Berlin parks index:
My overnight train from Kiev to Berlin terminated at Ostbahnhof. When I walked off the “Express” and into the station, I realized that in any language, Ostbahnhof meant “far from where I needed to go.” Cobwebs stuck to my brain from the 25-hour trip, so I spun 360-degrees in the center of the station and realized that my first Berlin morning was to be an education in its commuter train system, not a quick route to the Tiergarten park. I pulled out my map and hostel info from my backpack and unfolded it. Ah ha! I discovered I only faced delay, not dilemma. The best thing any traveler can learn is how to read maps. This includes any train route map. They’re not difficult; they are color-coded and numbered. I wasn’t in a unique situation here, and above all else, after having successfully negotiating Kiev’s subway system the last three days, whose cyrillic alphabet didn’t quite jibe with my visitors map, I knew Berlin would be a breeze. Now if I could only find the damn stairs to the subway!
A mere 30 minutes later, I came up from the Birkenstrasse U-Bahn station and found sunlight—and an open bar. After what I’d been through on that ex-communist train out of Kiev, a beer was in order, and so that’s what I did. “No!” the Frau said, a buxom woman who could have stepped from a Fritz Lange film. She pointed at her watch. I thought, Is she kidding? “This is Germany,” I wanted to protest. She seemed to read my mind, and spoke in English: “It’s too early. Have a coffee.” I felt sufficiently reprimanded, though my taste buds screamed for a rich lager. When I saw the fresh strudel on the bar, I realized she had good intentions in mind.
Berlin is a great visitors city. You’ll find hotels, hostels and catered apartments in every neighborhood, with easy access to historical Berlin. And when you get to the tourist sites, you’ve arrived at a central area from which you can “do Berlin” in a day or two, or linger for a week. It’s up to you how you get on with Berlin, because what you’ve found are gracious people, a clean city, and you’re money goes surprisingly far in Europe’s richest capital.
The best of Berlin lies around the Tiergarten (Tiger’s Garden), which is why I chose to feature this enormous park on European City Parks. This huge oasis, recreation park, forest-within-a-city, and chill-out place, holds sway over all other Berlin parks. And what you’ll want to see outside this two-mile square area is an easy ride on the convenient and fast U-Bahn and S-Bahn commuter trains. It used to be that people came to Berlin to shop, hit the nightlife, and get close to Brandenburg Gate, from which they could spy past the wall and see East Berlin huddled in the background like a beaten child. Today Berlin is unified of course, and people come to shop, hit the vibrant Berlin club scene, and cross under Brandenburg Gate, where they’ll find a Starbucks Coffee shop beneath its shadow—on the East side.
The riddle has been that Germans are so business-minded, so stolid, that you’ll discover no chink in their armor with a well-placed joke. Any place you travel has these types, but Germans—particularly Berliners, and Muncheners for that matter—have the same joie de vivre as anyplace I’ve visited. Every diner I entered, café where I grabbed a beer or glass of wine, or dropped in at a nighttime brew house, I found Berliners smiling, telling stories, and yes…laughing! Any country that makes good beer and wine like Germany does, you’ll find a happy people. And it doesn’t take a drunken German to strike up a conversation. If you have any German language skills, you can get into a dialogue damned quickly, and that person will certainly turn it around to English if that’s your common tongue, because they speak it wonderfully on average, and don’t want to mess with your horrible German.
I said upfront that Berlin is a visitors’ city. Berlin is also a hugely livable city, and if you have ever thought of living there, go now. Its neighborhoods hold a homogeneity that absolutely belies Germany’s 20th century history. Old Germans stand beside transplanted French, Swiss, and Americans, immigrant Indians, Syrians, and Kuwaitis. Communities intermingle to share ideas and cuisine. I can’t think when I’ve felt safer in a big-big city after dark, plying the streets from one old-German pub to another live-music venue. It’s not about protection or worry, but the fact of people getting on with life. And Germans enjoy their Berliner lifestyles, regardless of their ethnic roots. Follow on down to have a look at my favorite haunts & other tips for Berlin.
Berlin Museums and Sites
Guggenheim holdings are always impressive and varied, and I love wandering through Berlin’s Deutsche Guggenheim to see what the modern art minds have come up with year after year; a refreshing insight to society from those of The Masters found in Rome, Florence, Paris and Amsterdam. Deutsche Guggenheim holds many impressive modern and contemporary art pieces, and displays rotating exhibits of famous and cutting edge artists from around the world. You’ll see Gerhard Richter’s photo-realistic paintings, Kustav Klimt, Joseph Beuys, Matthew Barney, and Douglas Gordon, to name a few. Open daily, 11am-8pm; €4 (reduced €3); Mondays are free. Unter den Linden 13/15; Stadmitte (U2) and Franzosische Strasse (U6).
The Judisches Museum encapsulates 2000 years of Jewish life, culture and religion in a building designed like a shattered Star of David. The museum is an interactive environment, including personal stories, videos, games and artifacts. At first I thought the Concentration Camp tower was a bit crass, but when coupled with the outdoor memorial and photos of Holocaust victims, I saw the method behind the dramatic design. Open daily 10am-8pm (Mon 10pm), €5 (reduced €2.50). Lindenstrasse 9-14; Hallesches Tor (U1, U6).
As a photographer, I was mesmerized by the Museum of Photography’s permanent exhibit of “Helmut Newton’s Private Property”. Newton’s cameras, photographic accouterments, and part of his large library let viewers appreciate the man’s craft and his love for capturing the world in media res. Open Tue-Sun 10am-6pm, Thu 10am-10pm; €6 (reduced €3). Jebenstrasse 2 at Charlottenburg; Zoo Garten (S5, S7, S9, S75, U2, U9).
(read more about Berlin’s highlights here)