Berlin at new year is pretty special. The prosecco pops, and you look out the window to see your neighbour hurling a firecracker into the night and clapping his hands with laughter. The street is loud with the sound of pipes bursting as screaming fireworks shoot from the sewers deep underground.
The experience was magic, no lie, and ignoring the lump in your throat as you wonder if you’ll die a death by fuschia sparklers, it’s one that I’ll struggle to forget.
Berlin is a playground, and there really is too much to do. This is one reason that I wanted to write it all down. We were lucky enough to be gifted with some great tips from friends who had been before, and I wanted to pass on what we found. Another reason, is that I’m going back, so I’ll need my own advice.
We booked our place through the ever reliable ‘Air BnB’ and wanted to stay in something with distinctly Berlin taste. We chose an apartment with stripped back interiors, lots of white brick, grey slate and angular furnishings. The bed was probably the best aspect of the apartment. It was a den/tree-house/double bunk-bed of comfiness at the top of a ladder. I’ve never slept better.
Our apartment was located slightly out of town, but this didn’t hold us back. We were able to take advantage of the free metro, something you must do. Our nearest town was Neukölln, which reminded me of parts of East London. There was a real mix of cosmopolitan shops, and predominantly Turkish street markets, run by the migrant population.
We stayed just outside Neukölln in one of the local ‘platz’ – which is German for square. The whole city seemed to be made up of ‘platz’ and ‘Straße (or Strasse)’ where the ‘b’ is pronounced’ ‘s/z.’ mostly, it was laid back, until the 31st!
Another place we loved, was Mitte. This is where I’d recommend friends to stay, and where I’d like to return. We went for a gorgeous dinner there, in a secluded private restaurant called ‘Katz Orange.’ Several friends had recommended it and it didn’t disappoint. Be sure to book though and order the mussel starter, delicious. Other haunts include ‘Sisho’ burger, ‘Factory girl’ cafe, and of course the bike shops for the cycle kids.
‘Katz Orange’ restaurant in Mitte
Kreuzberg is also cool, and we were sad we didn’t get to spend more time there. It could be another potential place for setting up camp. Head to the East Side Gallery if you can, this is where you can see the artwork on the Berlin Wall. It’s open 24 hours a day, so we’ll definitely be going back as we ran out of time. We did squeeze in a burger from BurgerMeister though, which puts the fast food we have on offer in Britain to shame. The interior was simple but not tacky. The ceiling and walls were tiled white and green, set off with dark wooded benches, and minimal tech beats in the background. The burgers were cheap (only 4/5euros,) and they were good! They tasted real and not manufactured, so definitely try it if you can.
We also stumbled on a seriously cool coffee shop called ‘VISIT COFFEE’ by the ‘Record loft’ shop we were looking for. This shop calls itself a ‘Roastary’ and has it’s own farmers. You can even see the coffee being ground up in the back room through the glass panelled doors. There was an area with people sitting on the floor with simple tables for their drinks and food. Capuccino’s come in small cups with no lid by the way, so I’d recommend drinking it quick. Oh, and try their brownie…
Out & About
Surprisingly, we found the city to be fairly sleepy during the period between Christmas and new year. However, we weren’t too late to sample the infamous markets, and booked a trip around a garden filled with installations. This was possibly one of my favourite evenings. If you’re into art, light and the outdoors, you will love it. Berlin’s equivalent of London’s Kew Gardens, the botanical landscape is transformed into a magical Christmas garden. Warm up with mulled wine and a ‘bratwurst’ (hot sausage) and be sure to pack your camera.
Aside from the traditional markets, you need to explore the colourful history of the city. Any guide book will point you in the direction of every landmark possible. However, here is a selection of the ones we picked to see this time.
Berliner Philharmoniker – Famous Berlin classical concert hall
Checkpoint Charlie – The old checkpoint between East and West Berlin during the period of divide between the Soviets and the Allies.
Charlottenburg Palace & Gardens – Baroque palace
Typography of Terrors – Former headquarters of the Nazi SS and Third Reich
Views by the Terror museum
Monument to the Murdered Jews
Graffiti on the Berlin Wall
The architecture in Berlin was also fascinating. Like in our apartment, sharp angles and industrial themes were seen throughout the city.
You need to see an exhibition or two and I’d recommend checking online before you go. A site I found useful was ‘TheCultureTrip’ but there’s loads out there.
We visited C/O berlin which is a collaborative charity project set up by a group of Berlin creatives involved in the film and photography industry. The exhibition space hosts photography shows and visual media exhibits throughout the year, and promotes the work of young and emerging talent as well as acclaimed artists.
They were running two exhibitions when we visited. First was ‘Total Records’ which was a nostalgic look at the importance of the album cover in musical history, and second was ‘Kreuzberg Amerika’ which showcases work by young German photographers in the ’70s and’80s.
And finally, of course there’s the music.
We went to Libertine Club for New Years Eve to see ‘Libertine and Mellifellow.’ The vibe was laid back and dark. There are so many events on that I won’t list them here. However, next time I go, I’d like to make this a bigger focus. Now I feel like I know the city a little better by day, I can sacrifice more time for the night.