Spotlight on... Berlin
The next stop on the My Mother's Love journey!
The 9th of November 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most memorable events in recent European history - the historic fall of the Berlin Wall. Among the celebrations planned by the city itself to mark this monumental occasion is the "rebuilding" of a 15km section of the wall with around 8000 glowing white helium balloons, a spectacle that will only be on display for a limited time during the weekend of 7-9 November. The biodegradable material from which the balloons are created epitomises the 'new' Berlin's cutting edge, innovative, socially responsible thinking, evidencing just how far it has come since the days of the divisive wall. What better reason for My Mother's Love to have chosen Berlin as the first location outside of the UK in which to develop its charity projects?
For those who can't make it to Berlin for the commemorative weekend, all is not lost. It more than merits a trip at another time. For anyone on a tight schedule, but still wishing to capture a true flavour of Berlin's dynamic vibe, visiting a selection of the unique districts that make up the expansive city is a must, preferably by public transport!** The following are our essential recommendations for 48 hours in Germany's cultural and historical heart:
Mitte - the closest thing to a 'centre' that the city possesses, this area lies between Brandenburg Gate and Alexanderplatz. The oldest parts of the city of Berlin can be found to its eastern side. As the cultural and administrative centre it is home to the Reichstag Building (http://www.bundestag.de/kulturundgeschichte/architektur/reichstag/), the Rotes Rathaus (Town Hall) (http://www.berlin.de/orte/sehenswuerdigkeiten/rotes-rathaus/index.en.php?lang=en) and many of the principal museums. Staying in this area guarantees that the city's main attractions are within walking distance.
Potsdamer Platz (http://potsdamerplatz.de/en/home/) - It is claimed that this terrifically busy traffic intersection, the crossroads at the centre of Berlin, was the location of the first set of traffic lights to be built in Continental Europe, on 20 October 1924. Today, the site remains as busy as ever. Owing to its vast redevelopment over the last two decades, it stands as an impressive reminder of what German efficiency and architectural ambition can achieve.
Charlottenburg - With its chic boutiques and restaurants, glorious boulevards and overwhelming aura of 'elegance', this was the zone at the centre of the former West Berlin. Savignyplatz, to the eastern end of Charlottenburg, is a charming area. It contains a number of interesting architectural sites, including the impressive Charlottenburg Palace (http://www.spsg.de/en/palaces-gardens/palaces-gardens-single/schloss-charlottenburg-altes-schloss/) and the Berlin Stock Exchange, which owing to its appearance is often referred to by locals as the ''Armadillo". Savignyplatz is also home to a selection of stylish bars and restaurants. Try Mr Hai (http://www.mrhai.de), which offers up Vietnamese and Asian fusion cuisine, and Pizzeria Ali Baba (http://www.alibaba-berlin.de), with its sumptuous selection of pizzas, for a true taste of the locality.
Kurfürstendamm (known locally as the Ku'damm) - Want to buy souvenirs for those back home? This is the main shopping avenue in the West of the City and runs through Charlottenburg. It's the place to come to hit the huge variety of chain stores, including the renowned KaDeWe (http://www.kadewe.de/en/home_english/). Kurfürstendamm is a perfect example of the long, straight and extremely broad thoroughfares that are to be found all over the city, ensuring a constant feeling of well-organised spaciousness. With hotels to suit every budget, the Ku'damm is the place to stay to experience the hustle and bustle of commercial Berlin.
Tiergarten (http://www.berlin.de/orte/sehenswuerdigkeiten/tiergarten/index.en.php)- A beautiful inner-city park that divides the two major centres of Berlin, the area around Alexanderplatz in the east and that around Zoolischer Garten in the west. This is the perfect place to admire the city's changing seasons; gloriously crisp on a winter's day, it's also the ideal location for a cool drink by one of the lakes on a stifling summer's evening.
Kreuzberg - An area with its own very unique character, this part of the city is traditionally known for its large population of Turkish immigrants. Located south of Mitte, today, it is the hub of all things creative and arty in the city including a number of art galleries. The most notable of these is probably the East Side Gallery (http://www.eastsidegallery-berlin.de/), a concrete canvas for 100 paintings that were created in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The huge range of eateries on offer here have something to suit every taste and the indoor market Markthalle Neun (http://markthalleneun.de/) is a must for any foodie. Originally opened in 1891, it was revamped and brought back to life in 2011 and now offers visitors a selection of regional produce at around 30 stalls.
Christmas in Berlin
Finally, if you are lucky enough to be able to fit in a trip to Berlin before the year is out, the Christmas period is undoubtedly one of the best times to visit the city, as celebrations abound. The traditional wooden huts that make up the Weihnachtsmärkten (Christmas markets) (http://www.weihnachtsmarkt-berlin.net/) pop up at numerous locations across the city selling all manner of traditional confectionery and festive fare. Even those who aren't fans of the cold can't fail to enjoy the atmosphere with a gluhwein in hand whilst watching vendors prepare one of the manifold varieties of Würste (German sausages) or sampling a bag of Lebkuchen (German gingerbread). Viel Spaß!
** Whilst My Mother's Love always supports the use of public transport, Berlin has made the use of private vehicles much more environmentally friendly in recent years. On 1st January 2008, the city centre was designated an environmental zone, meaning that only those vehicles meeting set emission levels could be driven there. On 1st January 2010, Berlin raised the environmental bar and now only cars bearing a green sticker (pollution class 4 - those vehicles with the lowest emissions) can be driven within the environmental zone.