Contest of Capitals: Berlin

Contest of Capitals: Berlin

As the former Mayor Klaus Wowereit once said, “Berlin ist arm, aber sexy” (Berlin is poor, but sexy). It is this appeal that draws people from all corners of the world.

The Contest of Capitals begins with the freshest and youngest of the bunch. In two weeks, Berlin will celebrate its 27th birthday as a reunified city, and since the fall of the wall, Berlin has steadily evolved into a city of culture, diversity, media and history; a focal point of many eyes in Europe.

The city might be “poor” in a financial sense but for a capital city in a highly developed country is very affordable indeed. What it may lack in finances is definitely made up for with passion, vibrancy and its welcoming nature. Even though the Wall is for the most part no longer standing, it still serves today as a defining marker for the city; as much a staple for local dwellers as it is for any tourist visiting. It’s this remnant of East Germany that will guide you through the modern metropolis, through all things history, food, nature and adventure. The Wall itself has even been re-purposed in many parts of the city. The remains of the Todesstreifen (death strip) have been transformed into Mauerpark, home to the Flohmarkt every Sunday, where you can come for quirky souvenirs or to treat yourself to some tasty traditional Flammkuchen, vegan Korean dumplings, tasty Mexican burritos, and many other delights.

There are so many things that you can do on a low budget. The German parliamentary building – the Reichstagsgebäude – has become one of Germany’s most visited attractions, topped with a transparent glass dome that echoes the transparency that the modern-day German political system strives towards. From above, looking over the vast Tiergarten, you will also notice how much green space Berlin has to offer, with easy access to the river. If you wish to go through and enjoy the breeze on two wheels, you can also rent bikes cheaply for the day, ideal for a tranquil afternoon.

There is also of course the Brandenburg Gate, which is the focal point for many public events, such as the Festival of Lights in November and the CSD-Parade in July, a city-wide celebration. When football takes over with the famous “Fan Mile” starting at the gate, it is filled with roaring and cheering crowds eager to celebrate a German triumph (like the 2014 Weltmeisterschaft.)

You’d be der Tor (the fool) to just visit das Tor (the gate) as a student, though! Berlin’s bustling nightlife forms an incredible urban landscape. Tresor, one of the first underground techno clubs in a newly unified Berlin, dominates the area near the river. Kreuzberg-side, there’s Ritter Butzke, Prince Charles, Gretchen, and Watergate (right on the edge of the picturesque Oberbaumbrücke); Friedrichshain-side, there is Cassiopeia and, of course, the world-famous Berghain. One of my favourites in Berlin, with a bit lest of a gravitational pull of tourists, is Griessmühle, near Sonnenallee S-Bahn. Nobody does clubbing, in particular acid house and techno, quite like the Berliners, and with 24-hour tram services and 24-hour S- and U-Bahn Friday to Sunday, getting home is easy.

When you’re hungover and hungry, Berlin has no end of cheap eats to offer. The city is full of them! Generations of Turkish families live in the Kreuzberg and Neukölln districts, after the integration of Gastarbeiter to help Germany become the strong economy it is today. Now, the areas offer a wide range of authentic cuisines on Oranienstraße, Sonnenallee and also up on the north-side of the river in Prenzlauer Berg. The area between Warschauer Straße and Frankfurter Tor U-Bahn stations provides almost every cuisine imaginable: Caribbean, Vietnamese, German, Indian, Italian, Lebanese, Moroccan and many more. At such affordable prices, Berlin can really be a haven for the food-lover, even on a budget!

History hidden in plain sight is part of the charm of Berlin. The border-houses on Bernauer Straße were knocked down to prevent people from using them as escape routes, and many of these life-changing stories are documented in text, audio and video here, in an engaging outdoor experience. Not far from there is Nordbahnhof – one of many “ghost stations” that were barricaded during the partition. Across the road from the Holocaust Memorial is the lesser-known Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted under Nazism, and south of the memorials there is even Hitler’s personal bunker.

Berlin can also appeal to a sense of adventure. Teufelsberg, right in the north west of the city in the middle of the forest, was a former spy base that now boasts one of the most beautiful views of the city. It is notoriously hard to get to, but once there the experience is worth it. There’s also canoeing at Wannsee in the west, or the large Müggelsee in the east; Berlin has a surprising amount of water despite being landlocked. You can even rent pedalos to go on the river at Treptower Park, and then when returning to the area, admire the enormity of the Soviet War Memorial, one of the largest outside of the former USSR.

And why stop at Berlin, when you can use the metropolis as a base to see other close by cities? The beautiful Potsdam costs no more than the your ABC-ticket (entirely subsidised if you’re enrolled as a student at uni in Berlin), and travelling by Fernbus (Germany’s answer to Megabus) can get you to Hamburg for 10-15€ return, Dresden in under 3 hours for less than 12€ and Leipzig in under 2.5 hours for less than 10€.

Berlin will always have excitement and adventure in store around every corner. Whether the high streets in Friedrichstraße and Kurfürstendamm, the nightlife on Simon-Dach-Straße, Oranienstraße, sport at the Olympiastadion or Mercedes-Benz-Arena, or the culture heritage on Unter den Linden or Schloss Charlottenburg, there is something for every type of student.


Featured Images: Matthew Chew

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