8th December 2004. Alcohol. Aged fifteen and getting drunk on a scale that I’d never managed before. Illicit bottles of wine and cans of Fosters. Falling down stairs. Shouting. Staying up until the wee hours.
9th December 2004. I’ve got a splitting headache, my History teacher is staring at me and a rotund lady is offering me gross lumps of gooey cake. She’s speaking some strange language. I’m mumbling that “I must have eaten something funny last night”. I’m on a school trip to Berlin; somehow I managed to get to the coach at 4am, was guided through security and made it off the plane at the other end.
We go for a walk and my head starts to clear. Slowly the hangover’s replaced by wonder. We’re in the Tiergartern and my teacher’s explaining what happened here. Everything happened here. That’s where Rosa Luxembourg took her final dip into the water. That’s where they filmed Cabaret. That’s where thousands of teenage Hitler Youth died in the final, bloody, Battle for Berlin. Over there a concrete wall cut the city in half. Around the corner are the reliefs celebrating great Prussian victories. I’m hooked.
The following week was beautiful: endless grand vistas with a different historical location on every street corner. Long walks along Unter den Linden, listening to Pink Frost by The Chills on repeat as a bitterly cold wind surges around the stalls selling bratwursts and gluwein. Being overawed by the ancient exhibits inside the Pergamon Museum and, on the outside of the building, sticking my hands in the bullet holes left by Russian rifles.
Berlin became my favourite city. I went back continuously and discovered its other side – its nightlife, its bars, its restaurants and its artists. It’s cheap, endlessly fascinating and sprawling. Hang out with the drunks in Treptower Park, inspect the last elements of the Berlin Wall in the north of the city, sit on the U-Bahn all day pretending to be Iggy Pop and singing The Passenger. Get a cheap flight to Schönefeld airport, find a good hostel and you can have a great time on under £20 a day.
Friends kept asking me for advice on where to go so about a year ago I made this Google Map. It lists key sites and a few recommended bars and hostels. I’ve been to pretty much everything listed – if you have any questions or want clarifications then please get in touch.
It’s embedded below or you can view a full version here.sssssdds