3 days in berlin



DAY 1

This morning we take the train to Germany, which leaves from Prague’s Central Station (hlavní nádraží) and, four hours later, arrives in Berlin’s Central Station (Hauptbahnhof).

On our way to the hotel, we get lunch at a Mesopotamian restaurant called Cafe Marral, on Torstrasse. Dad and I both get the Eggplant Marral, which, for a mere 6 euros, is a copious plate of tabouli, fried eggplant (soooo good), tzatziki and salad, served with a basket of fresh pita. We each also order a Marral Tea, a warm and soothing concoction with apple, fresh mint and lavender.

After checking in at our hotel, which is located in the hip and lively Mitte area, we get a quick snack at Katjes Cafe Gruen Ohr, a cute vegan sweet shop and bakery. There, I enjoy an amazing double-chocolate chip cookie, and Dad gets some kind of equally amazing chocolate-peanut butter square. Katjes Cafe Gruen Ohr is also known for its gelatin-free candy, which are the perfect treats to bring back to your colleagues!

Mitte is filled to the brim with indie shopping spots – you just need to look past the handful of big name stores that are also there. Here is my list of Mitte shops!

  • Granit – I’d actually been to one of these home stores a few years ago in Oslo. I’d say it’s similar to Sostrene Grene, but more expensive? It’s great for modern home basics.
  • Kauf Dich Glücklich – Cool concept store.
  • Schee – Cool concept store (2).
  • Spreeheidi – Cool concept store (3).
  • Grober Unfug – Really nice graphic novel and comic book store. A great selection of German, French, Belgian and American graphic novels. There’s also a kids’ section.
  • SODA – Awesome awesome selection of art and design books and publications. If you’re looking for a hip city guide (not just for Berlin), I highly recommend this place.
  • Hundt Hammer Stein – Cozy bookstore selling books both in German and English. Also a great selection.
  • Bunchhandling Walther Konig – If you’ve ever been to Mollat in Bordeaux, France, then you’ll immediately picture this bookstore when I tell you it’s just like it. You can find anything and everything here, from fashion books to typography books to crime novels to plays.
  • SOMA – Cute little shop for women’s clothes, socks, jewelry and tote bags!
  • Broke + Schön – Nice clothes.
  • The Amazing Crocodile Design Shop – Great and mostly colorful design pieces for the home.
  • Parkhaus – A moody, beautiful place whose children’s section and linen bed linens are most tempting.
  • HAY – If you haven’t read about HAY on this blog yet, that’s on you.

If you need a break, stop by the KW Institute for a refreshing lemonade, served outside on their peaceful courtyard terrace. We had originally planned on visiting the Institute itself (it is a contemporary art museum that hosts the city’s biennale), but the latter was currently setting up new exhibits. So if you want to go, make sure you check the KW’s website first! Otherwise, you can just enjoy its Cafe Bravo instead.

Even though it’s late afternoon, we still have the energy to see something more before the end of the day. Lucky for us, the DDR Museum is open until 8pm, so we decide to give it a go. Yes, it’s kind of a tourist attraction, but it’s surprisingly not too crowded. Plus, it’s really well made inside, and is the most interactive history museum I’ve ever been to. The DDR Museum gives visitors an idea of what life was like in East Germany during the Cold War. My favorite part of the installation is, of course, the reconstructed high-rise tower flat. I love that one can just open up all the cupboard in the kitchen and bathroom, or sit on the living room couch and listen to old popular songs. Also, that wallpaper.

Right across from the DDR Museum, you’ll see a massive edifice – that’s the Berlin Cathedral Church. It looks really nice around sunset time.

We get dinner at Xinh Xinh, a Vietnamese eatery back in Mitte. There, I get a fresh and crispy bo bun with veggie spring rolls. If you sit outside, you might even get to listen to a free concert happening at the Italian restaurant next door.


