From WWI and WWII to the split of the city into East and West, Berlin has had more than its fair share of turmoil and tragedy. World-famous street art links in seamlessly with hip bars and history-marked buildings, showcasing the city’s torrid past whilst also creating a vision of its unified future.
Whatever your interests, Berlin has something for you – but it wouldn’t be right to leave Germany’s capital without learning about its former state, or without immersing yourself in the arty, hip side of the city. With two full days and some comfortable walking shoes, you’ll have enough time to introduce yourself and see all the highlights, plus some quirky extras on the side. With an enviable public transport system (TfL, take note), it couldn’t be easier to get around the city, putting every sight and even places outside of the city well within your grasp.
Kick-start your day with breakfast and a stellar coffee at one of Berlin’s award-winning roasteries, before setting off to the Brandenburg Gate – a symbol of Germany’s reunification and an icon on Berlin’s landscape. From here, take a walk down to the sombre Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which somehow manages to be poignant, beautiful, mysterious and slightly eerie all at once, immersing you in an evocative experience as you walk into its centre, with coffin-like concrete blocks towering over you. Learning about families in the museum below makes the experience even more emotive.
A reflective walk is in order next, so wander slowly down Potsdamer Straße, taking in the sights and sounds of one of Berlin’s busiest squares – you’ll find a section of the Berlin Wall here too. If you want to learn more about the city’s past, head to the Topography of Terror for a full-scale dive into history. Both parts fascinating and overwhelming, this museum ties every person, every organisation and every element into one staggering mass of information. And, if that isn’t enough, wander a little further south to find the Berlin Story Bunker, where you’ll be told the story of ‘Hitler: How Did It Happen’.
If architecture is your thing, be sure to fit in a visit the Reichstag Building, the glass-domed home of Germany’s parliament, or the Charlottenburg Palace, a 17th-century riverside castle just outside of the city. The Berlin Dom is also worth a visit, and affords panoramic views, should the weather cooperate. To round off the day, hunt down a Currywurst stand to sample a street food speciality; the rich curry sauce and crispy fries will be just what you need to refuel after a hard day’s sightseeing.
With day one dedicated to exploring Berlin’s fascinating past, today is all about engaging with a slightly different side of the city. Hop on the S-Bahn west, headed for Grunewald Forest and its abandoned wonder – Teufelsberg. Once a listening station for the NSA in the Cold War, Teufelsberg is now deserted and chock-full of incredible street art and graffiti. This beautifully eerie spot overflows with dilapidated charm, but be prepared for quite a hike through the forest to get there. It’s worth the journey though, especially if you get there early, when you’ll have the place mostly to yourself.
After your journey back into the city centre, reward your weary muscles with a meal from one of Berlin’s famous kebab vans, a juicy burger from Burgermeister, or a pastrami on rye from a traditional Jewish deli. After fuelling up, continue your cultural journey at the East Side Gallery. This stretch of the Berlin Wall is adorned with politically-fuelled artworks by artists from all over the world. Many of the works were painted in 1989 or 1990, the same year or just a year after the Berlin Wall fell. Imagining people reunited from East and West, creating together towards a common good really makes this a special sight. If you’ve got any more exploring left in you, make your way to Museum Island and spend the rest of the afternoon wandering the Alte Nationalgalerie, home to works of art from Monet and Renoir, or marvelling at the collection of Islamic art at the Pergamonmuseum.
As a toast to your time in Berlin, spend your final evening with a few drinks in hand at one of the city’s many quirky bars. There’s Klunkerkranich, a hip car park turned rooftop spot and urban garden, or ORA, a former apothecary in the Jewish quarter of Kreuzberg. Try out Dschungel Bar (Jungle Bar), full of greenery and actual real-life frogs, or Barbie Deinhoff’s, an LGBT-friendly, pink neon-hued, graffiti-filled watering hole bursting with colourful characters.