Berlin: where "hangoutability" is off the chartsI went to Berlin earlier this year. Here’s what I knew about it before I went: it’s in Germany. Goodbye Lenin was a good movie but it was sad about the mum. My friends from university moved there and never came back.
I don’t want to seem like I’m downplaying the rich and fascinating history of Berlin or the cultural resurgence that’s made it the coolest darn dang city in Europe circa 2012, but the first thing I noticed when I arrived is how many cute dogs there are. It is not subtle! You don’t have to be an internet-obsessed cute addict SCOPING for your next HIT to pick up on the fact that a) dogs are EVERYWHERE, b) no kidding they’re everywhere and c) they conform to an absurdly high standard of adorability. I stepped off the plane at Tegel Airport and witnessed a gangly-legged dachshund trotting unaccompanied through Arrivals. There were more on the street. In restaurants and bars. On the subway. It was almost too much.
I’m going to be very honest with you: if I were to draw up a pros and cons list of why a person should visit Berlin it’d be comically unbalanced. It’d look like Wile E. Coyote drew up the pros and cons of catching the Road Runner; the pros side would have another bit of paper stapled to the bottom and reach down to the floor and the cons side would just say “The bars are really smoky??”. Except the Rs would be around the wrong way and ‘smoky’ would be misspelled. Like Wile E. Coyote. Like he would do it.
Let’s start with a pro which will probably be VERY attractive to a lot of people who consider themselves “interested” in “arts and culture”: Berlin is cheap! Holy shit. Berlin is very cheap. Food! Restaurants! Accomodation! You can easily sublet an apartment in Kreuzberg, which is a great place to be, for €39 a night. An APARTMENT! If you’re a major cheapskate you can get a bunk in a hostel for €13 and drink away the pain of the fact that you’re staying in a hostel with excellent German beers that sell for as little as €1 each! Bonanza! Another great pro: the public transport system is speedy and efficient and, let’s be honest, super easy to not pay for.
Obviously, those are two pretty prosaic and uninspiring reasons to visit a place, even if they ARE rare for Europe which, let’s face it, is not exactly South-East Asia (literally and metaphorically. In every way, really). So what are some OTHER great reasons to visit the capital of Germany already???!?
The sad fact about Berlin is that a lot of shit got blown up at various times, so the place is pretty short on big, obvious tourist attractions. There’s no Big Ben or Louvre or Leaning Tower of Pisa; as far as big things you can get a photo near go, you’re pretty much limited to the Brandenburg Gate, which is a top-notch gate but who really cares, and the TV tower in Alexanderplatz, which I’m pretty sure you could show a picture of to almost anyone and they’d ask you what that gross building was.
But just because there is a lack of big, obvious tourist attractions, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do! There is PLENTY of stuff to do, and the excellent news is that a lot of it is amazing and beautiful and fascinating and unlike pretty much anything else you’ve ever seen.
This was my favourite thing:
Back-story: after World War II finished and Berlin was divided up between Russia and the Allied powers of the West, the Allies had two problems. Firstly, there was rubble EVERYWHERE from all the bombs. Too much rubble! So they built a mountain out of it and called it Teufelsberg. Later, they super badly wanted to have a surreptitious listen to what their pals in the USSR were doing, but because Berlin is flat they were no handy vantage points. Being resourceful bros, they got some extra mileage out of their ruined buildings by putting their radar tower on top of Teufelsberg, from which they spied on Russia for years until everything got ruined in the early ‘90s! After that, no one needed a radar tower, so it got fenced off and has fallen into semi-ruin.
Full disclosure: you’re not **technically** allowed to go in there. TECHNICALLY, what you’re allowed to do is walk around the perimeter, and if you happen to just fall through one of the many holes in the wire fence that surrounds the complex, I guess that’s not really your fault. On the weekday afternoon we visited Teufelsberg there were two other groups of people who had all accidentally entered the premises, so I’m guessing the rules aren’t too strictly enforced.
To get there, catch an S7 S-Bahn out to Grunewald. When you get off the train, follow the road that leads under the freeway bridge. You'll take a dirt track through the pine forest for 20 minutes or so before you arrive at the base of the rubble mountain, but about halfway - when you reach some weird little garden allotments - you'll be able to see the huge soccerball-looking domes of Teufelsberg’s radar domes, and from there you follow your nose.
If the recent history of Berlin is something that interests you, or you like war stuff, OR you like to think about how well you’d fare in the event of a nuclear apocalypse, you should definitely go on one of the Berlin Unterwelten guided tours. We went on two: “Dark Worlds”, which was a tour of a World War II air-raid shelter SLASH exhibition of Nazi paraphernalia. Our tour guide was called Robin Williams, and he was HEAPS funnier than that gross old due from Patch Adams. I don’t need much from my tour guides, but I do prefer them to be extremely deadpan Irish dudes, and in THAT regard Robin Williams nailed it. Actually, he nailed it so much we went on a second tour, called "Subways and Bunkers In The Cold War", which was an even more interesting tour of a nuclear bunker designed to shelter 3000 people for two weeks in the event of World War III. If you’re like me and you’ve thought about what your strategy would be if the apocalypse suddenly arrived , you’ll probably be surprised at all the compelling arguments for why it’d be better to just die in the initial rolling wave of death.
To find the booking office for the tours, take an S-Bahn to Gesundbrunnen. It’s a small building in front of a huge supermarket called Kaufland. The tours run once a day - you can check out the times on their website.
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