Based on my various discussions with fellow travel enthusiasts, Berlin seems to be the most popular German city of choice. It has everything going for it – the beer, the food, the ease of communication (majority of people are fluent English speakers), the street art, the music, the culture – the list is endless. So inspired by all the good reviews and recommendations, Mrs FOMOist and I set out for Berlin in mid-February.
But before I get to Berlin, I need to tell you about how we were on the edge of not going to Berlin. Our flight was on Friday night so we had packed our hand-luggage sensibly to take to work and head to Heathrow straight after work. After the normal travel jitters of getting nervous on the tube wondering if I had packed the passports, I got to the airport in good time, equipped with the relief of all travel documents in tow. Then the fun began! Mrs FOMOist got on the Piccadilly Line, slightly later than ideal but was still travelling at a good pace, until at Acton Town her and her fellow Tube-rs were asked to get off the tube. After waiting for good 5-10 minutes, they were advised that due to a signal failure the tube will not be going to Heathrow at all. To minimise the travel expense, in the state of panic, Mrs FOMOist got on the tube headed in the wrong direction, only to get off and catch an Uber that “delivered” her at the airport 15 minutes before boarding. Thanks to our stars, we flew through security and made our flight, Phew! Everyone settle, it’s all under control.
Arriving at Berlin Tegel, our pre-booked cab was waiting and we checked into our hotel, dropped our bags, met up with a friend and wasted no time and headed to Anita Berber to meet our friends who were also visiting Berlin at the same time. Even though it’s on the second floor, Anita Berber is best described as an underground bar, reached through a heavily graffiti-ed tunnels, occupied by youngans in long jackets trading. Once at the door, you need to knock on the door to get in, I couldn’t be any more into the scene. A couple of flight of stairs, we were greeted by beautiful tunes from DJ Philippa, who’s flat was being used by our friends from London during their stay in Berlin – so hawt right now!
After a relatively late-night, we woke up to a gloriously sunny Saturday morning covered in winter chill, yet bathed in sunlight. After grabbing a quick bite, we headed to the DDR Museum, which was interactive, provided a lot of information on the GDR and involved too much reading according to Mrs FOMOist. One of my workmates had suggested that we go try the Ein Meter Bier (one meter beer) at the Brauhaus Georgbraeu at some point. Given the close proximity to the DDR Museum, we decided that we had enough time to grab a beer before our walking tour starts at 2. Turned out, we didn’t have enough time, we had to chug over 5 pints of beer among the 3 of us in less than 15-minutes.
After running for about 1.5kms, straight after having the Ein Meter Bier, we arrived at the meeting point for free walking tour booked with Sandemans. The walking tour was something that we were really excited about, given that this was going to tick off the major points of interest throughout the city, and man did it exceed our expectations. Hosted by an ex-Londoner, now-Berliner, Sadie who has been living in Berlin for about 5 years now and was extremely informative, passionate and insightful. Some of the things that stayed with me the most from the tour were:
- The Holocaust Memorial. This is the most eerie “art-installations” I have ever visited. The blocks of concrete rise higher and higher as you walks into the depths of the Memorial, drowning out light, noise and even faces of people you came with. It really does an incredible job of instilling only a fraction if fear that the people may have felt for whom this memorial was built. While I am really glad I went, the fact that it’s a memorial almost made me feel like I was disrespecting the families and friends of the people it represented. I took the picture below because I found it ironic that it had an Emergency Exit and couldn’t help but ponder how much of a blessing something like this would have been back in time.
- Sadie also took us to a regular apartment block and a carpark, which was allegedly built on the chamber that Hitler took his last breath. She mentioned that Berliners have gone through great lengths not to provide him with a commemorative/remembrance ground. At that point, all I could think of was the Holocaust Memorial, which in addition to the remembering the dead is the biggest reminder of Hitler and his actions, how do they avoid that? Or should they?
Once the walking tour was over, we settled into a nice German restaurant (I can’t remember the name), serving delicious food and beer to mostly local families. We decided that we were going to head home early because Sunday was going to be a long day of partying. Our friends from London had told us about this party that takes place in an abandoned warehouse which we were all looking forward to. However in the morning we realised that anyone can be turned down entry at the door without any explanation, so we have strict instructions of not looking too excited, not seeming too chatty and no smiling! For everyone who knows me – it’s near-death experience for yours truly!
After admiring the beautiful (and edgy) street art at the East Side Gallery, we made our way to Berghain, where the party was being held. At this point we were exuding edginess and cool, until the bouncers took one look at us and without giving it a second thought said “No” waiving us away from the entry. At that time, it felt like we had just failed an exam, but shortly after we were glad we didn’t get in, because we used the extra time exploring the wonders of Berlin, which included:
- Appreciating the brew at The Barn.
- Devouring on a Korean inspired burgers at Shiso Burger. If you like your Bibimbap and partial to kimchi, this is a must-visit burger joint.
- I am a guy who doesn’t mind my drinks well-dressed. So I am always partial to a cocktail or 5. If you are too, you have to visit Saphire Bar. The cocktails are deliciously stiff and it served possibly the best Espresso Martini I have ever had, and I’ve had a few!
- Also worth a visit is a café called House of Small Wonder. It’s a Japanese inspired café with a menu like no other – menu of small wonders (see what I did there?)
I know it’s sad, but one of the main things I wanted to see was the Berlin Wall. I know it is a crude reminder of cruelty, but given the recency of events, this is the only piece of history that I remember from school. The original parts of the wall are dotted around the city and it is incredible to see how “small” the wall was. If it didn’t have the fear associated with it, I think people will be jumping across it as a hobby. The wall is truly a symbol of how the mind (especially fear) can decapitate the body.
Berlin is the city that is still reminded of it’s history on a daily basis. Sadie from the walking tour has a son who will be taken to visit the concentration camp as part of a school excursion to make him “accept his history”. This is shocking because I don’t think I have heard of any other countries/cities demanding such humility from their generations.
If Berlin was a person, it will be cool, without being a cool-cat, hip without being hipster and edgy without being off the chops.