“ With a rich and often troubled history Berlin is home to many fascinating sights and attractions including the East Side Gallery, the Berlin TV Tower, the Gedachtnis Church, and many more. „
My absence the past week is due to an architecture trip to Berlin for a few days. Berlin was not as modern as I thought it would/should be and it still has a subdued quality to it overall. It felt very ordinary in the sense that people seem to go about their daily business and there was no real 'lively vibe' that other cities such as Rome emit.
There are a series of developments taking place in the city and some contemporary architecture already but kind of sprawled here and there. The East part is definitely the more exciting half to visit with lots more going on.
I was also surprised how well everyone spoke English and did not really get to practise my German :( boo! And also kind of surprised of the lack of food that Berlin is known for- seriously cannot only be Currywurst?
A highlight of the trip was definitely the street art which was everywhere. Whilst some is just graffiti and tagging, there is some real talent to be found here and I think this makes the city exciting- it gave and still gives the city a voice. With the rich history and the context, it is like one big graffiti park. Famous Street artists to be found across Berlin include Jimmy C, JUST, El Bocho, Vhils, Victor Ash, Blu and Roa; creating humorous, controversial and meaningful pieces.
Sightseeing can be done in a day or two in Berlin unless you go into the museums and galleries, go to events and so on. Whilst my trip mainly consisted of sight seeing, I would definitely have liked to maybe attend an event at the Philharmonica or the Opera, visit the National Art Gallery and maybe even the Zoo, home of Knut the Polar Bear.
Here is a rough schedule of my few days in Berlin which you can use as a rough guide if you like.
Amkupfergraben by David Chipperfield
Exhibition Hall by I.M. Pei
DZ Bank by Frank Gehry
Peter Eisenmann Jewish Memorial
Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum
Netherlands Embassy- OMA
Street Art Tour
Flee Market (Bauenpark)
East Side Gallery
Minor shopping around our hostel
If you would like to check out some photos from my trip, please visit my blog, the link to which is on my profile, or send me a message to ask me any questions about Berlin. Thanks for reading.
Clusters of wooden huts strewn with twinkling fairy lights, the heady smell of mulled wine and roasted almonds wafting through the chill air - yep, that time of year is upon us again. The past 5 or 10 years in Britain have seen a sudden explosion of German-style Christmas markets in towns up and down the country, with millions of visitors flocking to markets in places such as Manchester, Bath, London, Leeds and Birmingham (which hosts the largest of its kind outside Germany or Austria) to sample the delights of traditional Teutonic winter fayre and artefacts outdoors, a tradition which dates back to the Middle Ages. At the same time, German towns and cities attract their own share of market-going visitors. While Nuremberg's world-famous Christkindlmarkt is considered the most spectacular, it is the capital which receives the most winter visitors - especially from the UK. Berlin's array of markets (over 70 this year and counting) can be overwhelming, so here's a guide to the highlights.
Christmas markets - also known as Advent markets - in the German capital generally open on the first weekend of Advent, and run until Christmas Eve, with some staying open until New Year's Eve. They usually open from around 10am to 11pm, attracting the most visitors at lunchtimes, after work and at weekends.
Many locals visit the markets regularly over the Advent period to socialise and have lunch or dinner, which is why some markets have almost as many food and drink stands as gift stalls. The most popular savoury snack is the ubiquitous 'Bratwurst' (grilled sausage in a bread roll). This tastes great with yellow mustard a well as the sweet Bavarian variety (if it's been allowed to get as far north as Berlin). Other typical dishes include fried mushrooms with sour cream; green cabbage and onions with sliced sausage or bacon; fried potatoes; giant salted pretzels; and vegetable and noodle stir-fries. Vegetarians should watch out for errant pieces of bacon that seem to make their way into everything in Germany! Some markets also have their own specialties according to their particular theme or style.
Sweet-toothed shoppers also have a lot choice, with sugar-coated roasted almonds, chocolate-covered fresh fruits, toffee apples and roast chestnuts all being market staples. If you fancy one of the large iced gingerbread hearts that people sometimes wear on ribbons around their necks, be warned: they're not always as soft as they look and people tend to keep them for decoration rather than eat them.
Other German Christmas food worth picking up if you come across it:
- 'Lebkuchenherzen': mini chocolate-covered jam-filled gingerbread hearts - not to be confused with their teeth-breaking cousins mentioned above
- 'Dominosteine': small squares of layered cake, marzipan and jam covered in chocolate;
- Marzipan: for eating rather than baking, it is sold as 'Kartoffeln' (literally potatoes - refers to little marzipan balls) or 'Brot' ('bread' i.e. bars/slabs of marzipan, usually covered in chocolate - do you detect a theme here?);
- 'Zimtsterne': iced cinnamon star biscuits;
- 'Speculatius': strongly spiced biscuits, great for dunking in hot drinks. Which brings me to....
