Five things I love about Berlin

After our recent European travels, during which we visited three major cities – Berlin, Vienna, and Prague – inevitably I ranked them in order of (my) preference. If you read this blog with any regularity, you would have seen my quick recap post last month. I technically did not reveal which city was my favorite, but it was easy to figure out. So, no surprise that Prague officially was my favorite of the three cities. Coming in a very close second – and, I mean, a VERY close second – is Berlin. In some ways it even surpassed Prague. What did I love so much about Berlin, a city that had not even been on my radar until a few months ago? Well, I’ll tell you.

1. The vibe. Instantly, I felt comfortable in Berlin. Upon arrival, the airport was calm; we quickly and easily secured a taxi to transport us to our Wilmersdorf apartment. The traffic was light; no horns honking or insane scooters weaving in and out of cars crawling at a snail’s pace. Later that day, Lucia and I took a walk around the neighborhood while Mark took a nap (he suffered the worst jet lag). I felt completely safe walking in this brand new city with just my five-year-old daughter. We popped in and out of a couple of grocery stores (without buying anything because I did not have any coins with which to unlock a shopping cart) and were greeted with smiles by everyone we came across. During the days we spent in Berlin, at no time did I feel rushed or pressured to hurry from point A to point B. At all the sites we visited, there were no large crowds or people pushing their way to get to the front of the line, be it for admission to a museum or for the water closet. Also impressive are the clusters of tables and chairs set out in various parts of the city for public use. The tables aren’t bolted down; the chairs aren’t chained together. While we sat at one such table at Alexanderplatz, enjoying currywurst, bratwurst, and beer, I remember thinking that something like that would never last at home in Chicago. People would constantly be stealing or damaging the furniture. And any city in which I can walk up to a street vendor and order a beer to enjoy on the public way is a-ok in my book.

Alexanderplatz | Credit

Alexanderplatz | Credit

2. The green spaces. The impression I’d always had of Berlin is that it’s gritty and a bit rough around the edges. I had images in my head of gray, concrete buildings, and streams of pollutants billowing out of smokestacks. Was I ever wrong. As visitBerlin, the city’s official tourism office, states, “Berlin is green.” There are more than 2,500 parks and gardens in the city of 3.5 million, one of the most significant being Tiergarten. Compared to New York City’s Central Park and London’s Hyde Park, Tiergarten started out as hunting grounds for the nobility and, over the centuries, has become “a pleasure park for the people”. The green tendencies reach the individual neighborhoods, as well. After a short time in Wilmersdorf, one word kept emerging as I described it to others: leafy. Wilmersdorf isn’t alone in that category; one-fifth of the city is covered with trees. Yep, Berlin is green.

Tiergarten | Credit

Tiergarten | Credit

3. The history. From its status as the capital of the German Empire to the fall of the Berlin Wall, Berlin’s historical significance is undeniable. However, World War II left Berlin with more than 28.5 square kilometers of uninterrupted ruins. Buildings and sites dating back hundreds of years were demolished, yet there is historical evidence just about everywhere. The fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent reunification stand as two of the most important historical events in Berlin’s recent history. Getting to see where the wall once stood, and even visiting parts of it that are still standing, are solidified as two of the most momentous experiences I’ve had during my years of travel. What made it even more meaningful is that I got to experience it with my daughter. It provided us an opportunity to talk with her, gently, about topics like war and even Communism. Later on when she learns about the Berlin Wall in school, she will have a real-life experience to relate to, (hopefully) increasing her interest in the subject matter and enhancing the effectiveness of the lesson.

A portion of the Berlin Wall still standing on Niederkirchnerstrasse.

A portion of the Berlin Wall still standing on Niederkirchnerstrasse.

