Berlin Round 2

It was refreshing to return back to Berlin, where over the years, the city has gained an incredible individualistic reputation, a place to be, create and live.

BerlinTen years on from my initial visit, my new exploration of Berlin somewhat changed my previous perspective of the city. Yes, the city is soaked with history, oozing with sophistication and glamour in some areas, and a living, breathing, story book- but this time, I was able to explore underground Berlin- the nitty, gritty side of it.

berlinStaying in the neighbourhood of Kreuzberg meant that we really were getting to grips with the urban edge of Berlin. Away from the polished streets and renowned architectural triumphs, we were fighting the February elements by graffiti studded streets and raunchy underground sex clubs. A completely different experience to my previous visit of Berlin which you can read here.

berlinBut I had come this time, to explore the artistic flair of Berlin, with which so many expats choose to thrive in, the cultural identity that hipster Berlin has formed, and the world famous nightclubs with their varied and intense music scene.

berlinBeginning our short weekend trip with a free Street Art tour from Alternative Tours in Berlin was the right choice. Starting in the commercial Alexander Platz and led by a young Aussie who had fallen in love with Berlin herself, she took us around neighbourhoods, pointing out established artists- their work and their message, whilst highlighting stories that accompanied the neighbourhood.

berlinAs hipster young artists surged to barren areas of Berlin for cheap rent prices and began to form communities and unique shops and bars, other people followed the artistic trend, meaning rent prices begun to increase. To avoid the costly changes, graffiti and street art suffocates the walls of many neighbourhoods in East Berlin, etching tag names and slogans on buildings that are precariously high and dangerous to reach. Strolling through neighbourhoods, we took in sights of cheap donner shops inviting all to snack, corner shops with towering produce, flamboyant shops selling recycled jewellery and bars that purposefully look shoddy to avoid customers.  You can immediately sense that this side of Berlin still seems separate to West Berlin, by identity and by culture.

berlinMauer Park is a popular tourist attraction on a Sunday and so we headed there afterwards, changing direction from East Berlin, through Central to North Berlin, at the neighbourhood of Prenzlauer Berg.  The neighbourhood showed us a glimpse of what Berlin is like to those who can afford high rent prices. As similar as to coming out of Shoreditch in London to Notting Hill, sweeping pavements lined with bare trees led us to our destination. We passed exclusive bars and worldly restaurants that actually had tables to sit in- which lacked in many of the restaurants where we were staying.

BerlinPreened and proper locals walked their equally preened dogs along the streets and we looked at each other, as if to question each other- which neighbourhood would you prefer? We headed over to the Flea Market just as they were closing up, where painted portraits of Frida Kahlo, vintage jumpers and classic records were on sale. Glancing over our warm cups of Chai Latte and apple pies, we noticed that very little locals visited this market, it merely being a location where tourists flocked to gape and gawk at (or buy lots of earrings in my case).  Although a wonderful market to browse, do be wary that it might not be as authentic as you imagine.

berlinFrom here we headed nearby to an infamous beer hall, Pratergarten, to drink in the traditional style of Steins and sit in orderly rows whilst glugging their home grown brew. But, alas, it being February, the beer hall was shut, and so we were herded into their restaurant – an incredibly fancy establishment.  It did look like a lovely place to dine and relax in, the décor looked as if to resemble a lavish hunting lodge, however with no reservation and not the budget to eat there either, we sipped our dark beers and regained our strength to move on.

berlinWe spent our final day exploring the key sights that all need to see when visiting Berlin, the Berlin Wall (but the East Side Gallery, rather than the traditional part of the wall kept at Checkpoint Charlie) we saw the messages respected artists left on the walls for the future generations, the original creations left to inspire and educate, as well as the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate.

berlinWe left little time in our days to see the sights, and all with bleary eyes, aching limbs and heavy heads. That’s only because we spent our nights so vigorously exploring Berlin after dark. On our first night we headed to Wilde Renate, a house party style club filled with weird décor and varied music in all of the rooms, reputed amongst the ravers of Berlin. But in the true traditional style of Berlin, we weren’t allowed entry into the club.

