Berlin is depressing.
Let me explain.
I love this town – it’s one of the fastest moving, historic-yet-modern places in Europe, filled with go-getters, artists, politicians and… well, tourists. Yet it’s a pretty depressing place. Maybe because when you think Germany, you think order-to-the-ruler. Nothing as much as an inch out of place. Everything perfectly fitted and to the point.
Berlin will blow your mind. I’ve managed to visit this place three times during my many trips, yet I can’t say that I fully understand this place. It makes you feel at home instantly, while never really being homey. Architecture is all over the place, the mixing of old, new, borrowed and blue (actually, mostly gray) makes one think there are no city planners employed. Graffiti is everywhere graffiti even covers the most famous graffiti in the wall, the East Side Gallery.
Berlin is high fashion and homeless people. Old history and modern strive. A melting pot of architecture, style, people. You will find everything here, yet nothing really fits.
Last time I visited Berlin was for the amazing Startup Weekend Berlin, an entrepreneurial event that pulls participants from all over the world. It’s no surprise, as Berlin is one of the foremost entrepreneurial hubs in Europe – it’s home to countless incubators, accelerators and startup spaces. If you are looking for venture capital, business angels or just plain and simply network and guidance, Berlin is the right place to be. And with two international airports in close proximity (in good conditions, you get from Alexanderplatz to Tegel in 30 min or less – but it’s almost always rush-hour in Berlin), you literary have the world at the palm of your hand.
If you are here to explore, Berlin has a lot to offer. Must see’s include the East Side Gallery, with the remains of the Berlin Wall, that once divided Berlin onto East and West Berlin – even though the entire city of Berlin geographically was located in East Germany. East Side Gallery is an international memorial of freedom and consists of about 150-something paintings by international artists, depicting the times of change. Today, badly vandalized by graffiti (oh, the irony) and erosion, it’s one of the memorials that might not be around for generations to come to visit.
Being the capital of Germany, Berlin offers a lot of official buildings. Amongst those worth one extra glance is the Reichstag – dating back to 1894, it once hosted Nazi Germany Reichstag (Parliament), and it now seat of the Bundestag.
For those that are into art and always chase the next museum to visit, Berlin wont disappoint. With a museum island to boast, amongst others, where five of the Berliner museums are located, it’s worth a visit. Especially if you, like me, happen to drop by this city on a rainy day. Also worth mentioning is the UNESCO world heritage stamp this place holds!
The Altes Museum from 1830 holds the Berlin antiques. Neues Museum, as name indicates, is slightly younger, dating back “only” to 1843, when construction was begun. Holding the Egyptian collections, amongst others the bust of Nefertiti, it’s a definite must-see.
The Alte Nationalgalerie is Berlins foremost art gallery, offering everything from Neoclassical, through Romantic, Biedermeier and Impressionist to early Modernist artwork. The exterior, in Greco-Roman style, is extra amazing during sunset and early night, when it’s artistically lit up.
The Bode Museum, across the street from Alte Nationalgalerie, and home of the famous Flora Bust, is also home of Byzantine collections, sculptures and an exceptional numismatic collection. Being one of the youngest addition to the Museum Island, dating back to 1904, the architecture of Bode Museum is a colossus in baroque style.
Finally, the Pergamon Museum, the youngest structure, finished 1930, is famous for its antiquity-, the Middle East- and Islamic art collections. Visited by approximately 1,2 million visitors a year, it’s the most visited museum in Germany.
Berlin is another very walkable city – from Alexanderplatz to Branderburger Tor it’s only about 4km and there’s pedestrian-friendly options that offer a lot to see on your walk. Starting by the World Clock at Alexanderplatz, you can easily end up seeing TV Tower, the Humbolt University and the Museum Island on your way over to Brandenburger Tor.
If you turn southeast, towards Spree, you will catch the site of the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe, Bundesrat and Checkpoint Charlie before walking through Kreuzberg, crossing the Spree at Oberbaumbrücke at heading northwest towards the East Side Gallery.