4. The Metro. Learning to navigate the transit system in a new city can be daunting. Figuring out the different modes of transportation, where the stops are, and how/where to buy tickets seriously give me the shakes. In Berlin, it took us about a day to get our bearings and to figure out the U-Bahn stop closest to our apartment. Once we did, we were off and running. The transit maps were easy to read, the trains frequent and clean. Mark and I had the Berlin WelcomeCard that provided us unlimited public transit rides for seventy-two hours (Lucia got to ride for free since she is younger than 6). All we needed to do was validate our cards at a machine at one of the stations and carry it with us whenever riding public transportation. It saved us the hassle and the time of having to stop to buy tickets each time we rode the U-Bahn. We just walked into the station and boarded the next available train. It was awesome. It is important to validate the card on your very first ride and to carry it with you when riding public transportation. Transit officials board the trains and randomly check passengers’ tickets, which happened to us a few times. Get caught without a valid ticket and you’ll find yourself facing a hefty fine. I know some Berliners will disagree, since they deal with the Metro daily, but during our visit we found it to be convenient, efficient, clean, safe, and even enjoyable to ride.

Berlin Metro | Credit

Berlin Metro | Credit

Her first Turkish tea

Her first Turkish tea

5. The Turkish Market. To say Berlin is a diverse city is quite an understatement. Of its 3.5 million residents, 494,000 of them hold foreign passports. There is a large Turkish population in Berlin – approximately 200,000 Turks, making it the largest Turkish settlement outside of Turkey. Naturally, the Turks have brought their traditions and their food with them. In doing research prior to our trip, I’d read about the Turkish Market and learned that it takes place every Tuesday and Saturday. We arrived in Berlin on a Saturday so going on that day was out of the question (jet lag, remember?) but it was written boldly on our agenda for the following Tuesday. Since traveling to Istanbul a few years ago, Mark and I have developed an affinity for Turkish cuisine. We loved visiting the markets in Istanbul while we were there so we looked forward to seeing what Berlin’s Turkish Market had to offer. It was raining when we arrived in Kreuzberg, the neighborhood that is home to the market, so we found a restaurant, Aksu Ocakbasi Grillhaus, to have lunch and wait out the bad weather. We ordered tea, meze, kebap, and döner. I’m pretty sure we were momentarily transported back to Istanbul; that’s how authentic the food was. It was quite a moment, too, to witness Lucia’s first experience with a new cuisine and with Turkish tea. By the time we finished our Turkish dining extravaganza, the rain had stopped so we headed outside to check out the expansive market. As we browsed all the goodies, we came across other delicacies we had discovered and enjoyed in Turkey. We were still so full from our meal at Aksu Ocakbasi so we decided to get food at the market to have for dinner at our apartment later on. The sights and smells of the market were delightful, and we also enjoyed the upbeat crowd and street musicians along the canal. It turned out to be a sunny, beautiful day and quite an enjoyable way to spend our last full day in Berlin. And our Turkish dinner that night? Delicious.

Produce stall at Turkish Market

Produce stall at Turkish Market

I say this about a lot of places I travel to, but I really hope to return to Berlin soon. Actually, I think it’s already been decided that our family definitely will visit Berlin again. There’s still so much more we need to experience, and some favorites we would like to visit again.

My family and I received complimentary Berlin WelcomeCards from the lovely folks at visitBerlin. In no way was I swayed by this kind gesture to write positively about their wonderful city. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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18 Responses to Five things I love about Berlin

  1. Aggy May 16, 2014 at 10:41 am #

    I’ve not been to Berlin’s Turkish market! It looks great! I love Berlin, there is such a funky vibe there and a lot of different things going on. I only spent 3 days 2 years ago in Berlin, I do hope to go back there and enjoy another parts of the city!
    Aggy recently posted…10 Perfect Hideaway SpotsMy Profile

    • Francesca May 16, 2014 at 7:31 pm #

      I hope you get to go back, too, Aggy!

  2. Deborah Brauser May 16, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    Wonderful information! I’m writing down notes for my upcoming trip in October. Thanks!!
    Deborah Brauser recently posted…Happy Mother’s Day! Travels with MomMy Profile

  3. Jenny May 16, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

    Ha, what timing! I just traveled to Berlin in April and wrote a post about it, though my take was a bit different….I was sort of underwhelmed by the city. I found it lacked the charm of other European hotspots. But reading your view of it made me stop and think–Berlin really does have it’s advantages, and I guess I haven’t lived in enough big cities to immediately appreciate the perks of the German capital. (Your comment about how the chairs and tables weren’t chained down—I never would have thought about that!) Thanks for an alternative perspective!
    Here was my post about it, if you’re interested 🙂

    P.S. I look forward to meeting you at BlogHouse in less than a month!!!

