Tegel airport doesn’t seem impressed with modern times. Upon our arrival, we get out of the plane and, right on the tarmac, walk our way toward the entrance. Luckily, it’s not raining. The building itself has a vintage air, as if transparency and light are still a thing of the future. Instead all that, concrete – grey and heavy. Willkommen in Berlin!
The bus leaves us a few blocks away from our hotel in Mitte – The Westin Grand. “Do you think they take guests who transfer by bus from the airport?” my boyfriend says, as we prepare to enter the impressive corner building facing Friedrichstraße. We laugh.
We drop our bags into the room and rush back to the elevator. It’s dinner time. The hotel’s atrium-style lobby on six levels is pretty impressive. We take a moment to admire. At reception level, on real-time piano tunes, gentlemen in branded outfits are sipping from expensive drinks.
“Let’s get the hell out of here!” I say, the entrance door opening in front of us.
In the crisp air of the evening, we walk toward the Stadtmitte U-Bahn stop. The shops on Friedrichstraße are soon before closing time. Modern architecture, styled windows and neon signs. Taxis and crowds. Is this the Champs-Élysées of Berlin?
We step out of the U-Bahn at Eberswalder Straße in Prenzlauer Berg. We’re familiar with the area and definitely much more connected to it. Walking down the Oderberger Straße, on our way to the restaurant, it feels as if we’re finally in Berlin. Altbau-style buildings in pastel colours and cosy lights at the windows of bars and restaurants.
Oderquelle proves to be a happy choice for my boyfriend. He is already dreaming about the duck with red cabbage and potato dumplings, while I’m still struggling to find something on the menu that doesn’t involve meat. “Are you Russian, miss?” the friendly waiter asks as he pours red wine into our glasses. No, I’m vegetarian, I feel like saying. I smile and tell him I’m from Romania. “Ah, that’s why!” he replies. I finally decide on the salmon with grapes and basmati rice. Although there’s hardly any room left, we end the meal with an apple strudel plus ice cream. We regret it not.
On the way back to the U-Bahn stop, we cannot help but notice the bars are full. For a second I feel tempted to suggest we have one more drink before going to the hotel. Yet I feel tired and see no point in forcing myself. Besides, there is so much to be seen and done tomorrow. And for that, we need to get up early.
“I’ve seen more interesting chicks in the last five minutes than I’ve seen in the last six months in Amsterdam,” I hear my boyfriend say. He is squeezing my hand. It looks like my mind is not the only one that’s been wandering.
We arrive at Roamers one hour before opening time. We’re hungry and eager to taste from their breakfast menu, which seems to be at the top of Berlin’s best places to eat. A girl arranging the chairs outside invites us to take a sit should we want to wait, but we decide to go for a walk around the neighbourhood instead.
It’s our first time in Neukölln and have no idea what to expect from it, other than a great part of Berlin’s Turkish community lives here alongside with hipsters, and this is where some of the best bars in the city are located.
That might well be so, but right now it’s all nice and quiet. The small, local bakeries are already open, and every now and then we see a few early risers getting out with a fresh strudel or a pretzel sprinkled with salt.
On Sonnenallee, a man is having a cup of coffee on a terrace. Another one is enjoying a shisha at a place nearby. The neighbourhood seems to be slowly getting back to life.
We are really hungry. Five minutes before opening time and people are already queueing outside Roamers. It’s a mixed crowd: English speakers, Germans. We take a nice table close to the window and I am instantly charmed by the cosiness of the place, where plants, wood and rustic details seem to be at home. We have avocado on bread, poached eggs, granola with fruits and yoghurt, and of course coffee. Although full, I would still like to try their French toast. I heard it’s delicious. But I fail to convince my boyfriend to share it. He’s had enough already. 🙂
After breakfast, we slowly find our way toward the Maybachufer, then further along the Landwehr canal. Think of autumn’s rusty foliage reflecting into the water, bridges covered in graffiti, weeping willows, swans, and leafy residential alleys. Add Berlin’s unique signature – the remarkable symbiosis of blunt edginess and undeniable romance – and you might just get the mood.
The scenery changes once we reach Kottbusser Tor. We’re now at the very heart of Kreuzberg and my attention is instantly caught by the utilitarian look of the apartment buildings, and the tacky colours in which some of the architectural details are painted.
On Adalbertastraße, we make a short stop at a bookshop, as I need to have the photo book I’ve just seen at their window. On Oranienstraße, a plethora of bars, cafés, and restaurants of various cuisines. Graffiti on walls and entrances, in all shapes and colours. Is there any door left in Kreuzberg untouched by the transforming force of markers, sprays and paints? At Heinrichplatz, messages are carried by sheets hanging at the windows: “Community Not Commodity,” “Kapitalismus Schweinesystem.” Capitalism System of Pigs.
We take a break from the Berlinesque slogans at Markthalle Neun. It’s lunch time, and the international food stalls are one more inviting than the other: Italian delicatessen platters, focaccia fresh from the oven, English brunch, a salad bar, and the list could go on. Unfortunately, we’re not hungry yet, but we do get a ginger ale and some cannoli, that we have outside, at one of the tables.
Sipping from my drink, I take a look around at the Berliners enjoying a relaxed Saturday lunch and try to think of the ways in which their lives are different from mine. Could I be a Berliner myself, live in a flat in Kreuzberg and come to Markhalle for lunch on Saturdays?
When we get out of the U-bahn at Wittenbergplatz, at the beginning of Berlin’s famous Kurfürstendamm, we know we’re in shopping central, somewhere between the pretty Schöneberg district, and the affluent Charlottenburg. This is such a contrast compared to where we’re coming from! We rush into Uniqlo store – the reason why we came in this area in the first place – and we don’t leave it for the next hour or so.
As I rest in bed after a long, hot bath, browsing the newly purchased photo book, I feel my energy levels going up again. And that’s good, as we have to head out for dinner soon.
Dining at Café Butter is a thing from our Berlin memory book. We discovered the place on a cold winter’s night, back to 2013, walking the streets of Prenzlauer Berg in search for a warm spot. Dim light, friendly service, good food, amazing desserts – that’s what we remember about it and that’s why we’re here tonight. While they might have killed a bit of the cosiness we reminisce so dearly, making it a bit too bright inside, the rest – luckily – remains unchanged. I have a clear vegetable soup, followed by potato pancakes – a German thing apparently – with beetroot and aubergine ragù. It’s delicious. My boyfriend gets chili con carne, then a schnitzel with fries. We skip dessert.
After dinner, we walk to the U-Bahn and, once back to the hotel, we feel tired yet content with our long Saturday in Berlin.