The gothic Overbaum Bridge links the neighborhoods of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg and was formerly divided by the Berlin Wall – understandably, today it’s a memorial of unity. Notable features is the double-deck, with the U-bahn being carried by the upper deck, while cars and pedestrians are referred to the lower deck. Watching Spree in the southeast direction from the bridge, you will see the Molecule Man at the Treptow business district, one of Berlin’s most modern and newest districts. The Molecule Man, a 30-meter tall metal sculpture, standing seemingly at the surface of the Spree, is one of many metal sculptures by Jonathan Borofsky, spread across the world. In Berlin, the Molecule Man is said to represent the three districts of Treptow, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain.
Berlin is a very gray city. Despite being covered in graffiti – Berlin is quite infamous for it’s graffiti – that spices up the city walls, for better or worse. Berlin seems weighted down by history, the gray sky on cloudy days adding to the dark aura of the city. There is so much to see and do here, it’s surprising how heavy one feels.
Shopping in Berlin, on the other hand, is excellent. Kiko and Rossmann can be found everywhere, and clothing stores compete for your time and money. If you are into touristic brick-a-brack, take a stroll down Unter den Linden at you’ll find an abundance of souvenir shops on either side of the wide street. Bring home a piece of the Berlin Wall (okay, I might be nostalgic, but you’ll never catch me paying for a [non precious] rock of doubtful origin) or a Berliner Baer.
Hardcore shoppers shouldn’t miss KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens), a 60,000 square meter shopping area and 50,000 visitors a day, this is the largest department store in continental Europe, and also one of the oldest, dating back to 1905.
Alexanderplatz offers amazing shopping for those with slightly smaller budgets – shopping malls compete for limited space, and as so much else in Berlin, are built on height. You will lose a lot of time and money before you feel done here…
Will I be back in Berlin? Not as a tourist. Maybe for work, considering that entrepreneurship is my forte, and this is the European Sillicon Valley. One day in Berlin is quite enough, unless you have a job, or meetings to attend. Germany has so much more to offer, so unless you are hardcore WWII-fan, skip Berlin and spend your money on one of the other, amazing, German cities instead…
I love Spain – it’s one of those countries that always makes you feel at home, no matter where you end up going. Mainland Spain is a bit more authentic, the islands are a bit more touristic, but truth be told, no matter where you go in this beautiful Iberian state, you wont escape the rivers of tourists. Herds of people from all over the world have discovered the fantastic country, located on the Iberian Peninsula!
There are places that capture magic and make you feel quite unique, though. Madrid is definitely one of them. If you love Barcelona – kudos, it an amazing city! – but you obviously haven’t been to Madrid yet! Whereas Barcelona, mentioned by many as their favorite spot in Spain, is a fast paced, hip town aimed at fast living, Madrid is it’s calmer, more elegant and grown up cousin. This metropolis, home of 3,3 million people in the inner city, and approximately 6,5 million in the city and surrounding areas, feels like a small town. It’s calm. It’s elegant. It’s has everything to offer the right person.
If Barcelona is a fashionable, 20-something party girl, Madrid is the 30-something business woman. Calm, fully aware of her self-worth, beautiful and diverse.
Madrid, being the capital of Spain, is packed with policemen (and the way they look, you wouldn’t mind them playing with their handcuffs around you) and guards, so wherever you go, you feel utterly safe. Being one of the highest capitols in Europe, you always get a mild breeze, even during hot summer days. It feels like you’re right on the ocean bank, even though it’s a little shy of 400km to the nearest ocean beach.
Although being a large metropolitan area, covering 604,3km2 (Madrid is the third largest city in the European Union, coming short only to London and Paris), Madrid is a very walkable city. Or maybe I’m just a walker – but if you don’t mind trekking miles through the urban jungle, I fullheartedly recommend strapping on your walking shoes and explore the city street by street. There are excellent Hop-on-Hop-Off alternatives for those that prefer to roll by the city life. Either way to chose to see the city, one tip is to look up – the architecture is amazing, and rooftops in the city truly take your breath away!
