The journey from Amsterdam should be fairly simple. One train, 5 hours, nice and easy. We’d gone for the 9am train thinking that no one else would be up that early. Rookie mistake. Not only were all the seats for this train fully booked but the 7am train from Amsterdam to Berlin had been cancelled so it was absolutely rammed. I’m talking London Underground in rush hour levels of packed. We managed to get some seats but were waiting to be booted out at every stop. Fortunately about an hour out of Amsterdam our train broke down. We were still well in Dutch territory and went set off the stricken train to get another to the border. Once we were there we had to wait for a coach to Hamburg. Ominously while on our way into Germany we were told we were stopping to see if there was ‘anyone in Bad Bentheim’ as if some catastrophe had happened there.
After an 11 hour journey we finally arrived in Berlin. Our hostel, East Seven in Prenzlaur Berg, was 5 minutes walk from Prater Garten. This is Berlin’s oldest beer garden, having opened in 1837. The beer was cheap, cold and well-deserved after that monster train journey. If you’re staying in Prenzlaur Berg, definitely check it out – I recommend their pretzels too! We headed back to settle into the hostel and to get ready to check out Berlin’s infamous nightlife. While I’m not much of a partier back home, you can’t visit Berlin and not go out.
Deciding there was no hope of getting into Berghain, we instead tried our luck at Suicide Circus. We’d managed to time it so that we went out in the middle of a thunder storm so trying to find the club involved a lot of running and screaming. Turns out Australians, not so great at dealing with wet weather. We’d made the rookie mistake of arriving at midnight which is apparently way too early for Berlin, especially on a Friday night. The pouring rain and lightning didn’t stop the outdoor room from filling up as the night went on. One of my more memorable clubbing experiences!
After a late start that had nothing at all to do with me feeling fragile, we took the S-Bahn out of Berlin to Potsdam. One of the other great benefits of the Interrail Pass, you get free S-Bahn travel in Berlin. Potsdam is a city that directly borders onto Berlin and was the residence of both the Prussian Kings and the Kaiser up until 1918. The Potsdam Conference between the Allies at the end of the Second World War was held here, which is where the division of Germany and notably Berlin into four administrative zones controlled by Britain, the USSR, France and America was agreed upon. The city is home to many beautiful palaces and an absolutely stunning university. Seriously, it’s unbelievably beautiful and I’m still kicking myself that I was too in awe to take photos of it.
We wandered around the city centre for a while before visiting the Sanssouci Palace. It was a summer palace built in the 1740s for Frederick the Great of Prussia (ace title). The weather was beautiful when we arrived and so we spent a good hour strolling around in the gardens, pretending to be fancy Prussian aristocrats. There was a lot of restoration work going on but it didn’t detract from the elegance of the design or the slightly confusing terraces that lead up to it. Let me tell you that those stairs, after the night I’d had, were a bit of a challenge! One of my favourite thing about visiting old palaces is the presence of follies. A folly is a building project that serves literally no purpose other than to show off how wealthy you are. In the case of Sanssouci, they were a series of temples and castle ruins dotted around the park that surrounds the palace. Imagine having enough cash that you can just build the ruins of a castle for the look of it.
That evening back in Berlin we discovered that our hostel was near not one but two Korean restaurants. Anyone who’s read my previous posts should know how excited this made me. Of course I dragged my friend to one of them as soon as I realised. We went to Chilee for Korean style burgers. I had to try their famous ramen burger. A ramen burger I hear you ask? Instead of a bun, you have deep fried noodles. Add a delicious beef patty and kimchee hot enough to make your eyes water and you have the best burger I’ve ever had in my life. I’d go all the way back to Berlin just for that burger.
Our 2nd full day in Berlin we decided to check out the DDR museum which tells you all about life in East Berlin under Soviet control. It was interesting but I think more geared towards younger visitors. It was super interactive and split into distinct sections that told about home life, work, school, holidays and the city itself. It was interesting learning about transport – weird I know but hear me out. People have probably heard about the Trabi’s the notoriously unreliable East German car but the subway system was also janky as all heck. People were trusted to pay for their tickets which obviously they did not. People just wanted the chance to screw over the system.
It only took about an hour to look around the DDR Museum so we then hit the market in Hackescher Markt. The main event of the day was undoubtedly, however, going on the Bite Berlin food tour. It’s run by Sam Reidie and she takes you around the city sampling all kinds of different foods. We started of with gigantic cheese pretzels from the Brezel Company. Pretzels are such a nostalgic food for me, you can’t get much better than their salty, chewy goodness. This was followed by Turkish mezze and tea at Hasir, which was the first Turkish restaurant in Berlin. We then moved to Lindner for traditional German boulette, a kind of meatball – think frigadelle from Denmark or similar. Delicious! Next up was Vietnamese. Before I’d been to Berlin the first time, I’d never had Vietnamese food and so the two are strongly linked in my mind. At District Mot, we had a bao burger which is in a rice flour bun and almost as tasty as the ramen burger.
The only thing more tied to my childhood than pretzels is currywurst. If you’ve never had them, bear with me because the explanation is a little odd. Imagine a bratwurst, the most delicious of German sausages, covered in ketchup and curry sauce. Don’t knock it until you try it. And try it you must. There’s a good chain in London called Herman ze German that sells it but seriously, head to Germany to check it out. Currywurst was followed by cake, coffee and sparkling white wine. Sam knows so much about the history of Berlin as well as the best spots for delicious food. Also, with all the food you get as part of the price of the tour, you won’t need to eat afterwards!
Our final day was a relaxed one. We had a late breakfast at Impala coffee opposite our hostel before walking up to Mauerpark to browse the flea market there. A lot of German shops are shut on a Sunday, even supermarkets so prepare yourself for that. The fleamarket was a hipster’s dream, selling vintage clothes, handmade jewellery and delicious street food. I came away with enough rings to wear one on each finger. The day was rounded off with a doner kebab, that most German of takeaways.
I’d come to Berlin with low expectations. The first time I’d visited I’d hated the city. I’d been disorientated by the lack of old buildings in East Berlin, I’d been overwhelmed by the size of the city and I came home swearing to never ever in a million years return. But I am so glad I did. Berlin is a beautiful, vibrant city and I can’t wait to visit again. There’s so much left to discover and rediscover. I wish we’d stayed longer but we were off to Prague, possibly my favourite city in the world. I hope that I can share some of that magic with you in my next post.