I’ve been to Germany just once. I was 13, travelling with a bunch of excited classmates, on a student exchange trip. But it all went horribly wrong.
Whilst my friends bonded with their German buddies, swapping Easter eggs and visiting the Hamburg Fair, I was paired with a nightmarish girl whose idea of a good time was to lock herself in the loo. Her mum fed me black rye bread for a week and refused to pick me up from the German high school when her daughter left me stranded.
Needless to say, I’d never returned.
But after years of avoiding rye bread, I decided it was ridiculous to strike an entire country off the bucket list. It was time to go on a two-day trip to the capital and report back…
Berlin in 48 hours: a lazy guide
First thing’s first: where to stay. I’d wholeheartedly recommend Wombat’s, one of the best hostels I’ve ever been to. It’s a real ‘goes the extra mile’ kinda place, from the stylish breakout spaces and rooftop bar, to the grinning staff and super clean facilities.
The hostel is perfectly located on the Alte Schönhauser, a chic street packed with design shops and stylish-looking Asian restaurants. Join the locals and suck up a bowl of Pho soup or fresh noodles at Monsieur Vuong, home to epic Vietnamese food.
For ridiculously good cakes, go to Zeit für Brot bakery (right by the hostel). The queue is always out the door, the place buzzing with urban bohemians chomping on brick-sized cakes. Gooey, delicious and satisfying, this cake took me two days to finish (they don’t seem surprised when you ask for a takeaway bag).
Journey down the Alte Schönhauser and you’ll reach Hackersher Hof Market, the perfect place to pick up a currywurst, or enjoy al fresco dining under the railway arches. I went to the Quy Nguyen Vegan Living restaurant, and had a fresh bowl of tofu, rice and veggies to set me up for the day.
Away from the market, head down the Münzstraße, and discover the Pick n’ Weight store, a unique pay by weight concept. Step inside and it’s a wonderland of vintage clothing; 80’s velvet ball gowns, American Jockey jackets, cowboy boots, fox furs, Levi’s jeans, and every colour of converse shoes.
Naturally, a trip to The Berlin Wall is an important step to understanding the city’s astonishing history. I met up with an old friend from Berlin, who took me to the memorial. She told me how The Berlin Wall had broken the heart of Germany, split it down the middle and segregated its people.
“I still get asked where I’m from – east or west?” Sarah says, sighing, “I’m from Berlin. That’s all that matters.”
As we stood on the grass, the wall casting long shadows towards our feet, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was looking at the future. If Trump’s wall was ever built, how many years would it take before humanity tore it down?
Just a few minutes away, the BeachBar Mitte provides a perfect antidote to the sombre memorial park. A quirky space of wooden seats, hammocks, open fires and volleyball courts, it’s a great spot to watch swimwear-clad players throw themselves around the sand.
I was enjoying the beach vibes and roaring fires, until one guy in our group (an ex-pat living in Berlin), turned to us all and grinned.
“Time to take you to a real Berlin club.”
It was called The Suicide Circus. Located in south east of the city, along the Warshaur Straße, the club lurked at the bottom of a grimy metal staircase. We waded into a labyrinth of dark rooms with high ceilings and industrial decor (one room had a black parachute for a roof). It was midnight, and the place was empty.
“Can I get a tap water?” I yelled at the barman. He looked disgusted, then slammed down an empty glass.
“Fill it up in the loo.” And he vanished, already serving the masked men clad in leather at the end of the bar. I picked up the glass and headed for the toilet, laughing all the way.
Berlin is famous for its sexual liberation, weekend-long raves and 72-hour-open bars. A standard night doesn’t start until 2am, drugs are rife and tourists stick out like sore and bewildered thumbs. It’s easy to get swept up in the grimy glamour of these clubs, but make sure you stick to your own limits.
In bed by 5am, my night had been pretty tame, but I still felt rough on the Friday morning and needed some brekky. According to my little guidebook, the later you eat breakfast, the cooler you look, but sod that for a bunch of fairies, I needed food. I headed straight to The Tinman on Alte Schönhauser for a great Eggs Benedict.
If you do anything in Berlin, visit at least ONE museum. With a staggering 170 to choose from, this city is a cultural mecca, and even boasts its own Island of Museums. Top ones to visit: Pergamonmuseum, The Jewish Museum and The Stasi. The Brandenburg Gate is also well worth a look.
The Alexanderplatz is another tourist hotspot, with plenty of tour guides making a beeline for this area. It’s also home to the Berliner Fernsehturm, a 368m tower with a gallery and revolving restaurant. I chose to skip the tower, but was told the views of the city are worth the 15 euro ticket.
After a day of soaking up some culture, I popped by the Vegan Festival, an annual event to support all the vegetarians and vegans in the city (there seemed to be a lot!). Sadly, the food wasn’t great (the lasagne tasted like green chalk), but the vibe was amazing and the message was heartwarming.
Time for a drink. We headed to the Hofbrau, a vibrant Bavarian Bar, offering ‘an authentic German beerhouse experience’.
If you go here, get ready for the ultimate German cliché. The Hofbrau is a huge, open-plan bar, with long wooden benches, a live Bavarian band and a huge selection of home-brewed beers. The staff all look like something from Sound of Music; the waitresses wear tight dirndl dresses with frothing cleavage, the men in fetching lederhosen.
But my Berlinian friend Sarah was less than impressed.
“I do not associate with this culture. This is not Germany.” She laughed, pointing at the band who had just started honking and drumming. I guess I can relate, it’s like telling my American friends that Mary Poppins, Harry Potter and Downton Abbey have absolutely no impact on my daily life whatsoever.
The band played their last Bavarian tune, the night came to a close, and before I knew it, my 48 hours in Berlin was up. I’d barely seen the city, but its energy, creativity and resilience was overwhelming. I knew I’d be back someday.