monbijou eventually met the same cruel fate as the main Stadtschloss (City Palace); the communist government of the GDR wanted to remove all traces of Berlin’s imperial past and demolished its remains in 1959.

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The ‘Tanzsaal’ (ballroom) in 1932

Over the past few years the wasteland, where Schloss Monbijou with its fabulous gardens once stood, has been transformed into a public recreation area. Now there are lawns with plenty of shade and benches, a children’s swimming pool and ball-game courts. Down by the Spree, you can stroll along the promenade or just sit in a deckchair gazing at the water.

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A handball game in Monbijou Park

On moonlit evenings the dance floor at the wonderful Strandbar is irresistible (see blog ‘Let’s get into Mitte’, July 2014) and the open-air ‘Hexenkessel’ theatre lights up with colourful performance of Tartüff or Hamlet (subtitles in English on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sundays). On Sunday evenings at 8.30pm there are also free concerts outside the Bode Museum when the Monbijou Brücke (a bridge only for pedestrians and cyclists) is packed with classical music fans. Check out all the details at the Monbijou Theater website.

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Inside the Hexenkessel (‘Witches’ Cauldron’) Theater

There is so much more to the history of Monbijou Park. In medieval times it was a large farmstead which was destroyed in the Thirty Years War. Then in 1649, under the Great Elector, it became a rural estate, where the first potatoes in Brandenburg were grown. There is a large information board at the entrance of the park but it is mainly in German. You you can visit the Wikipedia page ‘Monbijou Palace’ for a detailed history in English.

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Tourist information board – in German

Adjoining Monbijou Park is Monbijou Platz, an unassuming square with some interesting small shops and bars and a cheerful Italian restaurant, ‘Il Posto’. Surveying the scene is the impassive bust of Adalbert von Chamisso, whose aristocratic  parents were driven out of France during the Revolution. Chamisso once worked as a page in the royal palace and later became a renowned poet and botanist.

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Chamisso’s benign countenance

On the opposite side of the street you will find the Monbijou Hotel, a rather different kind of jewel from the ornate palace of the same name. Despite being so close to all the action in Berlin-Mitte, it provides a peaceful haven from the hot city streets. The rooms are muted and cool and the high-walled courtyard is a great setting for summer breakfast or lunch. Best of all, the magical Dachterrasse on the 5th floor is perfect for sundowners and candlelit chilling. But more about Berlin rooftop bars in the next blog …..

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 Breakfast in the courtyard  of the Monbijou Hotel

The Sunny Side of the Spree

The Sunny Side of the Spree

One of the best things about Berlin is all the water – especially in summer.  And I don’t just mean the rivers and lakes on the outer edges. There’s plenty of it in the city centre too. In fact, there are apparently 960 bridges in Berlin, more than in Venice. Last weekend temperatures soared to 30°. Definitely weather for chilling by the waterside.

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One particularly sunny stretch of the River Spree is on Schiffbauerdamm,  between Albrechtstrasse and Friedrichstrass, opposite Friedrichstrasse Station. For about two hundred years, between the late 17th and late 19th centuries, this promenade used to be part of the shipbuilding area of Berlin (hence the name in German). After industrialisation the dockyards were replaced by factories, warehouses, office buildings, a covered market and apartment blocks. In 1892 the neo-baroque style ‘Theater am Schiffbauerdamm’ was built and then in 1919 an expressionist revue theatre and music hall was completed and given the name ‘Friedrichstadt Palast’ in 1947.

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 The original ‘Friedrichstadt Palast’ alongside the ‘Theater am Schiffbauerdamm’

The original theatre escaped severe damage in the war and still exists as the famous ‘Berliner Ensemble’ founded by Bertolt Brecht in 1949. It is under a historic preservation order and has retained its ornate interior. Its neighbour eventually had to be demolished as the building was unsafe. A glittering ‘Neue Friedrichstadt Palast’ opened in 1984 around the corner on Friedrichstrasse.

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The ‘Neue Friedrichstadt Palast’

In GDR days this end of Schiffbauerdamm was a drab-looking street, famous for its one beacon of culture, the Berliner Ensemble.  On the corner by the theatre was the Ganymed, a restaurant for the “elite”, visited by known artists such as Brecht, Weill or Weigel, the GDR political establishment or members of the Allied Armed Forces. During the 1980s I often ate there and was convinced we were being spied on by the Stasi. By all accounts, this turned out to have been true.  Now the Ganymed is a French-style brasserie with red and white checked tablecloths and the street is bright and buzzing, with a row of café-bars and summer terraces overlooking the water. The Cold War frisson of danger has been replaced by 21st century consumerism.

