Goodbye to Berlin

Fallen Leaves (Holocaust exhibition), Jewish Museum in Berlin
Fallen Leaves (Holocaust exhibition), Jewish Museum in Berlin

CITY breaks are often overlooked in favour of sunnier climates – especially during the first icy grasps of that grey Scottish winter.

Not so for this reporter, returning this week from a welcome break in the German capital of Berlin.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Eschewing the beaches of the Canaries or the twinkling lights of autumnal Paris was an easy choice really – albeit one based primarily on price.

Still, I couldn’t have been happier with the result – in fact, it’s lucky I don’t speak German, or I may have stayed to peddle my journalistic wares there.

The place once divided by that famous wall (apparently we have David Hasselhoff to thank for its fall, or so his quote at former crossing point Checkpoint Charlie would have you believe) is now a bustling, cosmopolitan haven.

It’s clearly a beacon to every German upon reaching their twenties, which is perhaps why every bar, restaurant and street corner seems to be occupied solely by people under the age of 40.

Three nights in Berlin hardly did it justice, but for those of you considering a winter escape, here are a few highlights.

For a high culture getaway, those few days can be spent exploring the many museums and monuments dedicated to 100 years of prominent history.

Incredibly upfront about the atrocities of World War Two and Nazi Germany, there are a wealth of public displays to honour those affected.

Perhaps most famous is the Jewish Museum — a purpose built space where even the architecture reflects on the Holocaust and its aftermath.

Tourists wandering towards the Brandenburg Gate will also come across the cemetery-style memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe — an interactive sculpture piece where visitors wander through increasingly imposing concrete blocks.

And of course, no trip to Berlin would be complete without investigating the wall. A visit to the Checkpoint Charlie museum is a must, if only to marvel at the amazing feats of escapees from east to west during Soviet Bloc rule.

And wandering into the old German Democratic Republic, you will find a small stretch of wall which remains — complete with original graffiti, some of which is incredibly heartfelt — as well as an interesting new exhibit on the history of the Gestapo, which sits alongside.

Of course, there is another side to Berlin. Amid what seems like constant reconstruction, there are fantastic bars, nightclubs and eateries.

You would perhaps be right to think that German cuisine consists mainly of sausage. The city’s most famous dish is the fast food currywurst – a potentially disgusting combination of bratwurst, curry powder and ketchup which somehow tastes incredible.

But combine this with the other staples (fried potatoes and sauerkraut) as well as beer (when in Germany!) and it’s a limited but tasty cuisine to get to grips with.

Having also travelled the length of the Ubahn underground system to visit individual bars and clubs, I can recommend stopping at any Brauhaus you see (it would be rude not to sample the local brews) as well as a trip to the hip and happening Kreuzburg district: a graffiti-covered home for the more liberal occupants of Berlin.

While it’s always good to be home, I’ll admit that I have been pining for a plate of wurst and a glass of Berliner since – perhaps it’s one specialist deli that we would do well to acquire.