12.6.12

Three Days in Berlin

Berlin

The sky was dim, the air was crisp with chill and the streets around my apartment were sedate, echoing only the sounds of night owls staggering home after what appeared to be a wild night out. Of course, this scene mirrors most places at 3:30am.

I flounced out of bed with the ding of my iphone, alerting me to a new text message. "Berlin!", Bryan wrote. "See you in 30!". It was the first time we were traveling together - a test of friendship, to be sure, but also a new adventure. Well-oiled with coffee, we hit the road at 4:30am, an ungodly hour to be awake but perfect for a seamless ride to the airport. Our EasyJet flight departed just before sunrise but the excitement of a quick getaway (and the promise of milder temperatures) kept us alert.

When we arrived in Berlin, we made a beeline to grab the train into the city (*there is an express train goes directly to Hauptbahnhof station in the city for only 3€) so that we could pick up the keys to the apartment that 9Flats generously loaned us for the weekend. We were eager to re-caffeinate and plot our route for exploring but ended up spending some time with the owner of the apartment, a French expat eager to share local tips. We chatted about Paris, the cool things to do in Berlin and Melody Nelson, the cocktail bar she co-owns just below the flat which is said to have previously been frequented by Stasi agents (!!).

Berlin

Her studio (with a balcony) in Mitte was adorable and ideal for travelers who plan on spending very little time indoors but want easy access to public transportation. The neighborhood between Novalißtraße and Augustraße might be a bit staid but prides itself on a farm to table ethos and a mixed crowd -a sort of New York yuppie-Paris bobo hybrid, in the best way possible. Posh but without the attitude. 

Once we dropped off our things, snapped a few photos of the space and tried to imagine what a place like hers would cost in Paris (extortionate), we set off to refuel at The Barn, Berlin's gourmet coffee mainstay only a short walk away (more on that below).

As we explored Berlin by foot, we were struck by the sheer newness of the city. It's a dynamic capital, flush with movement, swelling with creative energy and home to some truly innovative start-ups. With postmodern architecture and gritty confidence, the city offers a striking contrast to the wrought beauty of Paris. And when you really need some time away from Paris, stark contrast is an attractive asset.

In three days, we covered tremendous ground. As we grudgingly boarded our flight back to Paris, where cold and torrential rain awaited us, we confirmed that we were suitable travel buddies and would and should plan another trip - maybe even a return trip to Berlin.

With that, an abridged guide to spending a few days in Berlin:

| SLEEP
9flats - I highly recommend our apartment but if it's unavailable, there are about 20 others I'd love to book for my next trip. The site offers a wide range of flats across the city in various price brackets.

Roomarama - Anne, Brittany and Rubi shared an incredible loft listed from this short-term rental service and were delighted with the experience. For a peek at their place, check out Anne's post here.

The Circus - A hostel and hotel that bookend St. Oberholz, a gorgeous coffee shop and workspace we frequented each day (for the inexpensive but good coffee and chai lattes, you will too). They also offer apartment rentals; centrally located in Rosenthaler Platz.

Hüttenpalast - When I stumbled upon this boutique hotel I immediately bookmarked it under « awesome – stay here ! ». Housed in an old vacuum-cleaner factory in the former worker’s quarter of Neuköllner, the ultra-affordable hotel (around €30 per night/person) offers guests an original experience in cushy, urban camping (or glamping as the trend has been termed). Instead of traditional rooms, guests can stay in a refurbished, cozy caravan or wooden cabin which are located in the same, open space - the owners say this was to encourage open exchange between visitors. It's a unique option for people like me who like the idea of camping but not the bugs and uncomfortable sleeping arrangements typically associated with it.

Casa Camper - 51 rooms and suites make up this design-forward hotel in Mitte, best known for its 'home away from home' focus and exterior design conceived by Fernando Amat and Jordi Tio. And if you're wondering if it might somehow be connected to Camper, the Spanish footwear brand, you'd be correct. The company applied the same practical aesthetic to their two hotels in Barcelona (the original) and Berlin. A stone's throw from charming cafés, shops and bars, the hotel definitely wins on location. Check out Ashley's post for more photos. 

Call a Bike, Berlin bike share program

| GET AROUND
The sprawling nature of the city means that exploring the city exclusively by foot is a challenge. Since we needed quick access to Betahaus, the conference venue, we purchased day passes for the subway. Individual rides will set you back €2.10 so if you plan to hop all around town by public transportation, a day pass at €6.10 (zones 1 and 2) is a wiser investment. The owner of our flat clued us into the Kurzstreckentarif, a short-distance ticket valid for three stops on the U or S-Bahn and six stops on buses or trams (€1.30). Apparently this option is available in taxis as well but we didn't inquire. 

If long walks or jaunts underground don't appeal to you, Berlin is extremely bike-friendly. The city's bike-share program Call A Bike looks similar to Paris's beloved Vélib but requires a mobile phone. You call the number printed on the side of the bike to register and obtain the code to unlock the bike. It will run you €0.80/minute up to a max of €15 in a 24 hour period (payment by credit card only). You can also rent bikes through other companies, just be sure to follow the rules! More on that here

Berlin, Mauerpark
| SEE + DO
See the largest dinosaur skeleton in the world at the Natural History Museum. The Brachiosaurus bones were all Bryan talked about prior to our trip and I've never seen him happier once he had his chance to visit (dinosaur fanaticism optional).