If you are looking for good museums, a must-see here is the Prado. Located along the Paseo del Prado, in the Golden Triangle of Art, it’s easy access to Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza as well. Museo de Prado, being the national gallery in Madrid, offers such amazing gems as “The Cardinal” by Raphael, Table of the Seven Deadly Sins by Bosch or “The Three Graces” by Rubens. Of course, there’s a lot El Greco, Goya, Velázquez or Titian that should not be missed – for those that love art, a couple good hours will easily be spent here.
The Prado is divided onto different wings for different geographical- and time periods. For instance, bottom floor is majorly occupied by Spanish painters anno 1100-1910, while Italian painters 1450-1800 are mostly located one story up. Grab a plan of the museum at the ground floor information desk (available in different languages) and get a full map of the museum, with references to where the most famous paintings are located – so if you don’t have as much time here as you might have wanted, at least you wont miss out on the gems!
The Reina Sofia (actually; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía) displays a more modern take on art – here you get the full spectrum of Dalí, Francis Bacon, Damien Hirst or Man Ray.
Don’t miss the Palacio de Cibeles on your culture-walk. Originally Palace of Communication, later the post office, today Placio de Cibeles is the Madrid City Hall. Placed at the very end of Paseo del Prado, hosting a tourist information and shop at the ground floor and several co-working, open spaces for students and entrepreneurs, this palace also offers an amazing, free-of-charge art exhibition on it’s second, third and fourth floor. Slightly more modern, slightly more experimental, brilliant and hip.
And while you’re at the Palacio de Cibeles, get the €2 ticket to the top-floor elevator, climb the stairs and get out onto the rooftop – the view over Madrid is splendid!
Another high point in Madrid, offering a breathtaking panorama of the city, is located at the Parque del Oeste. This city park offers shade, outdoor shows of Capoeira, tightrope walkers, an amazing view of Madrid – and the Egyptian temple Templo de Debod. Originally built in Aswan, as the dam was constructed, the Templo (dedicated to goddess Isis) was given to Spain by Egypt as a thank-you gift for the Spanish help in saving the temples in Abu Simbel.
If you like parks, or need a short breather, a break from the hectic big city life, and Parque del Oestre doesn’t fulfill your need for greenery, there’s Parque del Bueno Retiro, placed slightly behind Museo del Prado. Covering an area of 350 acres (1,4km2) in Madrid, it’s one of the most popular places for tourists and locals alike.
The park dates back to 1505, where a monastery was located at today’s San Jeronimo el Real Church, right by the edge of the park. The Retiro was later enlarged by King Philip II, and by 1630, it hosted both the Casón del Buen Retiro (today a library) and the military museum Museo del Ejército.
Particularly interesting sights of the park include the Estanque del Retiro – the large, man-made pond with the monument of King Alfonso XII, Fuente del Ángel Caído (fountain of the Fallen Angel) – a fountain by Ricardo Bellver, who was inspired by John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, The Crystal Palace – built in 1887 and exhibiting the flora and fauna of Philippines.
Take a walk through the Rosaleda del Retiro, Paseo de la Argentina or Avenida de México and enjoy the clear, crisp air, the birds chirping and the amazing flora and fauna of Spain. Watch out of the peacocks that stroll along the walk pathways!
When in Madrid… you can’t miss the Royal Palace, placed by Placa de Oriente (here’s where you can also find the Opera in Madrid). Palacio Real lies on the site of a 9th century fortress, that hosted a myriad of buildings since. King Philip II moved his court to Madrid in 1561, occupying the Palacio since then, but massive fires in 1734 completely destroyed the palace. The current structure dates back to 1764, with minor adjustments. Admission of €11 is well worth the money – and it’s completely free for Iberian residents!
Right next to the castle lies the architecturally fantastic Catedral de la Almueda. Originally a mosque, the cathedral was erected primarily in 1083, but it wasn’t till long after the move of the Spanish court to Madrid (1561) that this cathedral became the seat of the catholic church in Spain – the church had maintained mostly in Toledo, and as Spain was home to about 40 cathedrals of that time, it wasn’t till 1879 that the Catedral de la Almueda became primary seat of the Spanish catholic church.
