Berlin is a city on the move. It is one of those rare places that grabs you, takes hold, and never lets you go. You can’t help but love a city that looks back and acknowledges its (undisputedly awful) past with great reflection, no more denial, and respect for the tragic events that either took place or were rooted here. And at the same time Berliners are not just looking toward the future, but sprinting toward it with progressive thought, bold ideas, and striking architecture.
City of Neighborhoods
I tend to like cities that are big and thriving, but made up of smaller, friendlier neighborhoods where one can build a life and a community. Berlin has this. For a more local, neighborhood-feel you can find a place to stay in the hip, leafy ‘hoods of Prenzlauer Berg or Kreuzberg (pronounced kroitz-berg).
P’berg is situated in the heart of what was East Berlin. This area had become rundown and filled with squatters after the fall of the wall. Yesterday’s bohemian, alternative-artist types have morphed into today’s hipster pierced parents pushing prams around the quaint, refurbished blocks past innumerable cafes and independent boutiques.
During an afternoon stroll around Kollwitzplatz, you can stop in for a latte and a quiche slice at the Anna Blume Café and enjoy sidewalk seating under the awning while watching the young urbanites walk on by. For a younger vibe, head just a few blocks over to Kastanienallee (say that three times fast) where actors, artists, and expats are often found at many of the cafes and bars.
Afterwards you can head north a few blocks to the Kulturbrauerei -a former beer brewery turned ‘culture brewery’ with a lively mixed use space of galleries, restaurants, and cinemas. Also here you will find Berlin on Bike. They do a comprehensive and down to earth four-hour city tour – very worth the 17 Euro cost.
Seeing the flat city on two wheels is a great way to get an overview of this sprawling town and much less ‘insulated’ than one of the many double-decker bus tours around. Besides watching out for cars, you will notice how bike-friendly Berlin is by all your fellow cyclists whizzing about. From your bike saddle, you will see the tourist musts:
- Alexanderplatz and the Fernsehturm (TV Tower)
- Hackescher Markt
- Berlin Dom and Museum Island
- Unter den Linden
- Potsdamer Platz and huge modern Sony Center complex
- Checkpoint Charlie
- The Berlin Wall
- The Reichstag and other modern government office buildings
- Brandenburg Gate
- The Holocaust Memorial
- The Tiergarten – Berlin’s huge, ‘Central Park’
Back in Prenzlauer Berg there are several choices for Berlin accommodations. For something a bit more affordable I checked into the EastSeven Hostel – one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever stayed in. It’s a squeaky clean place with singles, doubles and dorms. There is a great backyard with tables and even a grill and a lounge and kitchen to use at your disposal.
The more arty bunch of today have left Prenzlauer Berg behind and are pushing the limits in Friedrichshain – around the grungy-turned-trendy Boxhagener Platzand in Kreuzberg – dining on tapas or Indian food on Bergmanstrasse or hanging out at the bars lining the Landwehrkanal (canal) during the balmy summer months until the wee hours.
If I lived here I would pick one of these neighborhoods to live in. And living here seems pretty easy – you can find a small one bedroom apartment for under 500 Euros. No wonder so many people are moving here. Quentin Tarantino has flat here, Brad Pitt bought a place here (both are in town filming Quentin’s latest flick currently titled “Inglorious Bastards“). Even 80’s pop star Joe Jackson moved here. Now that says something. I think. Berlin is one of the cheapest and coolest cities in Europe to live in… something I just might do.