I have been thinking about the topic of my first post for a while. The more I think, the more I am convinced that there is only one thing I would like to start writing about: i.e. Berlin, the city I have been living in for over three years now, which never stops fascinating and inspiring me.
I moved to Berlin in late September 2012 in order to attend the Freie Universtität (Free University) as an exchange student. I left my hometown and, for the first time in my life, I moved to another country for a reason other than spending my holidays somewhere.
I can recall – but hardly express – the mixture of excitement and fear I felt during that period. I was thrilled, happy and eager to start my new life in the new city. As a student of Foreign Languages, I could already write and speak German fluently, but I was impatient to put my language skills to the test and to immerse myself in the real Berlin culture.
After a couple of weeks, it was clear to me that, for once, I was in the right place at the right time. I fell in love with Berlin and with its culture. I fell in love with the techno-scene, with the start-up scene, with Berlin coffee places, and with the life in Berlin altogether. And, with time, I got to know the city of the sharp contrasts, in which the start-up scene blooms near the arts and alternative culture, and the organic movement moves stronger together with the drug abuse.
After my Erasmus came to an end in July 2013, I took up an internship at a local company and decided that I would stay longer in the city of my dreams. While staying in Berlin and working full-time in the Marketing field, I still managed to find the time to study, writing my Master Thesis and I successfully graduated in December 2014.
Still, together with all the fulfillment and happiness that Berlin has brought to me, this city has also seen me going through rough and challenging times. There have been – and there still are – hard days and hard weeks, when I miss my family and the comfort of my home. There have been people I have lost because of my moving abroad. There have been times where a begging question would pop up in my mind several times a day and I would wonder: seriously, what I am doing here?.
Failed distance relationships, powerful fits of loneliness, the pressing need for a place “where you belong”, are all experiences that every expat knows too well. However, I don´t want to ramble on too long about this as all these powerful feelings will surely be the topic of another blog post (or two).
After such a long introduction, now you know who I am and how much I love this city I have gotten to know so well. In the next lines and in another couple of posts, I will guide you through both the touristy and the underground Berlin, by showing you the city through the eyes of its young lover.
A walk in Mitte
Mitte (German for “center”) is the most famous and expensive part of Berlin (yes, the one with the Brandenburger Gate). It is very touristy but it is still super nice and, if this is your first time in Berlin, it is a must-see.
Start from Alexanderplatz, have a look at the Fernsehturm (you can also go up the TV tower and see the beautiful Berlin from above: still, consider that you will have to wait around 3 hours for your turn and you will have to pay around 12-15€ per person) and walk past the St. Marienkirche towards Karl-Liebknecht-Straße. Turn around for a second and have a look at the sharp contrast between the small ancient church and the huge modern tower. This is Berlin.
Once on Karl-Liebknecht-Straße, keep walking straight toward the Spree, the river that cross the city. Here starts the real tour in the “classic” Berlin: first of all the amazing Berliner Dom, then on the right, the Museen Insel, the island of the museums. Here, among nice gardens and arcades, you will find three of the biggest and most famous museums of Berlin: the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Pergamommuseum (definitely worth a visit) and the Neues Museum.
If it is still too early for so much culture, walk through the Lustgarden back to the main street, Unter den Linden (“under the linden trees”). If you can speak or read German, stop by the Humbolt Universität, in front of which they sometimes sell second hand books. Otherwise, walk straight on Unter den Linden until Charlottenstraße: here, turn left and pay a visit to the Gendarmenmarkt, where you will see the Konzerthaus Berlin and two more stunning churches (the Deutscher Dom and the Französischer Dom).
Go back to Unter den Linden and enjoy your walk until the Brandenburger Gate: my tip is to organize your time in such a way that you get here at the sunset (which may happen at very different times depending on seasonality: the sun sets at around 4 PM in winter and at 10 PM in summer). Take your time and enjoy the view of the sun setting right behind the majestic Gate, then turn right and pay a visit to the German Parliament (the Reichstag).
