Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Interrailing, part 4: Berlin

If Brussels was the person you just couldn't quite place, then Berlin was the complete opposite. The moment you step into it, Berlin just exudes coolness. Graffiti, fast paced, tall buildings, style, quirkiness, boho bars, but with a dark past which gives it a certain edginess, Berlin quite simply is the cool kid. An artist's haven, Berlin is certainly not a traveller's secret by any means but the number of local projects and unique spots allows it to maintain a sense of newness and youthfulness.

A number of incidents meant that we didn't get to enjoy Berlin as fully as we could have. Our night trip there was more than eventful and meant that we only scraped a few hours sleep. Also we spent our last day trawling through opticians' in the burning heat, as I'd managed to lose my glasses the night before. Despite that we did manage to get a good feel for the city and it's safe to say that it's at the top of our list for a return visit.

The hostel: Heart of Gold 8/10
Brandonburg gate
Arriving utterly exhausted to this hostel we were pleased to find that it was a comfy, cheerful wee hostel. It's description on hostel world reassures us that it is a "state-of-the-art hostel that looks a bit like a spaceship but is mostly harmless." The rooms were huge, very very spacious and had good storage ports. It could do with a few more electrical outlets but we found enough to meet our needs. Tea and coffee is free, as is the wifi although there are signs about the place encouraging travellers to put down the smartphones and engage with the people around them. The bar was quite busy at night and the outside area had a lot of people milling around. Had we not have been so sleep deprived/ hungover while we were there I'm sure we could have gotten to know the others quite easily. They have sunglasses for rent, a movie room and a kitchen/laundry area. The location was good; Berlin is very big so you need to use public transport to get around, and this hostel is about a ten minute walk from one of the central metro stations.
On the negative side breakfast is not free, and will set you back 4 euro per person. However there was quite a good selection so you could fill yourself up for the day if you wished.

Holocaust memorial
The city: Berlin is a city packed with reminders from the past and nods to the future. We only had a glimpse of what it has to offer but we definitely liked what we saw. Despite having had hardly any sleep we set off straight away and first on our list was the Reichstag, the imposing and impressive government buildings. We didn't have enough time to do this but if you get a chance you can go all the way up to the top of the great glass dome from which you can see all of the Berlin landscape. Next was the Brandonburg Gate home of many historic events but on the day we arrived, seemed to be setting up for a music concert! Close to this you'll find the Holocaust Memorial, a simple yet powerful design. It's hard to really 'get' it at first glance so go in, explore and soon it'll start to hit you. The next day we set off in search of possibly the most famous Berlin monument: The Berlin Wall. Initially we took a detour via the temporary Berlin beach which had been set up just for summer, and had a break there as we felt that we were well and truly lost. However after a bit more map reading we realised... "oh it's just.. over there!" If you're by the river and can see an enormous O2 shop then you know you're almost there. It's seriously impressive and the artwork will keep you occupied for at least an hour. In fact all over East Berlin you'll find interesting bits of graffiti and political statements. On our way back we stopped into the Topography of Terror however didn't give ourselves even half of the time needed to read through this impressive collection of information. Leave at least 4 hours to browse through this museum; some leave you bored and wanting to skip over the descriptions, but this isn't one of them.

Berlin Wall
Another side of Berlin we wanted to experience was the famous night pub crawls we saw advertised. I think the link I've provided leads to the company we used however I'm not entirely sure. In pretty much every city there are red leaflets advertising free city tours and inside will be details of other paid tours, often including a pub crawl. Normally the crawl costs 10 euros and you get a number of free drinks included plus your entrance fee. We had a brilliant time on this tour and met so many great people. It was the perfect way to see the city and not waste time deciding where to go. You'll get an insight into the typical social life but you'll also meet other travellers in the same position- not just locals who have no interest in you whatsoever!

Berlin Wall
Tips: Germany always gives the impression of a cold country, probably the after effect of countless war movies. However while we where there it was HOT and I mean seriously hot. Being so inland there was a very fierce heat and remember I've been living in Southern Spain all year! So if you're going in summer prepare for the heat. Berlin is a big city and you will need to use public transport at some point. Check out the group/multi journey tickets once there and decide which is best for you, it'll save you money in the long run, and a pre paid ticket was required for the pub crawl. Another thing, regards the size of the city, is to really plan your time well. misfortunes ate into our time but we also didn't plan for transport times and left ourselves with a big rush in many places. Berlin is a cool, young fast paced city- you need your energy here.

As a general interrailing tip I would seriously suggest that you try out the organised pub crawls. They can be a little awkward at first but everyone is up for making friends and it takes the pressure off trying to organise the night yourselves. We went on 3 during our trip and the other nights just had casual drinks or tried out local bars which saved us money in the long run and meant we still saw the nightlife but had less hangovers! If you're in a small group it really is the best option; sure nights out are great with your friends but really a club in Berlin is kinda the same as anywhere else- to give it that extra travelling kick you should aim for meeting new people and also getting a little break from each other! That's where the crawls come in ;)

Next post: Krakow