Food for thought in Berlin, Germany

Nov 24, 2009

Back from Berlin, I feel it should be a subsidized trip to any family with children in age of understanding history. Yes, a bit of radical thinking, but there is so much to learn and remember about 20th century history in this city. We focused on East Berlin during our week end just the two of us.

Berlin art

Our long week end was not as I expected. Planned as a “just the 2 of us wedding-anniversary gift”, thinking we would romantically mingle with the bohemian scene for 48hours, it turns out we spent most of our time in a history crash-course. I came to the conclusion that a trip to Berlin would be a wonderful experience to share with older children.

It is emotionally moving to visit a place that has gone through so many dramatic episodes. Once you’re there, especially this November, it’s all about the wall, the memorials and the awkward sense of feeling the crossroads in history. We stayed in Mitte – literally midtown – which is part of East Berlin and a rather large area, very central and atmospheric. A few places to recommend, from luxury at Hotel de Rome, housed in the original headquarters of Dresdner Bank, to Lux 11 for stylish self-catered apartments or Flowers Boardinghouse in the same concept. Have also heard good things about Pension Peters and Pension Funk for tighter budgets.

Berlin national gallery

Berlin jewish memorial

For art, we chose to visit the Neue National Gallery, primarily because it was designed by Mies Van der Rohe and I was blown away by the sense of calm and balance inside the glasshouse. We also walked around Mitte’s art galleries, surrounding the following streets: Auguststrasse, Linienstrasse, Sophienstrasse. Stopped for a nice lunch with locals at Cafe Bravo, inside the courtyard at 69 Augustrasse. A cute kids shop with Belgium and Dutch brands is right around there too, La Petite Boutique, a reminder that bobos have already arrived en masse. Also check out the Line Gallery, a small boutique of clothing and furniture at Linienstrasse 159.  With more time, we would have paid a visit to Queen Nefertiti’s bust, recently transfered to the Altes museum, which is part of the impressive complex called Museum Island.

        Berlin graffitiBerlin monumentsBerlin yellow car

The highlight of our trip though was a 4-hour bike ride with a guide (organized by the hotel), themed on the Fall of the Wall. Berlin is a big city, and seeing it by bike was an excellent way of feeling connected with the different areas. Don’t miss Alexanderplatz and Karl-Max Allee (Lives of Others was largely filmed there, a must see before a trip to Berlin), East Side Gallery which is a stretch of the wall where 106 artists expressed themselves in 1990. We enjoyed spending time at the Center of Documentation where a 30min film is projected, helping understand what it was like to live with this wall. Afterwards, we could not stop staring at that small piece of wall left there, next the museum, almost frozen in time.

Berlin roads

The Holocaust memorial right down from Brandenburger Tow on Eberstrasse, is absolutely moving. Conceived by P. Eisenman, it only opened in 2005 and is of extreme simplicity, a labyrinth of concrete tombs. Children and adults alike were spending time there in contemplation. The Jewish museum, another architectural masterpiece, from Daniel Libeskind, is shaped like an exploded Jewish star and is a very educational museum, talking about life in the German jewish communities over time, and how the craziness of the holocaust made its way. It was a good thing to see it crowded by people of all ages and all nationalities.

Berlin museum building

Food, I must say, was not a highlight. These brasseries are known to be very pleasant: Lutter&Wegner on Charlottenstrasse (+49302029540), Cafe Borschardt near Bebelplatz (+493020387110) and Cafe Einstein (the one in West Berlin in an old villa,  +49302615096) but we did not try them. Friday night, we enjoyed a good meal at Grill Royal (must reserve, +493028879288) and one of the best mojito I have had outside Cuba. It was at CSA, an ultra-cool cocktail bar on Karl Marx Allee, in an old Czech airlines agency beneath the stalinist apartment blocks. I loved it, thank you Marco for the recommendation.

Berlin building

We brought back some delicious local chocolates from In’t Veld (Raumerstrasse 36), a mini yellow Trabant for our son and a hand-made wooden musical box for our baby, from this oh-so-very-german shop called Erzgebirgskunst Original (good luck if you’re reading this out loud).  And lots of food for thought for the winter nights to come.

BozAround reading recommendations: There’s a lot of press on Berlin this fall, obviously with the 20 year anniversary. From The Economist issue titled So much gained So much to Lose, the NY times ‘ 36 hours in Berlin to Elle Decor Goes to Berlin and the FT’s tour of Berlin…much more if you dig around.

Berlin visitor map

Ich bin ein Berliner.

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