Lenny’s Pick - Berlin: Beyond the Wall
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“I still keep a suitcase in Berlin.” is a famous quote uttered by, arguably, one Germany’s most enduring exports, Marlene Dietrich. Berlin is many things to many people. For most, it is the hub and emblem of WWII and the ensuing cold war. For many it is a thriving enclave for the arts and artists. If you visit modern Berlin, chances are you will find the Berlin you came expecting to see. Whatever you find, it will be worth the trip.
Much of Berlin was devastated by the allied forces at the close of WWII, so you will not encounter many ancient buildings. Indeed, the eastern portion of the city bears touches of Soviet-era life. This is all a capsule, a testament to the march of time and the resilience of this most intriguing of places.
Of course, there is the famous Checkpoint Charlie. Make sure to visit it, have a photo taken with a soldier in front of the famous booth, and cross it off your list. Then take in the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. The care involved in so meticulously curating this collection is miraculous. You can lose yourself in the text which covers every wall in the place, in multiple languages, chronicling the desperation and urgency of people under the eastern regime trying to escape to the west. There are autos with secret compartments, suitcases meant to hold escapees, and video presentations bearing witness to the derring-do of the East Germans trying to reunite with their loved ones over the wall. It is a profound reality and a heady experience. You will want a drink after.
So, I’m a huge music fan, meaning my trip to Berlin would have felt incomplete had I not visited the Berlin period residence of David Bowie (and Iggy Pop) while I was there. The apartment building is in the Schöneberg neighborhood. Google the address. There is a commemorative plaque in front and, chances are, other pilgrims gathered to pay their respects.
Feeling peckish? Berlin hosts many world-class restaurants. My favorite is Silent Green in the Wedding area of Berlin. The space is modern and beautiful, and the food local, seasonal, and organic (bio - as it is referred to in Berlin). And, for the best Apfelstrudel you will ever taste – go to Café Einstein on Kurfürstenstraße for high tea. They have a full menu and bar, and brew a mean cuppa as well!
There is an easy way to get all your culture in. Museum Island in the Spree river (in the Mitte district) has five Berlin State Museums you can visit in one fell swoop. If you have the Berlin Pass, it’s so much the better.
Every souvenir shop has pieces of the wall you can purchase. Did you know there are actually remnants of the wall still standing in various areas in the city? See if you can locate any - they will typically be tucked away beneath a viaduct or beside railroad tracks, forgotten and tourist-free.
Locals love a game called Kegeln, which is really skittles, or nine-pin. There are many bars in the city with a Kegelbahn (bowling alley) in the lower level. Why not reserve an alley and have a game or two whilst sampling local brews?
If beer is not your taste, what about whiskey? There is an authentic English pub, called Offside, which boasts the largest selection of whiskey. It’s right in the Wedding neighborhood, and is indeed the largest selection I’ve seen outside of Scotland. The atmosphere is decidedly British, if delivered with a German accent. Warm and welcoming, if fine single malts are your thing, you will find no better place to indulge than here.
There is no shortage of beauty, history, culture, and diversion in this graffiti-covered city. To quote Jack Lang: “Paris is always Paris and Berlin is never Berlin!”