DAY 2

We take a subway and a bus to the temporary bauhaus-archiv, located on the other side of the Tiergarten park, in the Charlottenburg neighborhood. This neighborhood is pretty residential, but lacks the plethora of hip restaurants and shops found in Mitte. Unfortunately, the actual bauhaus-archiv is currently closed for major renovations, which is a shame because it’s supposed to be a beautiful building. The temporary archive features a small installation explaining the rise of the Bauhaus movement (but it’s pretty minimal). It also has a shop section, in which you can find Bauhaus-inspired bowls, pens, watches, and even doorstops (we get one for Mom so Morris will stop barging into her room in the mornings).

Another bus ride takes us to the Berlinische Galerie, Berlin’s modern art museum. There, we see Greed Fear Love, a beautiful photography exhibit by Loredana Nemes, as well as No Silence for the Great Leader, a short film on North Korea by Nik Nowak, and The Art Show, a creepy-as-fuck installation by Edward and Nancy Reddin Kienholz (seriously, I’m scarred for life). The permanent collection upstairs is pretty disappointing, but that might just be because the art it features isn’t to my personal taste.

Since we are minutes away from the Jewish Museum, we decide to visit the latter as well. The Jewish Museum is not to be confused with the Holocaust Museum: while the former does have a section dedicated to the memory of Holocaust victims, it primarily focuses on Jewish art and history (much like the Jewish Museum in NYC, or the one in San Francisco). The museum is noteworthy for its unique architecture, and one of the exhibits we see, res·o·nant, capitalizes on it. The installation I’ll most remember, however, is Menashe Kadishman’s Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves). It features over 10,000 faces, made of heavy round iron plates, which cover the floor. Visitors are invited to walk on the installation (and thus on the faces), causing a constant clattering noise that sounds like breaking plates and that can be heard from adjacent rooms in the museum. It’s a powerful piece.

We get lunch at Hallesche House, a concept store and cafe located in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin. The cafe is bright and spacious, and filled with locals working on laptops or meeting up for coffee. There is also a lovely outdoor patio for sunny days. I order a pumpkin, tahini and herb sandwich, which turns out really good. Once we’re done eating, we take a look at the store part of Hallesche House, which sells many nice things such as trays, candles and planters.

We then stroll around the Kreuzberg/Neukölln area, and I explore a handful of shops while dad takes a reading break at a cafe. Here are my recommendations for the area: 

  • Mjot – NOTHING could ever have prepared me for the cuteness overload contained in this store. It’s a bit like the local equivalent to France’s Bonton, but more condensed. I can’t resist from buying the most adorable whale plate and teal plastic cup for baby Roro.
  • Polli überall – Colorful and feminine home accessories.
  • Süper Store – Nice (and pricy) design objects, as well as jewelry.
  • Homage – A cool assortment of ethical goods.

After dinner, we head over to the Hackesche Höfe movie theater to attend one of the screenings part of the Berlin Human Rights Festival. The documentary, Welcome to Refugeestan, provides an extensive overview of various refugee camps around the world, from the Dadaab camp in Kenya to the more recent Azraq camp in Jordan. It focuses specifically on the UNHCR’s role in the camps, the organization’s many ‘monster’ challenges, and its (sometimes failed) attempts at applying human centered design to improve the camps. Welcome to Refugeestan’s director, Anne Poiret, is present for a Q&A session after the screening. She is genuinely very knowledgeable about her specialty as she answers the audience’s questions.


DAY 3

In the morning we head over to Milche Halle for breakfast. This cafe is super cute, and while I’m a little disappointed in my hot chocolate, the banana bread is quite good (and my dad’s croissant looks nice and flaky as well). We then take a double-decker bus (not the tourist ones!) to the Museum of Decorative Arts (Kunstgewerbemuseum), arriving right at its opening. The latter has a decent sized fashion collection featuring pieces (mostly dresses), from the 18th century to today. There are some really beautiful shoes in there, too. On the lowest floor you’ll find a gallery of chairs, which, as Dad notes, kind of feels like shopping at Design Within Reach. We also get to see a great temporary installation called “Food Revolution 5.0”, which showcases over 30 prototype designs aiming to transform the food industry, from agriculture to table. I particularly enjoy Hanan Alkouh’s “Sea-Meat Seeweed”, a concept involving a ‘butcher shop’ that only sells seaweed.