Being rejected from clubs is actually a common thing in Berlin, in fact for the biggest techno club, Berghain, there is even an article on VICE of some of those who have been rejected from the club, for no particular reason. The bouncer at Berghain is notorious for his picky attitude and rude manners, and not wanting to spend hours queuing for a club we might not even get into, we decided not to visit. So it was no real surprise that we were rejected from this club. It could have been the fact that we turned up at 12 when it opened (which we later found out was totally uncool and really you should turn up at 2am to that club), maybe it was because we were in a group (they apparently don’t like large groups), maybe it was because we were obvious tourists, or maybe it was because my friend was seen drinking outside the club, either way- it was a no go. We headed to the bar opposite – which is awesome by the way, although very smoky, so if you are heading to Wilde Renate, make sure you stop here before for a few drinks.

For our second night, we were more prepared and organized for Berlin’s arrogant door staff. We first headed to Icky, a fun gay club. Now this isn’t a gay club which you might be used to visiting in London or any other cosmopolitan city, this was a little more hard core than that. Videos on the walls of… well you get the picture, were unexpected. Ignoring the screens, we made friends on the dancefloor whilst dancing to Spice Girls. Although sticking out like a sore thumb for being a group of tourists, we had a great time and were happy to experience the gay scene in Berlin, albeit briefly.

We then headed to another type of clubbing experience which Berlin is renowned for, a techno club. Watergate was incredibly close to where we were staying, and so it was an obvious choice for us. Making it into this bar/club, we were rewarded by a river view from the bar of the ominous night of Berlin and its stunning architecture that resembled a turret from Harry Potter. Descending downstairs into the thumping dancefloor we saw Berliners really let loose, and joined the sweltering crowd ourselves. Despite the really strict boring dress code which Berliners seem to adopt (black, black and oh did I mention black?), we finally realised and recognised why so many visitors end up never leaving Berlin. They know how to party.

BerlinTo fully explore and immerse yourself in Berlin, you need much longer than just a few days here and there. It is ideal to explore Berlin by neighbourhood, to fully comprehend the sheer size and diversity of Berlin. Make sure you leave time to recover from its wild nights, so you are able to explore its original pieces of art and significant artefacts of history too.

Day Tripping to Dusseldorf

Dusseldorf, is nowhere near like its rival Cologne. The city is spruced up with glistening architecture, modern buildings and suave looking locals. Designer shops line the streets, fine dining is offered in most establishments and even the bars are neat and orderly. In fact, Dusseldorf could even be where the stereotypical perception of Germans being “efficient” came from, because Dusseldorf is… well, efficient. Cologne offers historical splendours that are soaked in heritage, whilst Dusseldorf, offers a dynamic metropolis filled with a stable economy and financial districts. Although we can’t blame Dusseldorf for being so… straight. Due to the city largely being destroyed in World War II, most of the city has been rebuilt, regenerated to function for business.

We took a short trip from Cologne to see Dusseldorf and honestly, I am really glad we did. Although I am painting a rather narrow minded picture of Dusseldorf, it does have a little bit of spice under its surface.

Walking along the Promenade on the bank of Rhine highlights the cities wealth and skyline superbly. Wander along the river or sit at a bench and watch the world wander by, whilst marvelling at the varied architecture of Dusseldorf. The Media Harbour is a prime example of the interesting architecture that Dusseldorf has on offer. It combines the past and present with the protected depot buildings and quarry walls with new and hip architecture which adds a bold quirky edge to the setting. The area is filled with lovely bars, restaurants, cafes and clubs, making many visitors spend more time than expected here. Another hip and stylish area is Carlstadt, where artists life and ethos reflects onto the chic boutiques, antique stores and coffee bars that create your drink into a masterpiece.  Come here to the a daily market to buy an assortment of sweet treats.

