One weekend in Berlin
The story of how I crashed a stag-do, barely slept and was seduced this insane city.
I left London on the morning of Friday 22 July to fly from Heathrow to Berlin.
I was invited to Berlin by a friend of mine from Melbourne to come join and in the stag festivities of one of his friends who was to wed in Scotland a week later - so essentially I crashed a stag party.
Funnily, while wasting time in Terminal 5 I bumped into a former colleague from Melbourne who was hurriedly dashing between gates in order to head off to Croatia. After quick hello and then goodbye in which Steph said “what the hell are you doing here?”, we quickly messaged each other to laugh about the coincidence.
The smooth flight with BA was followed by a quick border crossing and then been whisked off on a bus toward Alexanderplatz, one of the most iconic plazas in Berlin, and site of the floor I was sleeping on for the next two nights. Alexandeplatz is in central Berlin, very close the all the important Government buildings, and was also been the site of much redevelopment by the East German Government, which gave it the distinct feel of a soviet transport hub. The most prominent aspect of the plaza was the daunting shadow of the iconic TV tower (called ‘Fernsehturm’), which blotches the Berlin skyline (it is the second highest structure in Europe) with ridiculous shape, the eye tears at it’s offensive architecture but is also drawn to it all the same.
I meet the rest of the stag contingent, and after introducing ourselves we headed out of the hotel in search of food and beer. Soon we were walking up the stairs to a patio of a German beer hall we ordered food and steins and passed the next few hours in cheer.
A few hours later we were on the river Spree, which runs right through central Berlin and acted as a natural point of division in separating the former east-west parts of the city with the remnants of the famous wall still standing along the edge. Some of the derelict sections have now been turned into open air art galleries with large sections been hit with serial graffiti art since the German reunification.
Nestled between the river, and this living piece of history, we hung out at a local bar, and after an unexpected detour via a LBGT bar, we ended up in the uber cool nightclub Watergate. This exclusive and super popular club had a notorious dress-down policy and were well known to turn people away simply based on their dress. Luckily for me, our half of the group got in, and danced to electronic music to 5 am whilst the other guys went to a tourist trap club.
Fast forward 5 hours after getting into be, we were now armed with sore heads, sunglasses and water bottles as we boarded open air tour buses nursing ripper hangovers as we were chaperoned on a guided tour through the major sites of the German capital.
What struck me the most was the wide boulevards, imposing buildings which spread itself and grand but natural way across the city. As if Central Berlin was actually a newly acquired industrial estate where abundant space meant concrete, grass and soviet-era architecture and city planning mixed in a very well balanced manner. I later learned that some of these huge areas were the “dead zones” that East German government created as deterrent zones preceding the wall, which may very well account for the space, and is now permanently part of the cities reunification hangover.
The most confronting part of the tour was the remnants of the infamous Nazi German police known as the Gestapo, the ruthless Nazi German internal Secret State Police responsible for a number of atrocities, which on the level of buildings foundations served as an open museum recounting Berlin’s troubled 20th century history through a mix of photograph and text. The fact it lay at the feet of the foundations and the sections of the later dividing wall stood atop at street level exacerbated the solemn atmosphere. This touching and pervasive element spoke volume as the realisation of Berlin’s history hit home. It was a humbling and a stark reminder of progress that we've achieved in the past 80 years since the end of WWII, but also the darker side of the human condition.
Another night out in Berlin for the groom-to-be’s celebrations saw us enter an East Berlin strip club, supervised by bouncers the size of professional wrestlers, mingling with the locals at a club tacked onto the end of the most amazingly cliche Hilton reminiscent of spy novels and soviet era intrigue, and finishing up outside of Kebab shop at 5 am. A classic, and very classy way, to end a great weekend in a beautiful location.
The next day saw Berlin explode in excitement on the eve of German’s 2014 , soon to be, Football World Cup victory. The city was buzzing and the atmosphere electric. Celebrations started early and fans were loudly dressed and vocal in their support. I was equal parts disappointed to have to early before the match started and grateful to avoid it too! However, the walk to Brandenburg Gate to the large screens set up in anticipation was a definitely a highlight.
Overall, I was awe struck by Berlin, it drew me in in way that I was totally unprepared for. Its hands down the coolest spot I've been to. Its mix of recent turbulent history and it’s revitalisation as the hipster capital of world is fantastic and I will be definitely be back to scratch further beneath the surface.