After leaving the Parliament, walk straight on Ebertstraße, pay a visit to the touching Holocaust Memorial and then walk on until you reach the ultra-modern Potsdamerplatz. Do not overlook the signs on the floor, which show where the Berlin wall used to be. At this point, after having walked around 3,5 km, you will surely be hungry and need some rest: have a bit at VaPiano, directly on Potsdamer Platz – VaPiano is a chain of pseudo-italian restaurant (or rather: half restaurant halt fast food), where you can have a super tasty and light meal and good wine at a reasonable price. They also have amazing salads and gluten-free options.
Moving away from Mitte
If you have already been in Berlin or if you want to see something less touristy and more characteristic, then move away from Mitte and explore the other districts of Berlin.
Located south of the Spree, Kreuzberg is an eclectic district in an eclectic city. With its coffee places, its bars and its parks, Kreuzberg is the part of the city where everyone would like to live – wasn´t it that in the last few years it has turn from alternative, student district into expensive, in area. Indeed, Kreuzberg still maintains its flair and is one of the nicest areas of the city.
If you are in Kreuzberg, do not miss a walk on Paul-Linke-Ufer: take the tube and stop at Kottbusser Tor, then walk towards the Channel and start walking along the water. The walk is beautiful, the views are stunning and it is a perfect rout for both jogging and for a stroll.
Also worth seeing, and indeed one of my favourite attractions is the East Side Gallery. Take the U-Bahn until Waschauer Straße and, while sitting in the train, enjoy the stunning view from the Oberbaumbrücke. Then walk towards the Spree and take a look at the 1,3 km long section of the Berlin Wall, which represents an international memorial for freedom.
Another thing you will love about Kreuzberg is its green parks: definitely go to Victoria Park, which will mesmerize you with its hills and water falls, and have a drink at Golgotha, the only Biergarten in the park. If you want something more characteristic, have a look at Görlitzerpark – the park is not particularly nice but super lively during spring and summer, where all young and less young people gather in “Görli” to grill, play or have an after-work beer together. Do not be shocked at the amount of guys selling drugs in and outside the park. If you are not interested in the service, ust stay away from them. After all, you are in Berlin.
Prenzlauer Berg is a peaceful and pittoresque area located north of the Spree. It is the district you want to move to when you have a family and kids. If you live in Prenzlauer Berg, you are either an hipster, or you eat vegan and organic, or you are a stay-at-home mum, or the three of them.
Prenzlauer Berg is in itself an attraction. Walk around the streets in the Rosenthaler Platz/ Rosa Luxemburg Platz area and enjoy its nice streets, coffee places and small restaurants. The best day for visiting PrenzBerg is definitely on a Sunday: have brunch with some friends at one of the plenty places offering a delicious breakfast and then walk all the way to Mauerpark, the big, famous Park where every Sunday a huge flee market takes place. Have a look around the market, enjoy the street artists´ performances in the park, have a matcha latte with soy milk à la Berlin and wait until 4 PM for the usual Sunday karaoke to start.
A note on the weather
The weather, oh, the weather. If there is something about this city which I really don´t like, well, it is the weather. The winter in Berlin is freezing cold (temperatures get as low as -15 to -20 ⁰C in January) and autumn is gray and long. Spring comes late, usually at the beginning of May, but when it comes, you will see the city at its best. All the Berliners have a soft spot for a nice sunny day and during spring and summer everyone will spend as much time as possible outside, in parks, bars or on the streets. Summer is beautiful and, in the last years, it got really hot with peaks of 37 to 38 ⁰C in July and August.
I hope you enjoyed walking with me through Berlin. Still, this was far from all I would like to write about Berlin. As said, the city is beautiful and it still fascinates me after over three years. In the next posts, I will talk a bit more about food, drinks, parties, start-ups, music and the techno scenes.