Thursday, July 28

Berlin | 03: cheesecake, museums and the final coffee

It's one of life's great truths that if a day begins with cake for breakfast, it's going to be a great day. On our penultimate day in Berlin we're at Five Elephant first thing, for some of their legendary cheesecake. It's light and dreamy with a decent base, and worth all the hype. Their crumble cake is equally good; the coffee is thick, dark and strong.

The sugar fuels our feet north to the Jüdisches Museum Berlin, so well-stuffed with history that a whole day here wouldn't be enough. The Holocaust section is a must-see, a beautiful and moving display of a nation's sorrow and regret. But it's also interesting to learn about other aspects of Jewish history so often overlooked by the blunt, overwhelming tragedy of the Holocaust. 

Onwards to Checkpoint Charlie, where I once again mourn the forgotten facts of my History A-level. Visitors queue to have their photo taken with US soldiers, but the authenticity of the scene is marred slightly by the ultra-tacky tourist shop behind. (It's strange to write this a year on, in a land of divided continents and the ascension of Trump, where the idea of building a wall to divide countries has re-emerged as a very real possibility.) 

A sugar crash renders necessary a Bäckerei trip: plagued by hungry wasps, we try the poppy seed pastry that's in every bakery. Next up is the Topographie des Terrors, a free outdoor museum detailing the history of Germany. Built on the site of the Gestapo headquarters along an extensive segment of the Berlin Wall, the museum is incredibly informative: you need a few hours and a fair bit of brain space.

Later we visit the Holocaust memorial site. Like the 9/11 memorial in New York and the war graveyards of Ypres, this is the kind of place you've already seen on websites, Instagram and blogs, yet still remains a moving monument when you're there in the flesh. It's nice to see children running and playing among the foreboding concrete blocks that make up the memorial. I think the best kind of memorials and monuments facilitate more than one kind of reaction; places that are not just about solemn remembrance and sorrow but the idea of life continuing, of a multi-faceted experience, of the visit being a memorable part of your trip in more ways than one. At any rate, a couple of dudes are sitting on one of the blocks drinking beer. Life goes on. We remember. And drink beer.

We walk through the heart of Berlin, the closest thing it has to a centre, where art galleries, memorials and museums nudge against the Reichstag and the cathedral. Our 'museum legs' have kicked in by this point (the kind of achy jelly legs you only get after extended time in museums) and a trip to an ice cream parlour is all we can think about.

That evening, we buy a budget picnic (including flatbread, hummus and baklava) from a nearby Turkish supermarket and drink beer by the canal as the stars come out.

On our final morning in Berlin it is hot and sunny. Coffee at Roamers, both a hidden gem and a Neukölln institution among those in the know. It's my favourite coffee stop so far. I'm a sucker for succulents, exposed wood and a wild west feel: I don't care how poncy that makes me. Inside it's bustling, so we sit on a bench in the street, drink black coffee in the sunshine and read.

Nearby is Tempelhofer Feld, a public park that was once a city airport (and before that... a public park). On the grass, where once no member of the public would've been allowed to stray, people sunbathe and picnic. You can climb a small tower to look out across the field to the city beyond. The airport buildings and control towers are empty, dotted with weeds, an eerie reminder of what a war-torn capital might've felt like (although Tempelhof was used for civil aviation right through WWII). But any tang of emptiness is blown away by the activity in the park: the flat open runways are jammed with runners, roller skaters and kite flyers. We sit under a tree and eat our last giant pretzels of the trip.

Later, I'm alone on a bus heading through Berlin to the airport. I'm taking photos as we glide through the street, and I realise it's my first time completely alone in a foreign city. It's exciting. 

places mentioned
cheesecake, cake and coffee at Five Elephant | Reichenbergerstraße 101
Jüdisches Museum Berlin | Lindenstraße 9-14
Checkpoint Charlie | Friedrichstraße 43-45
Topographie des Terrors | Niederkirchnerstraße 8
Holocaust Memorial | Cora-Berlinerstraße 1
coffee at Roamers | Pannierstraße 64
Tempelhofer Feld

No comments:

Post a Comment