Ich bin keine Berliner(in). That, of course, is a twist on John F. Kennedy’s famous proclamation when he visited Berlin in 1960 and declared, “Ich bin ein Berliner” to demonstrate his solidarity with the people of then West Berlin. My variation, however, has two meanings: one, I was not born in Berlin and two, I am not a doughnut. Yes, I said, doughnut; Berliner also means doughnut.
I first visited Berlin during the summer of 2006. The weather was gorgeous and the atmosphere spectacular. I was here for work but spent 5 weeks wearing flip flops and going around the city, and it was fantastic! It was during that trip that the idea took root that I could live here. I had lived in Germany during the late ’90s and early 2000s and always knew I’d return, but I didn’t know where to. After the summer of 2006, I knew, someday, somehow Berlin would become home.
Since I am not a native daughter, I can’t tell you the cool, local hangouts where only the natives go but, I can tell you about my little piece of the city that I have come to love and strongly urge you to visit if you are in town.
We live in what was formerly West Berlin, and it is interesting to me that, despite the passage of time, my German friends from other parts of the country still ask me: Are you in former West or East Berlin? Our little corner of the world is Charlottenburg. More precisely, we are near Adenauer Platz, which was named after Konrad Adenauer who was the first Chancellor of West Germany following the end of World War II. The area has, to me, a wonderful feeling of being in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a city while having little nooks and crannies that feel completely detached from city life. It is an urban area with a well-preserved residential atmosphere and little side streets filled with shops, restaurants, cafes and everything in between.
One of my absolute favourite areas in our little neighbourhood, or Kiez, is Meyerinckplatz. When you come out into Meyerinckplatz, it’s like stumbling across a little hamlet in an area tucked away from the rest of the world. The plaza or Platz is really a junction where four streets come together with a park like area in the middle. The streets, though, are so narrow that I don’t believe two cars can pass each other going in opposite directions at the same time. The building architecture is absolutely gorgeous and from the windows you can peer into from the street; you can see that the buildings must be 100 years old or older and you can see the high ceilings and ornate moulding on the ceilings of the apartments within.
Located at Meyerinckplatz are two of our favourite restaurants in the area. One is the Irish Harp (GiesebrechtstraÃŸe 15, 10629 Berlin) that serves very good Irish/English fare, of which the spare ribs with fries are our standard favourite; however I can also recommend the fish and chips and almost anything else on the menu. The portions are large and the prices are very reasonable. Friday nights are particularly nice because they usually have live music, on both Friday and Saturday evenings. It’s a very mixed group with Germans and English-speaking expats and visitors frequenting the pub, either just for drinks and to hang out with friends or for an evening meal. Either way, the atmosphere is relaxing and a lot of fun.
Our other neighbourhood favourite is Julep’s (GiesebrechtstraÃŸe 3, 10629 Berlin), a New York style restaurant / bar. Julep’s has a more upscale atmosphere compared to the Irish Pub, but it’s owned by an American, and he’s got a lovely group of people taking care of his guests. You’re guaranteed to have both good food and a good time. Julep’s is pricier than the Irish Pub and more geared toward having a nice evening out. Oddly, however, Julep’s was our locale of choice to watch the World Cup during the summer of 2010. My son would roll in on his inline skates and we’d get a great table at the front to watch all the excitement. I wholeheartedly recommend the Champagne Juleps, but they do pack a punch.
From Meyerickensplatz, when I am heading towards the center of town, I love to take the “˜back streets’ Sybelstrasse, Mommsenstrasse and Niebuhrstrasse, where you are surrounded by beautiful old architecture and streets lined with small boutiques, restaurants and cafes. In my opinion – because it is my wonderful neighbourhood – you can find any and everything you could possibly be looking for. You may have to search a bit, but that’s half the fun. It is an international area where you can find Italian, French, German, Indian, Japanese and Asian restaurants of all kinds with great frequency.
