A Greek-Aussie: love writing, love the outdoors, love my 2 kids, love heavy metal and love life (usually!).
Published September 15th 2013
Hailed as one of the world's great cities – vibrant, cool, groovy, lovable, I was very curious to meet Berlin and experience at least some real, rather than just 'tourist veneer' of the place. I tried, through my own little itinerary. Here's a rough sketch of my adventures and views:
I stayed on the edge of the eastern part of Berlin, in Prenzlauer Berg, apparently now a trendifying suburb just out of the inner city, yet I was closer to the outer, working class Pankow area. (It reminded me of Melbourne's East Melbourne and a bit of North Fitzroy with Hawthorn and Camberwell thrown in and closer to Pankow, more Preston style). There was a tram line dominating the main tree-lined road, and leafy streets with wide footpaths. Here there were also old, yet wide and well maintained cobbled roads and maximum 3 floor retro (circa late 1800's – 1920's) neatly presenting apartments / flats.
Our superb apartment was 1920's built with mostly original features including super high, ornate bordered ceilings, floorboards, French door style windows – Olde worlde style but with a new world touch ie renovated minimalist bathroom, sparse, eclectic furnishings throughout; sophisticated, beautiful yet practical and understated, just like Berlin itself.
From a practical point of view, Berlin was great value. Our apartment was at a very reasonable price as was everything in Berlin (I even visited a few supermarkets). The perfect coffees were about $1.50 / posh place main meals at 10-20$, let alone local Italian restaurant pizzas for 4$ and main pastas like gnocchi with spinach gorgonzola for 6$. The 5 day transport card was very worthwhile in all aspects too. The train station buildings were gorgeous – interesting architecturally ranging from Victorian style to modernist (see pics below) and all so clean and efficient.
Walked around the accommodation neighbourhood first. There were interspersed shops of all kinds not too concentrated but evenly proportioned in terms of discretion and balance as opposed to consumerist bombardment (they have their shopping centres too of course not that I noticed any huge ones though). The groovy café zone was cosmopolitan (loaded description I know) yet casual and was zoned again evenly, amongst the restaurants, and fast food places (sausages, doner kebabs, etc). A predominantly young vibe and cyclists prevail (designated bike paths abound).
After 7pm though, on weekdays at least, I noticed the streets tend to be rather quiet. My travel companion and I were the only people at some train platforms at around these times. That's when you start to realise that Berliners lead a quiet paced life overall, spending most evenings at home like most Aussies, and like Aussies loving their booze. Here I noticed many people walking in the streets with a large bottle of beer in hand, with - note: Great idea – a screw cap! (ie.Avoids bingeing [?], sip, save for later).
Back to daytime, where we did some museums – modern art and Bauhaus. The Bauhaus was so interesting and educational. I didn't realise how much the ideas and ensuing designs of Bauhaus influenced our lives in terms of mass production, accessibility to all / most, and general 'social engineering' including apartment living.
In terms of old feel Berlin (Freidreich the Great, etc) went to a few palaces – the Schloss Charlottenburg and the Sans Soucci (Potsdam). Rococco style, ornate and grandiose (see pics below) – totally different of course to the former mentioned Bauhaus' simplicity and practicality. And oh, the gardens! Fairy tale picture perfect with fountains and lakes.
Nightlife for us (Friday, Saturday nights) consisted of a rock bar – universally down to earth and friendly, and of a ball house (retro original 1920's dance hall with dark wood and silver tinsel decorated walls) playing jazz, disco, pop, Latin consisting of all styles of dance and fashion and ages. Fun stuff! German food only, was on the menu for dinner so restaurants and a street food stall, were on for pm too.
Great food was had at traditional restaurants. One of these was an old Germania restaurant original, dating from the 1600's! Napoleon ate here, and Merkel often dines here apparently. Our menu choice was pork hock, gravy, mash, sauerkraut, and for desert an amazing poppy seed cake served fresh and hot with cream and berries on the side. Also, a beer garden for sauerbraten (marinated beef) and knodels (dumplings), and a sausage stand – thick juicy brotwursts in brochen bread with onions, ketchup and halapenos : very cosmo and tasty (and great value). Not to forget the Weinar Schnitzel at another old dark wooded restaurant (where you feel like you're on a Sullivans set) circa 1920's – 30's. Best I've ever had! And the parsnip soup – the only I've ever had but great! And apple streudel – sublime, fresh, puffy, moist, unforgettable.
Hmm, what else? Oh the huge flea market in our suburb on a Sunday. That was cool – second hand clothes and relics like old phones, watches, cameras, bric a brac. Food stalls, all outdoor – vibrant yet mellow feel. Then people watching at a café nearby over a deliciously brewed coffee, chatting to a young German fellow at a nearby table re: rent prices ; reasonable towards cheap. A very liveable city, but as long as you speak German I soon realised. The young ie under 25's tend to speak English, but the olderies (over 30's) especially in eastern Berlin (former commie bloc) don't speak much English at all. And German words tend to be long (see station name below!).
Berlin is a wonderful balance of old and new in terms of style and substance. It has beautiful parks and gardens, a wonderful transport system – in fact it has the lowest car ownership in the whole of Europe. It's the closest I've ever seen in terms of low stress, yet culture rich, and affordable urban living. Can't wait to go back. There's so much more to see and experience there.
wow fantastic "report", so simply put, down-to-earth, a good mix of tourist spots and every day life in berlin. i'm a berliner myself, unfortunately having to live in adelaide/australia for personal reasons for some years more (not that i dislike adelaide, but i miss berlin so very much). your descriptions show you are not afraid to mix with the locals and have a good look around, not thrown off at a first negative impression - not that you described any. as you were based in east berlin, you must have had some german language skills. i am from zehlendorf (green belt sw area) and many speak a 2nd language like french, engl, spanish, italian there. your food & rent prices were very pankow/eastern fringe berlin range, in west berlin add one or two euros for eating out. overall great article!