The Joy Club member Kathy Feest shares some insider tips on one of the world’s most fascinating cities…
Considering a long weekend in Berlin? Follow in our footsteps! Berlin has been a place my husband and I have returned to again and again over the years. Covid, of course, stopped us in our tracks, but last week it was our first European destination in three and a half years. Our granddaughter is doing part of her Master’s degree there and it seemed the perfect opportunity to visit once more.
In that land far far away known as our careers, in the ‘90s, my husband was the British representative within a European group that met several times a year. After becoming friendly with one of the members from Berlin, we began a long and lovely relationship with the city and the friends we made there. Our new friend’s son was eleven at the time and didn’t speak a word of English – and I don’t speak German. Nevertheless, we got on brilliantly and now Claudio is 31 and speaks like a native Brit! His sister is now a mum with two young children and my role as Auntie Kathy is now extended. Although we hadn’t seen them for ages, we have kept in touch.
Our return to Berlin entailed catching up with friends and returning to a city that also felt like an old friend. This visit seemed even more magical than ever! While I can’t share the friendships that we have developed over many years, I can offer some advice on what to do and make some recommendations so YOUR trip to Berlin is filled with the magic the city has to offer!
Getting to Berlin
The Berlin airport, Brandenburg Airport or BER, is new, modern and comfortable. We took the train from there into the city – travelling on the S (overground) and U Bahn (underground). It cost just four euros and took only 45 minutes!
With only carryon luggage, we saved the 50 euros a taxi would have cost. As we emerged from the U Bahn we immediately felt the vibrancy of the city. There was a hubbub of people either on the move or sitting together in the dozens of cafes and restaurants, which lined what was soon to become “our” street.
Remembering to look the correct way, we crossed the street after the tram trundled by. When we arrived at our building, where we were grateful for the lift, we ascended to our sixth floor apartment. After saying hello to our host’s representative we explored our “home” for the next four nights. Our Air B&B choice was on Weinbergsweg, close to Rosenthaler Platz U Bahn, in the area known as Mitte. This home was lived in and not just a rental. It really did have two balconies! And an upstairs bedroom complete with a comfortable bed. It cost about £150.00 a night. Marisa was instantly available on WhatsApp for any questions we had.
We flopped on our bed and slept for ages. Our EasyJet flight from Bristol meant waking at 4:30am – not ideal! But when we awoke in the late afternoon we were ready for the evening. Or nearly. Food was required and the bottle shop and deli across the road sold sandwiches and fruit which were gobbled down!
That night we hopped on the UBahn, which was two minutes away, and visited our friends.
The next day we walked for nearly an hour, aiming to meet our granddaughter ten minutes away. Mr. Google gave us directions but we wanted to soak up the city atmosphere and get some exercise. Travelling and navigating a big city is so much easier these days with the help of our online apps!
The Charlottenburg Palace
Berlin is a very green city with the linden trees currently filling the air with a sweet honey-like scent that lifts the spirits. You are never too far from a green park. After having coffee in the Barn (a chain of coffee shops around Berlin), we took the train to Charlottenburg where we visited the Kathie Kolwitz exhibition at the Charlottenburg Palace.
What a woman! Kathie was an artist in Berlin and lived from 1867 To 1945. She was an exceptionally talented woman who not only made drawings depicting the life of the oppressed, but created sculptures as well. She was given many honours in her lifetime that the Nazis took away from her before her death in 1945. A sobering, but informative exhibition.
If you have time and it isn’t too hot, a stroll around the palace gardens is pleasant. They seem more French than German, but the English style lavender garden in full bloom on the way to the Kathie Kolwitz museum had an intoxicating scent.
A hot drink followed at the pleasant outdoor Palace Café in the grounds. Apparently, the coffee everywhere in Berlin is delicious, but I’m a tea drinker.
Top tip for my fellow tea-drinkers: take some tea bags. The Germans don’t seem to know how to do black tea. If you order it in a café, you need to make sure you ask for cold milk (milch) or it will arrive all hot and frothy!
Another tip worth knowing is that credit cards are accepted most places, but NOT on trams. You’ll need to either download the App to buy your ticket or take cash, in coins, and pay on the tram. There are also several loos that cost 50 cents, so make sure you always carry a few coins.
After a gentle stroll back to the U-Bahn, we returned to our flat and chilled until dinner time.
Dinner at Sucre et Sal
Sucre et Sal was a five minute stroll from “home” where we ate a French meal! Wine is expensive, most on the menu were above fifty euros a bottle but as I don’t drink very much, I was happy to have my alcohol free beer! Delicious and much less costly than wine – as is regular beer. Our starter was enough for at least eight people and we were only five! My husband had a few glasses of wine and the bill for two with starter, main (I had duck!) and one pudding came to €120. We tipped on top of that as people tend to do, rounding up if you are in a café to the nearest euro, or in a restaurant around ten percent of the bill seems about right.
For breakfast each morning we went to the same restaurant, Chef’s by Butterbrot, only a few steps from “home”. We quickly became known to the waitress and enjoyed our conversations and the food! Not expensive and many delicious options.
It doesn’t take long to create a routine and to feel right at home in Berlin. Most waitresses and waiters in cafes and restaurants speak English, and all are welcoming.
The street we were living on was noisy and filled with young people, parents and kids, people on bicycles and scooters and there were even a few oldies like us! We worried that we wouldn’t sleep well as the bedroom was front facing and the tram ran right by the flat, but the double glazing was the most sound blocking we’ve ever known. That and a fan to keep us cool on the one hot summer night were perfect. We needed sweaters a few days, and an umbrella. The Berlin summer is not unlike that of the UK!
We decided we had to visit the Pergammon museum. We had been before, but it is closing for 14 years. The Germans find that as odd as we do. We won’t make it to the place again so it seemed sensible to visit. It’s on Museum Island which is a UNESCO world heritage site located on the Spree River.
The island houses five of Berlin’s top museums. If you have time to visit two or more, buy a pass. If you can only see one, go to the Pergammon. There you will see full-scale reconstructions of architectural monuments from Greek and Roman antiquity. Hackescher Markt is just 15 minutes walk away from the Island and is one more of hundreds of places to stroll around and find some refreshments. It’s also a handy Ubahn and S stop.
Dinner at Oderquelle
On our third evening we dined in a very German restaurant, Oderquelle, complete with potato pancakes (yum!) and dumplings. (Our hostess Marissa recommended it via WhatsApp). The food and beer were excellent and so were the prices.
Three courses here with a couple of beers came to €64 for two. If you are in Mitte, it’s definitely worth a visit. We walked back to our flat in about fifteen minutes, dodging raindrops as we went.
If you decide to follow in the Feest’s footsteps and take a trip to Berlin, remember that we have been here dozens of times in the past. If it’s your first trip, you will need to see: The Brandenburg Gate, the KuDamm (shopping area) and most definitely The Jewish Museum on Lindenstr. 9–14 10969.
Walking tours abound which can be found either on an app, or with a guide. We would highly recommend a tour of the old Jewish Quarter. Take your handkerchiefs. You should manage to fit all of these things comfortably into four days.
Berlin is a vibrant thriving Capital city that has rebuilt itself after a terrible past. The architecture is heavy and the city is not beautiful or delicate. It’s been three decades since the fall of the wall that divided the city, the people and the nation. The people are now Berliners – not “Easterners” or “Westerners”, but Berliners. And they are welcoming, friendly, interested and interesting. Enjoy!