    • Francesca May 16, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

      Woo, BlogHouse! I look forward to meeting you, too. It’ll be here soon!

      So, Berlin… I did not think I was going to like it, for the exact reason you give here. One reason I love European cities is because of that charming, old-timey feel, which we can agree is not as prevalent in Berlin. I’m so happy to learn that my post made you think again about Berlin and see it from a different perspective 🙂 I will check out your post, too!

  4. Raul (@ilivetotravel) May 17, 2014 at 8:24 am #

    My own visit to Berlin was only one day. Your post makes me want to go and spend at minimum a week. I love history, I love exploring neighborhoods and I love a green city (mine is such a city, Atlanta). I shall return!
    Raul (@ilivetotravel) recently posted…The Grand Traverse Resort and Spa: Something for Everyone!My Profile

    • Francesca May 17, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

      I think a minimum of one week in Berlin is a good start, Raul!

  5. Traveling Ted May 20, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

    Berlin has always been a city I have dying to check out. I almost came here when I visited Prague and Poland a decade ago, but I decided I wanted a week in Prague and a week in Poland. This was a good decision, but I still have a bit of regret for not checking out Berlin too. Perhaps Bloghouse will come to Berlin. Then I will sign up.
    Traveling Ted recently posted…Excited to use my Intel Tablet this summer #tabletcrewMy Profile

  6. Jessica (Barcelona Blonde) May 21, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    This article is timed perfectly – I’m going to Berlin tomorrow! I hadn’t known about the Turkish market, so maybe I’ll have to check that out on Saturday. I went last year for three days, but it just wasn’t enough time.
    Jessica (Barcelona Blonde) recently posted…My New Favorite Hidden Café in Barcelona (Plus 3 BIG Announcements!)My Profile

  7. Sam May 21, 2014 at 1:55 pm #

    I love Berlin for many of exactly the same reasons, and am in fact planning to move here with my partner because of that! It hadn’t really occurred to me before, but you’re absolutely right about the traffic and the laid back vibe; no one here rushes! I also completely agree about the public transport; it’s just great…but cycling is also wonderfully easy and safe! We also really love the Turksih Market and have been going there twice a week for the last couple of weeks we’ve been staying here.
    Sam recently posted…Memories of SyriaMy Profile

  8. Erin at The World Wanderer May 21, 2014 at 8:24 pm #

    Wow…the city is beautiful! So Berlin has been on my radar for a while, but this is making me want to move it up on my list. I visited Munich 8 years ago, and didn’t love it at all, so I moved Berlin off the list. Eventually, it’s come back, as I’ve heard it’s very different. I have a feeling I’d fit in better in Berlin. AND if you liked it, I will no doubt fall in love. (PS that photo of Lucia is so stinking cute!)
    Erin at The World Wanderer recently posted…Casa Cortés ChocoBar: A Chocolate-Lover’s Paradise.My Profile

  9. Lucy @ On the Luce May 23, 2014 at 11:01 am #

    Berlin is one of those places that I’ve been meaning to visit for ages and this has definitely spurred me on to get out there soon, love the diversity of things to see and do in the city – had never heard of the Turkish Market before!

  10. Charu June 3, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

    Nice post and lots of details. I’d love to see the Berlin Wall in person….that would be something
    Charu recently posted…Tips for Camping with a ToddlerMy Profile

  11. Charles McCool May 12, 2015 at 6:28 pm #

    I did not know about the Turkish presence in Berlin. The market looks fantastic.
    Charles McCool recently posted…Kids to Parks Day: Saturday, 16 May 2015My Profile

  12. Edith & Juan July 27, 2015 at 2:37 pm #

    Berlin seems like such a great places to visit!! Thanks for sharing your experience with us. We’ll be adding Berlin to my bucketlist 🙂

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