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The Ganymed today

Despite the crowds, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings, the atmosphere on Schiffbauerdamm is relaxed and civilised. During the day it’s less busy and the promenade has the advantage of being on the south bank of the Spree.  Sitting on the sunny side of the waterfront with a close-up view of the pleasure boats gliding past, and watching the S-Bahn rumbling across the elevated railway, it seems a pretty good place to be. There’s so much to look at. The historic façades on Schiffbauerdamm have been nicely renovated and Friedrichstrasse Station has a certain charm, harbouring all the stories of the past. There are no riverside banks here; just massive concrete walls which make the river seem more like a huge canal.

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The Schiffbauerdamm at dusk

The big question is which restaurant to choose? If you are looking for something typically German then a good bet is ‘Die Ständige Vertretung’ (often abbreviated to ‘StäV ‘), on the corner of Albrechtstrasse. The name means ‘Permanent Representation’ and refers to the years when the capital of the German Federal Republic was in Bonn and the West German government only had ‘representation’ in East Berlin.  The restaurant was established after Germany was reunited and the government moved back to Berlin in the 1990s. It was originally a haven for the Rhinelanders who had left their homeland and all the food and drink is typically ‘Kölsch’ – from the Cologne area. Even the terrace is called ‘Die Rheinterrasse’. The walls are plastered with posters of politicians and events from West German days and the atmosphere is noisy and upbeat. Booking is recommended and it’s worth taking a look at the StäV website.

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Inside the Die Ständige Vertretung

The Berliner Republik next door has a similar feel and Brechts also serves German-style food, although more in the line of steaks than sausages. It has a good set lunch menu and more upmarket décor, especially the greenery. Then there are a couple of bars that don’t open until early evening. The Van Gogh ‘Piano and Cocktail Bar’ is perfect for after shopping or before the theatre. It’s open until the early hours, every day of the week. Finally, there is the famous Ganymed, first opened in 1931 and named after the cup-bearer of the Greek Gods. Its communist heydays are over, but the chandeliers and murals remain and its reinvention as a brasserie is entirely in keeping with the Francophile feeling of the ‘Friedrichstadt’ quarter of Berlin.

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Inside ‘Brechts’ behind the greenery

A final tip; the best way to get to and from this stretch of the Schiffbauerdamm is to walk across the iron girder bridge underneath the railway. It can be accessed from the street or at the end of the S-Bahn platform 5 or 6 on Friedrichstrasse station. The dark waters of the Spree swirl visibly below you and at night it’s just possible to imagine yourself in a John le Carré spy novel, if only there weren’t so many other people around …  

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 The passenger bridge underneath the railway

 

Just the two day ticket

Just the two day ticket

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An aerial view of the historic centre of Berlin

Last weekend I showed a friend around Berlin on an impromptu first visit. We had wall-to-wall sunshine, managed to see most of the main sights and caught the Berlin feeling. It didn’t break the bank either.  The 48 hour Berlin CityTourCard gave us unlimited travel on all the trains, buses and trams. A city map and several discount coupons are included in the price, so it’s a steal at €17.90. No need to take a sightseeing tour, just pick up the 100 bus and get a seat on the top deck at the front. Then you can decide what you want to see on the ground.

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The Reichstag in the spring sunshine

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On the first afternoon we headed for the Reichstag. The massive German parliament building stares across an open space. The huge words above the columns read: ‘Dem Deutschen Volke’ – ‘For the German People’. Entrance is free, but you have to book ahead online or queue at the Visitor Centre. The best plan of all is to reserve a table at the  restaurant on the roof of the Reichstag for breakfast or coffee and cake (lunch and dinner are quite pricey), then climb up inside the spectacular glass dome.

Reflections at the Sinti and Roma Memorial

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Between the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate we stood by the still waters at the Memorial to the hundreds of thousands of Sinti and Roma victims of the Nazi regime. From there it’s only a five minute walk to the Soviet War Memorial in the Tiergarten, the vast city park. This impressive monument is also a burial site for 2,000 of the 80,000 soldiers of the Red Army who were killed in the Battle for Berlin.

