The Berlin TV Tower is 368m tall and features a rotating restaurant and panoramic observation deck. It gives one of the best views of Berlin where visitors can observe the city landscape, its old charms and modern architecture.
Jump. Crawl. Duck. Jump again. Suddenly the green laser hit my right leg, and I was out.
Making a fool of myself in front of sniggering kids was not how I planned to start my day during a recent visit to Berlin, especially not at the German Spy Museum where I attempted its brief laser obstacle course. But it was impossible to resist. For a few minutes, I was embodying Ethan Hunt (or Johnny English, to be honest) going about an espionage mission. And I failed miserably.
I left with a video clip of the failed mission being sent to my email address as a keepsake, which I like to pretend doesn’t exist.
A view from Berlin TV Tower.
In many ways, Berlin — as a city — is quite like that laser game, although of course I walked away from it with a much better memory than my unsuccessful spy attempt. It soon grew on me as I strolled through different parts of the city: there’s a dark period in history, but a vibrant frolic has managed to grow out of it despite it all. These present funs and past horrors are able to coexist side by side, and as one, right in Berlin.
This thought brought me to the East Side Gallery, a stretch of murals painted on parts of the Berlin Wall that now makes up most tourists’ selfies in the city. Once a physical and ideological barrier that people got killed for trying to cross over, this part of the wall is now filled with paint and colourful artworks, and is frequented by throngs of tourists throughout the day.
The Berlin Wall, and its fall in November 1989, is the topic everyone will hear about when they visit Berlin. It is what every tour guide will tell you about. It is featured on every walking and bike tour itinerary. You can even purchase pieces of it at most souvenir shops (although even locals are unsure whether it’s actually genuine).
The chill of the horrific history — ranging back from the Cold War to the Holocaust — has yet to fade from people’s memory, and they are still apparent in sites around town. But flowers have definitely grown through the rocks. Berlin today is the flower bed where all shades and kinds of flowers are blooming and buzzing, lively and diversified into many dimensions any wandering traveller would appreciate: food, shopping, and all-around culture and lifestyle.
Some would say you don’t truly arrive in Germany if you don’t try currywurst or, well, beer and pork knuckle. But gladly Berlin has that and much more to offer so no one would get stuck with eating sausages every single day. The city is a multicultural gastronomic melting pot with lots of restaurants and cafés. There is a fine selection of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Turkish cuisine that everybody should give a shot. The lamb skewer I had at a Turkish restaurant in the Kreuzberg neighbourhood was to die for.
Do try some Asian fusion delicacies at Tim Raue, which was also named among The World’s 50 Best Restaurants this year. This may leave your wallet a little empty, but it’s sure worth every euro spent.
Shopaholics would be glad to know Berlin is a wonderful shopping spot. Most people probably end up at KaDeWe, one of the biggest department stores this side of Europe, although it made me feel as though I was walking in Central Chidlom. No surprises here because KaDeWe is now owned by Central Group. It features high-end brands, and the gourmet section is amazing. But the only thing I managed to grab from it was a cheap novelty cannabis iced tea. Well, when in Europe, right?
For a different shopping experience, head to Bikini Berlin — the first concept mall in Germany — which packs stylish boutiques and a space for start-up businesses to present their products. The place also gives a view into the monkey enclosure of the adjacent Zoo Berlin. Different flea markets around Mauerpark and Bode Museum are also available for bargain shoppers.
Among its many charms and attractions, what I found to be the highlight of Berlin were its museums. It’s not far off to say there is definitely a museum for everyone in this city. The interactive spy museum was a great fun with the obstacle course and all the spy gadgets on display. I was very impressed with the Pergamon Museum that I visited a few years ago as it contains several antiquities and monuments dated from Ancient Greece, Babylon and more. There are also museums dedicated to Salvador Dali, motorbikes, Stasi, Hitler, Art Nouveau, and more.
Towards the end of a long day, I found myself catching a metro to yet another museum. I got off at Nollendorfplatz station and, after a short walk, arrived outside Schwules Museum*, which exhibits LGBT life in Berlin. It is also reportedly the world’s first queer museum.
Berlin is honed as among the most LGBT-friendly cities in Europe, with the centre of action in Schöneberg, although currently there are more spots opening up in other neighbourhoods too. Think Pride parades, gay bars, a bear statue and ATM covered in rainbow, fetish shops and more. There’s every jolly fun you could need here.
But like many things in Berlin, the joyful rainbow was likewise laced with a dark past. At the Nollendorfplatz station, as I was making my way back to the hotel, I spotted an inverted triangle — a plaque honouring male gay victims. In the heyday of Nazism and concentration camps, a pink triangle badge was used at the camps to identify male prisoners who were homosexual and transgender. The pink triangle was later reclaimed and used internationally as the symbol for the LGBT rights movement. Elsewhere in Berlin, there’s also a Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism.
Risen from devastation, it’s quite a journey that made Berlin what it is today. Past cruelty, tears and blood have since made way for fun times, colours and diversity — everything. The bygones will always be remembered, but the present and future will all the more be enjoyed and appreciated.
Inside the German Spy Museum.
A flea market.
A rainbow pride bear stood in the Nollendorfplatz area.
The Pink Triangle.
Middle Eastern cuisine.
The East Side Gallery.
Pieces of the Berlin Wall are sold as memorabilia.
Cycling is one of the popular ways to commute in Berlin.
Kreuzberg neighbourhood in Berlin is vibrant, filled with graffiti and street art. Its Market Hall Nine has an amazing selection of international cuisine.
Berlin at night.
Random city shots.
On nice days, people lounge outside enjoying the weather.
Remnants of the Berlin Wall that once divided East and West Berlin are now popular as a tourist attraction.
- For direct connection from Asia right into the heart of Berlin, catch Scoot’s non-stop flights from Singapore Changi Airport to Berlin Tegel Airport. This is Scoot’s third long-haul destination following its launch of Athens and Honolulu flights last year. The Singapore-Berlin services are operated on Boeing 787 Dreamliners, with in-flight Wi-Fi, in-seat power and in-flight ScooTV entertainment streaming service available on guests’ own devices. For details and fares, visit flyscoot.com.
- If you’ll be spending a few days in Berlin, it’s recommended that you purchase a Berlin Welcome Card — the official city pass — which features a transport ticket, city map, guidebook and discount offers at many Berlin attractions. I got discounts on admission when I flashed the card at both the German Spy Museum and Schwules Museum*. Prices start at €19.90 (648 baht) for a 48-hour validity. For more options, visit berlin-welcomecard.de/en.