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…