A little before Christmas, my friend Alice and I went away to Berlin for a few days. Both of our first visits to Germany, we planned to spend our time exploring Berlin, drinking plenty of beer, and visiting the Christmas markets. Catching an evening flight into Berlin from London Heathrow, we navigated our way to Humboldthain Park. It was pretty easy to get from the airport via bus and U-Bahn. We reached the hotel and settled into our room, our new home for the next few days. Both of us were ready for a few days of sightseeing in Berlin.
Arriving in Berlin
We were staying at the AC Hotel Berlin in Humboldthain Park, Gesundbrunnen. We got a great deal through Expedia, and the hotel was great. Contemporary and fresh, the room suited us down to the ground. It’s also close to Gesundbrunnen U-Bahn station, and a bunch of shops and restaurants.
We unpacked our suitcases, and headed out in search of our first German beer. Luckily enough, there was a bar just down the road from us. We pulled up a chair and the friendly bartender brought over two Berliner Kindls. Our first taste of Berlin!
Funnily enough, we had to pay in cash. That’s one tip for you – make sure you have plenty of Euros to pay with in bars, cafes, and restaurants. Craving somewhere a little more chic and less yokel, we discover Studio8.
It’s a dark, cavernous style cocktail bar, lit purely by candles and neon. A good way of exploring Berlin is certainly through its bars and beers. We took a seat, grabbed a beer each, and enjoyed the atmosphere.
Ready to head back to the hotel, we had to stop for some late night munchies, Berlin style. What other than a schnitzel and a currywurst to share? If you’re unfamiliar with a currywurst, it’s a German staple. It’s a fast food dish made of fried pork sausage, topped with curry ketchup. It’s usually served with fries.
We grabbed it from Curry Baude outside Gesundbrunnen station. Not the healthiest, but a great way to soak up the beers!
Afterwards, we crossed the road back to our hotel. A wonderful first night in Berlin, and so much more to come.
Brunch at Father Carpenter
The next morning, we woke feeling pretty fresh and very ready for a day of exploring Berlin. We grabbed a ticket on the U-Bahn (don’t forget to validate yours, else you may be fined!) and travelled in search of brunch. Google had kindly recommended a spot for us in Berlin’s trendy Mitte district, so we headed there first. We got off at Alexanderplatz and walked along to Münzstraße.
The area here is lovely – home to some gorgeous boutique shops and trendy cafes and restaurants. We strolled around until we found the courtyard we were looking for. Walk on through, and welcome to Father Carpenter.
Much to our delight – and not typically enjoyed during brunch in London – we were quickly seated. The coffee was delicious, and we made some choices on the food.
I ordered the avocado, roasted corn, and poached eggs on sourdough toast. How very basic of me, I know! It was absolutely delicious, and even better for coming served with pesto and parmesan cheese on top too.
Both of us left feeling very content, and ready for a little Berlin sightseeing.
Museum Island, Berlin
There are many landmarks to be appreciated and seen in Berlin. In can almost seem a little overwhelming to begin with, so make sure you have a few highlights in mind for your day. We started off at Museum Island. Also known as Museumsinsel, it’s home to five museums boasting works from Berlin and beyond.
This iconic building is Berlin Cathedral. Its dome is one of Berlin’s most famous landmarks, and it signposts the home of the impressive basilica. With its elaborate detail and designs, Berlin Cathedral is well worth exploring both inside and out.
We walked along to discover more of Museumsinsel. Right near Alte Nationalgalerie, we found these beautiful ancient columns – the perfect spot for a little photography.
Berlin’s Alte Nationalgalerie is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was built in the late nineteenth century. In a neoclassical style that resembles a Greek temple, the museum houses a huge collection of nineteenth century paintings. Here, you can find masterpieces by artists like Rodin and Monet.
We shuffled on, and I spotted this tiny chair hanging from tree. It just goes to show what you can see when you look up and around you.
We continued to walk through Museum Island, in search of more of Berlin’s attractions and sights. This pretty pink building is the German Historical Museum. It’s home to over 7,000 exhibits that give a good indication of the vibrant history of Germany.
Below is Humboldt University. Over 200 years old, Humboldt University is one of Germany’s most prestigious universities. I loved the grandiose building of the university. It has a world class reputation for arts and humanities, so definitely well up my street.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
As a break from our foray into exploring Berlin, with beady eyes we spotted a gluhwein stall. To warm up from the icy November temperatures, of course, we had to grab one. It served as the perfect pickmeup.
