DISCLAIMER: this post has taken a while to pop up. Life, work and some pretty heavy family business got in the way. Editing this really happy, incredible week felt really hard and upsetting when actually, when I came to do it, it was a healing and joyful experience. Mostly because of my lovely Husband who made it all rather miraculously possible.
I rather dislike the term “honeymoon”. The term first appears in english in 1546, but referred to the first month of marriage rather than the post-nuptials holiday. The practice of a “bridal tour” was embedded in upper-class English culture by the 1820s, when a “travel in the English style” became a recognised term, but it wasn’t until the Belle Epoque that the practice caught on.
A fitting tribute, then, that my poor German should be compelled to take his new bride on an English-style bridal tour. As we’re planning a bigger trip later this year, a short trip to Berlin was decided on. Naturally, I was delighted. SO MUCH CAKE.
Our big trip this year is to Oz, which is our technical “honeymoon” I suppose. But I really wanted to round off literally months of planning with a break which enabled us to let our hair down and be somewhere other than London. London is MON AMOUR but bloody hell after 14 years I’m frickin shattered. It’s still one of the most fun places on earth but I can’t with the prices, the housing, the travel, the noise and blimmin Brexit stress. And having decided our big trip was really going big, we couldn’t really justify sitting on a beach for a week. I’d only ever been to Berlin once – a lost weekend which was a bit marred by the one transport strike in Berlin’s history, seemingly – and was keen to go back and see a bit more of the city. The Lovely One was keen to spend time there as well, although he’d been a few times.
Ultimately, we are both city dwelling nutbags who love seeing new places, and Berlin had the combination of great things to see and do which we thought would be a great way for spend a week unwinding post-wedding. It was a GREAT choice.
Histories and cultures
Berlin is one of the great cities of Europe, being at the intersection of a hell of a lot of histories, cultures and moments in time. It’s been the seat of empires, the centre of Hitler’s Germany and the resultant horrors, and a flashpoint of the Cold War in the latter half the 20th Century. Now, it’s a hub for creativity in the arts and technology sectors and as a result has a hugely diverse, creative and interesting population.
Of course, no one week could leave you thinking “yes, I’ve cracked the code and understand EVERYTHING about this city now” because a) I’m an idiot and b) sometimes it’s fun doing the touristy shit. But there are a few cool things we got up to which were really worth it, and worth sharing!
So what did we do in Berlin?
1. Going on a tour
It’s become a tradition of ours to start a trip to a new city by going on a tour. Be it a cheesey bus tour, historical walking tour, alternative arts tour or floating down the river in a boat, its a great way to just get a sense of where you are. It orients you within a city, and while it might be a bit of a superficial way to about knowing a new place, I love it as a starting point. Yes, it makes me a basic bitch. Sorry not sorry.
There are a bunch of good tours available in Berlin, and discounts on most can be obtained through the Berlin Welcomecard which is an AWESOME deal. A 5 day pass costs under 40 euro and includes travel in the centre of Berlin and back and forth from the airport.
We also took the opportunity to drive an old Trabant around Berlin which was quite an experience. It’s like driving a smelly, noisy lawnmower of a car which is mainly plastic and feels virtually flammable. The tour was not cheap for sure but was sure as anything a real experience! The Lovely One was a little unimpressed by the ride but hey, the car of the people was built for everyone, not just those more used to their cushy BMV. These things were turned out by the million and there were 5-year waiting lists for them in the GDR. This tour gave a real flavour of old East Berlin and was super-insightful. More than that, you certainly got (quite literally) the flavour of East Berlin every time you accidentally inhaled the fumes!
Another thing we took the opportunity to do was an evening tour of the Reichstag. It’s not everyone’s idea of Honeymoon Hijinks, but it was a great insight into what makes Germany tick and a really important slice of history. The old Reichstag was an evocative and central part of German history, and the reunification of Germany was sealed by the reopening of this amazing building by the German Bundestag. One evening we caught a projected movie about the history of the German government system on the sides of the chancellery buildings across the River Spree, just one of hundreds of Free educational civic events that the German government puts on, and it was a packed crowd. Many in the audience were older Berliners for whom the show wasn’t just history but an important memento of their own lives. We caught up with a colleague of the Lovely One whose family were split in two by the Wall and who remembers the shock of it coming down in 1989. History feels very close in Berlin.
2. Tourist “traps” and why this concept is balls
So, the things you are told are cliched in Berlin include: visiting the Wall, eating Currywurst, visiting the food hall in KaDeWe, bus tours, eating Berliner donuts and going on a street art tour.