Glühwein (mulled wine, literally 'glowing wine') is the most popular way to keep warm while shopping outdoors during the German winter, and no advent market worth its salt would be complete without a few stands doling out mugs of hot, spiced vino. Some people add a 'Schuss' - a shot of rum, amaretto or similar - for an extra-warming kick. 'Kinderpunsch' - children's punch - is also available for little ones or those avoiding alcohol. Not to be confused with 'Eierpunsch', mind, which translates as 'egg punch'. This heady concoction contains eggnog or egg yolk, rum, white wine, milk, nutmeg and sugar. An acquired taste! 'Feuerzangenbowle' is a traditional New Year's Eve drink in Germany, but can be found at some Advent markets. It is made by melting rum-soaked sugar over a pot of mulled wine, and you can watch it being prepared on a special burner.
A deposit is usually required for the mug when buying all of these drinks - you can get said deposit back by returning the mug, or you can keep it as a souvenir, since they're generally decorated with the name of the market and the year.
The stalls mainly sell reasonably-priced and often handmade decorative items, and quality is generally very high. You can pick up all manner of Christmas tree decorations, lamps, ornaments, glass and metalwork items, lanterns, paintings and sculptures, pottery and ceramics. There is also an abundance of clothes and accessories, such as felt or sheepskin slippers or moccasins, pashminas, scarves, jewellery (especially amber from the Czech Republic and Poland), and leather goods such as bags, belts, gloves and wallets. Foodstuffs e.g. chocolates, stollen (Christmas fruit cake), liqueurs and jams and preserves are also readily available.
Lots of the markets also boast fairground rides, tarot readers, ice rinks, live music, and even tobogganing (see Potsdamerplatz below).
Cash is still very much King in Germany and most if not all stallholders will decline credit and debit cards, so make sure you go to the bank beforehand. A few carrier bags can come in useful as the stalls sometimes run out of them. As in all crowded places, you should keep your money out of sight when walking around and exercise caution at all times.
Most importantly, Advent markets can quickly lose their attraction if you're freezing your proverbials off, so wrap up warm, wear boots and two pairs of socks if you can, and don't forget the hat and gloves.
***SOME OF THE BEST ADVENT MARKETS IN BERLIN, BY AREA***
Opernpalais: Nostalgic Christmas Market
The undisputed king of Berlin's advent markets, it is made up of a labyrinth of bustling stall-lined lanes winding their way around the Opera building, with curtains of fairy lights, an organ grinder and (toy!) monkey, an old-fashioned big wheel, live music and fortune tellers. There's even a photo studio offering family portraits in old-fashioned costumes. Shopping here is great, with stalls from all around Europe selling gorgeous crafts. Much tackier, but worth a peek, is the large glass bauble hut. Want a gilded gherkin, a flounder, a stripper or a giant mummy to hang on your tree? No problem. Next door is the 'Berlin on Ice' skating rink.
Nostalgic Christmas Magic at the Gendarmenmarkt
The only market that charges an entrance fee, it is eschewed by many cost-conscious Berliners, but tourists come here en masse to marvel at the extensive collection of traditional tree decorations and wooden toys - not to mention the beautiful Gendarmenmarkt square itself, which is flanked by twin cathedrals.
Red City Hall
New for 2008, the 'Rotes Rathaus' off Alexanderplatz is playing host to a market with traditional huts and Neptune's fountain has been turned into an ice rink. Santa Claus was spotted here flying through the air in his sleigh on 6th December - maybe he'll be back again before Christmas!
This recently opened shopping centre next to Alexanderplatz hosts a large fairground at the rear of the complex, with stalls selling more food than gifts, and rides to make you wish you hadn't eaten that second plate of green cabbage!
Lucia Christmas Market at the Kulturbrauerei
Great for children, it is enclosed in the courtyard of a former brewery which is now a cultural centre in the gentrified area of Prenzlauerberg, increasingly populated by yummy mummies and the international crowd. With a Swedish theme, Viking fancy-dress outfits for kids and Nordic-style food and gifts, the highlight is probably the 'radiator coats' that you can hire to keep warm!
Winter World at Potsdamerplatz
Arguably neither east nor west, since it was situated in no-man's land until 1989, this new business and entertainment complex has caught up quickly and is looking particularly festive this year with thousands of lights suspended from the trees along the side-streets. Europe's biggest city toboggan run, the 'Rodelbahn' is here - you can slide down it on hired 'snow tubes' for Euro1.50. This market is a bit more pricey than some, but has a good choice of crafts and gifts.
