Book Your Flights to Berlin on AirBerlin and Discover the Most Uniquely Fascinating City in Europe this Summer
By Max Milano *
(The Traveler That Came in From the Cold)
I’m crossing tonight. The Trabby rolls by the Friedrichstrasse in the dark, will the Vopos see through my bluff? I can see the famous sign ahead: “You are entering the American sector”. I’m at Checkpoint Charlie.
I’m crossing now. Almost into West Berlin, just a few more steps to go. A man approaches, my pulse quickens, have the Vopos (Volkspolizei) finally caught on? The strange man is standing next to me now; he’s wearing jeans, Nike trainers and a Gore-Tex jacket. “Where’s the McDonalds” He asks in a thick Texas drawl. I point to the bright lights behind him. The McDonalds is on the West Berlin side of the Friedrichstrasse. The man smiles and walks back where he came from. I’ve crossed. The Checkpoint Charlie cabin is unmanned at this time of the night. The cold war is long over, the Berlin wall torn down 23 years ago and the only Vopos guarding the East Berlin side of Checkpoint Charlie are actors posing for tourists. But still, crossing Checkpoint Charlie at night, when all the uniformed actors have gone home for the evening and the creeping shadows bring back memories of the bad old days, it’s quite easy to imagine oneself as a desperate character from “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” trying to cross no man’s land before the bright searchlights cut you down.
The Trabbi comes back; it is painted in a strange giraffe pattern, part of a convoy on a “Trabby Safari” (the only way to ride in a Trabby in Berlin nowadays). I walk deeper into the former West Berlin. There is a currywurst restaurant on the west side of Checkpoint Charlie. I go up to the street counter and order one. I’ve heard so much about currywurst since my arrival in Berlin. The man behind the counter cuts a German sausage in 4 or 5 pieces and sprinkles curry powder on top, followed by a generous dosage of tomato ketchup. The sausage has a nice crispy skin and the curry gives the tomato ketchup an exotic twist. I wonder how curry became a Berlin staple. I later find out that it’s a legacy of the Berlin Airlift, when West Berlin was starving under a communist blockade. The only lifeline was provided by American and British military cargo airplanes flying from Frankfurt into West Berlin’s Tempelhof airport. The cargo planes had only ten minutes to land, unload their cargo and take off back to Frankfurt, so the military had to invent air traffic control in order to handle all the flying logistics. And since the only food available in West Berlin during the blockade was whatever the Brits and Americans could fly in, the inventive Germans created a new dish: Currywurst. As I finish my curried sausage I begin to understand that Berlin is a city that has been shaped by history like no other. Its historic scars have only just begun to heal and are still quite visible. This is something that Berliners embrace every day in the shabby chic way they have restored East Berlin. Forget the BMW gleam of Bavaria, or Frankfurt’s glass and steel bank towers, the reconstructed East Berlin shows its cracks proudly. Berlin is a city with a lot of personality, a city that is very cool, and knows it. In two words: A hipster paradise.
(Brandenburg Gate…and Hip Hop Artists?)
Where Hipsters Go to Heaven
If you are a tourist today in Berlin you will spend most of your time in the former East Berlin. Most of the historical buildings are all located there. Take a stroll along the trendy shops and cafes of the Mitte district. Walk into the side alleys and be rewarded by Berlin’s wonderful interior courtyards, full of cafés, design studios and independent cinemas. Berlin is also a city of art galleries: Collectors from all over the world come to sip a glass of Prosecco as they browse the works of the hippest artists working today, like Marcel van Eeden, currently exhibiting at Galerie Zink. The best way to hit all the coolest galleries, art cinemas and small cafes is to do a Berlin Art Tour. These walking tours with a local guide organized by Go Art! Berlin will let you discover the gritty-trendy side of the former east-Berlin, now reborn as a hipster heaven. Most walking tours culminate in a traditional beer garden, where you can sample Berlin’s amazing brews. Berlin is also a clubber’s paradise. Most clubs are located inside former East Berlin factories and offer speakeasy style entrances so that only in the know hipsters show up.
U2: Zoo Station
When in Berlin do as the locals do and get a subway pass. Berlin’s U-Bahn and S-Bahn are run on the honor system, so no annoying lines or turnstiles; you simply walk onto the platform and board your train. You can visit most of the main tourist sites like the Brandenburg gate, the Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie, Potzdamer Platz, Museum Island and Alexanderplatz using the subway. The system is very easy to use and each line is tagged as U2, U5, S5 and so on. The S lines are above ground and the U lines underground. Trams complete the system, making it possible to go anywhere in the city, east or west, in speedy comfort. Zoo station, in the heart of the former West Berlin, may no longer be the Times Square of Berlin (the tourist center of town has moved east to Alexanderplatz), but the western part of the city still offers a radical contrast of high end shops and malls versus the more bohemian eastern quarters.
Berlin is flat, so one of the best ways to explore the city and get all the historical tidbits (from the cold war to World War 2) is to go on a bicycle tour. You can book one from Fat Tire Bike Tours in Alexanderplatz. Their knowledgeable guides will guide you through Berlin’s often turbulent but always interesting history, including the site of Hitler’s underground bunker and the last remaining segments of the Berlin wall.
A River Runs Through It
The River Spree snakes its way along Berlin. One of the best ways to appreciate the hidden charms of the city is to go for a jog or a walk along the river. Berlin can be a city of un-charming apartment blocks built during the DDR period, but as you approach the river, quaintness is restored, riverside cafes appear, and cute facades reveal themselves. Follow the river as it moves along the neo classical lines of Museum Island and trough the ultra-modern government quarter. A half day boat tour can reveal this beautiful side of Berlin, allowing for stops along the way to explore the sites.
It’s time to come in from the cold and discover Berlin, a city like no other in the world.
How to get there: AirBerlin offers nonstop flights to Berlin from six USA gateways: New York, Miami, Fort Myers, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Where to Stay: The Titanic Comfort Hotel offers all the comforts of a business hotel with an ideal location between Alexanderplatz and Potsdamer Platz.
When to go: Spring, summer and fall are ideal. Winters can be bitterly cold.
Next Week: Summer in Stockholm and Going Mad for the Med in Majorca.
* Max Milano is the Author of “The Mechanicals of Recoleta”Available at Amazon