I guess this is like a less sophisticated version of the wonderful New York Times ’36 Hours’ column, although for people that don’t value their sleep..
“Why isn’t Jess blindfolded”
“Oh yeah, Jess wrap your scarf around your head”
It was 6am and I was sat blindfolded in the back of a car, kidnapped on a mystery day trip. For the previous week I had known I was to be taken on a surprise trip on the Saturday and that we had to be on the road by 6. Where could we possibly be going that required us to be getting up so early? I couldn’t work it out. The closest I came was that we were off to some obscure historical site.
We parked up and I was allowed to take off my scarf. We were in a huge car park with no real indication of what it was for. Even when a plane seemed to almost brush the top of my head it still did not click. As I stood there confused, Adam seemed to get disappointed that I hadn’t said anything.
“I don’t get it”
“Joris and I got drunk and booked a night in Berlin!”
It took a while to sink in but after a breakfast beer I began to get excited.
They had managed to find crazily cheap flights, for something like £30 return. We flew with Norwegian Air which is an up-and-coming, budget airline. I thought they were great; the staff were polite, the planes were spacious, and there was free Wi-Fi on board (which was unnerving at first considering they’re always going on about turning your phone off). The only issue was that we were delayed by an hour, but that was due to thick fog descending on London, rather than any fault of the airline.
On landing we raced through the airport and hopped on the s-bahn to our nearby hotel. We were too early for our room so we left our things in the luggage room and I put on an extra pair of tights that I had bought in preparation for the German snow. We soon hopped back onto the train and headed to Alexanderplatz to find somewhere that Joris recommended for lunch.
As we stood in the shadow of the communist TV Tower, Joris tried to get his bearings and remember where he wanted to eat. As I am taking in the wonderful snowiness, I notice a tourist bumbling towards me, arms outstretched with a map in her hands. I stood waiting for her to go head-over-heels as she couldn’t possibly see past the map and the floor was frightfully icy. Instead of watching her face-plant the floor, my buddy Beth pops out from behind the map and her boyfriend Nick leaps onto my back. My heart was barely back to its normal rhythm after the morning only for this to happen! At this stage I was expecting my parents to walk out of a nearby bar!
By this stage it was about 3pm and we were starving. We headed into a nearby restaurant for beers, schnitzel, and currywurst. Once feeling refreshed we quickly left, very aware that it wouldn’t be light for much longer. Adam was the only one who hadn’t visited Berlin so we decided to give him a whistle-stop tour of the sights before spending the night experiencing eating and bar-crawling.
We headed for the city centre, passing the cathedral and museum island before walking under the imposing Brandenburg Gate where we were then faced with the mighty Reichstag.
Wandering around at dusk was actually a beautiful time to sightsee and I would certainly recommend it. We took a detour to the Holocaust Memorial before catching the u-bahn to Checkpoint Charlie. Once we had completed our tourist checklist we went full circle and returned to Alexanderplatz to begin our evening.
Nick and Joris had suggestions of where we should go. We started at The Pub, admittedly it doesn’t sound like anything special but each table had taps so that you could pour your own pint. I don’t think I need to persuade you any more. If possible I would advise to book. When we arrived it was pretty empty but were told they were all reserved. Luckily they had a table free without the beer tap and we were told we could wait there till a table was ready. Unfortunately the staff bypassed us on multiple occasions, giving tables to people who had walked in. We spoke to them a few times to which we were told ‘they are still taking reservations,’ and so apparently us waiting in person for a table was not reservation enough. After 2 hours and us staring down their waiting staff they agreed to give us a table as long as some others could sit at our table. FINALLY! Once seated we had a great time. From the table you could keep track of the amount you were individually drinking so that you could get a personal bill at the end. In addition to this you could order other drinks from the bar, and delicious burgers. It was an absolutely superb set-up. I don’t know why it hasn’t taken off more, especially because you certainly end up spending more when you don’t have to hang around for a waiter. In the bar there is a leader table so you can compete with the other tables to see who is drinking most. Once we made it to the top, we decided to leave on a high.
From here we went to the nearby Belushi’s. This bar is part of a hostel and so offers very reasonably priced drinks. We stayed here a few years ago when we last visited Berlin. If you’re in the area I would definitely recommend popping here before a night out, and if you’re looking for a place to stay the hostel, St. Christophers Inn, was superb too.
We ended the night at Kaffe Burger. Even though Joris was practically robbed by the doorman we managed to have a great time. It’s grubby, smoky, with a very eclectic mix of people, and I had a great time, but I would imagine it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
It was probably about 4am that we decided we ought to head back to the hotel. As it was Sunday morning, as well as being ridiculous-o-clock, the train services weren’t ideal. We managed to get as close as possible via train then took a cab who also tried to fleece us – it was a good job Joris can speak German and so could stand up for us, otherwise I hate to think how much we would have paid. We finally collapsed into bed about 6am, ready to get up at 9am in time for our midday flight.
It was a shame that we only saw our room for a few hours as it was lovely and modern and the communal areas seemed great (our hotel). It was quite far from the city centre but walking distance to the airport (as we discovered when we realised there was no trains running to the airport). Adam and Joris said it was pretty cheap too, especially considering they had only booked it on the day.
I called this post 24 hours in Berlin but it was actually less than that. It was absolutely manic and I emerged absolutely broken, but I had the best time. On my last trip to Berlin I wasn’t sold by it. It wasn’t pretty enough for me and I wasn’t aware of the history to understand why. Plus I found it quite difficult to find nice cafes or restaurants to visit – it is definitely a working city. However this time I went with people who told me about the Communist history which made me appreciate the stark concrete landscape on a whole new level, and who knew the best spots to hang out in.
It is true that we didn’t spend our time in museums or galleries but even though we were there for such a short time, I felt we saw the real Berlin. Sure, you will never fully get to grips with a city in 24 hours but the limited time-frame forces you to appreciate every minute that you have and is a whole new experience. We are already fantasising about our next night-out in Europe!
If you want to know more about the sights of Berlin then read my blog post from a few years ago. We spent 3 or 4 days there and had plenty of time to actually go and do things rather speeding round like we did this time!