Navigating the German train system, we made our way from the airport into central Mitte in under an hour. The train shuffled into Friedrichstrasse on the Friday evening, minutes away from our home for the weekend. We started as we meant to go on immediately after our bag drop, with plenty of German beer and plates piled high with meat and potatoes at Berliner Republik a few doors down from the hotel. It's a stock market bar, so as more/less people buy a certain beer, the prices go down/up or - with a particularly terrifying ring of the bell - all prices drop for a limited time. Here's a lesson so you don't learn the hard way, soft drinks are in the 'less people buying' category, so your beer is significantly cheaper than your Coke or bottled water... Pretty much everywhere.
That next-morning-pilsner-ache didn't stop us getting out to explore, of course. Autumn colours surrounded us on our trip which added so much to the experience. There are a good few pocket parks to explore as you work your way around the city, so come autumn colours or summer sun, you'll have a beautiful backdrop to your trip. An absolute bonus for me as I get inordinately excited for autumn leaves. We navigated the streets of Berlin with countless stops for beer, ticking off the must-sees of the city. Berlin is fairly tightly built (or at least the centre is), so you can easily walk the big hitters then work your way out to the increasingly hipster neighbourhoods depending on what time you have.
Our main explore day was spent stumbling on peak-Autumn parks and getting an education in Berlin's history. The Berlin Wall is something I've forever been curious about, especially because of how recent that piece of history is. I'd recommend the Berlin Wall Museum (next to a disappointingly commercialised Checkpoint Charlie) to get a first hand experience of what it was like to live through it - the museum hosts a ton of personal photographs throughout The Wall's presence and gives you an authentic viewpoint from different sides of the story (and The Wall) - I knew relatively little about it and it's a whistle-stop tour of the history to top up your understanding.
There's no shortage of beautiful buildings and hidden scribbles of street art in Berlin, so take the time to walk instead of underground where you can. Something my boyfriend noted: Berlin as a city is incredibly honest about its history - the good and the bad. After ticking off what are now tourist hotspots, representing death, division and loss, you notice that it's not a highlight reel, it's the bigger picture every time. Nothing seems off limits or brushed under the carpet which gives you a much more intense appreciation and understanding of what's been before. The scale of the Holocaust Memorial is dark yet beautiful in how it represents an intensely violent part of the past and whilst I'm sure there's looks of disapproval of kids running between the pillars, it's a way to get hands-on with history. Depending on how deeply you want to think about it, you can spend a good while at this spot, or stop off as we did, en route to Brandenburg Gate.
Onto the next day, 'Museum Island' was one of my favourite areas of the city. Host to five of Berlin's (and world renowned) museums encompassing art and history on the River Spree. I'd recommend getting the pass to the island that allows unlimited entry to each museum for a day or a weekend (two different options). This only covers permanent exhibitions, you can book in advance or pick-up fairly quickly on the day. The museums are all overlooked by the Berliner Dom which is just one of hundreds of examples of beautiful architecture in the city and the perfect spot for lunch. Catch the light at the right time (i.e. most of the day) and the photo opportunities are real.
Heading out of the centre on a different day, we made the journey down to the East Side Gallery - the largest remaining section of The Berlin Wall - where artists have coloured history with their own messages. Much of the wall is fenced off to prevent the scrawls of the public, but taking in the different artistic interpretations was another highlight of the trip. You'll spot numerous recognisable artworks on here, plus some newer installations shouting about today's issues. If you're in the area, make time for The Bird (there's a couple in Berlin - one north, one south), amongst a shortlist of the best burgers I've ever eaten.
A long weekend was the perfect amount of time to thoroughly get Berlin ticked off my list, but if you're a museum buff then maybe allow more time to get the extensive list visited. If you're there to shop, you won't be disappointed, but in a severe plot twist to my life I skipped the main Alexanderplatz hub... You can review my missed opportunity if you're visiting.
Where to stay in Berlin
I would highly recommend paying a little extra to stay central - we stayed at the Leonardo Hotel, Mitte, where Friedrichstrasse meets the river. Ten minute walk to Museum Island, the rest of the immediate city easily reachable on foot and easy access to the trains and river tours. If you stay further out, transport is still easy to hop on but allow for the time it might take out of your trip depending how far out you're thinking.
What you'll be drinking
Get your stomach prepared for a heavy trip - my weekend consisted of ALL THE BEER, mostly pilsners or wheat beers that all merge into one. For dark beer fans, look out for 'dunkel beer' a dark German lager, still easy drinkers but it'll give you your darker fill.
Where to eat in Berlin
Continuing that heavy theme... I think every single meal had some element of meat and/or potatoes in it. Not sure I've ever felt so incredibly full at the end of a trip before. Restaurants seem to breed in strips, so collect a few spots in advance to avoid aimlessly wandering the streets. If you're in the area, shoot to House of Small Wonder for opening time (one off the strips) - a much more 'me' breakfast option and a really cute environment. It gets busy almost as soon as the doors open though, so be prepared to wait.
I really want to get more of Europe ticked off my list, what are your city break recommendations?
Photography by me & Matthew Shields.