One Week on Bernauer Strasse

From ‘The New Berlin’ to the organic, original and, in my opinion, one of a kind city itself, my time spent in the German capital was made even more special due to the fabulous hostel I stayed at (a solid 9.6), a.k.a. Kirsten & Jamie’s second floor pad, just a three-minute walk from Bernauer Strasse U-Bahn station. Free breakfasts were included every morning. You can forget about the corn flake shoots, drying up slices of processed cheese and overdone hard-boiled eggs in shells so hot you singe the tips of your fingers trying to break into them (a common spread at European hostel breakfast buffets). Oh no. Not here. Not with Kirsten as Head Chef. Smashed avocado and scrambled eggs on toasted rye bread; homemade spelt porridge with almond butter and fresh peaches; deep fuschia smoothie bowls topped with desiccated coconut, pumpkin seeds and droplets of honey. I mean… for the past week I have been in absolute breaven (breakfast heaven). And it didn’t stop there! A dorm room all to myself… free linen and towels… my own personal tour guide… I would definitely recommend.

So my Berlin experience started on Friday afternoon, and by twelve noon on the Saturday I had arrived (after being ID’d, which apparently never happens: brilliant (I’m not old enough for this to be a compliment)) at Sisyphos, a fortnightly all day / all night, outdoor / indoor club with a sandy beach, mini pond and sauna, where all the cool kids go. Sounds glamorous? Hmm… The sand was covered in cigarette butts and broken glass, the pond full of dead fish (and I dread to think what other fluids), and the sauna… it was already thirty bloody degrees! But despite the slight hygiene horrors, the club itself was just so interesting to witness. The spectrum of clientele ranged from topless and barefoot (ouch) hippie in green velvet three quarter length trousers to mysterious oriental beauty in high-waisted leather shorts, fishnet tights and a colourful sun-shielding umbrella reminiscent of something you might find in the costume cupboard of a musical theatre am-dram society. Bizarre. But no matter how idiosyncratic, inebriated or insane these Berliner’s were, they were the most chilled out and sun-protection conscious clubbers I have ever seen. Unlike in your average British club, rather than standing firm and blocking someone’s path if they wanted to walk past you on the dance floor, you moved out of their way to let them get by unhindered (can you believe it?!) and unlike on your average British seaside resort, rather than being surrounded by a sea of unprotected skin so scorched it could be mistaken for a Donald Trump appreciation conference, everyone was sharing sun cream, doing each other’s backs, and there was not a single lobster in sight.

Following six hours of daytime dancing on my first full day, the following day called for some well-earned relaxation. We headed to a huge lake in the west surrounded by a vast man-made beach, picnic in hand, and spent the day sunning ourselves, drinking beer and playing volleyball in the water. It felt like we were on a Mediterranean holiday frolicking in the sea, the only downside being that I hadn’t expected to be in a bikini until July, so the beach body was a little more Belgian waffle than Baywatch ready. (But at least I wasn’t sunburnt.)

The next few days called for some sightseeing; each day I had a long list of places I wanted to see, each day I massively failed to complete (or even make a notable indentation to) my itinerary. One memorable example is when I queued for not one, two or even three hours outside in the slowest moving snail trail to visit temporary street art exhibition The Haus. No. I queued for a whopping – wait for it – FIVE HOURS AND FIFTY MINUTES. What a bloody idiot. But let me redeem myself slightly: I arrived (75 minutes behind schedule) to a looong queue which stretched almost three sides of the entire block which, I estimated, would be a two-hour wait. I pondered, assessed my options, and concluded that I was ok with that. After two hours I had progressed by approximately one half of the initial queue length, which actually seemed to go by quite quickly, and I was still in (relatively) good spirits. Then the heavens opened. It started absolutely pissing it down and I was dressed in the most inappropriate attire – denim shorts (short shorts), a dusty pink tee (that was becoming more and more translucent by the second) and my trusty dusty pink cap (thank god for the cap). I had no jacket, no umbrella, no friends to cuddle. There was barely any shelter so we all huddled as close to the building as possible, trying to avoid the SHEETS of rain (not kidding) as much as possible. At this point my dilemma started. Firstly: after two hours of queuing, is it more stupid to leave the queue and admit defeat, not knowing how quickly the queue might go down or how many people might give in to the storm, or to stay in the queue and risk an indefinite amount of further queuing in the rain and catching a cold (or pneumonia) for the rest of your trip? Secondly: where the hell am I going to go (run to) in the middle of this crazy storm, or would I be better keeping semi-sheltered at the side of the building, at least until the thunderstorm subsides? Thirdly: will I look more of an idiot standing in this queue in the rain covered in goosebumps, or running aimlessly through the streets in the rain covered in goosebumps? I decided to wait it out. In hindsight (there is another three hours and fifty minutes until I eventually reach the exhibition entrance) this was a terrible idea. But it’s done now, and I met some interesting and inspiring people in the queue (shout out to Alex and Michael who, very kindly, lent me a shirt from his backpack to delay the onset of pneumonia – very much appreciated). The exhibition itself was very good and different but, come on, nothing is worth almost six hours of waiting in a queue.

When it got to my last day in the city my personal tour guide (Kirsten) decided enough was enough: I was going to see the sights whether I liked it or not. After a morning spent learning fascinating things about the Berlin Wall doing the Gedenkstarter Berliner Mauer, we headed to Teufelsberg in the afternoon. Directly translated as ‘The Devil’s Mountian’, a beautiful walk through an idyllic sun drenched forest led us to a mysterious graffiti-covered ex-spy station. On arrival we had to sign to declare that we were entering at our own risk (warning sign?), and then had free reign to explore every path, staircase and crevice as we wished, the visit culminating at the top of a tall tower with fabulous views for miles over the entire city. It was fabulous. After congratulating ourselves with a Berliner Kindl at the attraction’s bar (lounging on deckchairs, catching some rays) we headed back down the hill and back into the city.

The following couple of hours were a quick fire tour of the remaining famous sights. The Reichstag – tick; Museum Island – tick; the Cathedral – tick; the Brandenburg Gate – half tick (covered in scaffolding); Memorial to the Mudered Jews – tick; the longest ever walk home with achey, tired legs and bladder about to burst – big tick. Phew. That was close. A delicious home-cooked dinner (of course – remember the breakfasts) was the perfect end to my stay, before we gave in to our exhaustion and got some well-needed beauty sleep.

I am now on the train to Warsaw, in a Harry Potter-esque cabin, wondering what Poland has in store for me. All I know for sure is that I have to try the dumplings. Will report back in due course…

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