Top 5 reasons I keep coming back to Berlin
I never plan to visit the same place twice, but Berlin left such an impression on me I’ve somehow found myself back there one, two… three times! The graffiti-clad streets, tucked away old pubs, and eclectic mix of architecture makes Berlin a magnet for people like me.
On my first day back in Germany’s trendy capital, I leave the hotel and stop off at a cafe for my morning latte before heading out for a day of exploring. I attempt a little German and find myself stumbling on a few words. The barista helps me out in English and I recognise his Australian accent instantly. We start chatting about Berlin. It turns out he returned to the city for a second holiday… that was five years ago. It has me wondering, what makes this city so appealing?
Here are five things that keep bringing me back to Berlin:
You could easily walk past the quiet street of Sophienstrasse and miss the opportunity to taste Berlin’s most delicious sugar-glazed cakes and warm apple fritters. Wander down this street and you’ll soon find yourself staring through the window of Waltraud Balzer Bäckerei & Konditorei, eyeing off rows of cheesecake slices, freshly baked scrolls, and traditional German breads.
The lace curtains and two lovely ladies greeting me as I walk through the door make me feel like I’m entering Oma’s kitchen, about to be fed treats made from secret family recipes. The bakery’s famous cherry and crumbly streusel-topped streuselschnecke (German for strudel snail) is my personal fave and worth getting in early for. The sweet treats are just as tasty as the savoury selection. This comes as no surprise, as they’ve been baking for the neighbourhood since the 1920s.
Hot tip: If you’re going on a walking tour, take a backpack and stock up on treats for a morning snack. The tour guide often stops off at a busy bakery, but the selection is nothing quite as delish as the baked goodies from the Backerei Balzer.
The street art scene
Forget queuing to see artwork hung in galleries – in Berlin you don’t need to pay an admission fee to see colourful murals by talented artists. Artists from as close by as Italy or as far away as New York have contributed to the vibrant street scene.
When most people think Berlin street art, the Berlin Wall springs to mind. Sure, it’s impressive, but there’s so much more to see splashed on the side of cafes and apartment buildings in old East Berlin.
Make your way through the suburbs of Friedrichshain to see larger-than-life murals, then wander over to Mitte’s bohemian cousin Kreuzberg, where some of the art is so fresh the paint is still drying on the walls.
Don’t forget to crane your neck for ‘heaven spots’. They’re works in places where artists have leveraged themselves from the top of buildings to leave their mark. Some have even fallen while painting – talk about suffering for your art!
Keep your eye out for the cool street art projects around town. My favourites include the retro pre-digital photo booths (Photoautomat) brought back by two Berliners. For two euros you can squeeze yourself into the old-school booths, take four snaps, then wait five minutes for your black-and-white Berlin souvenir to develop.
Eating sauerkraut with the locals
I would gladly go back to Berlin just for a hearty dish of pork knuckle and kloesse (delicious potato dumplings) on a bed of sauerkraut, all washed down with a famous Berliner Pilsner. You know that disappointing feeling you get when you’re seated among a crowd of tourists and served sub-average food? You won’t find that at Zum Nussbaum. This pub is tucked away in Mitte and is a copy of Berlin’s oldest pub (the original was sadly destroyed in World War II). Outside are wooden seats in a mini beer-garden-style setting, and inside the cosy timber interior is humming with German conversation.
The service is friendly and the meals are reasonably cheap (around 18 euros), plus they have that home-cooked feel (and taste)!
Just around the corner is another authentic gem, the Zum Schusterjungen. This pub offers large platters of food and regionally brewed beer. We’re greeted with “Hallo, tisch für zwei?” then led to a table beside a group of elderly German men clinking beers while their pet dog sits beside them. I love the atmosphere and the selection of pilsners and weiss (wheat) beers.
In Berlin, hotels are so much more than just a place to sleep. Their creative flair very much reflects the charisma of the city. Take the nhow Berlin on the bank of the River Spree for example – it’s a blend of chic design gallery and music production studio. It’s equipped with an actual mixing and recording studio, so if that doesn’t inspire you to quit your day job to make an album, you can at least pretend and hang out with budding musos!
Stepping into the lobby is like being transported into the future. The lobby lounge has sleek leather chairs against a backdrop of colourful walls that look like the inside of a kaleidoscope. The restaurant, spa, and rooms are equally as chic, with bright bursts of colour.
My Danish friend often raves about spending weekends op-shopping in Berlin. Having exceeded my museum quota during my third visit, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I expected to come across a couple of second-hand stores with piles of disorderly clothes, but instead I found chic boutique shops filled with retro and vintage dresses, jumpers, oriental brooches, gloves… I could go on.
The Kleidermarkt chains are must-stops for any vintage lover. At Made in Berlin (on Neue Schönhauser) you’ll discover two levels packed with retro fashion, with pieces from the ’50s to the ’80s. Its grungy sister store Picknweight, just down the road, involves a little more digging, but is totally worth the rummage. Buying clothes here is like buying apples – everything is by the kilo, perfect for working out how much you can squeeze into your suitcase without exceeding your baggage allowance.
Hot tip: Leave some room in your suitcase! Plan to go on a Wednesday, that’s when the op shops put on happy hour discounts.
Reminiscing about Berlin’s delicious streuselschnecken and pork knuckle has me craving more!
This is my cue to exit and plan trip number four…