We walk to the Topography of Terror, a free museum documenting the rise and fall of the Nazi regime. The space consists of informational panels meant to be followed in a certain order, which makes for a well-flowing visit. We’ve studied World War II countless times in history classes, but it’s such a dense period that there are always new facts to discover. I especially learned a great deal about the terrible fates of political prisoners, as well as gypsies and those with mental or physical conditions, under the Nazi regime.

After reading all of these horrific things, we’re somehow still hungry for lunch. Dad’s craving falafel again, so we decide to sit down at Yarok, a Syrian restaurant steps away from the Topography of Terror. Dad, of course, gets a falafel sandwich. I decide to be a little more adventurous and try the other vegetarian sandwich option, which is called “eege sandwich”. Very similar to a falafel sandwich, it consists in fried zucchini balls served in a delicious pita with hummus and pickled veggies.

A short walk eastward leads us to Checkpoint Charlie, the famous Berlin Wall crossing point between East and West Berlin from 1947 to 1991. We don’t bother visiting any of the museums, which seem touristy anyway, but it’s worthwhile to read the informational panels that are put up in the area.

Our next stop is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold, and built in 2005. The first thing I notice is that a handful of people are sitting on some of the concrete slabs the memorial consists in, which I perceive as disrespectful. That being said, perhaps the artist intended his piece to be interactive. I was also bothered by the number of people taking selfies inside the installation. Um, really? I understand taking photos of the installation itself, but I find it disrespectful to take a happy/silly portrait of oneself in the midst of such a serious setting. Annoyances aside, it was a powerful experience walking through the Holocaust Memorial. There is something poignant and heavy about these increasingly tall blocks of concrete, which I personally feel are a keen metaphor for the simultaneously immense weight and deep void the Holocaust has left on the world (note: the monument has been critiqued by some for depersonalizing the victims of the Holocaust, an argument which I can also see as a valid point of view).

Before heading back to the hotel, we stop by the Brandenburg Gate and the Parliament, which are both packed with tourists. On our way to Mitte, we stop at me Collectors Room, a gallery, café and design shop, and do you read me?!, an amazing design magazine shop, to pick up some local issues for Mom.

We return to the Hackesche Höfe Kino, this time to watch Obaidah Zytoon’s 2016 documentary, The War Show. The film follows a group of twenty-something liberal Syrians as they fight for their country’s liberation during the Arab Spring.

It’s past 9pm when we leave the theater, and we’re looking for a casual, nearby place to eat. We settle on 67 Sixtyseven, which happens to be adjacent to our hotel. This eatery has a super fun decor, with its assortment of neon signs, clothes hanging from the ceiling, and communal tables. I’m very intrigued by their burgers, which use bao in lieu of the classic bread buns. I order the Young Bun, which is the only vegetarian option if you order it without the oyster sauce. And honestly, it’s probably the best thing I’ve eaten all trip. The tofu is perfectly crispy, the bao bun is the perfect softness and sweetness, and the pickled veggies add the perfect kick. My only complaint is that we waited a full hour for our food to come out, but given the result, I’d wait again. For dessert, I recommend the chocolate panna cotta, which comes in a closed mason jar. I’m usually not a fan of mixing chocolate with red fruit, and somehow this convinced me otherwise. If you’re into good Asian food (why would you be into bad Asian food anyway?), be sure to check our 67 Sixtyseven’s partner restaurants, which are all located in the Mitte neighborhood.

DAY 4

For the last morning of our entire trip (boooo!), we get breakfast at Spreegold, which is right next to the Alexanderplatz metro station we our leaving from to the airport. I get an amazingly dark and creamy iced chocolate, as well as a scrumptious liège waffle with powdered sugar, which is truly a great way to end our journey!