Dusseldorf is also well known for its art scene (expect no urban gritty art hidden on street wall corners- but varied art work hung in airy exhibition galleries). Kunstsammlung Nordrhein- Westfalen is a large art museum and K21 Stande Hause and K20 Grabbeplatz are also fantastic art venues. For a little variation head to Kunsthalle for a contemporary art show and Hetjens Musuem for its 800 years of ceramic art from all over the world- quite extraordinary. The City Monument is artwork from Bert Gerresheim but tells the story of the city’s local history starting with the battle of Worringen, which offers a fascinating insight into Dusseldorf’s past.

Dusseldorf

But what most visitors come to Dusseldorf for is to see if the claim is true. Yes, Dusseldorf have claimed to have “the longest bar in the world” in Altstadt, the historical quarter. Within one square kilometre, there are 260 bars all nestled together heaving with joyful customers who are letting their hair down after a stressful day at the office. Don’t judge the drinkers by their Armani suits, they will be happy to chat to you about anything really. Just be careful not to order Kolsch (Cologne’s beer) you will have no friends -but enemies then.

We headed to Brauerei Im Fuchschen to dine in a traditional beer hall (expect it to be noisy and messy) although I have also heard Carlsplatz and Munstermann Kontor are also delicious venues. There are not many great clubs here, the focus is largely on bars and beer gardens but the art venue Kunsthalle does turn into an even more compelling venue after dark.

Dusseldorf is a wonderful city to wander around in and see more of Germany, although I do feel coming on a day trip is the perfect time frame to visit. 

Sleeping in Bonn to Visit Cologne

A close friend of mine who I met travelling in Australia is from Dortmund in Germany, and she enthusiastically told me I must visit. After much saving, I booked a ticket to stay with her in her flat in Bonn, the former capital of West Germany and home to the most famous composer in the world, Beethoven.

The city is small but due to its large university campus, the streets, cafes and bars, are overflowing with fresh faced students that create the atmosphere of the city to be young, vibrant and energetic. My friend being a student herself and living right next to the “strip” of bars, meant that we were incredibly close to the action. Just steps away from beer gardens and bratwurst, it was hard to ignore. People gathered outside under heaters sipping large steins of beers and chatting enthusiastically about assignments, the future and love, whilst bars and clubs played noisy tunes from their speakers forming a constant hum of background noise. As you can imagine, we spent most of our time in Bonn either outside in the area of Nordstadt late at night, or trying to recover hidden from natural light inside my friends flat. Although the attractions we saw were clubs such as Blow Up and Drei Raum Wohnung, there are actually sights to see (other than ones with alcohol in) in the city of Bonn.

A visit to Beethoven’s town house should really be made as it shows an insight into the composer’s life, with scribbles, song sheets and even his last piano. There is a media show nearby where you can learn about his journey as a composer and the struggles he faced. Cycle around this historical area of Munsterplatz taking in breathtaking views of basilica’s before you race past the glistening lavish building of Kurfürstliche Residenz on the way to the Deutsches Museum to learn about what creations Germans have come up with. Visit the Arithmeum for a blend of science, technology and art, or Kunstmuseum Bonn to see 20th century works of art.

We left the small town of Bonn behind us and couch surfed with fellow German students in the city of Cologne for a few days. The city is a historical haven; remnants of Roman life are embedded into the city, stunning architecture clings to churches and post war buildings, whilst real nonchalant vibes float around the city, making all that visit feel incredibly comfortable straight from the start.

Old town in Cologne

Cologne’s Dom is at the heart of it all, taking the centre stage and being known visually as what Cologne looks like. The original landmark of Europe, until the Eiffel Tower was built, the Kolner Dom stands prominently and proud on the horizon. Soaring twin towers ascend to the sky and the pointy spires that line the building looks as if made out of matchsticks. The design is intricate and Gothic, contrasting to the horizon and an obvious homage to historical and traditional Cologne. Wander inside to marvel at Germany’s largest cathedral filled with airy light and stunning stained glass windows that are specifically designed by renowned artists. Similar beauty can be found in the traditional 12 Romanesque Churches that also have stained glass windows, although not on par to those at the Dom. You can learn more about medieval religious art and sculpture at the Museum Schnutgen, and there are many museums in the city that are filled with exhibits on the Roman history that thrives here.

