At the beginning of October, I met three lovely ladies in the lobby of Maritime Hotel Berlin for the first time in my life. Feeling tired after travelling but really excited, we were about to start our week-long #CitybreakGermany adventure from the streets of Berlin.
After Berlin, I would begin my journey to Lower Saxony and Thüringen together with Sofia, who writes her travel blog Fantasiresor in Swedish. Norwegian Janicke and Danish Camilla would continue up north.
But first, we’d all spend 24 hours in Berlin together. The alternative Berlin none of us knew existed.
Once you’ve seen the most famous attractions in Berlin
…it’s time to experience the real BERLIN.
The Berlin locals see when they step outside in the morning ready for another day at work. The Berlin they experience when they have lunch or a cup of coffee with friends, or meet neighbours randomly on the streets.
Berlin is one of those ‘never going out of style’ destinations. I had (and most likely you have too) already been to Berlin once, five years ago. Also back then I had only 24 hours for the city.
It was just enough to explore the most famous tourist attractions like Alexanderplatz, Brandenburg Gate and East Gallery painted on the original piece of the Berlin Wall. Even so, Daniel and I still had time to enjoy some July sun on the restaurant boats along the River Spree crossing the city centre.
My last trip to Berlin happened such a long time ago that I haven’t shared any travel tips for Berlin on my blog before. But somehow I managed to find one photo of that trip from the secret archives of my past.
Me and my too short and blond hair in Berlin back in 2013.
This time we had a whole new plan. We’d spend this warm autumn afternoon on bikes exploring the district of Wedding together with our Berlin on Bike guide Lauren.
Already after the first few metres, I realised something silly. It’s funny how my bicycle is the primary means to move from one place to another at home. For me, it’s also a way of travelling from a city to another when I’m at home. Not to forget that a bike was the first thing I bought when I moved to Spain and Germany.
Yet, when I’m travelling around and visiting a city briefly, renting a bike (or participating in a guided bike tour) has never occurred to me before. And I really cannot understand why.
During the first few stops, this silly feeling kept growing stronger. This bike tour in Berlin would affect on the way I travel for good.
The old bad Wedding is now the hippest district in Berlin
Located right next to Berlin Mitte, the city centre of Berlin, Wedding used to be known as the ‘villain of Berlin’. The district was famous for large numbers of immigrants, crimes, drugs and unemployment.
Take any city with millions of people, and you’ll have districts with problems like above. Luckily, things can improve, and during the recent years, Wedding has gone through quite a makeover. Today, Wedding is famous for its green areas, trendy cafés, artisan beer and small breweries, art blocks, culture and events.
Wedding today means rugged gallery quarters full of street art. The blooming banks of the river Panke. The vast parks with green hills covering the old bunkers. The contrasts between old and new, posh and shabby.
It was nothing I expected to find in Berlin. Wedding is like green and artistic haven in the middle of the city full of history. After spending a day on bikes in Wedding, it’s very easy to understand people – just like our bike guide Lauren – whose short visit in Berlin turns into a life-long journey.
Some of the most popular travel sites still claim Wedding is ugly and has nothing to offer for travellers like us. I’m writing this post to repeal all that.
During our 24 hours in Berlin, I learned Wedding is a district full of green oases, hidden street art and protected buildings of which some enchant you with their decorative exterior, some with the different type of beauty.
There is something positive about those horror images the main-stream travel sites share of Wedding. Thanks to them, central Berlin still hides an idyllic and fascinating district the fast-growing tourist crowds haven’t yet taken over.
Discover Humboldthain Park and its underground secrets
It didn’t take too long for us to realise why Berlin is such an ideal city to explore by bicycle. Berlin is so flat that even if you had never biked in your life, you wouldn’t get out of breath. For us a few-hour biking tour would be a piece of cake even with hills; here in the Nordics, we learn to ride bikes before we learn to walk. (Or that’s what I told to our bike guide, at least.)
The tallest hills in Berlin are manmade. You can find a perfect example of such a hill in Humboldthain Park, which was the first stop on our Wedding bike tour. After World War II, the bunkers built in the park were covered with soil, and over the years, nature took over. Today, the Berliners know this green hill better as Humboldthöhe. Take the steps and climb to the top of the hill where one of Hitler’s notorious Flak Towers offer a free platform for a stunning city view.
Wondering what happened to the wartime bunkers? They’re still there, and you have a chance to peek inside. In case you’re not scared of bats that inhabit the bunkers today, you can participate in a guided bunker tour with Berliner Unterwelten. We didn’t have time for the underground Berlin during our trip, but their exciting tours will definitely be on my list when I visit Berlin next time.