Taking some of these one by one:
- The Wall – if you’re going to another city, and you miss out on visiting one of the mementos of a seminal part of 20th Century history you’re probably an arsehole. The Wall plays a MASSIVE part in understanding why Berlin looks and feels the way it does, the symbolism it has within Germany and why Germany has this dual-sided nature embedded within it. It also does a disservice to the incredible historical memorials which have preserved the stories of those living beside the wall and those who – very sadly – died trying to escape. The GDR museum is really touristy but is a real slice of life in East Germany and I found it absolutely fascinating, Also a bit alarming re. Golly wog dollies being surprising common in east berlin, if the exhibits were anything to go by…
- Eating Currywurst – if you don’t like Currywurst I can’t help you. I can only recommmend you visit Curry36 in Kreuzberg, order Ohne Darn (without skin) and just go with it. Get the chips (always get the chips) and for full German Authenticity, get a spezi which is a German national obsession – half Fanta, half coke, all amazing.
- Visiting KaDeWe – this store on the Kurfürstendamm in West Berlin is basically one of the largest in Europe, like Harrods or Selfridges&Co in London. Honestly, it’s a tourist cliche to go. But the food hall is like nothing else I’ve ever seen. Beautiful jewel-toned patisseries, a mile of bread, a cheese counter you smell 10 seconds before you see it, a “ham aisle” (the bacon aisle is next to it). The sounds, smells and quality are incredible and it truly is – for a foodie like me – a highlight in Berlin. Grab a Bulette while you’re there, a Berlin speciality known as Frikadellen elsewhere, but venerated in Berlin almost as much as the Currywurst! You may also be brave enough to try a Spreewald Gurken – a pickled cucumber considered a special treat in East Germany. They’re sold individual cans and are pretty indescribable!
- Street Art tours – This is a really tricky one for me because in some ways I do feel like groups of randoms wandering around neighbourhoods filled with often marginalised groups gawping at the graffiti is a real sign of gentrification and Disney-fies an important subculture. On the other hand, it allows tourists to see another side of the city and importantly, spend their tourist dollars in places which don’t subscribe to citywide card schemes. I was pretty undecided on how I felt about it but decided in the name of research it was worth checking out = and am so glad we did. We went on an Alternative Berlin tour, which was a trip of nearly 4 hours seeing parts of Berlin we’d never have gotten to on our own. We saw incredible art and learned a bit about street art culture and practice which was really different and fun. Moreover, we got a few hints and tips for dinner! A fantastic tour and one I’d heartily recommend. Just remember that “free” doesn’t mean “take the piss” – nearly 4 hours’ walking, talking and education means that if you’re not giving the (excellent and really nice) guides at least 15 euros at the end you’re a bit of a dick. Don’t be a dick.
3. Something different
Berlin is full of great things to do and see aside from the tourist trails. I spent a glorious afternoon on Museum Island checking out Eygptian treasures in the Neues Museum which is actually hella old. This is probably not considered especially different or trendy, but frankly given that most tourists seem to begin and end at the Brandenburg gate I’m choosing to include it in this section. Sue me.
On the same topic, I rather enjoyed the Ritter Sport Schokowelt Yes there are some rather nicer chocolaterias nearby, such as the excellent Fassbender & Rausch, however it cannot be denied that 1) Ritter Sport are fecking delicious and 2) there is something rather charming about making your own, which you can do here. Also you can try organic Quinoa chocolate. I say “try” rather than “buy” because you will, like me, do the former then lose all enthusiasm for the latter.
We also took the opportunity to go and visit some independent shops. One of the Lovely One’s favourite companies is Atheist shoes, run by a charming Irishman and his lovely wife in Mitte. They were totally charming and utterly irresistible, as are their wares. Someone may have purchased Honeyboots, is all I’m saying. They’re as black as my soul, which is rather fitting!
Another classic Berlin “thing” is the Photoautomat, a cute tradition which comes from the use of automatic photo machines in East Berlin which have survived reunification to become something of a tourist destination in their own right. Scattered around Berlin, mainly in the East part of the city, the photos they produce look like something out of a soviet passport, they’re invariably filthy and sometimes broken, but there’s something magical about them and the ambience of the pictures they produce.
Finally, something you can do when you have more than 3 days in Berlin is find somewhere to lounge about. And Gorli park is one of those places. Yes, it’s FULL of people trying to sell you drugs and YES it’s a pain in the ass trying to find a seat which isn’t close by to some middle aged hippy stinking of grass and YES i wouldn’t go there after dark. But there’s something rather beautiful about getting a cold beer from the cafe and sitting watching the sun go down in a park in Berlin.
We were fortunate enough to get the chance to try a number of great places in Berlin. I shant go through each meal in detail, but suffice it to say: GO. There are fantastic Turkish restaurants, amazing kebabs as big as your head and as fresh as anything (shout out to Mustafas, the original and best), stunning Swabian food at places like Alpensteuck and incredible cafes like Zeit fur Brot and Glucklich am Park which honestly do the best breakfasts I’ve ever eaten. And I’ve had a Scottish fry up.