Cologne Dam

Art is embedded into the city of Cologne as well, whether if it is a trip to the Museum Ludwig to explore modern art from the likes of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, or simply wandering through the city, or should I say “Veedel”– city quarters. The one area that stood out to me the most was the laid back area of Agnesviertel, it had a bohemian vibe to the place as my friend and I wandered street corners taking in funky street art, snacking on pizza and passing independent bookshops and art galleries. I would really recommend spending some time here exploring around at your own leisure, as this area of the city is a real gem to the culture of Cologne. Heading to the historical veedel of Sudstadt is where most of the tourist attractions are and gives you a lovely view of the Rhine, and there are numerous Kolsch (beer) gardens to choose from. Keeping your beer fresh is a priority here, so waiters will always keep your glass topped up with local brew, which can be a little dangerous! Remember that the waiters use your coaster as a bill, putting a line when you have received another beer so be clear when you don’t want another one. As well as this, many of the bars (and clubs for that matter) are extremely pro active with recycling and enhancing the environment, (and the UK should follow this as well) by giving the partier a token when you buy a bottled beer, if you bring back the beer bottle when empty and the token you receive money- a great concept to push recycling!

Street Art in Cologne

There are a number of wonderful parks to stroll around and the university campus is situated right by one of them. If the weather is good, grab your picnic gear and head to your nearest park, it is popular with many students and there are a number of barbecue points you are welcome to use throughout. Another wonderful place for a walk is along the Hohenzollern Bridge where love padlocks have been attached. Row upon row of padlocks, all shapes and sizes, are attached to the meshing of the bridge, acting as a symbol for couples (or friends) love for one another. It truly is a heart warming sight to see, and creates a wonderful image that encapsulates the hope and dreams of many, as well as highlighting what really makes life worth living for, love, and what ever or whoever you might have that for.

Cologne LocksC

ologne, like Bonn has an eclectic range of night-life, which catalyses and grows on the energy and enthusiasm that merrymakers pour into drinking, partying and socialising. Cologne has a vast type of music scene here, although I would say there is a particular emphasis and interest on punk, indie and rock music (unlike Berlin which focuses heavily on techno and electronic music). We found ourselves being led to an upmarket edgy bar by our couch surfers for overpriced mixers in a basement where the DJ played trance music, and then ending our night in the rock bar- Club Underground where beers were 4 euros and I moshed so much in the crowd, I fell over. Well if you can’t beat em, join em right? 

Beguiling Berlin

Berlin, the city that truly never sleeps. One of the only cities in the world that has a Night Mayor, a real inclination of how superb the night life is and reigns supreme- even over Amsterdam– with the best night life in Europe. The city where parties are non stop, constant invitations to enjoy life, any and every day. Where clubs open their doors on Friday night and only shut them on Monday- a full 72 hours later. The city where new innovators in house and techno rise from playing in bedrooms, to vast warehouses or empty swimming pools. Where one moment you are in a tightly packed dance floor, warm with sweat and body heat, then another in a traditional authentic pub with strong local beer on tap. Or one moment you are sipping elegant cocktails in an opulent setting, another in the basement of an art gallery with interactive installations. Berlin is notorious for its thriving noisy night life that hums to the beat of the young trendy artistic people that live here, all embracing the avant garde lifestyle that Berlin now exemplifies through its regeneration into a cultural hub of creativity.

Unfortunately on my visit here I did not bear witness to the grimy dance floors, the fluorescent lights or the new and quirky music. I came on a school history trip, whilst studying the Second World War, so my entire visit was based on the historical sights of Berlin. Although, please note, I will be back sooner rather than later to experience its night-life- don’t you worry.

Despite only visiting certain areas and sights of Berlin, throughout my entire trip I was constantly told about the historical significance of buildings, of particular sights- small details that one might not necessary find in a guidebook. This was because of the personal tour guide we had, and our history teachers who were enthralled to be in a city which was filled with so much history and played such a pivotal role in WW2. The city is a blend of past and present, authentic buildings resonate historical value, whilst neighbouring unique shops and individual cafes sell food with flair and designs that ooze a hip and modern charm to all those that wear them.

