One of Germany's most beautiful natural areas is only an hour and a half by train from Berlin's Hauptbahnhof. The Spree Forest is laced with lakes and canals channelled from the Spree River hundreds of years ago. There are barges with guides for a relaxing glide through the forest, or canoes for a more energetic exploration. The local dill, mustard and herb-flavoured gherkins taste good with locally smoked fish sandwiches. There are plenty of paths for walking and cycling, and there's hot-air ballooning if the weather is right. A glass of refreshing Lübbenauer Babbenbier is the traditional way to end the day before heading home.
Two hours out of Berlin, taking the train from Hauptbanhof, is the city of Dessau, home to the Bauhaus School in the years between the decline of the Weimar republic and the rise of Nazi Germany. A testament to changing times and attitudes, the buildings represent a style of building established many years later. Turn right out of Dessau station and the main school buildings are five minutes’ walk away. Here you can stop for a tour and find out more about the work that inspired architects and designers for years to come, as well as grab a beer and something to eat in the basement restaurant; but there is much more with the masters’ houses a few minutes away and then a stylish restaurant on the banks of the Elbe a further ten minutes walk. All over the city are examples of the work of members of the school, with also the delight of taking one of the city’s trams to see the southern suburbs. The city is a must for the architectural history enthusiast as well as the social historian.
Deassau Station has a regular service direct from Berlin Hauptbanhof.
Google map: bit.ly/Sp9oLu
"Brush with the devil in the 'other' Frankfurt."
On the easternmost frontier of Germany and separated from Poland by the Oder river is the other Frankfurt. An hour by train from Berlin this is the birthplace of Heinrich von Kleist, the C18th playwright and author of Prinz Friedrich von Homburg. Magnificent, red brick Gothic buildings dominate this old Hanseatic outpost. The Marienkirche church includes unique and incredible C14th stained glass windows depicting the life of the very normal looking antichrist and his pack of demons. Wander over the river to Slubice, part of Frankfurt until 1945, for lunch in Poland.
Google map: bit.ly/SpaC9I
Even with the wealth of architecture to see in Berlin, it's good to get out of the city and visit a small town in former East Germany that was so influential in development of craft, art and design.
Dessau was the home of the Bauhaus from 1926 to 1932, with such 'masters' as Kandinsky and Klee, and designers like Josef & Anni Albers. There are numerous groundbreaking white concrete-faced buildings around town, but the highlight is Gropius' Bauhaus building, with its stylish balconies and wealth of workshops inside.
From Berlin, trains are only 90 minutes from Hauptbahnhof, costing around £35 return. Once in Dessau, all of the buildings are free to visit, and there are frequent guided tours in English and German.
You will get to see the Masters' Houses decorated just as when they lived in them, and a short tram ride away is an entire estate of 1930s workers housing, some of which you can visit or even stay in!
While Leipzig is a city destination in itself, if you have some extra time in Berlin it also makes for a good day trip from the capital. Just over an hour on the train will bring you to one of the former DDR's major cities. It's recently restored pedestrianised old centre has a coffee culture vibe and lots of historic sights to see. From the church Johan Sebastian Bach used to be a choirmaster at 'Thomaskirche,' to the fascinating Stasi Museum 'Runden Ecke', and the 'Nikolaikirche' which used to be the meeting point for the peaceful protests of 1989, that eventually brought down the GDR government, a day here will fly by.
This shop is really affordable compared to other vintage store in Berlin. You have so many choices of colors and pattern, the cotton T-shirts from the 80s are amazing.
You can also enjoy the banana deco and the kindness of the owners.
Sachsenhausen may not immediately strike you as 'day trip' material, but it is an important part of history. 40-50 minutes NW of Berlin (and cheap and easy by metro) you can visit the memorial of the harrowing chapter of German history. You will find the cynical 'Arbeit macht frei' on the entrance gate. Liberated in 1945 it was soon used again by the Soviets until 1961. Most of the buildings remain, including the haunting gas chamber and prison cells.
Free entry, closed on Mondays. A short easy walk from Oranienburg station and you get to see a very different part of Germany on the walk there.
*Not recommended for youngsters*
Heidi's tour was absolutely brilliant! There were nine of us, all friends, on her tour, which was perfectly paced and pitched - a welcome beer stop on the way round (it was a scorching day!) and fascinating stories told with a real enthusiasm and dramatic emphasis which brought the history of the places we visited alive for us. I would instantly recommend her tours to anyone with an interest in this fascinating city.
Middle-eastern restaurant with the best falafel I've ever had! Sides also wonderful: yummy, fresh and original (including something lemony the owner said was his recipe and lightly fried bread, cheese, vegs). Very reasonably priced. Sit at outdoor tables or carry out.
A fantastic little café in the lesser known neighbourhood "Der Wedding". Amazing coffee, four different kids of hot chocolate, homemade cakes, müseli for breakfast and potato wedges with Quark for lunch.