The neo-gothic interior is uniquely modern and partly clashes, partly compliments the Baroque exterior.
Shopping and eatery is at it’s best in Madrid – high streets spanning city center and outward offer Kiko, Spanish giant El Corte Inglés (where you can find everything from high-end Carolina Herrera, Michael Kors or Hugo Boss down to local brands), Spanish, internationally famous brands such as; Zara, Oysho, Bershka, Stradivarius or Pull & Bear.
Salamanca Distric offers more upscale shopping, while Gran Vía offers more walet-friendly options os internationally known brands from Spain and other countries. Then there’s flea market at El Rastro – on Sunday’s, this is the place to be! And whether you are into antiques, second hand clothing or baubles, El Rastro offers something for everybody.
Eating in Madrid is a chapter for itself, and deserves a post of it’s own – even though I’m no foodie, I thoroughly enjoyed every single meal this city treated me to!
There’s so much to see and do here, you simply cannot afford to miss Madrid. It’s a city you can see fully in a day, a week, a month or spend years here, still not satisfied you have seen and experienced everything you want to.
I rarely find places that move me to the point that I want to return. It has only happened once – with Krakow – because there’s so much world out there to see, I can’t return to the same place over and over again. But Madrid… I will definitely be back. Often. For a bit longer.
Savage Garden sung “Steel and granite reminders, the city calls your name, and I can’t move on”. Madrid calls my name. I might continue traveling the world, but something tells me this is the place I will always return to…
Hasta la próxima vez, con amor…
See food? See port? Take a day and visit Bremerhaven if you’re in the area!
Founded as a city in 1827, this port belongs to Bremen, but was a settlement since way back in the 12th century. As Bremen isn’t exactly by-the-sea, Bremerhaven functioned as it’s North sea port, and entry gate to the Weser river, on which ships and good were transported the few miles inland to Bremen.
Bremerhaven became an important European emigration junction, as millions of mostly Germans, but also other European nationalities left for Northern and Southern Americas from Bremerhaven in late 19th and early-to-mid 20th century. The German Emigration Center, the largest emigration museum in Europe, bares witness to the amounts of people looking for a better life abroad. The museum is definitively worth a couple of hours of your visit, as it quite cleverly activates you in the emigration process from back in the days.
Another museum worthy of your time and money is the Climate House Bremerhaven 8 degrees East, which offers you a walk through every single climate zone present around the earth at the 8 degree longitude.
What’s best about Bremerhaven is, in my opinion, it’s walkability. For those that have read a few of my posts, this is the common denominator – I like to walk, a lot, for extended periods of time. I’m a wanderer. And I like to see as much as possible on my walks.
Even though Bremerhaven is a small (geographically, population-wise and tourist-wise alike) town, it offers a few miles of beachfront walkways as well as a walkable high street. Being a modern city, that grew up around the port right after WWII, Bremerhaven offers very little historic buildings – what it does offer in means of history, are the amazing ships.
I’m not a maritime person, but I got pretty much starstruck before these giants.
You have your XXI U-boat (Elektroboote), the first submarine designed to be primarily submerged at all times, instead of as it’s predecessors, being a surface vessel that could be submerged if needed be.
Then you have the Hansekogge from 1380, a shipwreck from the Weser river, the Seute Deern and the Seefalke from 1924 – not to forget the ice breaker Elbe 3. All open to the public – tickets available onboard each individual ship.
And, of course – all these statues. Feels like lately, I’ve been stalked by a lifeless, inanimate objects. They were all over Bremen. They were all over Skopje. They probably creep up to my bedroom windows at night and stare at me with their dead, inanimate eyes… but they are pretty, so here’s a compilation.
Bremerhaven is nice to walk in. To sit down on the embankment and enjoy the sun. To grab a beer at any of the waterfront cafés and watch people enjoy life. On a sunny day, Bremerhaven slows you down, reminds you to just breathe and be for a moment. And that is lovely.
And for me, that was just what the doctor ordered!