A Berlin City Break: Poor but Sexy

Berlin – what an incredible city! We took a Berlin city break recently to visit my brother who lives there and even though I’ve been a couple of times before, it’s the type of place that every time just makes me want to go back again and again…

There is just so much fascinating history in Berlin, and I suppose it’s only right to start off with one of the most famous landmarks of the city – The Brandenburg Gate.

Berlin Brandenburg Gate Aug 2015 Arabian Notes 85 Berlin Brandenbueg Gate Aug 2015 Arabian Notes 86

But what I really love about the city is that it’s not just all about landmarks and history… there’s so much more to it than that. But before I get into that, I’m going to start off with the hotel we stayed in because it deserves more than an honourable mention. We chose to stay centrally in the city so that everything we could possibly want to do would be within easy reach, and of course it would also be easy to catch up with the family then too, so we chose the Rocco Forte Hotel de Rome, located on Behrenstrasse, right next to Bebelplatz in the appropriately named Mitte district, which means of course, ‘Middle’ since it’s right in the middle of everything 🙂

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View from Hotel de Rome onto Bebelplatz

The hotel was instantly impressive from the minute we walked in and everyone was so friendly and helpful!

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The sleek and impressive hotel foyer

Once we had checked in, we were shown to our room and we weren’t disappointed. The room was not only spacious in itself with gorgeous high ceilings, but there was also a separate walk in wardrobe which was particularly useful for having somewhere to stash all the luggage that Baby inevitably needs.

Berlin Rocco Forte Hotel de Rome Aug 2015 Arabian Notes 1

As if that wasn’t good enough, what really impressed us about the hotel was the facilities for kids… offering baby toiletries in the bathroom along with hooded towels, sterilisers, night lights, play mats and loads more! I’ve not come across a hotel that offered a steriliser before, but it was brilliant – such a small and easy thing, but what a difference it made to our week being able to have that on hand and not rely on someone else to fetch and return a microwave steriliser to us all the time. It’s the little things that often make the biggest difference. I loved this hotel and would absolutely go back again, and recommend them without hesitation to others, especially if you’re travelling with kids.

Berlin Hotel de Rome rooftop bar Aug 2015 Arabian Notes 5

The hotel also has a beautiful rooftop bar with great views across the city that is also consistently rated as one of the top five rooftop bars in Berlin!

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Yeah, there was quite a bit of building work going on when we were there, but trust me, it was still a beautiful view – the photo doesn’t  do it justice at all.

Berlin Reichstag Aug 2015 Arabian Notes 80

One of the things I was really keen to do was visit the Reichstag. You can get tickets to go inside the dome, designed by Sir Norman Foster for a run down on some of the history of the city and some more really great views. Also, it’s completely free to do, you just have to book in advance and remember your passport for security since the German parliament – the Bundestag is housed in the building, which the dome also looks down over.

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And aside from anything else, it’s a really rather remarkable structure to behold!

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Inside the very top of Sir Norman Foster’s Reichstag dome

Another one of the most famous historical landmarks in Berlin is of course Checkpoint Charlie, the most renowned crossing between old East and West Berlin. It’s a bit of a must see, though sadly these days there’s not much to it, and it’s become a bit of a tourist trap for the obligatory kodak moment even though both the sign and guard booth are replicas and those infamous golden arches overshadow the spot. There are some interesting museums in the area though.

Berlin Checkpoint Charlie Aug 2015 Arabian Notes 22

One of the sites that I found most interesting was the Topography of Terror exhibit just along the road and round the corner from Checkpoint Charlie. It is quite a harrowing exhibit but well worth a visit for historical interest, not least because of the long strip of Berlin wall that still remains on the site, or for the fact it was also the site of the headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS where many political prisoners were tortured and executed during the Nazi era.

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Topography of Terror indoor and outdoor museum

Berlin is a city that has changed a lot across the years, and has certainly changed a huge amount even since I last visited in 2011. Of course most of the Berlin wall has been removed, and in many places the only subtle reminder of it is the paving stones that mark the route it took, as in the pictures below.

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I mentioned earlier on that there is so much more to the city than just landmarks and history, and sometimes it’s not the most famous landmarks that tell the most interesting stories about a place. The photo below shows two very famous Berlin landmarks, the TV Tower in Alexanderplatz and the Berlin Cathedral, but what caught my eye was the pipes! Those brightly coloured pipes run all over the centre of the city, pumping water from what would otherwise be a low-lying swamp!

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Berliners also love their food, and we had to try the local delicacies!

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Currywurst

Currywurst is always named as a Berlin favourite, and though it seems to be less about the curry and more about the wurst (sausage) and ketchup, it’s gotta be said it’s pretty good 🙂

Berlin Witty's Aug 2015 Arabian Notes 16
Witty’s

We even tried the Currywurst from locally renowned Witty’s, which would you believe is organic?! I can certainly vouch for the fact that it was good, as after having shared one with Mr. Arabian Notes, we did a spot of shopping and couldn’t resist the urge to pop back for a second…!

