To quote David Bowie, Berlin is “The greatest cultural extravaganza that one could ever imagine”.
An artistic, political and historical paradise, Berlin is where culture vultures thrive and examples of talent are seen on every corner: either as graffiti on walls, installations in pubs or poetry scribbled in bathroom stalls. Berlin inspires everyone in one way or another, and that is why I for one, am totally under its spell. It’s the first place that I travelled to where I actually felt a massive sense of belonging with the first 24 hours itself.
Here are my two cents worth for first-time visitors on how to make the most of your 24 hours in Berlin:
|Welcome To Berlin. Photo Credit: Creative Commons|
Start the day by renting a bicycle. There are several bicycle rental companies in the Alexanderplatz area, often handing out fantastic deals. See whichever one appeals to you the most and spend the day riding through Central Berlin.
On the route will be the Book Burning Square, The Berlin Library with its beautiful façade covered in green leaves, The Town Hall, and The Neptune Fountain. Close to the Town Hall, try stumbling upon the Old Amphitheater that is still used for shows. You can also bike in the Museum Islandarea. If you have just a day, perhaps biking through these stunning museums is the only luxury you can allow yourself.
|Biking views: The Berlin Library|
Next, ditch the bikes and go experience one of the oldest underground networks in the world (known as the U-Bahn). It’s best to purchase a day pass first thing in the morning. Head to the BrandenburgGate and the Reichstag (German Parliament Building). All around this area, you will find several interesting street performers and artists.
|Sunny skies and the Brandenburg Gate|
Make Checkpoint Charlie your next destination, where you have the option of visiting the CheckpointCharlie Museumand getting one of the most interesting souvenirs Berlin has to offer: actual East Germany/West Germany era stamps on your passport.
Right nearby is the Museum of Topography of Terror which for its poignant and almost bare display of photos, letters and other Nazi Germany paraphernalia is by far one of the best museums I have ever been to and most of it is free. If you had time to go to just one Museum, let this be the one. MTT is an outdoor museum located in Niederkirchnerstrasse, on the site of buildings, which were the headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS.
For lunch you of course have the option of over 1,500 versions of German sausages, but one other thing that deserves a lot of credit, is the Berlin Kebab. Brought in originally by Turkish immigrants, the Berlin Kebab has been “Berlinized” (for instance using more veal and chicken instead of lamb) . This is an extremely delicious and highly affordable option. Try it at the famous joint in Kreuzberg called “Mustafas”.
|Lunch time summer book sales in the city|
Come evening and before darkness sets in, take the U-Bahn to different parts of the city to admire the extensive graffiti on what remains of what was once the most political wall. Definitely try to see the one of the Soviet Union leader, L. Brezhnev, in a lip lock with the former head of East Germany, E. Honecker. This fraternal kiss is one of the more famous paintings on the East Side Gallery.
|Find the lip-lock graffiti on the East Side Gallery|
LATE EVENING ONWARDS:
Finally, for an ideal ending to a wonderful day in a city perfect with all its imperfections, head to Kunsthaus Tacheles. You will find nothing like this anywhere else in the world. It started of as a Jewish quarter, then became a Nazi prison and was finally taken over by a group of artists who named it Tacheles. There are about six floors of galleries, housing everything from personal studios to sculptures to montages. However the exhibits and galleries are constantly changing.
The ground floor has a sandy beach style bar and sitting area with several art installations. Sadly, due to complicated matters such as the expiration of the lease, the future of this wonderful space is now unknown.(Sad Update: Kunstahuas Tacheles has since closed). If you’re keen on exploring other alternative spaces like Tacheles then check out Kunsthaus Kreuzber Bethanien or go on a night walk with a company called Alternative Berlin!
|R.I.P Kunsthaus Tacheles|
The one thing to remember about Berlin is that the only constant thing about it is change. Nothing about it is static and what was familiar yesterday may well be missing tomorrow. Understand and remember that, and Berlin and you will get along just fine.