Ever since my uncle returned from Berlin in the early 90’s with a piece of the wall, I’ve been curious about Germany and wanted to visit. I chose German in secondary school to ensure I could speak the language when I did eventually make the trip.
A friend moved to Berlin a few months ago so, 25 plus years later I’ve eventually took the short flight from the UK to see my friend and test out my German, which I’ve realised is nonexistent or useless.
You’ll know that Berlin is steeped in history but do not include the dated 80’s/90’s decor of the airport. Yes it does look like you’ve stepped back in time when you leave the carrousel and pass through the customs into the grey and red plastic of the foyer. I would like to point out that from stepping off the plane to arriving in the foyer was all done in less than 500 meters. It was so concise and quick, stress free really.
After a short bus trip into town I jumped onto the train and arrived at the most hipster hotel I’ve ever stayed in. The aura of the place when you step through the door really makes you feel like you’re going to experience something different. Then you know you will when there’s a can of ‘fountain of youth’ (coconut water) on the desk to help yourself to. The rooms were, again, not what I expected and the pictures on the website don’t do it justice. Cozy, modern, comfortable, relaxing, dark, moody and spacious. I was definitely surprised that the bathroom was bigger than bedroom. It was only on the second night that I realised that they had The Big Lebowski on loop with a channel of its own. So it doesn’t matter at what time you stumbled back, you’ll always have something great to watch as you’re stuffing your doner kebab in your face and spilling it all over the bed!! Yes, this occurred a couple of times.
After dumping my bags I went straight to the Christmas market. Everyone in the UK loves a German Christmas market but they’re even better here. The food is definitely to a higher standard than what they bring to the UK. It’s been a few days now but I can still remember the juicy flavour packed sausage I consumed within minutes of arriving. The ratio of bread to sausage was perfect, a very small bun. The only way to wash this down was with a warming cup of gluhwein. There’s loads of options but the basic €3 cup did the job perfectly. Always on the hunt for more food, I found a raclette stall. Perfectly boiled potatoes covered in a thick molten layer of golden cheese and sprinkled with herbs was perfectly comforting on a winters evening. After my need (greed) for food was satisfied the entertainment really did make it feel like a Christmas evening. The voices of the ladies singing was great and to top it all off the sung Carol of the Bell (the song from Home Alone).
The following day started with a walk along the East Side Gallery. This is a long remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall. The artwork is just as moving as I’m sure it was when it was first created or as symbolic as the original graffiti on the wall when it was still complete around the city. This is a must and as it was in between the hotel and a station to go to the Reichstag, it was easy to squeeze into my quick visit to the city.
I then went to the Reichstag to appreciate the views at the top of the dome. Just to note, you do need to book this in advance for security reasons as it’s the government building. It was quick to get through security and up to the top. Even though it was a slightly cloudy day there was still loads to see.
From the Reistag it’s easy to walk around and visit more landmarks. It’s a short walk to the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial and loads of other memorials in the near by park.
One of my Christmas treats while I was away for Christmas was to visit Facil. This amazing Michelin starred restaurant was a short walk from the Holocaust memorial. On the fifth floor of the Mandala Hotel, you know it’s special when the doors open as you approach the restaurant, yes I’m easily pleased. The polite and attentive staff greeted and showed me to my table in the centre of the room. There’s about about 15 small tables on the room. When I say room I really mean it’s a conservatory on the fifth floor with its own outside space. It makes you feel like you’re on the top floor. The lunch menu which allowed you to choose the amount of course you have from a selection of very appetising sounding dishes, three course was €38. I started with the beef heart with butternut pumpkin and passion fruit. It was a piece of art. The bright orange piece of pumpkin made it look like a spring dish and cubes of passion fruit added a sweet fragrance. The heart was tender and melted in the mouth. I could have ate multiple portions of this. My next dish was duck breast, which was sticky, sweet, juicy and rich, everything you’d expect from a perfectly cooked piece of duck. The duck was accompanied by discs of celery, celeriac chunks, chestnuts, chestnut puree and juniper jelly. If a dish was every going to represent the woods this would be it. It was earthy and woody. When I saw king bolete on the menu I did have to google it…..mushroom??? Nope, that shouldn’t be on a dessert. Yet again I have been proven wrong. What an amazing representation of a woodland garden with the creation of a hollow log and a mushroom. This light and seasonal dish was sweet, savoury, nutty, creamy, jellied and fluffy.
This is definitely a venue I would like to revisit again in a different season. The venue, staff and food was amazing hence why they have 2 Michelin Stars.
After the amazing lunch and a quick stop off at H&M for a hat, the topography of terror was the next destination to visit. Checkpoint Charlie was very close but there really isn’t much to it, full of tourists and a tacky souvenir shop. I didn’t even take a photo as it just feels so staged and gimmicky. Here’s a word of warning, topography of terror will leave you drained and exhausted both emotionally and mentally. It took hours to read all of the exhibits and to process all of the information within the building. I didn’t even look at the outside displays as it was so cold. I would definitely say you have to visit here but do it at the end of the day so you can relax and digest all of the information with a cold beer after, which is what I did.
The following morning it was sunny, fresh and chilly. After days of cloudy weather it was perfect to have breakfast up in the TV tower and appropriate the amazing views over the city. As you have to book in advance, there’s a queue-jump line for people with reservation. It was worth booking in advance and going for breakfast just to avoid the queues in the cold. The staff were lovely and getting through security and up the lift took no time at all. The table in the restaurant was right at the window which made the occasion even better with uninterrupted views of the city. I bet if you book in for the first sitting and one of the first in you’re more likely to get allocated a window seat. Coffee and orange juice was served and followed by an array of goodies. The plate looked so appetising, full of colour and interesting. You can’t go wrong with soft warm bread, cheese and meat but the highlight was the cinnamon, apple and raisin yoghurt which was a festive treat. When the food was served my initial thought was that wasn’t enough food but I was pleasantly full by the end, proving my eyes are bigger than my belly. It’s not a criticism but the service didn’t seem great but by the end of breakfast it seemed it was well timed as we had done one full rotation. I would definitely recommend doing this and was one of my highlights of Berlin.
After the TV tower I went for a wander around. I saw some museums (didn’t go in though), walked around the Jewish district, saw some Damien Hirst artwork, Banksy’s Flower Chucker and Karl Bonatz’s bunker.
Stasi museum was the last piece of history I immersed myself in. This is the former grounds of the GDR Ministry of State Security. If you have seen Channel 4’s Deutschland ’83 you will feel like you have been to this place before. It’s like a time capsule and slightly scary to think about all of the decisions that were made in this building. Just like the topography of terror, it is slightly draining as there is so much to read and to take in but I would still recommend a visit.
So my last supper was at a very traditional restaurant, Spätzle & Knödel. I wanted some homely German food and as I’ve heard a lot about the potato dumplings, they were top of the list. I shared a pretzel with bavarian style sausage pieces, onion and gherkins and a potato cream soup with sausage. These were definitely what I was expecting when I wanted comfort food German style. I then had potato dumplings served with goulash and red cabbage. If the main part of the dish is the dumplings I’d expect them to be big and they were. The staff weren’t the friendliest I have ever met and were rude on a couple of occasions but as the food is so good, if you’re around this area, I would give it a go.
All in all, I will be coming back to Berlin and I think it’ll be in the summer so I can enjoy the parks and have a few picnics.
Warschauer Str. 39-40, 10243 Berlin, Germany
Spätzle & Knödel
Wühlischstraße 20, 10245 Berlin, Germany