If you follow me on Instagram, I may have already spammed you to death with my photos from Berlin but oversharing is my first response to an amazing weekend away. Call it a 21st century problem. I was particularly excited because not only was it my first visit to Berlin (one to tick off the bucket list) but also my first visit to Germany, and it did not disappoint.
We stayed in the Amano Grand Central Hotel, which was one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed in; simple and modern, spotlessly clean, excellent facilities – well, hello rooftop terrace and bar – centrally located opposite one of the biggest train stations in Berlin, and most importantly, a total steal for the price we paid through Expedia. Admittedly, the price might have had something to do with the number of building sites currently surrounding the hotel, but we got a room overlooking the central courtyard anyway. Even so, I’d rather stay in a nice hotel with a view of a few cranes, than a hovel with a great view.
We woke on the first morning to a crisp but bright day – thankfully quite a contrast to the weather we had left behind in London. We set off bright and early to get some breakfast – a real soft German
pretzel brezel and a strong coffee – before getting into the itinerary I had planned. (In case you hadn’t noticed, that was me shamelessly bragging that for once I had been organised enough to plan an itinerary. Proud moment.)
Our first stop on the itinerary was Sammlung Boros; a contemporary art collection in a former WWII bunker. I had read about this online and booked in advance to make sure we got a place on the tour, as they fill up quite quickly. I’m glad I did because this was definitely one of the highlights for me; our tour guide was very friendly and informative, and the way he pronounced ‘bunker’ in his cute German accent just made me want to hug him. I restrained myself though, that would’ve been weird.
Before the tour began we were told a little bit about the history of the bunker, which was fascinating. The bunker began life as an air-raid shelter during the war, and has since been used as a textile warehouse, a place to store tropical fruit, earning it the name ‘banana bunker’ among locals and as a techno club that often hosted fetish parties. The building itself was so full of character that it’s easy to understand why Christian Boros chose it to house his collection, which features many artists based in Berlin.
Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos on the tour – although I’ve since checked Instagram and seen that most people didn’t follow that rule – but I consoled myself with the fact a lot of the artwork wouldn’t translate well into a photograph, even if I had tried. We were guided through installations, using sound, touch and smell to create an immersive experience, including a room full of popcorn, that is still growing by the day. A couple of artists, prominent in the collection, who stood out to me were Alicja Kwade and Danh Vo – if you can’t make it to Berlin, I seriously recommend checking out their other work.
Having soaked up a little culture, we left the darkness of the bunker behind, grabbed a schnitzel sandwich for lunch, and made our way to some of the classic tourist spots in Berlin; starting with the impressive Reichstag building, followed by a wander through the neighbouring Tiergarten and onto the Brandenburg Gate. As somewhat of a German history novice, I was interested to learn more about the significance of the gate, as it’s such an iconic landmark but one I actually knew very little about.
From the Brandenburg Gate, we made our way to the Holocaust Memorial and Checkpoint Charlie, both of which were stark reminders that in spite of its life and vibrancy today, Berlin has been the setting for some of the most tragic events in human history. It’s easy to forget these things ever occurred as you take in the buzzing city atmosphere, but it’s so important to remember. Following on from there, we visited the Topography of Terror, which detailed the horrors of life under the Nazi Regime, and was also where I first saw the intimidating size and scale of what remains of the Berlin Wall.
Feeling emotionally drained, and not to mention physically exhausted from ten hours of sightseeing, we left the Topography of Terror just as the hot air balloon rose from behind the oppressive grey buildings and the remains of the Wall, bathed in sunlight. Perhaps it was just my tiredness, but something about it felt significant in that moment, so I snapped a photo to look back on as I processed the events of the day.
At around 6pm, the sun was still high in the sky, and it truly felt like spring had arrived. As we walked back to the hotel, we spotted people lounging in deckchairs by the river, making the most of the mild spring evening over a drink or two.
We finished the day with something shamefully non-German. I had been going on and on about how excited I was to finally try some real German food but somehow ended up going for Vietnamese at Co Chu. It was a good decision, even if it was a little sacrilegious. We shared tofu summer rolls, filled with plenty of rice noodles and fresh vegetables, a fragrant papaya salad scattered with chilli and coriander and chicken in a spicy peanut sauce with sticky rice. It was just what we needed after a marathon session of sightseeing and walking.
Of course, all that walking had burned off far too many calories, and so to make sure our blood sugar levels didn’t dip dangerously low, we sampled a couple of desserts. We tried the matcha ice cream, which was seriously creamy, rich and just sweet enough, and a decadent sticky black rice dish, topped with coconut milk and ripe fresh mango.
Feeling thoroughly exhausted, we headed home to rest our aching feet, and have a Nightcap at the hotel bar, in the form of an Albino Negroni served on the rocks; Bombay Sapphire Gin, Strega Liqueur, St-Germain Elderflower, Suze and Morriâ€™s Italian Gentian. Unsurprisingly, we slept well that night.