The Tiergarten Soviet War Memorial

The Brandenburg Gate itself never fails to impress, especially with the backdrop of a clear blue sky. It defies belief that such a huge national symbol was once blocked off on the western side by the Berlin Wall and that no one was allowed near it on other side. Now the whole area teems with happy tourists. This spring a viewing platform has been erected, reminiscent of the divided city and there’s also a photographic exhibition to mark the 70th Anniversary of the end of the war in May 1945.

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The desperate scene at the Brandenburg Gate in May 1945

We strolled around Pariser Platz, taking in all the new architecture and then made our way past the British Embassy in Wilhelmstrasse to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Walking through the grey slabs of stone is an unnerving experience. Even more sobering is the underground exhibition documenting the personal stories of Jewish families lost in the Holocaust.

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Disorientation among the stone slabs

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Our next stop was the Panoramapunkt at Potsdamer Platz. Once the busiest square in Berlin, it was destroyed in the bombing and then became a wasteland by the Wall. Now it’s surrounded by a cluster of architect-designed high-rise buildings. The fastest lift in Europe whisks you in 20 seconds up to the viewing platform at the top of the Kollhoff Tower for a fantastic view across the city and a photographic exhibition of the history of Potsdamer Platz. Until 7pm you can linger in the café, sitting by huge floor to ceiling windows. We looked down on the spectacular roof of the Sony Centre magnifying the circus tent style of the Philharmonie concert hall where we had tickets for a concert that evening (see post 16th March)

The Panoramapunkt view towards the Brandenburg Gate

Day two started late. First stop was the stunning Hackesche Höfe, opposite S-Bahn Station Hackescher Markt. This is a heritage site consisting of eight communicating, restored courtyards filled with trendy designer shops. We took a coffee break at Oxymoron and sat outside admiring the stunning Art Nouveau façades – quite a contrast to the scruffy courtyards behind Haus Schwarzenberg just a few metres further down Rosenthaler Strasse. Here the buildings have been left in their post-war state and the walls are covered in graffiti. This unique space is run by an independent association and contains the Central cinema, the Cinema café bar, an artbook shop, various artist studios and a trio of small but interesting museums associated with Jewish Berlin.

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Repainting the graffiti for the 20th Anniversary of Haus Schwarzenberg

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This district of Berlin, often referred to as the ‘Scheunenviertel’ (barn quarter), lay outside the original city walls and between the wars much of it was a poor Jewish neighbourhood. We walked along pretty Sophienstrasse and through the churchyard of Sophienkirche into Grosse Hamburgerstrasse. The pock-marked building on the corner still bears the scars of war and on the other side of the street is the Missing House memorial, “an empty space dedicated to absence”. This marks the site of a building destroyed by the allied bombing and the walls on either side bear the names of all the families who lived there. Opposite is the heavily guarded Jewish High School and next to that the site of a former Jewish Old Peoples’ Home. Here the Jewish population of Berlin were rounded up and taken off to Grunewald station to be taken off to concentration camps. Behind the moving memorial is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Berlin, desecrated by the Nazis and now a quiet garden.

The Holocaust Memorial in Grosse Hamburger Strasse

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There is so much more to explore on foot in this area, including the magnificent New Synagogue, but time was limited. And it was perfect weather for a boat trip on the Spree. We picked up a one hour tour at the Alte Börse pier behind Hackescher Markt, sat on deck in the sunshine listening to the English commentary and glided past scores of significant Berlin buildings. Along the banks of the Spree the riverside cafés were doing a roaring trade and at Strandbar Mitte the dance floor was already seeing some action.

Lunchtime dancing at the Strandbar Mitte

Once off the boat we headed over to ‘Museumsinsel’. This island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with five of the most significant museums in Berlin. Flanking the lawns and fountains of the Lustgarten, the Berliner Dom (cathedral) and the Altes Museum both exert a massive presence. They serenely await the completion of the reconstruction of the Berlin Stadtschloss (City Palace) on the other side of the road. In 2019 it will be re-born as the Humboldt Forum, a museum of world treasures.

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The Berliner Dom – the TV Tower just in view behind it

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We crossed the Spree again, admiring the statues that adorn the Schlossbrücke and the dusky pink Deutsches Historisches Museum (German History Museum). A quick detour into the inner courtyard of this elegant building is a must if there isn’t time for a fuller visit.

