I remember being 10 when I first read the “Diary of Anne Frank”. It broke my heart and rattled my childlike sensibilities that in fact, there was a time when such deep-rooted evil shook the foundations of modern society. A time when people were silenced forcibly or economically into complicity with a new world order that threatened civility and humanity. After that, I read many more books on the atrocities of the Holocaust. All from the perspective of true survivors. Victims of medical experiments, child labor, youth put on kinder trains destined to survive but never again know what happened to their families.
So with all this in mind, I expected Berlin to be a city overhung with this type of deep-rooted sadness. What I found instead was a vibrant city focused on emerging artists, creative cuisine and a liberal sense of modernity. There were a few activities I knew I wanted to partake in, at the top of my list was a street art walking tour.
A few years ago a company called “Alternative Tours” became really huge in the travel sector. They offered walking tours of cities offered by locals, a way to see things that were off the beaten path and more authentic. In Berlin, they offer a street art tour and workshop. So on our first morning in Berlin we signed up for this 6 hour walking tour.
The tour started around 12 pm and we walked through what was formerly East Berlin. Now it is one of the hippest neighborhoods in Berlin, home to artists, and thought-provoking street art. Everywhere we went we were greeted with smiles. Prams and young couples were in overabundance. Berlin has worked hard to overcome the tragedies of its past and nowhere is it more prevalent than in this neighborhood. Unknown to most, Wasserturm Prenzlauer Berg, a water-tower-turned-high-end-apartment building was once the site of early Nazi concentration camps. It is where the Gestapo took early prisoners. But the important facet of this is what the neighborhood and the people have done since. Now, like most things in Berlin, they’ve made lemonade out of a sour past. The tower now houses luxury apartments, and since in the center of an idyllic neighborhood park, that is more Rapunzel than Rasputin.
Enough of the history lesson, here are some sights that you cannot miss, along with some details on how best to enjoy them.
Brandenburg Gate – No visit to Berlin is complete without a picture in front of this icon. It used to be the dividing line between East and West Berlin, drawing visitors who would climb an observation tower to get a peek at the world that lay on the other side of the Iron Curtain. The best time to observe is late afternoon. We enjoyed minimal crowds and sunshine at just the right angle for picture taking. Later we strolled down the major thoroughfare facing the gate, “Unter den Linden” and enjoyed sandwiches and gelato at an outdoor cafe adjacent to the Hotel Adlon.
Reichstag Building– Free tours are available so long as you register for a time (hyperlink to the left). It is bone-chilling to imagine this was the former seat of Hitler’s power. Today the dome of the Reichstag Building is a beautiful metallic chrome vision of modern art. By walking to the top you are offered unparalleled views of all of Berlin before you. We enjoyed an evening visit around 5:30 pm. This allowed us the opportunity to catch the start of the sunset over Berlin.
Cookies Cream– A few years ago, on a plane ride I watched a travel channel special on the best tables in metropolitan cities. On that list was a vegetarian restaurant called Cookies Cream. I am a devout carnivore, and this restaurant swayed me with its fresh and innovative cuisine. Half the fun is finding it! Tucket in a small alley behind the Westin Grand Berlin
Those were my favorite parts of Berlin. I’ll have details on my dining experiences later!