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Nikki's Blog: 72 wonderful hours exploring Berlin

When I first went to Berlin about four years ago, I must admit I was a little disappointed as I felt like I never really found the heartbeat of the city.

Yes, like most tourists, I walked down the Unter den Linden to see the Brandenburg gate, albeit covered in scaffolding; and like so many others, I witnessed the Reichstag albeit covered in scaffolding.

I visited many memorials and museums, Checkpoint Charlie and examples of the Berlin Wall. The restaurants I found were okay, as were the bars around Potsdamer Platz, but it was never enough - so this time I was on a mission.

It started well as we decided to catch a train into the city from the airport, using the excellent flute Flughafen Express and our Berlin Welcome Cards. It took only two stops via Ostkreuz and alighting at Gesundbrunnen, and then three stops on the U-bahn to our destination in Rosenthaler Platz, the Circus Hotel.

Now you may wonder why I explained all that. It's because by avoiding transferring in a taxi, we already felt like locals, navigating our way from the south of the city to the north using local transport. Our time in Berlin had begun and I was on a high.

Rosenthaler Platz is a real hub and close to all the obvious attractions. It consists of five major routes, all converging, so travelling by tram, underground, bus, or just good old walking, it could not have been more convenient.

We arrived at the Circus Hotel, which is a delightful place and extremely welcoming. It has a really friendly family feel and is very individual in its approach to making you feel welcome. Across the road, it also offers the Circus Hostel and the Circus Apartments, so it has something for everyone’s budget and personal requirements. We really liked our choice.

We had arrived at 11am, a little too early for check-in. No problem - we left our luggage, put on our backpacks and set off for a stroll around the local area. Within seconds, we were sitting outside a café enjoying a most delicious savoury and a cup of coffee. Welcome to Berlin!

With plenty of time on our hands, we decided to walk around the streets of Scheunenviertel, or Barn Quarter, so named as this was once an area outside the city limits where animals were kept. This was the centre of the Jewish Quarter, and is an amazing area to visit. Although it has an obvious dark history, it has come alive again with bars, restaurants, art galleries, shops, and delightfully secret courtyards waiting to be discovered.

We stumbled upon the Altes Postant, the old Post Office, that somehow avoided the bombing of World War II, which is only a stone's throw from the new synagogue whose golden dome is a local landmark.

After a couple of hours, we had a choice: a river trip, a hop-on hop-off bus tour or a trip up the Fernsehturn, which is Germany’s tallest structure at 368 m high. From there, we could get a better understanding of the city. We decided on the TV tower and it was the right choice. From its 360° observation deck, Berlin lay out in front of us and it began to make sense. There was a heart and I could feel its beat.

The square below the tower was hosting a special Olympic event with competitors from all around the world enjoying themselves. Also in the square was the imposing Saint Marien Kirche, a gothic brick church, one of Berlin's oldest surviving churches.

With the temperature up in the high 30s, we slipped inside the church to cool down and reflect on all we had seen and experienced so far.

From here, we made our way down to the River Spee, and the Berliner Dom and Altes Museum - beautiful buildings I had not seen on my previous visit. There was even a flea market on the quayside - if I had had enough luggage allowance, I could’ve come back with a complete Russian army uniform with furry hat and medals.

Time for a drink, so we headed to Nikolaiviertel where there is an East German recreation of the city's medieval birthplace, with a maze of cobbled streets. A fascinating area, but perhaps a little too chocolate boxy for my taste, but worth a visit.

We found a lovely family-run bar by the river. The Italians know how to serve a good gin and tonic!

We were feeling a little peckish now, as we had been out walking for seven hours, so we wandered off in the direction of Alexander Platz to seek out somewhere suitable.

Now as a girl from Northern Ireland, I couldn’t resist the call of the Irish pub that we stumbled upon, so I decided on a pint of the black stuff while I consulted my guidebook for a restaurant. However, after the second pint, we decided on the highly recommended Irish stew. As it turned out, we should’ve stuck to the guidebook idea! Never mind - there’s always tomorrow.

On the positive side, the tram back to Circus Hotel stopped right outside and within 15 minutes we were back at the hotel, ready for a hot shower and a good night's sleep. What a great first day!

Up early the next day, I had the best breakfast I’ve ever had - avocado, salmon, salad, truffle cheese on a crispy base.

We decided to go on the river to see parts of Berlin we hadn't seen the day before, even after nine hours walking about.

We chose the two and a half hour cruise, because it goes much further out of the centre of Berlin, both east and west.

It was a beautiful sunny day and we sat on the upper deck with a cold glass of German wine. What could be better?

We passed through lock gates to leave the controlled waters of the River Spee, and out into the river itself where there was once a thriving port. The whole area is being renovated and it put me in mind of our own Docklands in London.

We travelled as far as the iconic Oberbaumbrucke, a bridge that links two boroughs that once were divided by the Berlin Wall.

When we turned, we went back through the centre of Berlin, past the government buildings, and the Reichstag, along the banks of the Tiergarten, and finally moored up opposite the Berlin Dom. A wonderful trip.

We jumped on a passing tram - we were getting good at this - and headed for Prater Garten, Berlin's oldest and finest beer garden. I was looking forward to sitting under the legendary chestnut trees. Can you believe that the oldest, finest beer garden in all of Berlin is shut on a Monday?!?

Oh well. We headed off for another wander via the Kulturbrauerel, a vast yellow brick building that was once a brewery and is now a cultural complex.

From here, we ventured into Mauerpark, the former death strip where Jews were assembled before being sent to concentration camps. It has now been transformed into a picnic barbecue area for sports, entertainers and market stalls. It didn’t feel right staying there, so we made our way back to the hotel. It was now getting dark, and once again we hadn’t eaten.

We chose a fine dining experience that epitomises Berlin nightlife - a currywurst from a small outlet right by the hotel.

Tuesday was change over day. I was sorry to leave the hotel. I will definitely return one day.

I had booked one night at the Marriott near Potsdamer Platz just to experience another part of Berlin. We took a tram and bus right to the door.

It’s a great hotel in a good location, but it lacked the soul of the previous venue and its proximity to so much life and entertainment.

After checking in, we wandered up to the Brandenburg Gate and took some photos, and then walked to Checkpoint Charlie, which was very commercial, but again important to Berlin. This area wasn’t as inspiring as our last two days, so we jumped on e-scooters and headed for the Tiergarten, a beautiful inner-city park.

It was bigger than I realised and I was pleased to be on a scooter. We stopped for a quick bite to eat and a drink by the river and watched the boats for awhile. We returned to our e-scooters and continued following the river until we came to the suburb of Bellevue. Here, we crossed the river and discovered a floating restaurant that was due to open in half an hour so we parked our scooters and went for a walk around the area, which was very pleasant.

When we returned to the boat and saw the menu, we knew that this was the meal we had been waiting for.

It was delicious and each course was exceptional. The service was excellent and the ambience was just what I wanted - serene and even paced - a great last night. When the meal was finally over, we returned to the hotel. Yes you’ve guessed it - by bus - it really is that easy.

On the final morning, we packed and made our way by bus and train to the airport.

One last look at my ever faithful map showed me we had been to the top, bottom, left and right of all of it - and in only three days.

I really do think I’ve discovered the heart of Berlin, and I’m sure I’ll be back again - there is so much more to see...


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