Berlin Hauptbahnhof – 0 miles into the trip
Day 1 of In & Out Europe – my Big Summer Train Trip around 9 countries in 9 days – finds me in Berlin and I cannot tell a lie.
Believe me, I’d like to. I could distract and dissemble; I could embellish and embroider; I could vacillate and varnish. But the Plain Old Truth is that, having spent four months meticulously planning every train route from Berlin to Milan and all points between,
I caught the wrong train into the city from Berlin Schönefeld Airport.
First train up. Caught the wrong one. Unbelievable.
The clue came half an hour into the journey, in a random suburban station, when the announcement said ‘next station, Berlin Schönefeld Airport’.
I still have no idea what happened, or how it is that the train went in an entire circle without me noticing, but we are where we are (Berlin Schönefeld Airport, apparently) and we will say no more about it. Stop sniggering at the back there.
Fortunately, it’s all been going swimmingly since, so here is how you tackle Berlin – in & out, in 18 hours, before I catch the train to Prague (or another random Berlin suburb, obviously).
Do & see
With a name like that, sounds like it should be in New York, but the longest open-air art gallery in the world – at 1.3km, from end to end – is actually a surviving chunk of the Berlin Wall that once divided East from West. It’s a total tourist-fest, there’s no denying it, as over 3 million visitors a year make dutifully their way here, having ‘done’ the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie. But don’t dismiss it, as there is a real visceral thrill in seeing murals and artworks (actually rather good murals and artworks) painted directly onto a Wall that symbolised the whole Iron Curtain era.
Berlin’s oldest beer garden – making everything look better since 1873 – is a brilliant introduction to the fine art of lounging around Berlin-style at inappropriate times of the day drinking schooners of deceptively strong beer. With a massive pretzel, because everything is also better with a pretzel the size of a child’s head. And another beer and, oh, is that time already, 4pm really, I only came in to see what it was like.
I know, we’re in Germany, but my search for the greatest Neapolitan pizza knows no borders. The tomatoes must be San Marzano, the cheese bufala di mozzarella, the chewy sourdough crust pockmarked with charcoal because it’s just out of a wood-fired oven hotter than my hotel room in Berlin in July, which is frankly impossible. In which case, this gorgeous, contemporary pizzeria in Prenzlauer Berg is doing everything right – and you can stagger here in 15 minutes from Prater Garten. Let’s be clear, it’s €15 for some tomato- and cheese-topped dough, but Oh. My. God.
And that’s it from Berlin – my work is done. Something to do, somewhere to eat and a place to drink, perfect for anyone with a day in the city and no great desire to conquer their guidebook.
I am out of here, next stop Prague, see you there!