We usually use the Kantstrasse, which runs east to west, as our northernmost boundary. And, continuing east irrespective of which street you take, you will come out at Savigny Platz. I remember someone telling me about Savigny Platz when I first moved here and they couldn’t stop gushing about how wonderful and beautiful it was. All I could do was keep nodding my head in agreement. I mean, when someone is waxing poetic about a plaza, who am I to disagree? Well, I discovered Savigny Platz myself and, while it mightn’t look like much, it has a beautiful atmosphere and energy that makes you want to find a restaurant, take a seat and have a drink or meal.
At Savigny Platz I can recommend Mar y Sol, a very nice Spanish restaurant located right at the Plaza. One of the things I really appreciate about Savigny Platz is how you can watch people coming and going about their daily lives. I have to admit, one of the things I love about Europe is the cafÃ© culture that makes it easy (and fun) to sit around and people watch – a sadly under-appreciated pastime. If you’re in the mood for Sushi, a short walk from Savigny Platz, heading west, is Kuchi. The prices are very reasonable and they have a wide selection of dishes.
Of particular interest at Savigny Platz is the building that houses the Sbahn train station. The Sbahn in Berlin functions like an express train in that it covers longer distances between stops. At Savigny Platz, the station is built out of brick and, at street level, there is a narrow walk way lined with bookstores, galleries, restaurants, cafes and clothing stores. Again, if you don’t know it’s there, it’s the unexpectedness of such an area that makes it so special.
From Savigny Platz, continuing east on Kantstrasse you will pass Theater des Westens (Kantstrasse 12, 10623 Berlin) as you make your way toward another major junction, Zoologischer Garten, also known simply as “Zoo.” I have not visited Theater des Westens yet ,but it’s definitely an impressive building.
So, continuing east about 5″“10 mins on Kantstrasse is Zoologischer Garten, a bustling hub for public transportation in the western side of the city. One attraction of interest at Zoo is, of course, the zoo, which for small children is actually very nice. I must admit, I’m not a zoo person. I am not a ‘meander within an enclosed space and look at animals in captivity’ kind of person. However, when my son was younger he loved the Berlin zoo. Attached to the zoo is also the Berlin Aquarium, which has quite a large variety of sea life. What makes Zoo so interesting is that, in many ways, it doesn’t feel like it’s in the middle of the city. Having such a large amount of space dedicated to greenery and animals is quite special.
From Zoo, I suggest walking southeast toward Kurfurstendamm. Ku’damm, as it’s colloquially called, is the equivalent of Madison Avenue in NY or the Champs Elysees in Paris. It is a wide thoroughfare lined with restaurants, shops, cafes, and businesses. Before the Wall came down, Ku’damm was the main thoroughfare of West Berlin that led to the eestern suburbs on the edge of the city. It took me a bit of time to understand how the city was divided by the wall. I always assumed, wrongly, that the Wall cut a straight path through the city, separating the East from the West, but I think a more accurate description would be to say that the Wall created an enclave boundary around West Berlin.
On Ku’damm, continuing east, you will quickly arrive at the GedÃ¤chtniskirche. The GedÃ¤chtniskirche, formally known as the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in English, is a very impressive building, most notably because the church spire was severely damaged during World War II and was not repaired. When I first came to Berlin, a native son told me that the Church had not been repaired to serve as a constant reminder of the war and its effects.
The area around GedÃ¤chtniskirche, with the Zoo to its north and Ku’damm flanking its southern side, is a very touristy area with stands of food and other souvenirs for Berlin dwellers and tourists alike. We usually end our walks at the base of the GedÃ¤chtniskirche, either with a German specialty, Currywurst, which is a sausage smothered in spiced ketchup with curry powder on top of a crepe. I’ve been told that the best Currywurst in Berlin is in Kreuzberg, but that’s another post. We usually sit at the base of the Church, enjoy our snack and then people watch. Ah, what a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
I’ve only covered a little bit of what makes Berlin special, but after almost 2 years in the neighbourhood, we are still discovering new and interesting areas. I can only recommend, if you get the chance to visit, that you give Charlottenburg a look.