Destinations Magazine

The Greatest Cultural Extravaganza That One Could Imagine

By Beanandgone @scoffey01

It was only after I wearily stumbled onto my 6am flight that I realised I had no idea what to expect from Berlin. Other cities such as Barcelona and Amsterdam were easier to predict as people always boast about their seemingly bright and colourful travel experiences there.

Yet all I could come up with for Berlin was the Wall, trance music and blonde haired men with chiseled jawlines. Although the chiseled jawline thing seemed like justification enough, I thought I better get to know this city a little bit better than just its Aryan inhabitants.

Just a word of warning, this post is a little less light-hearted due to the more serious side of Berlin. However, in no way, shape or form is Berlin to be mistaken as a depressing place. Its vibrant, beautiful, new age, alternative and has a depth that many other tourist destinations lack.

The rise and fall of the Berlin Wall 

Before I visited, I was under the impression I had a fairly well-rounded understanding of what took place during WWII. I knew that it started in the late 1930’s, lasted until mid 1940’s, involved most of the world’s nations, was marked by the Holocaust and ended with the capture of Berlin by Soviet and Polish troops.

However after attending the renowned free walking tour I was shocked that even though I knew the basic facts, I never really understood the severity and impact of the events that took place, not all that long ago.

My ‘Oxford graduate with a PhD in Nazi history’ tour guide was not only a wealth of knowledge, but he was also passionate, amusing and empathetic. He managed to move around 15 of us through the city, delving into Berlin’s darkest hours and brightest moments in less than four hours time.

We started off at the iconic Brandenburg Gate. This landmark was built in 1788 and has had a fairly elaborate history all of its own, but became infamous in the Cold War when it was the symbol for the division of East and West Berlin. It was here, where Ronald Reagan said his moving words ““General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

The greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine

Brandenburg Gate

From there we followed the line of the Wall and visited the spot where Hitler killed himself in his bunker on the 30th April 1945. The bunker is now home to your standard car park filled with dog poo and litter. Rather fitting I think.

The greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine

We visited former Nazi Government District to Checkpoint Charlie, headed through the 1920’s Cabaret Mile and over Berlin’s grandest square – Gendarmenmarkt. The tour came to a close in the beautiful surrounds of Lustgarten, over looking what I think is perhaps the most beautiful building in Berlin, the Berliner Dom.

The greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine

Berliner Dom

Berlin has a very unique way of confronting the history of WWII. Instead of tucking the past away and hoping for it to remain ‘out of sight, out of mind’, they recognise it in a modern, sleek and incredibly effective way.


If you are willing to tackle the harsh reality of what happened during WWII you will have to visit the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. This was one of the first camps open to the public and the memorial stands as a reminder of the darkest days of Berlin’s history. Although it is not as famous as Dachau or Auschwitz, during WWII over 50,000 abused prisoners died at this camp. It was also used as a school of brutality for training SS guards to work in other camps.

The greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine

Work sets you free

When I visited it was pouring rain, windy and freezing cold, which only added to the sobering reality of the crimes committed whist it was operational. It amazed me how premeditated it was, right down to the beautifully landscaped gardens at the entrance to encourage the prisoners inside, to the classical music played in the doctors waiting room to cover the sounds of people being shot in the room next door.

The greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine

Medical experimentation table

There is nothing I can really say to give this place the justice it deserves. There is a chilling atmosphere that can only be experienced by standing on soil that is literally filled with the ashes of thousands of innocent people.

The Berlinian brush and bar

Now onto a much happier note, Berlin would have to be the most vibrant, new age and edgy city I have ever been to, and will likely ever go to. When looking for art, forget about the museums and look on the streets, walls, lampposts, alleyways, ceilings, stairways, sides of U-Bahns – everywhere you look expression has been given free rein, a paintbrush and a great sense of humour.

The greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine

Make sure you visit the East Side Gallery, which is a 1.3km-long section of the Berlin Wall. There are approximately 106 paintings from artists all over the world who have covered this memorial for free and make it the largest open-air gallery in the world. 

The greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine

The kiss of death

The Berlin nightlife is equally as impressive as the creativity you see on the streets each day. There is a big following of underground clubs, which pop up in new spaces as quickly as they leave. I was lucky enough to have my very own local club enthusiast, Christian who showed a small group of us the ropes to having fun in Berlin after 12pm.

Apparently fun in Berlin involves illegal bars, Star Wars remixes pumping from portable CD players, no electricity and ping-pong tournaments. To say the least, it was an experience like none other and has made me appreciate flushing toilets and ice-cold beer all the more.

Germanic Grub

Not sure if it was worth it, but I think I put on a good amount of weight in my four short days in Berlin. If you are anything like me, and like to go all Carpe diem when it comes to food you will have to give the Currywurst, schnitzel, sauerkraut and strudel a whirl. Personally, boiled sausage covered in a tomato and curry sauce is not the answer to a late night meal. I did on the other hand, have some great strudel at a place called Café Lebensart near the Brandenburg Gate, some brilliant Mexican at Santa Maria and some authentic German at Max und Moritz.

The greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine

Where to stay

I shacked up at a Grand Hostel in the trendy suburb of Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain. This is a great place in a great spot and it is very clean. But I have to admit, it was a bit strange that they let a 65 year old man, who thinks he is 25 and suffers from a serious case of sleep apnea stay not only in the hostel, but in the bed next to you.  Next time I might just seek out a Youth Hostel.

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