Head to Mauerpark on Sunday to peruse the flea market, host a barbecue and watch bearpit karaoke (weather permitting). Swarms of laid-back locals have been spending their end of weekend afternoons at the stone amphitheatre since 2009 to watch Joe Hatchiban lead the show of hopeful singers. He's recently run into some trouble obtaining permits so check his Twitter feed for updates.

Stroll. I would probably say this for any city but it bears repeating. Walk along the Spree, through different neighborhoods, in and out of shops and to some of the major sites and museums. Let yourself get a little lost.

See what is left of the Berlin Wall (only about 1.5km). Go to the East Side Gallery, the best preserved and perhaps most interesting section of the memorial where over 100 murals have been painted by international artists.

I dare you to visit Planet Modular and not leave with a stack of new notebooks, Japenese masking tape or sparkly envelopes. It's unequivocally a supplies haven for artists and crafty DIYers and while I don't fall into either of those categories, I'm a sucker for colored gel pens and stationery.

| EAT + DRINK
Many locals were of the opinion that despite having a generous prices, most of the restaurants in Berlin are mediocre. Our experiences, though limited, were extremely positive:

Prater Garten, Berlin
Prater Garten, Berlin

1- PraterGarten and a night under the chestnut trees 

Set off from Kastanienallee, a street often referred to as Casting Alley because of the modish actors and film directors who frequent its cafés and restaurants, PraterGarten is the city's oldest beer garden, opened in 1837. An evening of cold beer, sweet spritzers, Bratwurst and good company is an absolute must to experience Berlin like a local. The night we spent under the garden's chestnut trees and hanging lights was by far one of my fondest memories of the trip. The atmosphere was festive and all around us people were jovial and relaxed - it was refreshing! 

Open daily from April to September, weather permitting. 
Prater Garten | Kastanienallee 7-9, 10435 Berlin

Berlin breakfast at The Barn
The Barn Berlin

2 - The Barn: brewing the city's best coffee 
Among the varied selection of coffee shops in Berlin, some of which double as work spaces, there's only one that I would have returned to daily for a morning latte, market-fresh sandwich or house-baked treat. The Barn is a bucolic coffee bar in the Mitte that boasts top quality coffee (from Copenhagen's famed fairtrade Coffee Collective) and a local-food ethos, inspired largely by the owner's formative years in rural Germany and his mother's penchant for baking. Ornamented with rustic touches, like bales of hay, knotty wood benches and tables and a large chalkboard menu, and known for their coffee, the cafe has cultivated a large following since it opened two years ago and shows no signs of slowing.

Open Mon-Fri 8am-6pm; Sat 10am-6pm
The Barn | Auguststrasse 58 10119 Berlin 

3 -  A Slice of the Alps at Alpenstück
Bryan and I were trying to keep costs down overall throughout the weekend but were keen on spending a bit more on one restaurant and one pair of shoes. We did both. Recommended to us by Toni of  Sister MagAlpenstück is a charming corner restaurant in Mitte that puts a unique twist on traditional Southern German and Austrian fare. The interior is soft and earthy, dotted with wicker baskets, gingham lamps, plush cream-colored booths and bleach-wood tables, but what you notice the moment you enter is the rear wall composed of stacked logs that lords over the dining room. The crowd is local, the wine list is fantastic and the food is fresh and hearty (be sure save room for the apple strudel). Bäckerai, their bakery, sits just across the street and is open for breakfast and lunch. 

Open daily, 6pm-1am
Alpenstück | Gartenstrasse 9,10115 Berlin
Tel: +49 030 217 516 46

4 - Biting into The Bird 
Making reservations at an American-owned bar and steakhouse in Berlin might seem like a silly idea but The Bird has become something of an institution since they opened six years ago, known largely for their burgers and steaks. Eight of us were set to give them a try on our last night in town but due to a death in the family, the celebrated burger den was shuttered. According to friends who have been, it merits a return trip to Berlin. (Or Hamburg)

Open daily, 6pm-midnight
The Bird | Am Falkplatz 5, 10437 Berlin
Tel: +49 030 510 532 83


Lokal, Berlin Lokal, Berlin
5 - Eating Local at Das Lokal
Freshly cut flowers, rustic wood tables and an artsy crowd pepper this Mitte standout where ingredients are natural and sourced, as you might have guessed, locally. The menu changes almost weekly and features variations of simple dishes like quiches and salads for lunch and a more meat and fish-focused selection for dinner. I recommend going midday for the gorgeous natural light that beams through the tall windows lining the dining room. 

Mon and Sun from 5pm, Tues-Sat lunch 12pm-5pm; dinner from 6pm
Das Lokal | Linienstraße 160, 10119 Berlin
+49 030 284 495 00

What are your Berlin highlights? 

Click here for more Berlin photos
{Hotel photo courtesy of Casa Camper}

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