I had never visited a city that was in a sense, technically younger than I am until I set foot in the German capital. The Berlin Wall officially fell eight days after my birth. Twenty-one years on and the East-West divide still perturbs the tourist. To stay in the East or West? I journeyed to Berlin to investigate for myself.
Ryanair and Aer Lingus operate frequent flights to Berlin’s Schönefeld airport. Getting around Berlin could not be easier. Buses, trams and trains are at your disposal. The U-Bahn and S-Bahn link up at numerous stations, providing over and underground transport that is both efficient and comfortable. Invest in a Berlin Welcome Card when you arrive at the airport; it’s fantastic value for money, offering you unlimited use of the city’s public transport for a set period of time.
Staying in a pretty well-known chain hotel in the Friedricshain area of East Berlin, I found myself in quite comfortable surroundings. Perhaps I didn’t journey far enough into the East to encounter the reality of East Berlin. Staying near Karl-Marx-Allee, formerly Stalinallee, was as close to Soviet Russia as my adventures came.
Traversing this monumental socialist boulevard, built between 1952 and 1960 by the East German Government or DDR, I learned that Berlin needed no introduction; it is simply a city that tells its own story.
For history enthusiasts there are an endless list of museums, monuments and historical sites. Berlin is one of those cities that has witnessed and played host to some of the most significant events in the history of Europe and has lived to tell the tale; a story emanates from every inch of this metropolis.
From the Wall to the Gate to Checkpoint Charlie, you’ll never be short of iconic sites to see. I’d personally recommend checking out Berliner Unterwelten. This organisation offers fascinating guided tours of the city’s underground network of bunkers from both World War 2 and the Cold War. Take the U-Bahn to Platz der Luftbrücke; the station is located beneath Berlin’s former city centre airport Templehof, the site of the Berlin Airlift. The grounds of this magnificent airport have been transformed into a sprawling city park.
Berlin’s nightlife is second to none; numerous bars, pubs and clubs across the city operate until the early hours with very few restrictions with regard to closing times. There’s also an endless array of shops and boutiques for those looking to part with their cash.
I’ll admit that I was concerned about the language barrier when travelling to Berlin; my German extends about as far as ‘danke’. With a few very basic phrases, it was surprisingly easy to converse in both German and English with enthusiastic and friendly people in most shops and restaurants; learn even a little and the effort will get you a long way.
Unlike JFK I’m no ‘Berliner’, the local phrase for jam donut, but I certainly felt right at home in Berlin.