Travel Journal

Thinking Outside the Box in Berlin


Our 3 days in Berlin was the one segment of our trip I deliberately did not research or plan. For Talia, the city was to be the highlight of the trip and I wanted to let her make the decisions on what we did there. I also wanted to relax and go more with the flow in these last few days together. I did, however, book a  one bedroom apartment in a popular youth hostel, which gave us some privacy and allowed us to cook our own meals if we desired.

Our guide Tom with Fat Tire bike tours explains bike etiquette
Our guide Tom with Fat Tire bike tours explains bike etiquette

Talia's first decision was to book us on a "Fat Tire" bike city tour. It was 5 hour route covering the main sights in the downtown area. On our first morning in Berlin we met for our tour at the Television Tower, built in 1969 and the highest accessible building in Europe. It was a great landmark as it could easily be seen from our apartment window. There were about 25 riders in our group, led by Tom, an expat from England.

 We thoroughly enjoyed the tour and agreed it was well-worth the price we paid. We covered a lot of ground, and learned a lot about the city. Our experience can be summed up by these observations:

 -no helmets were offered, no one else riding wore helmets (it was quite freeing not to have to wear one!)

-the city is entirely and perfectly (for me)  flat!.

-there is a myriad of dedicated bike paths covering most of the downtown core, with many Berliners using them to commute and move around the city

-people and traffic share the road space with us, but they all seem to make way for bikers

-although there were quite a few of us on the tour, including a 10 yr. old, no one got lost.

Berlin is well-known for its graffiti or street art. We found this inside an alley that led to some funky shops and restaurants
Berlin is well-known for its graffiti or street art. We found this inside an alley that led to some funky shops and restaurants

-we were able to stop briefly at most historic sites for photo ops

-we were able to make note of the places we wanted to return to for a more in-depth exploration

-the architecture of Berlin is beautiful and eclectic, being an equal mixture of old and new

-there are a large number of English-speaking people, both local, ex-pats, and tourists. All businesses spoke adequate English so we had no problems (we both learned the key German words and used them as much as possible (die rechtnung, bitte!!!)

-Berlin has a youthful demographic and the young people are attracted to the city for the entrepreneurial opportunities, especially in the technology sector

Holocaust Memorial - a memorial to the murdereed Jews in WW2
Holocaust Memorial - a memorial to the murdereed Jews in WW2

-shopping, especially for clothing and shoes, is fabulous

-prices are not cheap (such a change from Spain)

-our guide Tom was a great source of knowledge and we learned a lot about the history of Berlin, especially its role in WW2 and the Cold War

Deutsches Historisches Museum
Deutsches Historisches Museum





Doing a bike tour on our first day in Berlin was an excellent idea. We gained a better sense of the city, both in terms of directions as well as areas and sights we wanted to check out.

It was a coincidence that our hostel happened to be located in an area of absolute shopping heaven. Within a large grid of streets there are many independent clothing designers with boutique store-fronts, interspersed among trendy cheap eateries. For us, it was nearly impossible to walk down a street without being tempted to check out the unique shops. Every day as we passed through this area on our way back to the hostel, we would take a new route and spend a few hours perusing the shops. I count myself (and Talia) lucky to leave Berlin with only having purchased each a pair of sandals (we couldnt ignore the Birkenstocks!) and a few clothing items (mostly on sale).


This is pretty well what's left of the Berlin Wall
This is pretty well what's left of the Berlin Wall

One afternoon, after visiting historical sights and walking all afternoon, Talia decided to check out a bar that a friend had recommended.  The Klunkerkranich  rooftop bar in some ways epitomizes the spirit of Berlin. It is located on the 6th level of a parking lot above a mall with absolutely no signage to indicate it is there.

Once considered a secret that only the hipsters had access to, word-of-mouth has helped it develop into a unique and constantly evolving addition to the bar scene in Berlin. It has an extensive website, showing an entertainment lineup and detailed directions. 

We take the underground train  to a neighbourhood some distance from our apartment and following Talias GPS directions, find ourselves in a typical city mall. Several groups of young people are congregating at an elevator, so we join the crowd to go up to Parking Level 6. Coming out of the elevator, we see what looks like people milling around ahead. It is a huge lineup, with a check-in (and bag inspection) desk at the bottom of a ramp leading up to an unseen top level. We stand in the line-up for 30 minutes. Everyone around me is under 30, no, make that 25! I feel very, very old


Klunkerkranich, a
Klunkerkranich, a "secret" parking lot rooftop bar

When we finally get in, we climb the ramp, which is like a vertical garden, to the open top parking level. There are different areas to hang out, each filled with a variety of seating options. A huge sandbox with beach umbrellas sits in the center. A make-shift stage is set up off to the side. At the back there is a large covered room with a long counter, several bartenders and dozens of people jostling each other for bar service. I sit on the edge of the sandbox, while Talia goes to fight the crowd at the bar for drinks. The sun is setting and the view is absolutely stunning. Techno music begins to play in the background, and as I look around at the hundreds of young people also enjoying the sunset, I feel surprisingly young andhip. This is what Berlin is all about, I am thinking. Nowhere in Canada (North America?) would you be able to convert a parking lot level to a bar, allow hundreds to congregate and drink in secret without going through endless legal procedures, inspections, etc. This city in Germany is all about pushing the edge of social norm and creativity. It is a young persons vision of freedom and opportunity.and I know Talia is smitten! As the sun sets my daughter and I sit and chat over a few drinks about the future and priorities of life, and once again I feel fortunate to share this moment with her.

On our final day in Berlin, we felt no urgency to do anything in particular, other than check out a few more boutiques and perhaps find a cheap pedicure. I also wanted to search out a replacement clasp for Talias backpack, as she was supporting the whole weight of her pack on her shoulders. The straps were leaving chafing marks on her skin and I could see how painful it was for her. We accomplished all of the above as we wandered through neighbourhoods with locals going about their daily business.


At the end of our day, we booked access to the Dome of the Reichstag. Like the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, the Reichstag has become the symbol of unified Germany and is where the Bundestag or government does its thing. Completed in 1894, it has had a tumultuous history--from being gutted by fire and bombed, to being disused and abandoned, and finally renovated.  It is heavily guarded and mostly off-limits to the public. However, since the addition of the dome in 1999, visitors can climb to the top of the glass cupola, which offers a commanding 360 degree views of the city and a peek into the parliamentary arena below. We were able to schedule a visit at sunset, a magical time to be enjoying the city view.

Berlin is a beautiful city with so much potential. While it is still a little rough around the edges, it is being hailed as one of the most exciting, interesting and cosmopolitan cities in the world. If I were young and into start-up culture or mainstream/avant-garde expression in any artistic medium, then Berlin would be hard to resist.

Talia and I finish our time together here in Berlin. The next day we take the train back to Frankfurt to meet Len. In my next and last post of the trip: what I learned about my daughter and ultimately, myself!.


Talia enjoying the view from the top of the Reighstag Dome
Talia enjoying the view from the top of the Reichstag Dome