Berlin is one of those places that seems to lure people back time and time again.I’d been longing to visit for years but a busy schedule had never allowed – until this summer, when my fiancé Chris’ 40th birthday provided the perfect excuse for a flying city break.
We quickly understood why so many visitors fall in love with the edgy, eclectic German capital, and it’s safe to say it captured our hearts from the moment we arrived. It isn’t exactly pretty – it’s a little scruffy in places, with plenty of sprawling Soviet-era apartment blocks – but the whole place buzzes with character and creativity.
Our base was Linnen, a stylish, good-value and homely B&B in the vibrant Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood of the former East Berlin. Friendly owners Antonio and Bodo are compulsive collectors of vintage furniture, and the 6 guest rooms brim with quirky treasures. We stayed in Room 1, which is dominated by a huge four-poster bed set on a raised platform. We loved the soft grey scheme and the 70s-style velvet armchairs by the window, where we could sprawl out and watch trams rumbling along the street below. We also had a peek inside industrial-style Room 2, whose huge light resembles something from an operating theatre, and the elegant purple-panelled suite.
Linnen’s ground floor is home to a laid-back café furnished with reclaimed chairs, recycled kitchen cupboards and retro neon-lit display cases. We started and ended each day here, lingering over coffee and delicious baked eggs in the morning, and helping ourselves to a nightcap from the honesty bar before bed.
Our stay in Berlin coincided with a heatwave (30+C every day), so sightseeing was largely eschewed in favour of lazy strolls along the willow-shaded River Spree and sprawling out in parks with ice creams, but we managed to muster enough energy for a little exploration.
We were particularly keen to learn more about Berlin’s division during the Cold War – a period of history that has fascinated me ever since my dad returned from a business trip in 1990 clutching a piece of the newly fallen wall. We started at the Wall Memorial, just a few minutes’ walk from Linnen, where a section remains, accompanied by information boards charting escape attempts and heart-wrenching family separations.
Another section of the wall still stands in the bohemian district of Friedrichshain. Today it’s the East Side Gallery – a collection of 150 works celebrating freedom and peace, first daubed onto the concrete in the 90s and since repainted by the original artists. Much of it was hidden behind posters and wire barriers when we turned up, but it was an impressive sight nonetheless.
We also took a look at some of the sights in the city’s main centre: the gleaming Alexanderplatz TV tower, the futuristic sail-shaded Sony Centre, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (whose bomb-splintered tower has been left as a reminder of the horrors of war), and Norman Foster’s gleaming Reichstag Dome. And we admired the iconic pieces on display in the Bauhaus Archive, which celebrates the lasting influence of the famous 20th-century design movement.
But most impressive of all were the soaring curves and reflective pools of the Haus de Kulturen der Welt, designed in 1957 by American architect Hugh Stubbins and known locally as the ‘pregnant oyster’. It’s now a centre for international arts, and it has a lovely riverside terrace where we stopped for an alfresco glass of wine as tour boats pootled past.
The rest of our time was taken up hopping from beer garden to bar to restaurant in a bid to sample as much as possible of Berlin’s diverse food scene. Our favourite spots were Pauly Saal, a Michelin-starred eatery in the gymnasium of a former Jewish school, where we commiserated celebrated the start of Chris’ fifth decade; Spindler, whose sunny canal-facing terrace and Mediterranean menu kept us occupied for an entire afternoon; and NENI, perched 10 floors above the green expanse of the Tiergarten park, where we ended our trip on a high (literally and figuratively) with a wonderful Middle Eastern mezze.
Our three days in Berlin flew by all too quickly, but I doubt it will be long before we return.