Find the hidden street art quarters and the oldest crematorium in Berlin
After only a couple of minutes bike ride from the west end of Humboldthain Park, our small group stops in a dodgy-looking neighbourhood. I immediately get an image of an old industrial warehouse area that, in some weird way, seems very picturesque. I’m just about to take a snap when a blue van reverses into the picture.
I’ll take my shot despite the van. And it seems to fit into the picture perfectly.
Without even realising, the van got me distracted enough to make me close my ears from Lauren’s stories just for a minute. Suddenly our group started moving again. I followed the others through the same gateway the damn van had blocked before.
Entering the courtyard made my heart jump just a little bit. Not that I could say I understand anything of art, even the street kind, but I know it makes me feel impressed and it makes me react. And if street art does the same to you too, Wedding’s hidden street art quarter Gerichtshöfe is a place for you.
Today 70 artist, of which each has their unique background, style and feel to creating art, work in Gerichtshöfe, one of the largest art blocks in Germany.
For years the city of Berlin has supported various art and culture projects in Wedding to give the district the facelift it deserves. Among these projects you can find a piece of Finland, too; Gallery Toolbox aims to popularise contemporary art by Finnish artists.
For those who love culture and coffee or just visiting eerie places, I recommend checking out the culture quarter Silent Green on the other side of the river Panke. The building itself is the oldest crematorium in Berlin and one of the protected buildings of Wedding. On a warm afternoon, this intriguing building complex with its summer terraces offers a great spot for a coffee break. After, you get to say you’ve biked all the way to Mars for a lovely cup of coffee.
I bet the guides of ‘the underworld Berlin’ would have plenty of exciting stories about the old cemetery that still occupies the crematorium courtyard.
The green trails along the River Panke make you feel you’re far away from Berlin
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel bummed about not listening to my teachers on the history lessons in school. It’s a shame that the crucial phases of war history are explained at the age when school girls have very different things in mind.
And this is what made our day in Berlin even more interesting. Especially, when we were lucky to have such a dedicated guide as Lauren. A person, who is honestly passionate about the city and seems to know everything about it.
Now, at the age of 34, I’m more interested in these historical details than I was at the age of 12-14. And this is why I could have followed Lauren until the end of the day, but we started to run out of time. The dawning sun gilding the shores of the river Panke reminded us we need to rush. It was a pity, as the leafy riverbanks, the golden light, the autumn colours and the green meadows skirting the small trails would have offered hundreds of cute spots for photographing.
Along these paths, where you only need to mind joggers and dog-walkers, it’s very difficult to remember you’re in the middle of the metropolis of Berlin.
In Wedding, nature and history also meet at the lake Plötzensee. Besides a popular beach, the lake is home to the notorious Plötzensee Prison where almost 3,000 prisoners were executed during the Nazi era.
Bösebrücke – The point where the Berlin Wall fell in1989
The October sun is slowly disappearing into the horizon, but the evening is still warm. As much as we’d love to continue our bike tour, we realise we’re already late from our dinner reservation. Even so, Lauren is determined to show us one last spot along the route.
The bridge where the Berlin Wall fell.
It’s somehow ironic how Bösebrücke bridge on Bornholmer Straße translates as ‘anger bridge’. This bridge used to be one of the controlled crossings between the East and West Berlin. Today it’s known as the place where the gates of the Berlin Wall first opened on the historic evening of 9.11.1989.
Bösebrücke used to be a divider between the East and West. I guess it’s not a coincidence that the word ‘hero’ is now painted on the bridge. The 1st photo: Janicke / Let’s Get Lost. The 2nd photo: Sofia / Fantasiresor.
Feeling dizzy after all the places we saw and things we learned during our biking day in Berlin, we rushed back to our starting point. We crossed a tiny little birch tree forest you wouldn’t believe finding in the middle of Berlin and cycled past Mauerpark, the large park featuring Berlin’s best outdoor flea market every Sunday.
On a warm Friday night, the park embankments started filling up from locals who gathered there with friends and beers to admire the stunning October sunset.
Find the Berlin attractions mentioned in this story on a map:
Budget traveller’s quick tips to Berlin:
× Download the free About Berlin app on your phone. With one free download, you can fill your phone with hundreds of facts and stories about the best attractions in Berlin as well as offline maps of the city.
× Free tours by foot offers an interesting selection of free and small-budget guided tours in Berlin together with discounts for Berlin city passes (yes, there are more than one of them).
× If you’re planning to explore Berlin by public transport and visit museums or other paid attractions, Berlin WelcomeCard might be worth an investment. Besides the discounts for 200 paid attractions in Berlin, with this city pass, up to 3 children travel free of charge with a card-holding adult.
How to spend 24 hours in Berlin? Pin this story for later.