The Reichstag is a fantastic sight to start your exploration of the blend between the two tenses. Once a parliamentary building, the Reichstag played an iconic role in history, and has now been transformed into an ideal venue to experience the entirety of Berlin’s skyline from its glittering glass dome. Brandenburger Tor and Pariser Platz is also an iconic sight, and is widely used to represent Berlin today. Once a symbol of division in the cold war, this elegant arch now accentuates German reunification, the city that now stands together, as one and in peace.  The Berlin Victory Column also epitomises success, but largely from the Danish Prussian War in 1864. The top of the statue is also another way to see the horizon of Berlin from a height.

Checkpoint Charlie is an infamous historical attraction, which is originally a crossing point stood between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. Used as a meeting place for spies, the attraction is now filled with a fancy museum and many photographic opportunities with Russian or American hats. Although seemingly now a jovial scene, do remember the distress and despair this site once was a part of. The Berlin Wall is no doubt, Berlin’s most famous sight (second to the nightclub Berghain although that attracts a different type of tourist).  The wall is a symbol of the once divided city, the segregated way of thinking and inhumane treatment to other beings that lived in the capital. A large stretch of the wall can be seen on the east side of the city centre where it is preserved as a gallery, used as a political statement to demonstrate the anguish at the past, and the optimistic hope Berlin has to its future. Head to the documentation centre of the Berlin Wall Memorial to experience how terrifying the “no man’s land” was, and  how much of a struggle life was like for those separated from jobs, and each other.

The two sites which really struck a chord with me and are emotionally overwhelming is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg. The former is a massive abstract  artwork near the Bradenburg Gate which represents the vast amount of innocent lives that were lost during the Holocaust. Blocks vary in size and are unevenly set apart from each other, creating an uneasy feeling which represents the loss of human reason. It is eerie walking through the memorial, with rows and rows of grey towering blocks standing around you, the haunting feeling that each mass space represents many lives, which are now as deathly silent as the buildings that surround you. Sachsenhausen- Oranienburg is equally horrifying. The only Nazi concentration camp close to Berlin, this site was used primarlily for political prisoners, and in areas of the camp one can see illustrative examples of torture and inhumane treatment.

Other places I would recommend to visit are; Museum Island, which is a UNESCO World heritage site thanks to its fantastic five museums all in walking distance to each other, the Jewish Museum, which offers an immersion into  Jewish culture, history and belief before and after the Holocaust, as well as the Topography of Terror, which narrates the inexcusable horrors the Nazi Regime applied,  all in its open-air museum.

As Berlin is such a vibrant city filled with artistic influences and cultural explorations, you will not be surprised to learn that Berlin has over 200 hundred art museums alone. Decipher what type of art, expression, narrative or style you are looking to find and you will most certainly narrow down your options. The most famous choices are the: Contemporary Fine Arts, Klemms and Alexander Levvy.

Although my time in Berlin was restrained to certain regulations and rules, meaning little flexibility on experiencing restaurants, bars and night clubs ( as well as being the young age of 15 so really, I would have not been getting in anywhere). I have been told by close friends, both German and non German, of the best haunts to go to. Of course electro and techno nights are understandably, the biggest nights in Berlin- but do not think they are the best. Berlin is an ideal place to source new and upcoming artists, or party to any genre you want at any time of day, any day of the week. A good place to keep you in the know is this website: joinjack.de.

However, as well as Berghain being the most notorious club – but also one of the hardest to get into if you are not a local, which the bloodhound bouncers can spot a mile off if you are not), head to BooHoo for a mix of R&B, UK bass or twerky pop. Berries for a vast array of Hip Hop, Mint for its all female electronic nights, or Liber Null for an unusual interactive Gothic night which will leave you with a sense of how different Berlin really is.

As I research and revive the memories I had of Berlin, I crave to return, to experience as many art galleries as I possibly can, and join the masses embracing the heaving dimly lit nightclubs and eccentric bars. So when you read this post keep in mind, it is, to be continued with my personal favourite list of after dark haunts.