Berlin was a bit of an odd duck. To be honest, we haven't decided how much we liked the city; we actually had a spirited discussion on if this was one of our least favorite capitals outside of Delhi. I don't mean to be rude or upset those we know who have always loved Berlin, but perhaps we didn't do the right parts of the city.
Of course, it is steeped in history, you can’t go far without a plaque or museum recounting information around WWII or the communist division. We often forget with Germany’s political & economic success that the country was only formally reunified in 1990. Our visit & most of the activities we did wouldn't have been possible 30 years ago; it never would have been allowed. That fact continues to be a reminder of how quickly things can change.
We did love our area of the city, Prenzlauer. Apparently right after the wall fell the area was unclean & unsafe as floods of people left East Berlin for better opportunities in the West. The area fell into disrepair & saw an increase in crime & drug problems. However, in the last 10 years or so it has gone through major rejuvenation & is now a thriving neighborhood with hundreds of mom & pop boutiques (amazing shopping), cafes & bars. It has become one of the wealthier bohemian areas with a resurgence of microbreweries & a funky art scene along with a major baby boom (one of the only ones in Europe).
Unlike so many parts of East Berlin, there's a homier feel to the old streets & buildings giving it a vastly different vibe from the stark & cold soviet era ones. And while Berlin is not Bavaria, we did enjoy a beer info & tasting tour in many of the new local breweries. Most Berliners will tell you they typically prefer the Bavarian beers to their original local brew with the new budding styles in local brews improving the tasting scene.
I say we may have done Berlin “wrong” only because we didn't dive into the “alternative” scene enough. Berlin is a hotbed for art, dancing & a flourishing underground scene that began taking hold before the wall fell & has since spread to the eastern city. The best clubs don't open until 3 am or later (earlier?) & the party will go all day through till Sunday evening. We generally prefer quieter & cozier pubs, luckily, we found plenty.
As we mentioned, the history in the city can be a bit overwhelming; there's so much to see & do. Let us recommend that the Stasi Museum is not necessarily one of those things. Yes, it was interesting & chalked full of details & facts of the Stasi network throughout the years but it was incredibly text heavy & I was a bit mind numbed at the end. The Panaromapunkt was another recommended stop for a bird’s eye view of the city (it’s incredibly flat so you can see forever) - we probably would not recommend it if you’re short on time or budget. The cost alone to go up is 7.50€ / person & it is an exciting view, so fine go if you want, but we didn't find it worth the money. Instead I'd rather give the Klunkerkranich a try - a rooftop bar suggested by locals which is supposed to boast beautiful views as well.
One place every person should visit is the Berlin Wall Memorial. Again, there are many ways to see & learn about the wall; there's the museum, walking the trail , as well as the memorial & in several places around the city sections of the wall continue to stand in the original spots. But along the Memorial itself you can see the names & faces of those known killed at the wall during its 28-year history. The youngest was age 5.
Personally, what made the largest impression on me was viewing the western wall graffiti & painted with slogans & art while the eastern could never be approached for fear of being shot on the spot. Another reminder that our trip wouldn't have been possible when we were born.
For your heavy dose of history, the free walking tours in Berlin is a must do. They last nearly 3 hours (don't worry you get a quick break in the middle) but they cover an incredible amount of history & ground walking you past The Holocaust Memorial (a must see), Checkpoint Charlie (now complete with a McDonalds & KFC on either side) & Humboldt University, the site of the first Nazi book burning. From here you can decide what additional museums & monuments you’d like to dive into.
But we absolutely suggest taking advantage of the alternative tours to see the other side of Berlin, the one that's growing & flourishing from its divided past. Our biggest regret is not spending more time seeing the city for what it is now.
In the end, lets recap what we learned about Berlin: Stasi Museum - No, Berlin Wall Memorial - Yes, Panoramapunkt - We say no but you can decide for yourself how much you like looking at the tops of buildings, Walking history tour - Absolutely Yes & do not forget to do an Alternative Tour.
Oh & if you find yourself in Prenzlauer, stop into Hokey Pokey for some ice cream, they had a continuous line for nearly 4 hours & it may be the best ice cream we’ve had thus far 😊