U-Bahnhof Rehberge, Müllerstraße 70b, 13349 Berlin
In this part of Berlin you are very much inside the territory of the old East Germany, and the Markisches Ufer or Wharfe (alongside one branch of the River Spree) was where the former regime moved old buildings felt worthy of preservation from sites elsewhere where they were in the way of urban development. There are of course only fragments of old Berlin here but enough to give one an impression of a city with bridges, boats, quaysides and mercantile buildings alongside a working river.
The Markisches Museum houses a mixed collection of objects associated with the life and times of Berlin and Brandenburg. It's mostly social history, with paintings, prints, ceramics, reconstructed interiors, and so on. To be frank, this museum is what Dylan Thomas described as "a museum which ought to be in a museum" (he was talking about Swansea's museum), but in its old-fashioned way it offers a quiet environment where other times and other lives can be contemplated without the clamour of other visitors pressing switches, setting of audio-visual displays, or kids running around dressed up as characters from Jane Austen!
Both locations well worth a visit.
The Kulturforum in Berlin is something of a curate's egg. It is incomplete in terms of what its original architect, Hans Scharoun, intended. Partly for that reason it is in visual terms a bit like an upmarket light industrial estate with relatively low level modernist buildings apparently scattered around an open area with little clear sense of order. Moreover there are steps, stairways and ramps everywhere making the site a challenge for anyone with a mobility difficulty. However set against these criticisms the idea of bringing together a modern concert hall (Philharmonie, 1963), the Kunstgewerbe or museum of applied art (1968; currently closed for refurbishment until 2014), the Kupferstichkabinett (1988), with prints, drawings and musical instruments, and the Gemaldegalerie (1998), a world class collection of paintings from the end of the Middle Ages to around 1800, is a good one. It accordingly offers the chance for the visitor to concentrate their visit in much the same way as Berlin's Museuminsel does farther to the north-east of the city.
The Gemaldegalerie has a good restraurant, and a museum shop offering popular as well as scholarly books, prints and postcards.
The Komische Oper offers radical productions of opera old and new. There is an established company of singers there who, in contrast to some of the perhaps grander opera houses in other countries, work together as an ensemble. The singers are indeed stars but they don't seek to outshine the operas they perform. Some productions are indeed radical and Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio", which has just ended its run, could not, I feel, have been shown in London - it was both too raunchy for English tastes and probably too hard-hitting. It was however a serious and valid interpretation of a well known opera.
The theatre has a modern facade and a wonderfully ornate interior. If you are in Berlin for a few days at least I recommend you see a production at the Komische Oper. People of all ages go there and while some are clearly all dressed up, a majority dress simply and go for the music - which is as it should be.
The Bode Museum was the last building on Berlin's Museum Island to be restored after wartime damage, although others nearby, including the Pergamon, are currently being extended or modified. The Bode is an extraordinary building, with vast staircases, domes and apses, and now houses a fine collection of sculpture, Byzantine art and coins/medallions. In its unrestored state it was used as a backdrop for scenes in Istvan Szabo's 2002 film, "Taking Sides", about the German conductor, Wilhelm Furtwangler, with Stellan Skarsgard and Harvey Keitel.
The Bode offers a quiet environment in contrast to the Pergamon and the many beautiful works of art there can be contemplated without being jostled or otherwise hurried along. There is also a good cafeteria adjoining the museum shop.
Don't want to be the only adult among the teenagers in the graffiti tours? This is a more adult-oriented, art-focused tour of Berlin's most famous street art.
Sunday is flea market day in Berlin and the coolest market (Mauerpark is a bit touristy, though still good) is RAW at Revaler Strasse, inside a derelict train station.
Revaler Straße 99, 10245 Berlin, Germany
+49 30 2924695
Tempelhof is a recently disused airport that has become one of the largest green spaces in Europe. Best way to enjoy it is to rent a bike and cycle down the runaway at full speed. Go on, VRROOOOOM!
Tempelhof S-Bahn (you can take your bike on the train)
Platz der Luftbrücke 5, 12101 Berlin, Germany
Google map: bit.ly/JWW8FY
It's free and they have the real Checkpoint Charlie (the one the tourists go to is a replica of a earlier version.) Plus a cool 1940's jeep and lots of other military stuff.
Museuminsel - the Island of the Museum is a cluster of five great museums built between 1824 and 1930 on a small island of Sprea. Listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in1999 the Museum Island is one of the most rewarded museum complexes worldwide and it's considered the heart of Berlin. Altes Museum, Neues Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie, Pergamonmuseum e Bode Museum are really a gem with their halls collecting masterpieces and other features representing the evolution of German culture and art through history. The Museuminsel houses not only the museums mentioned, but also the Berliner Dom and the Lustgarten, a huge garden where students, locals and tourists love meeting.
This charming pavilion and beer garden throwback to the GDR days occupies a prime position overlooking the Landwehr Canal as it emerges from the Tiergarten. There's a small, sometimes raucous, bar area and a larger dining section from where you can peer into the water through the vast windows. The beer's good and so's the hearty food although it does get unbearably busy in summer (thanks to the leafy biergarten). There's also the noisy accompaniment while you quaff your ale of the zoo just over the fence.
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