At the beginning of September I travelled to Berlin with James and two of my close friends – Chelsea and Toby. I’ve wanted to visit for a couple of years, so it was lovely to finally go, and the perfect way to reward myself for finishing my dissertation. Berlin did not disappoint and it is probably my favourite European city that I’ve been to so far. It reminded me of London in the way that there are lots of districts with different vibes, rather than one city centre where everything happens. It’s the best city I’ve ever experienced for vegan food, and the beer is all vegan (and cheap!) so we spent a rather sizeable portion of the holiday eating and drinking. It was pretty cool. After a mere 5 days in the city I’m no expert, but here are my recommendations in case you’re planning a trip yourself!
WHERE TO STAY
I am a huge fan of Airbnb and I always use it for accommodation if I can. It tends to be cheaper than hotels, and I like having a kitchen and a nice space to chill out of an evening. To rent a place in Berlin through Airbnb is much cheaper than in Paris or London and there are lots of painfully cool, beautifully styled lofts and apartments on offer. Ours had two floors and everything inside had been so well curated, it was like sleeping inside Pinterest. We stayed just off Bergmannstrasse which I liked because we were near to plenty of shops and bars as well as Tempelhofer field and Kreuzberg.
WHAT TO DO
The East Side Gallery is a section of the Berlin wall, memorialised by the paintings of over 100 artists. There are some really interesting pieces and it’s a good opportunity to bring your guide book along, learn about the history of the Berlin wall and muse over what it would have been like to experience the city divided into two halves. I enjoyed wandering up the other side of the road for a better view of the overall effect of the artwork.
Due to my own poor planning, I found that a lot of the contemporary art galleries that I wanted to see were closed when we were there. I did get to see the wunderkammer exhibition at me Collectors Room, which is one of the best exhibitions I’ve been to in years. A wunderkammer is a “cabinet of curiosities” that traditionally displayed artwork, natural “phenomena”, scientific instruments, objects from “exotic” cultures and “inexplicable objects”. This collection was themed around death, and it featured shrunken heads and lots of imagery of baby Jesus cuddling / lying / playing with skeletons. I thought it was fascinating, and loved that the exhibition was grouped around a theme rather than featuring exclusively pieces of a certain type, such as artwork or artefacts.
Mauerpark Flea Market is held every Sunday and sells a range of goods such as handmade jewellery, vintage clothes, art, food and trinkets. When we visited it was a lovely sunny day and Chelsea bought a beautiful piece of handmade jewellery, whilst I came away with some second hand clothes and a Turkish kilim rug that I totally didn’t intend on buying – I managed to bring down the price with my new haggling skills and I just couldn’t resist! The atmosphere was great, and one stall holder tempted me into buying a skirt from her by offering us free shots with every purchase. We wandered by bear pit karaoke on our way out which, although we didn’t stay for long, looked like a pretty fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
There’s not much to do in Tiergarten apart from walk around and drink beer, but sometimes that’s all you want. It’s a beautiful big park on the east side of the city centre with plenty of greenery and quiet spots to spend a lazy afternoon. There is a zoo that I would suggest you avoid, so that you’re not promoting the captivity of wild animals in cruelly small spaces. Instead, I recommend you check out the beer garden in the centre of the park where you can rent rowing boats and float around talking to the ducks.
We managed to visit Museum Island when all the museums were closed, so instead – you guessed it – we walked around the island and drank some beer. Chelsea and Toby visited Nefertiti in the Egyptian exhibition at Neues Museum, which they loved and I would have liked to visit the Nineteenth Century art and Impressionist paintings at the Old National Gallery. The Bodes Museum (sculpture) and Altes Museum (Greek and Roman antiques) are also based here. Luckily, it’s a beautiful area with some gorgeous old buildings so it was lovely to sit on deckchairs next to the river and soak up the sun.
Beer gardens are definitely one of my favourite things about Berlin! They’re like outside beer cafeterias and many of them have blankets on the chairs so that you can keep warm when it gets chilly outside. I think British pub gardens could learn a few lessons! The beer is cheap and there are usually pretzels for sale – yum. My favourites were Cafe em Neuen See in the Tiergarten and Prater Garten, which is so near to Mauerpark it’s almost a crime not to stop for a beer after a browse at the flea market.
There’s a lot of really cool graffiti in Berlin and given that it was bombed so heavily in the war, it’s common to see old buildings juxtaposed with very modernist buildings and brutalist architecture which I find interesting. One of my favourite ways to get to know a city is just to walk around a bit, and admire my surroundings. We walked from Museum Island to Bergmannkiez through Kreuzberg and also along the river Spree, which was a lot of fun!
