By Sophie Boddorff, ISA Program Advisor
Before arriving in Berlin, I was constantly told by others that Berlin was an amazing city filled with countless activities and with a vibrant, young energy. However, it was hard for me to believe that when I first arrived at the airport on a gloomy January day. I still remember how grey the city seemed, as the once white snowfall was quickly overrun by the city’s bustling, non-stop traffic. Another initial shock was the language barrier. I had previously studied German in high school, but never had I been surrounded by so much of it – it felt as jarring as the stampede of people aggressively making their way out of the airport. It all hit me in that moment: This bizarre and enormous city was going to be my new home for the next several months.
By the end of my stay in Berlin, however, this feeling of unease had grown so distant to me, as Berlin now feels like a second home. Even the German language, which once sounded so harsh and foreign, makes me feel nostalgic about my semester abroad. Studying in Berlin made me realize the patience and time it takes to truly appreciate a new place, which is the advice I would give to anyone studying abroad. And, because of the size of a city like Berlin, it definitely takes some exploring in order to discover its hidden gems.
With that being said, here are few of my favorite spots in Berlin:
Klunkerkranich is probably my favorite spot in all of Berlin. It’s hard to find, and Berliners like it that way. This quirky rooftop getaway is situated in a parking garage atop the NeuKölln Arkaden mall and is filled with cushioned seating, live-music, and vertical gardens. Further, because of its location, it also has a gorgeous view overlooking the entire city of Berlin. I recommend coming here to watch the sunset over the city!
Insel der Jugend (Island of Youth), Treptower Park
There are countless parks and lakes throughout Berlin, which is another wonderful aspect of the city. As a result, Berliners are super active and social outdoors, and take the time in their day to take many, many breathes of fresh air. The Insel der Jugend in Treptower Park was situated close to where I lived and ended up being my go-to lounging spot. I recommend packing up a picnic, renting a paddle boat, and paddling down the river Spree. See if you can make it to the base of the famous Molecule Man structure!
Flea Market at Mauerpark
Mauerpark is a must-go on Sundays. Every Sunday, Mauerpark hosts an enormous flea market filled with countless unique and funky, vintage items. Further, you are bound to find super deals on these items, as most prices here can be negotiated. Because of this, this market is where I bought my favorite jean jacket for half the price it was originally marked for! The park is also filled with food vendors and live music from musicians around the world. The karaoke event that takes place in the nearby amphitheater has a cult following and is super popular among tourists and locals alike.
Another great aspect of Berlin is how connected it is with its past. The city does an amazing job reminding the world of its troubled past in a way that promotes a hopeful future by turning its many abandoned buildings into communal areas throughout the city. Once one of the largest airports in Europe, Templehof played a pivotal role throughout World War II and the Cold War. The now abandoned airport runway and surrounding land offers Berliners miles of green space to exercise, grill, and relax in the sun. In addition, the actual airport building now serves as a refuge for thousands of refugees to Germany.
Teufelsberg, which means “Devil’s Mountain,” is a giant, man-made hill situated in West-Berlin’s Gruenewald Forest. Once you climb to the top of this hill, you can find an abandoned U.S. listening station, which was once active during the Cold War. This eerie structure has since been overtaken by artists and, consequently, covered in graffiti. It’s a bit of a hike to get to, but definitely worth it!
Overall, my semester abroad in Berlin allowed me to truly grasp the meaning of the common phrase “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover!” Unlike many of its sister European cities, the charm of Berlin lies in its unconventional design and ability to unite the past and the present. Just as I have my list of favorite spots, there is no doubt everyone who has visited Berlin has their own. Sometimes it’s the digging for its hidden gems that makes a place all the more special!