The death masks in the courtyard of the History Museum

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Our next stop was the Neue Wache (guardhouse) which contains the stark memorial to the Victims of War and Dictatorship. Standing on the pavement outside, once worn away by the goose-stepping of GDR guards, we looked up and down Berlin’s most famous avenue, Unter den Linden. Frederick the Great who was responsible for shaping the classical lines of 18th century Berlin, sits astride his horse in the middle of the traffic as if reviewing his achievements. A few hundred metres behind him, the Brandenburg Gate marks the entrance to his Forum Fridericianum’, later referred to as ‘Athens of the Spree’.

Mime artists in 18th century costumes, outside the Neue Wache

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Next the Neue Wache is the main building of the Humboldt University and opposite it is Bebelplatz, the square which saw the infamous Nazi ‘burning of the books’ in 1933. You have to look hard to find the memorial.  It is a glass plate set into the cobbles, giving a view of empty bookshelves large enough to hold the total of the 20,000 burnt books. A brass plaque next to it is engraved with the prophetic words of Heinrich Heine in 1821. In English they translate as: “That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people”.

The empty bookshelves

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On one side of Bebelplatz is the Law Faculty of the Humboldt University. This was once the library from where Nazi students threw books on to the bonfire below. On the other side is the Berlin Staatsoper (State Opera House) currently surrounded by cranes and undergoing total refurbishment. At the back of the square is a large Wilhelmine building. It started life as the headquarters of the Dresdner Bank in 1887 and after the war served as the State Bank of the GDR. Now it is the luxury Hotel de Rome. The Rooftop Terrace is the perfect place for a light lunch on a sunny day. The view is terrific. A great place to chill and reflect.

Rooftop chilling

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But there was more sightseeing to come that afternoon. It was only a five minute walk to Gendarmenmarkt, the most beautiful square in Berlin. I can clearly recall its bombed-out buildings in the 1970s communist capital of East Berlin. We passed a queue of ‘It people’ outside The Corner, a ‘luxury concept store’ frequented by celebrities and selling designer items at crazy prices. Sometimes capitalism doesn’t seem much better.

Bubbles floating across Gendarmenplatz

Our next destination was Checkpoint Charlie. Despite all the tourist paraphernalia this former border crossing point is a definite must. The outdoor exhibition gives the big picture and the Mauermuseum tells the whole story in detail, including all the ingenious escape attempts. We then followed the footprint of the Berlin Wall around to the Topographie des Terrrors, the site of the former Gestapo HQ. The exhibition here clearly documents how the Nazi terror machine worked its evil all over Europe by means an efficient and brutal bureaucracy. The Berlin Wall once ran down the middle of Niederkirchner Strasse – now it’s a starting point for a whole range of unusual Berlin tours.

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Take your pick of Berlin Tours

Next to the Topographie des Terrors is the fabulous Martin Gropius Bau, which hosts international art and culture exhibitions. On the other side of the street, in East Berlin, is the former Air Ministry Building (once the largest building in Europe, and now the German Ministry of Finance) and the House of Representatives (once the seat of the Prussian Parliament). We turned the corner into the 21st century and were confronted once again with Manhatten-style Potsdamer Platz. Standing outside the Ritz Carlton Hotel was an Englishman dressed as a Beefeater. Every evening at 6pm, he officially opens the hotel’s Curtain Club, voted the best Berlin bar in 2015.  After such an intense day of Berlin history we deserved a drink.

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The opening of the Curtain Club – to the sound of Big Ben

Our last morning started with brunch in Prenzlauer Berg, a lively neighbourhood only four tram stops from Alexanderplatz on the M2.  Market days are Thursdays and Saturdays by Kollwitzplatz , where crowds of local young families meet up at the playpark. This district of Berlin, originally built to house work-classing families at the end of the 19th century, is now considered very ‘schicki-micki’ (trendy). Property prices are high and it has one of the highest birth-rates in Germany.   We sat outside in the sunshine and enjoyed people-watching, as well as a particularly good Russian guitar duo. Everything in Prenzlauer Berg has upmarket bohemian style these days, including all the shops and cafés.

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Brunch at Restauration 1900 on Kollwitzplatz

There were two hours left for some more sight-seeing and my friend had been become fascinated by the story of the Berlin Wall. So we set off on foot towards Bernauer Strasse, crossing Eberwaldstrasse en route. This is one of the prettiest streets on the edge of Prenzlauer Berg, once blocked off by the Wall at its western end. We turned left down Bernauer Strasse where the Wall once divided the residents on either side of the street. The grassy area which was once the ‘death strip’ has become part of the Berlin Wall Memorial, an outdoor exhibition which tells the incredible story of this part of Berlin and features a whole section of the original Berlin Wall together with a watchtower and the border installations. The recently-renovated Documentation Centre on the other side of the road has a viewing tower. There are also two floors of exhibition space with excellent photographs, film and audio material.

