This article was written by resident Roamaroo writer, Keith Bohan.
My wife and I have been traveling full time since November 2016. Since then, Berlin Germany has been high on my list of places I wanted to live for a month. Finally, after some 15 months, we arrived to see what all the fuss was about.
It didn’t disappoint.
Now, as a married couple, we were coming to sample the vibe rather than to sample the city’s infamous party scene. We were ready to tear Berlin up and be in bed by 11 pm.
After researching this storied place, we decided we would stay in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood.
Located in former Soviet East Berlin, this trendy district is now a fascinating mishmash of old, young, wealthy, and poor. These 2 lines do a great job of describing the anything and everything nature of the area:
“From the 1960s onward, Prenzlauer Berg was associated with proponents of East Germany’s diverse counterculture including Christian activists, bohemians, state-independent artists, and the gay community.”
Yup, that’s pretty contrasting.
You can’t walk around Prenzlauer Berg for long without noticing the towering, well… tower. The Berliner Fernsehturm was built in the sixties as a symbol of Communist power. Today, it defines Berlin’s silhouette.
There’s also a restaurant on top, not to mention Berlin’s highest bar, and a terrific spot for brunch.
The fully-windowed restaurant sits 207m in the sky and revolves slowly to give you a 360 degree panorama of Berlin while you chow down.
It’s €38.50 p/p for a 2.5 hour unlimited breakfast buffet, apéritif (my first alcoholic drink of 2018, thank you very much), tea, coffee, and dessert. And, again, the view.
Since I’ve now had my first drink of 2018, my dreams of a dry year have disappeared. Lucky for me, Prenzlauer Berg has copious amounts of cool bars. Two, in particular, stand out.
A fascinating thing about some of the fancier—although affordable—Berlin bars is that you can’t just walk into them off the street. This is the exact opposite of what I experienced bartending in Hell’s Kitchen and Times Square.
Their front doors will be closed until you walk up to them and ring a bell or knock. I presume they size you up from inside. My wife and I decided it would be smarter if she stood in front of the peephole. Thankfully, it worked!
This bar is ridiculous. It’s dark, relaxed, and the drinks are just the right side of indulgent. I mean, they literally used a smoke gun to infuse Rach’s gin & tonic. My old-fashioned came in a case filled with dry ice normally reserved for a cryogenically frozen hand.
From the outside, this place is also unassuming, bordering on underwhelming. We accidentally walked past it the first time, even though that’s where we were headed. And we had directions. Once again, when you walk up, the door is locked.
But after you set foot in Bar Immertreu, it’s like stepping back in time. Before you lay eyes on the titanic drink menu, you’ll see the classic-looking leather armchairs, red curtains, and art deco lamps.
Smoking is allowed in here, but, as two non-smokers, it wasn’t overpowering at all. It’s definitely worth a visit.
The Street Markets.
Of all the things we did during our month here, we will miss the street markets the most. Berlin’s Christmas Markets are meant to be something to behold. And, having just experienced the ‘regular’ weekend markets, I believe it.
Each weekend, the locals converge on the myriad market stalls. Of the 15 countries I’ve lived in this year, I think Germans have perfected the whole ‘parenting’ thing. Until I moved here, I didn’t think anyone could surpass the French parents for the balance they manage to achieve.
Young and old smile and laugh the day away here. The kids run around the playground like maniacs while the adults keep watch, while enjoying a cup or two of the delicious glühwein from the market.
Glühwein (pronounced “glue-vine”) is a German take on mulled wine. And, considering the hours I spent outside drinking it in Berlin’s harsh January, I credit it as the reason I didn’t lose a toe.
Let me just stop here for a moment to mention something show-stopping you should know about Berlin:
The traffic lights.
When the pedestrian walk sign turns green in Berlin, it is always worth the wait.
A happy-looking illuminated green man with a wide-brimmed hat appears, walking with a pep in his step and whistling gleefully (I presume).
These pedestrian signals also originate from the Soviet occupation of East Berlin. When the Berlin Wall crumbled in ‘89, the city began removing the vestiges of the Eastern rule, including the Ampelmännchen (literally meaning ‘the little traffic light men’).
By then, people had grown accustomed to these happy-go-lucky little fellas and petitioned the government to preserve them. Their efforts were successful and the Ampelmännchen can be seen all across Berlin. It must be the reason no-one jaywalks.
Okay, that’s two former Soviet landmarks. Let me just take another moment to make it clear that I am not an apologist for the dire Soviet rule of Berlin. Okay, fondue time?
You’ll be feeling a little chilly after your time outside at the markets, trust me. There’s nothing quite like a giant cauldron of delicious, bubbling cheese to warm the soul. Gugelhof restaurant is a stone’s throw from the weekend market and has the best fondue in Berlin.
When we visited Gugelhof, it happened to be my wife and I’s 6 year anniversary of meeting. Although the staff here didn’t know this, they were so warm and friendly that it kind of felt like they did. Even now, I’m like: “Did they?!”
All in all, it was a perfect dining experience and made a special night even more memorable.
Happy folks and spokes.
Berlin is a surprisingly affordable city with infinite choice, whatever your travel style. I can’t speak highly enough of the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood. I’ve never seen so many people smiling, or so many people cycling, and I don’t think these two things are coincidences.
My wife, Rachael, is tired of me remarking how everyone says a big “Hello!” when they enter the gym locker room and “Tschüss!” when they leave. Whatever, she’s just jealous.
Whether you’re into history, partying, food, wine, beer, or, y’know…. Big bowls of melting cheese, Berlin is the place to be. No wonder they’re all so happy!
Keith Bohan is an Irish writer, who travels full-time throughout Europe. Follow his adventures and misadventures at http://www.sowherewerewe.com & instagram.com/keithbohan