City Christmas Market
This nestles at the junction of Tauentzienstrasse and Ku'damm, along one of the west's main drags, beneath the striking shadow of the bombed out 'Gedächtniskirche' church. It's pretty commercial, as befits the main shopping area, but usually has the best chocolate-covered fruit in Berlin!
Winterfeldtplatz Advent Market
Slightly off the beaten track, this regular weekend market is transformed during Advent. It boasts handmade decorative items, foodstuffs from around the globe and a beautiful array of seasonal flowers and produce.
The original 'eco market', this medieval-style bazaar, with its live animals and farm setting, takes Christmas shoppers back to nature. This is the place to stock up on organic soaps, old-fashioned preserves and age-old spirits such as mead. You can even buy horns to drink it from, just like the Berliners' ancestors did long ago. The museum next door offers some respite from the cold.
Spandau Christmas Market
Once a village in its own right, Spandau was eventually swallowed up by the city of Berlin but has retained its traditional small-town air. During Advent the market square and surrounding streets are turned into a giant open-air shopping area, with stalls and shops alike selling a wide range of competitively-priced goods. There is a fairground at the end nearest to the main train station.
Thanks for reading!
You can find more info at www.berlin.de (the site has an English section) and www.christmasmarkets.com
Berlin's Tiergarten, a 495 acre haven of greenery, was created as a Royal Hunting estate in the 1830s. Lying between Mitte and Charlotteburg, for many years it might have formed the barrier between east and west Berlin, but there was a dirty great big wall to do that job. In the middle of the Tiergarten there's a roundabout, which goes by the name of Großer Stern (great star), and in the middle of this roundabout stands the Siegessäule.
It lines up perfectly with Straße des 17 Juni, Der Brandenburger Tor and Unter den Linden, and is a credit to the vision of Berlin's 19th century town planners...or is it?
But first, what is it?
The Siegessäule is a 69m tall triumphal column which was constructed between 1864 to 1873 to celebrate the Prussian victory over Denmark in 1864. The 8m, 35 ton gilded figure at the top was added after further Prussian victories against Austria and France. The figure, known locally as 'Golden Else', represents Viktoria, Goddess of Victory.
But it wasn't always so.
In the beginning, well in the mid-19th century, the column only reached a paltry height of just over 50m. Not only that, it stood almost a mile further east, opposite the Reichstag building.
So what happened, did it grow taller, sprout legs and walk off to its present locale? Of course not. That would be ridiculous.
No the sensible explanation is that Mr Hitler (not someone who is well known for sensible solutions) had an extra column added increasing the height, and then had the whole shebang moved to its current location.
Was he mad? I hear you ask.
- Yes, I'm afraid he was. As mad as bag of wet squirrels.
It was all part of his plan to redesign Berlin as Welthauptstadt Germania, capital of a super state. And Berlin was redesigned, although not quite according to Hitler's plan. Speaking of war damage, the Siegessäule somehow managed to survive the conflict without major damage, and it was restored to its former glory in the 1980s.
The Siegessäule is one of Berlin's most well-known landmarks and a highly visible one at that. But there's more to it than a photo opportunity.
To get to it, you have to use one of the four subways - you could always cross the road, but I'm afraid that by the time you wait for a break in the traffic, chances are that some well-meaning dignitary could come along and move the thing somewhere else...again.
The red granite base is adorned with reliefs of battle scenes (these were removed by the Allies in 1945 to be reinstated in the 1980s). Above this is a columned hall with mosaic friezes and more reliefs depicting yet more battle scenes.
Then comes the fun part. The normally super-efficient German builders somehow or other neglected to install an elevator and instead the journey to the top involves climbing 285 steps which spiral ever upwards. Not a problem for me, but Mrs P has a 'thing' about spiral staircases and no amount of persuasion would convince her to ascend...so I didn't even try. Instead, I left her to wander around the shop (she doesn't have a 'thing' about shopping, unfortunately) while I took those twisting steps two or three at a time.
Stepping out on to the viewing platform, I audibly gasped. A quick puff of ventolin later, and I had a look around...and down. Peering straight down gives a wonderful impression of the street layout with all the roads converging on the Großer Stern and the broccoli-like trees of the Tiergarten. A swift, very swift, glance Westwards (it's not the most impressive vista) and then back towards the east shows Berlin in its glory as you line up the Brandenburg Gate and Unter den Linden with the Fernsehturm looming over it. The Glass dome of the Reichstag even peeks over the trees like some sort of surreal atrium.
One thing that's really noticeable on Berlin's skyline are the many giant cranes (the construction aids, not the birds), especially around the gleaming towers of the regenerated Potsdamer Platz.
But wait, there's more.
Unlike most viewing platforms, there's something to see when you look upwards...apart from blue skies, that is.
From here, you get a bird's eye view Golden Else in all her splendour...actually, since you're looking up, I suppose it would be a flightless bird's eye view.