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The reconstruction of the Berlin Wall on Bernauerstrasse

Many visitors to the Wall Memorial arrive at Nordbahnof S-Bahn station further down Bernauerstrasse, one of the ‘ghost stations’ during the Cold War. The Berlin Wall Memorial Visitors Centre is opposite the station and is the best place to pick up all the information you need about visiting the Memorial area and to buy books and postcards. Both the Documentation Centre and the Visitors Centre are closed on Mondays.

48 hours is an impossibly short time to visit any great city. But our two day ticket meant we could cover an amazing amount of ground. The verdict was: “So much history, such a relaxed atmosphere and so easy to get around”. The evenings were action-packed as well. Details to follow in the next Berlin Unwrapped post.

Berlin Summer Preview

Berlin Summer Preview

Spring comes suddenly in Berlin, but it feels more like summer. The car roofs are down and it’s time for a barbecue, drinks outside and the first boat trip of the year. Last weekend the Berlin Tagesspiegel captured the scene perfectly. Here is a taste of the city centre sunshine, in English.

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The Lustgarten fountain in front of the Altes Museum

City Ost (East Berlin)

At Hackescher Markt, the first summery morning of the year belongs to the beer delivery men. Their lorries are parked in front of nearly every café and pub. Crates are being stacked and barrels are being rolled. The warm sunshine makes you thirsty. New on offer are Apple Beer and Cherry Beer. But who drinks this kind of stuff? “The tourists will love it”, says the delivery man.

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A beer in the sunshine at Hackescher Markt

But the tourists have already arrived. In front of the Brandenburg Gate it’s selfie time, accompanied to the strains of the barrel organ with its eternal Berlin tune, ‘Das ist die Berliner Luft, Luft., Luft!’ (You can listen by following this link) A group of French school pupils, here for the first time in Berlin, is full of enthusiasm: “Berlin is very beautiful”, they say. ‘A great city!’

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Tourists at the Brandenburg Gate

In the Lustgarten on Museum Island the fountain is in full flow. By the end of April there will be 33 of them bubbling away in the Berlin borough of Mitte. Deckchairs have been set up opposite the Alte Nationalgalerie, watching the pleasure steamers glide past. An Adonis figure stretches out in the sunshine. Bring on the first sun tan! Two female students stick to reading in the shade.

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The Nationalgalerie at dusk

City West (West Berlin)

On Breidscheidplatz by the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche (Memorial Church) the beers are on the table by noon. There’s a funfair atmosphere; the smell of beer, fried chicken and Bratwurst wafts across the square, accompanied by the beat of the latest hit songs. The once upmarket West Berlin has sold its soul. The wooden huts and roundabouts were meant to have disappeared, but no one seems able to get rid of them.

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The Easter Fair at Breitscheidplatz

Time to commune with nature and it’s only a short walk to the Tiergarten. The buds on the trees are still fresh and even the weeping willows look happy. The blue carpets of Szilla already have an enticing scent. The wood anemones and buttercups are in flower and the Tiergarten rabbits are delighted. The first rowing boats are out on the lake and it seems that the new fashion is for the woman to take the oars.

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Carpets of ‘Blue Stars’ in the Tiergarten

The nightingales are back, not just here but all over Berlin, wherever there is water. In fact, Berlin has more nightingales than the whole of Bavaria. In the Tiergarten they sing especially loudly to compete against the sounds of the city centre.

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A Tiergarten ‘Nachtigall’ in full song

Berlin – City of Memories

Berlin – City of Memories


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There has been an upsurge of sympathetic interest in Germany in the British media over the past few months. Cynics might put this down to Germany’s high profile in the World Cup but it could also be a generational shift. As the two World Wars recede further into the past there is a greater willingness to view German history and culture in a more objective way. In the current series on Radio 4 ‘Germany – Memories of a Nation’, Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, acknowledges the profound influence Germany has had across Europe over the past six centuries. He tells its “patchwork history” by selecting various buildings and objects and the first ten episodes have been gripping. There are another 20 episodes to go and each lasts just over 14 minutes. They are broadcast twice daily from Monday to Friday and also available as podcasts. I am hooked – and have already booked tickets for the exhibition which opens at the British Museum next week. (more…)