European City Breaks: Berlin
Berlin is an absolute gem of a city. Don’t be put off by Berlin or Germany’s chequered past, this is a city on the rise. A pioneering spirit mixed with a can-do attitude makes this a truly electric place to be. You will most likely fly into Schönefeld Airport to the south east of the city where you will be able to collect your easyCar rental. The airport is a short drive away from Mitte, the city centre.
Berlin is a city still in shock from a century of destruction and division. Having cast off the concrete shackles of Soviet rule, the city has re-united and in the process has become a metropolis renowned for it’s green space as much as its night life.
History buffs needn’t worry; there is a lot of that still to be found as well, especially if you’re into the more modern gems.
Top 5 things to do
1. Fat Tire Bike Tours
I can’t recommend these guys enough if you want a fun and informative welcome to the city. It may be worth temporarily leaving the car behind and hopping on two wheels. They also offer Segway tours for the really adventurous. It will give you a broad understanding of the city and you can always pick the brains of your well-informed guide at the end of the tour. I went on a tour with these guys last year, and if you can, ask for Walid. His passion and knowledge of the city shines through and his enthusiasm is infectious.
2. Treptower Park War Memorial
A short drive from Alexanderplatz, the city centre’s main square. This vast war memorial is the final resting place of over 2,000 Russian troops who died in the battle of Berlin, the bitter fighting that took place in the last few weeks of World War II. It is remarkable as it is one of the last few places you will see original quotes and likenesses of Soviet leader; Josef Stalin. The real point of interest here though is the 12-metre bronze statue of a Soviet solder who, holding a sword in one hand, is rescuing a child from battle whilst smashing a swastika beneath his feet.
3. East Side Gallery
East Side Gallery is a stretch of the Berlin Wall that has remained standing since the fall of communism in 1991. Famous artists were commissioned to paint murals along its 1,300 metres. The hope behind this was to make beautiful one of the most horrific scars the city has to offer. The luxury for drivers is you needn’t even get out of your car. The landmark can be viewed easily from the adjacent Mühlenstraße.
4. Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe
A memorial that is striking for its sheer size as much as for its sheer power. It inhabits 19,000m2 of central Berlin and features 2,711 concrete blocks of varying size as the floor in which they are planted dips into a deep basin at the centre of the memorial. This is certainly one of the more harrowing experiences you are likely to find in this city but is well worth a visit if you are in any doubt as to how seriously the German people take this blemish in their national history.
5. Checkpoint Charlie
This is probably the most famous and most iconic landmark to be found in Berlin. It marked the point between Soviet East Berlin and American-occupied West Berlin. In reality it is little more than a wooden hut but the history that this hut represents is huge. Now in the centre of a busy crossroad, the traffic is likely to allow you plenty of time to stop and take pictures as you creep slowly past it.
Where to eat and where to go out
Berlin for its rich and troubled history has done astoundingly well to shake off this troubled past. In its place is a vibrant and colourful city. And when I say colourful, I mean nearly every wall and fence is daubed with colourful graffiti and street art. This gives the city a young and edgy feel. No more so than in the trendy district of Kreuzberg. Here you are likely to find the best eateries and nights out.
Il Casolare is a hectic Neapolitan pizzeria that overlooks one of the city’s many canals. Be sure to book a table, as this manic restaurant gets full pretty fast. You may also want to ask for the English menu, as one of the pizzas is made with horsemeat. My best tip would be to order it to take out and sit on the grassy banks of the canal, which are heaving with people every night of the week in the summer.
If you don’t fancy pizza then you could go to the unassuming but famous Hamys Vietnamese restaurant just by Hermannplatz underground station. Another bustling restaurant that people travel from far and wide to get to, service is fast and the food delicious.
Berlin is world-famous for its nightlife and no other venue holds such mystique as the Berghain. A weekend long party that is located in an old power station. The bouncer is as notorious as the club itself for his strict door policy. Failing that, you could try Käterholzig, an altogether more inclusive affair that sits right on the River Spree and is as enjoyable in the summer as it is in the winter. Outdoor sections meet indoor halls, which mean you get lost in the maze of rooms.
So what are you waiting for? But don’t forget to hire a car before you travel for truly competitive prices.