Oh well, you can only look at a view for so long, so a quick descent returned me to an impatient Mrs P who, being not overly impressed with the souvenir shop, was eager to be out in the sunshine and on her way.
We could've lingered for a while in the cafe/bar, but it was far too nice a day to sit inside and so we made our way towards the pavement cafes of Unter den Linden.
In conclusion, while the Siegessäule is undoubtedly one of Berlin's most famous landmarks, it hardly warrants the entrance fee. The panorama from the viewing platform is pretty good, but it pales into insignificance compared to that from the Fernsehturm...and those 285 steps are energy-sapping (not to mention lung-bursting).
The shop is OK, but you can pick up most of what's on offer in any souvenir shop in the city. Likewise the bar/cafe is hardly worth making the detour for. In it's favour, the admission charge is only a couple of euros, so it hardly eats into the holiday budget. But if you're not going to climb the steps, it seems a bit pointless visiting at all, especially when it's visible from pretty much everywhere anyway.
Berlin is basically two cities in one with loads to offer. Walk on the western side, you will feel like you are just like in any modern western city. Step next into the eastern side and the modern city suddenly dissapears. You may have heard of the infamous wall but to find leftovers of it would take you a great time and effort to find one. One little bit left of the 165 km wall can be found near the Osbahnhof where its known as the East Side Gallery with beautiful painted murals of the peoples feeling of the wall. To get there just take the S-Bahn 3,7 or 9. The place may look a little dodgy but do not be discouraged. Just get off the station and head south and you should be able to find the wall after a five minute walk. Seeing the wall can and the painted murals which speak for itself can really be a touching and moving experience. Missing it and you will deffinitely miss what Berlin really was for decades!
If you have a limited time to spend in Berlin, the list of sights and attractions can seem terribly daunting- how on Earth do you choose? The answer, I would suggest, is to take an 'Insider Tours' walking tour of the city. I've just spent a month travelling in Europe and this tour was the best bargain I got the whole time; DM15 for students, 20 for others. A girl I met in Amsterdam recommended it to me as she too said it was the best experience of her trip. It's led by native English speakers who, for various reasons, have lived or worked in Berlin for some time. The guy who led our tour, called Lucas, was just fantastic. He was so incredibly knowledgeable about the history, politics, culture, shopping, restaurants and nightlife etc. He was also really funny and came across as a real human being rather than a lecturer! The tour meets outside the MacDonalds' opposite Zoo station twice a day (there are yellow and blue signs near the station telling you the times- I think it was 10.30 and 2.30). From there, you walk through the Tiergarten and on into the rest of Berlin, with frequent stops for the guide to give you information and answer questions. You see all the main sights of Berlin- from the outside at least- which allows you to choose what you want to go and see yourself in more detail (you get honest opinions about the museums, for example!). These sights include the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, remains of the Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, Unter den Linden, plus many of the (few) old buildings that remain, such as museums and churches, and the place where all the books were burned during Hitler's reign. I'm sure it's much better to see these things when there's someone there to tell you their history, so you undertsand them better. The guide also gave us maps of Berlin and explained the public transport system to us, which was handy. It took a lot longer than advertised (five hours!) but o
n a nice day that's not a problem. If you do nothing else in Berlin, do this!
Many people will write opinions about East and West Berlin, the wall or even the city’s nightlife. I want to write about an attraction that is a bit different, one that I don’t think many other people will do – I’m going to write about the Wannsee-Conference. The House of the Wannsee-Conference is a villa built at the start of the 20th century, and it has a dark history. It’s not one of the more traditional attractions of Berlin but I found it to be excellent, I spent most of the day at the House before walking along the shores of the nearby lake – it was an excellent day. The Site: On the 20th January 1942 a meeting was held at this House consisting of 14 high-ranking military and civil servants in Germany. The Wannsee conference was concerned with the organisation and implementation of ‘The Final Solution’ to the Jews. There is much to see at the House. Information on the Holocaust and the psychology behind the Nazi’s behaviour is found here in an excellent permanent exhibition, and although in German there is an English guidebook. The staff also speak excellent English and there is a multimedia library and educational department to give an insight into the conference and the Nazi’s hate of the Jews. I am finding it hard to put the attraction into words so I’ll have to end this opinion, but accompanied with a trip to a nearby concentration camp I was really moved and disturbed by what is so recent in history. I have supplied some details below if you’re interested. To reach it by public transport: Get onto the S-Bahn and make your way to Wannsee. From there catch the 114 bus and this takes you right to door of the villa. Telephone: 030 80 50 01-0
With a rich and often troubled history Berlin is home to many fascinating sights and attractions including the East Side Gallery, the Berlin TV Tower, the Gedachtnis Church, and many more.