As we walked and talked, we moved onto something a little more sobering and sombre. Introducing the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It’s pretty central to the heart of Berlin, both physically and metaphorically. The memorial is striking, and a place to remember and warn people of the tragedies that occurred.
The memorial was constructed after much debate in German parliament, designed by New York architect, Peter Eisenman. Officially opened in 2005, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe covers 19,000 square metres. Eisenman positioned 2,711 concrete slabs within the memorial, each of different heights. Open to all, throughout the day and night, you can immerse yourself within the concrete slabs of the memorial.
A must-see while exploring Berlin, the memorial is on a slope with a slightly uneven floor. This gives many visitors a sensation of dizziness and uncertainty. The way it’s so accessible allows each visitor to confront the memorial and its significance in a unique way. It’s certainly a way to remember all of the terrible things that happened to the murdered Jews.
Just around the corner from the Memorial of Murdered Jews of Europe is the iconic Brandenburg Gate. As well as being Berlin’s last surviving historical city gate, it’s a huge symbol and a landmark. The Brandenburg Gate actually came to mark the Cold War division of Berlin into the East and West. Ever since the fall of the Wall, it has since marked the reunion of Germany itself.
The Brandenburg Gate is one of the earliest examples of a neoclassical building in Germany. On the day we visited, there was a huge climate change protest. Although we couldn’t get up close and personal with the Brandenburg Gate itself, we planned to come back another day.
After a look around, we took a break from exploring Berlin. We discovered an adorable, traditional German pub. We took a seat and ordered a couple of glasses of red wine to warm up. Around us were dozens of German ornaments and paintings. We could also smell the aroma of traditional food like pork knuckle and potatoes.
In search of a little more culture, we went on to the Topography of Terror. It’s a museum that remembers the persecution on the site of the SS central command and the Gestapo. The museum itself tells you about the crimes that were organised within the building. You can discover photos and documents that show when the Nazis took control until the end of the war.
It’s a harrowing yet informative museum that reveals the injustices of the war and how history unfolded. I’d highly recommend it to anyone visiting Berlin.
Next on our agenda of exploring Berlin was Checkpoint Charlie. Located on Friedrichstraße and Zimmerstraße, it’s a symbol of the former border crossing. It’s also a reminder of the Cold War and the division of Berlin. We actually paid to enter the museum, but you needn’t.
In fact, the barrier and checkpoint booth in the street, as well as the flag and sandbags all originate from the site. They’re a great spot for photos, and often you’ll see an actor dressed in US Army gear too.
It’s certainly an attraction to tick off while you’re exploring Berlin. The irony of the American sector sign being next to a KFC, hey!?
After checking out Checkpoint Charlie, we headed back to Alexanderplatz to get back to the hotel. We were hungry and wanted to get ready for the night ahead of us in Berlin.
An Evening in Berlin
Each festive period in Alexanderplatz, there’s a Christmas market. It’s one of the busiest Christmas markets in Berlin, and it’s a sensory overload. With bright lights and delicious fragrances, visitors can well and truly get into the Christmas spirit.
You’ll discover stalls selling traditional Christmas goods and crafts. Arrive hungry, and nibble on tasty gingerbread and Bratwurst sausage. Of course, all this needs to be washed down with mulled wine as you walk around the bright lights of Alexanderplatz.
There are daily shows at the Christmas market as well as fairground rides, making it fun for all the family. Take a ride on the ferris wheel for magnificent views over Alexanderplatz, the iconic Fernsehturm Needle, and across Berlin. The city is well worth visiting near Christmas for the festive markets in themselves.
After a little wander, we were hungry and went to Lebensmittel in Mitte for dinner. It’s an adorable restaurant – pretty cosy and little by candlesticks. We ordered a glass of red wine each and perused the menu.
Both of us ended up ordering the goulash. It was the first time I’d had goulash before, and it was very rich and tasty. Perfect for lining our stomachs for the night ahead, of course!
We went back to our hotel to get ready and have a few drinks before heading out. It’s a fact that Berlin is one of the best party cities in Europe, so we were intrigued to see what it’s like.
Based on recommendation, we went to KitKat Club in Berlin. With an hour or so wait to get in, it’s important you take drinks for the queue.
We finally made it in and what an experience! Little did we know the dress code, or indeed the style of nightclub. It turns out you have to give all phones in at the door. Many people then decide to get undressed, rather like in Berghain. After that, it’s pretty much a free for all
It was certainly interesting to see. After a while, we decided we’d seen all we needed to, and headed to bed. See you again tomorrow, Berlin!
That was it for our first day of exploring Berlin. Is there anything else you’d recommend seeing in Berlin? Let me know in the comments below.