Meet the captivating new Berlin
The German capital has claimed the crown of Europe’s coolest city, leaving the shadows of its former thirty-year division well behind.
On November 9th 2019 Berliners and the world celebrated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the wall with an extensive festival – https://mauerfall30.berling/en/ – focusing on the fact that for the first time in recent history Berliners have lived longer in a free city than in a divided one.
In 1991 Berlin once again became the country’s capital and today you will be hard pressed to find a European city more diverse. Despite its storied history it is the least ‘German’ city of them all, brimming with freedom and creativity. And, like the phoenix rising from the ashes, it is eradicating all traces of its Communist/Socialist past and another reincarnation of the city is emerging out of the post WW2 shenanigans.
Dating back to 1687 when the Huguenots made up 20% of the population, Berlin has always had a tradition of welcoming foreigners – today it is the youth of the world flocking here for the city’s exhilarating opportunities and inspiring energy. It is no longer a requirement to speak German to succeed here, and citizens from all over the world now call Berlin home.
Berlin continues to flourish, and the arts, architecture and history are being woven together to create an astounding quilt of life with beauty and ugliness often only a few meters apart.
Buildings have been designed with personal emotions. The ‘Axel Springer’ building,located next to the former wall, ruffled a few feathers in its time with its neon ‘western’ advertising banners. The East Berliner regime aimed to offset these banners and their messages by positioning high-rise monstrosities opposite, trying its hardest to block the view from East Berlin. In time those buildings became known as the Springer blockers – now this is but a quirky, yet very human, footnote in Berlin’s history.
The local Berliners may appear a bit gruff yet they have a strong, endearing and unusual sense of humour which contributes greatly to the spirit of the city and its relaxed ‘no bullshit’ attitude. Do not search too hard for ‘politically and socially correct’ even though it does exist – for most part you can do whatever you like.
Berlin’s thriving food scene
Berlin’s food scene is in constant development and expansion… leave Berlin for a year or so and there will be changes, likely beyond count.
As a floating island in former communist East Germany,‘regional and sustainable’ as ideas did not exist due to the constraints of the wall and borders. It took a while for Berliners to re-discover the virtues of local, seasonal, high quality produce.
Restaurants such as Nobelhart and Schmutzig: https://www.nobelhartundschmutzig.com are now front runners with their brutally local tag leading a regional-produce focused re/evolution.
Since 2007 Berlin has been home to an innovative vegetarian restaurant which received a Michelin Star ten years later – the first vegetarian German restaurant to do so. Even non-vegetarians will not miss the meat: Cookies Cream: https://cookiescream.com
‘Friedrichshain’, a suburb in the old East-Berlin, appears to be the vegan capital of the world.
Specialist bakeries are reclaiming the hearts of Berliners and the latest addition to the thriving bakery scene Brot ist Gold offers one type of bread only: https://www.brot.gold
Organic produce markets are opening all over Berlin and from November will be competing with more than 25 traditional Christmas markets.
Here are my top two:
Yet, visitors arriving at Tegel airport are often surprised by the ugliness that greets them as they approach the city centre. For the uninitiated the first look of a German Schrebergarten, an allotment garden, can be a peculiar sight. Soon this unfamiliar pastoral setting morphs into the working-class precinct of Wedding which has just been crowned the world’s 4th coolest neighbourhood by Time Out magazine and then slowly gives way to a city that feels truly alive.
The contrasts. The mystery. The people. The architecture. It’s hard not to fall in love with Berlin and its creative spirit.
Berlin is now one of the most sought after destinations in the world. The building sites play testament to Berlin continually re-inventing itself and those big cranes are witness to it.
The internet infrastructure and free wifi are constantly improving and its reputation as a young start-up culture is being established.
Berlin is gearing up for higher visitor numbers by building strings of hotels. More than 13.5 million visitors came to Berlin in 2018 with an increase in hotel bookings of 5.5%. Currently Berlin comes in at No 4 of visited European cities – still behind Barcelona, Paris and Vienna but ahead of London.
Berlin is divided into twelve districts and the average visitor stays 2.4 days in two of those districts, rarely venturing beyond the traditional sites such as: Brandenburger Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie,etc and the party scene in Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain.
So what does this mean in today’s climate where the word ‘overtourism’ throws a slight shadow over this newly developed love for Berlin as a destination?
The answers are simple:
- Spread your attention beyond the traditional sights and explore the overlooked districts for alluring Berlin treats
- Follow the slow travel trend and stay longer for more meaningful interactions
- Seek out smaller experiences to discover hidden gems
Three of my favourite places are:
- The Saturday Winterfeldtplatz Marktin Schöneberg for a market stroll
- A performance at the Schaubühne for world class theatre, https://www.schaubuehne.de/en/start/index.html
- Schlachtensee & Krumme Lanke for lakes and nature
Come and see for yourself.
A former Melburnian, Ute’s fascination with Berlin began in the 1980s during visits to the divided Berlin. She was there in 1989 when the wall fell and last year left Paris to live in Berlin.
Ute offers highly personal and tailored guided tours of Berlin.