WHAT TO EAT
I really like junk food. Being vegan means that I usually have to put effort into eating burgers, “chicken” nuggets, ice cream and cake and make them at home from scratch – which takes the “fast” out of fast food. My diet in Germany was terrible since I wanted to make the most of all the vegan junk food places that we don’t have in the UK. Yellow Sunshine – located in Kreuzberg – was my favourite and we ate here a couple of times. It’s entirely vegan and the bacon cheeseburgers and chicken nuggets were just to die for. They even had the little paper wrappers and plastic trays that you find at fast food restaurants for omnivores. I’m petitioning for them to start delivering to Scotland.
Fast Rabbit is a really cute vegan cafe next to Mauerpark, offering wraps, soup and salads. I used to eat gyros often on my holidays to Greece, but I haven’t had it for about five years, since becoming a vegetarian and then a vegan. I ordered the gyros wrap for lunch and it was delicious – the “yoghurt” dip was a really nice touch!
I had heard a lot about the famous cheeseburger and chips pizza before I arrived at Sfizy Veg. That’s right, a pizza where the topping is a cheeseburger and chips! Chelsea and I shared one and still didn’t manage to finish, whilst the boys polished off a whole pizza each and spent the rest of the night feeling very, very full. I mean, you wouldn’t order a pizza and then a cheeseburger and chips, would you. As much as I ordered it for the novelty value, the pizza itself was really nice, and I was especially impressed with the cheese. The all-vegan pizzeria has a really extensive menu and a lovely atmosphere.
Bergmann Currywurst: Oh, vegan currywurst how I miss you. On our first full day, we ate at our local currywurst stand three times – three times! It’s just vegan sausage served with ketchup, curry powder and chips, but it’s delicious. You definitely need to try it if you’re visiting Berlin, especially since currywurst is the best hangover food.
Vegan Berlin App: The Berlin Vegan app was introduced to us by a friend that we made on our way to K17. He gave us directions, he told us he was vegan too, and then passed on this great tip – you can search for nearby vegan places on your phone with “Berlin Vegan”! Berlin is crammed full of places that are vegan or offer vegan options, and you’ll see “vegan” advertised on shops and cafes wherever you go. The app lets you search by type of establishment or distance, which is great when you don’t have a place in mind and need to get some food! I didn’t have internet on my phone out and about, so I used it to find cafes near to our apartment.
Organic Shops: We did some grocery shopping in Berlin and I also needed to get some toiletries. We came across a lot of organic shops (look out for those labelled “bio”) which all had a good range of vegan food, including cruelty free cosmetics and a new favourite chocolate bar, iChoc, as well the hazelnut joy that is Vego.
WHERE TO PARTY
Barbie’s was one of the few bars that we visited in Berlin, but I loved it! They have a brilliantly cheap cocktail menu, kitschy background music and everything is drenched in a sickly sweet shade of pink light. We couldn’t stay for long, so it’s definitely on my list for when I return.
I think that drinking outside with your friends is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and I usually enjoy it more than being in a busy bar where you can’t find a seat and you can’t hear each other. Tempelhofer Field used to be an airport, and is now a public park. There are some vans selling street food, a small community garden, an abandoned aeroplane and an old runway that people use for skating, running and cycling. There are also several piles of hay bales that are perfect for relaxing on.
K17: Dancing in this club might be my favourite thing that we did the entire holiday. On our way, a friendly local told us that Germans don’t arrive at the club as early as 11, so we should get some food and beers until it reached a more acceptable time to start the party. K17 has a bar area and a fire pit outside, as well as three floors of dancefloor. Electronic goth music is played on the bottom, “normal” club music on the 1st floor, and metal on the 2nd. I enjoyed the 2nd floor the most since we made a lot of friends, danced like crazy and requested some killer tunes (Slipknot’s Duality and System of A Down’s Toxicity, duh). Overall, it wasn’t too crowded and the atmosphere was pretty friendly. We visited on our first day and got spectacularly lost on the way home – it’s a good job the tube is 24 hours on the weekend because we spent over 2 hours trying to do a 30 minute journey!
Tresor: We didn’t go to Tresor, but I’m including it here because several people have recommended it to me, including a drunken Irish girl that we befriended on the train. Germans are known for their electronic music, and this club is supposed to be one of the best places to hear it. It supposedly attracts more tourists than locals and when I return I will definitely be one of them!
Congratulations for reaching the end of this long post, you’re a trooper. I’m looking forward to returning to Berlin – there were so many more things that we wanted to do but 5 days just wasn’t enough. Have you ever been? If you have, I’d love to hear your recommendations. If you’re looking for further reading, Alex from Inklusiveey often writes about Berlin and gave me some fantastic tips – they have pretty great taste!