Planning a visit to the German city of Berlin? Here are some recommendations*. To view all the photographs (with the captions in full) of the city, click on any image and navigate using the left and right keys.
1. Perhaps the most iconic landmark in the city, the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) was commissioned as a sign of peace, and has featured in major events in European history, including the opening of the Berlin wall in 1989. The gate overlooks the Pariser Platz (Paris Square), which was renamed in 1814 after Napoleon was overthrown.
2. From the Brandenburger Tor, the Siegessäule (Victory Column) can be seen, and vice versa. The monument – with a bronze sculpture on the top – commemorates the Prussian victories against Denmark, Austria, as well as France, in chronological order. Trek 285 steps up the column, and visitors will be rewarded with a panoramic view of Berlin.
3. Brunch in a Japanese-fusion café, where we had rice and a lemon cheesecake, with coffees.
4. Most stop by Checkpoint Charlie (Charlie, the military codename for the letter “C”) – one of the many crossing points between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War – just for a quick photograph, because the site is overrun by souvenir stands and tourist traps. There was a confrontation between American and Soviet tanks in 1961.
5. Not too far from Checkpoint Charlie is the Topography of Terror, a history museum which sits on the site of the headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS. It will take about two hours to go through the indoor and outdoor exhibitions, but with the informative narratives and complementary selection of photographs the time will be well spent.
6. One of the three long segments of the Berlin wall, adjacent to the Topography of Terror.
7. The Schloss Charlottenburg (Charlottenburg Palace) is the largest palace in the city. This royal residence and its gardens are popular spots for tourists, though we arrived early in the morning (the tour within the buildings was not open) and there was also reconstruction work.
8. A lunch at the start of the trip, of a pork schnitzel, a thinned boneless piece of meat which is fried after a coating of flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs. For desserts, we had chocolate mousse with cherry jam, apple strudel, as well as an ice-cream sundae (not pictured).
9. I was actually in Berlin for an overseas study mission with the university. Besides company visits and interactions with entrepreneurs, the team also participated in Tech Open Air Berlin, an “unconference” which is known for building bridges “between the tech, music, art, and science worlds”. Besides the keynote speeches, workshops, or exhibitions which are characteristic of a traditional conference, there were musical performances, art features, and talks which challenged the predominance of smartphone penetration.
10. Besides representing my internship company e27, Tech Open Air Berlin also collaborated with partners to organise satellite events across the city and tech community. One of these satellite events was the “Edible Jetpack”, where we appreciated the fusion of food and data, and also had a scrumptious, healthy lunch with a good view of the city.
11. Another satellite event came at the end of the two-day conference, when we took a cruise along the Spree. Berlin was built on this river, and we also passed the Oberbaumbrücke (Oberbum Bridge), which links two former boroughs previously separated by the Berlin Wall, and is therefore also a symbol of unity. On the four-hour cruise ride, there were free-flow drinks and delicious canapés, making for a memorable experience.
12. Over the weekend we made a trip to Spandau, the citadel area of Berlin. Besides feasting on fresh summer fruits and inexpensive ice-cream, we visited and listened to an organ performance in Saint Nicholas Church, one of the oldest Gothic churches in the city.
13. We had lunch and beer at the biergarten (beer garden) in Brauhaus Spandau, where we also had pork knuckles and mixed platters of various pork cuts. This was not one of them, but patrons in the more traditional establishments can even bring their own food.
14. Metal poles mark the location of the Berlin Wall along Bernauer Straße, where residents felt the worst of the separation. Across the 20-odd years – after individuals were forced to evict, houses in the neighbourhood were demolished or had their entrances bricked up, and even subway stations were sealed – many East Germans tried to escape. The Berlin Wall Memorial is a must-go: artefacts and memorials are erected across the memorial site, the informative panels are coupled by poignant photographs (including those in the nearby museum), and there are accounts of German families who lived through the period.
15. Historical remnants are preserved, while some of the border fortifications were reconstructed to provide a visual account of this historical chapter.
16. Three of the six meals I had on a Sunday, when I café-hopped and travelled across the city. Bread pudding, macaron, and éclair at the first stop; frozen yoghurt and a peanut butter and chocolate stack at the third; chocolate crêpe and dark chocolate drink at the Ritter Sport store. There are many more quaint cafés across Berlin.
17. The Konzerthaus Berlin (Concert House Berlin). The concert hall is flanked by the Deutscher Dom (German Cathedral) on the left and the Französischer Dom (French Cathedral) on the right, and these buildings make for a great panoramic shot.
18. Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe), which houses 2,711 concrete slabs and cost tens of millions to construct. It is one street away from the Brandenburger Tor, and we visited this memorial site during a free walking tour. Its significance is open to interpretation, but many have remarked the resemblance of the slabs to tombstones, to train-carts which transported many Jews to the concentration or extermination camps during the Second World War, and even to the camps themselves.
19. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Humboldt University of Berlin) is one of the oldest universities in Berlin, and one of the most prestigious in Europe. 20,000 books from the school were burned by the Nazi regime in 1933, and there is now a monument (an underground white room with empty shelf space) and a plaque in the adjacent square.
20. Great brunch with the parents at Barcomi’s, a café housed in a nice courtyard. I had a cinnamon and raisin bagel with smoked salmon and a tomato cream cheese, while they shared ricotta waffles with strawberries, a four-cake platter (carrot cake, Oreo cheesecake, chocolate espresso, and raspberry cake), as well as a lemon cupcake.
21. The East Side Gallery, a 1.3-kilometre long section of the Berlin Wall.
22. Before we left for Munich, Germany on a sleeper train, we visited the Markthalle Neun for “Street Food Thursday”. The market hall was crowded with hungry diners (including a Finnish couple we met by chance) and small stands serving street food, and while we had pork buns and steak sandwiches the queues were the longest for the Asian cuisine.
* Not an advertisement, and also not sponsored (unfortunately).