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Who knew Berlin was famous for the Doner Kebab?!

Another food that you might be surprised to hear Berlin claims as a specialty is the humble doner kebab. Now we Brits love a kebab, it’s true, but this is none of that nondescript meat and brown lettuce leaves you see from back home, a good doner in Berlin is made with none other than veal and the freshest salads… Yep, it may be politically incorrect meat, but man does it taste good. The area to go to for a good kebab is Kottbusser Tor, and this particular delicious  specimen came from the shop called Tadim.

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Another notable foody mention from the trip is W-Der Imbiss which prides itself on Indo-Mexi-Cal-Ital vegetarian-vegan-salmon fusion cuisine, which basically means it’s unusual, affordable and slightly fancy fast food… These types of places are the type of quirky establishments that help make Berlin what it is – much more than just a city of memorials and monuments to be ticked off a list.

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KaDeWe Wurstkessel – surrounded by sausage!

And of course in a final food mention, you can’t go to Germany and not indulge in plenty of sausage – especially if you come from the UAE where a packet of pork will set you back the price of a small house (er, sort of… forgive me the slight exaggeration for creative effect)..!

Another memorial worth a look and that is conveniently located at the end of the street Hotel de Rome is on is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, or otherwise known as the Holocaust Memorial. An interesting sight to see, it sort of looks flat from the road. It’s only when you get up close you see just how three-dimensional it is. There’s also a (free to enter) museum underneath with more sobering but compelling tales of the hard-to-believe-if-we-didn’t-know-it-was-true lives of just a few of the more than six million that were murdered.

Berlin Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe Aug 2015 Arabian Notes 32

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There’s an eeriness about the fact that children now play hide and seek between the concrete pillars of the memorial
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And a constant reminder to the current seat of government that oversees the memorial in the distance…

Berlin Potsdamer Platz Aug 2015 Arabian Notes 24Above is an image of what may appear to be just a clock at Potsdamer Platz, but is in actual fact what was the very first traffic light in not only Berlin, but Europe too. It is reputed to have caused great confusion and flung the traffic into even further chaos than already ensued at the huge crossroad junction without it!

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The Berlin Wall Memorial at Bernauer Strasse

One of the best things about a city like Berlin is that although there’s so much history to learn about and museums and monuments to visit, and whilst lots of them come with hefty tourist price tags, many of the best ones are completely free! A visit to Bernauer strasse  takes you to the free to visit open air Berlin Wall Memorial, which for want of a better word ‘showcases’ a long strip of the original wall and the no man’s land behind it that was heavily patrolled and guarded by the East Germans, and complete with an original watch tower. It’s a great place to learn some more and to really get an idea of how the city was physically divided and the segregation strictly and lethally enforced.

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Old East German watch tower at the Berlin Wall Memorial, Bernauer Strasse

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And a trip to Berlin is not complete without a visit to the Olympic Stadium, built for the 1936 Olympics for propaganda purposes. It’s exactly the sort of imposing architecture that really makes you feel like you’re walking and living history alongside the ghosts of the past.

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One place I’d always wanted to visit but had not managed to before was the East Side Gallery… Far too many pictures to post and talk about individually but some very famous art works here – browse the gallery below if you’d like to see more closely, and let’s hope that this amazing piece of social and art history remains – the site is currently threatened by developers who want to build luxury riverside apartments on the land…

This post has already become far longer than I’d planned, but as I said at the beginning – there’s just so much to Berlin, it’s such an amazing, iconic, historical and interesting city from so many angles if you haven’t been you really must put it on your list – with its quirky subcultures there’s history in the making right now.

The final place I need to mention is Haus Schwarzenberg… Berlin has long been associated with graffiti art and this is an art that lives on despite being strictly speaking, illegal in varying degrees… at Haus Schwartzenberg along a little side street near the beautifully renovated Hackerscher Markt is this little quirky beauty. A street that is covered in graffiti art, decorated by famous graffiti artists from all over the world, and with art that changes regularly in accordance with the works the latest artists who’ve visited. There’s also some very quirky artists in residence in the surrounding buildings. There’s not much else to say about it… just enjoy the pictures and add it to the list to visit since this is part of the Berlin culture that really makes Berlin, well, Berlin!

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And I told a little fib – one more thing – if you really want to get to the heart of the alternative culture and free spirit of Berlin, make sure you pop into Yaam for a drink on the riverside beach…

And so with that, ends my ramblings. Berlin – an amazing city that you can keep going back to again and again and continue to find new aspects that you’ve never known before. As then mayor Klaus Wowereit declared some years ago, “Berlin is poor, but sexy” and luckily for us UAE residents all that beauty, history and creativity is only a cheeky six hour flight away. That’s just a bus ride in expat terms.

Let me know your thoughts and comments here!

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