Having kids is great, but so is couple time. And the editor Annie Ridout wasn’t getting enough, so she and her husband left the babe at home and headed to Berlin for a two-night city break. Here’s what they got up to…
With my daughter, Joni, on the brink of turning two, I decided it was time my husband and I had a weekend away, just the two of us. After all, bar a slightly disastrous weekend at Glastonbury festival just after her first birthday (we left her at home) and the odd night in a hotel, we’ve all been largely inseparable since Joni’s birth.
Berlin has been top of the list since Rich and I met so we booked cheap flights, Airbnb accommodation and gathered recommendations from friends, family and social media. We then flew off on Saturday morning for a two-night stay in Germany’s capital city and spent our weekend wandering the streets of Berlin, hand-in-hand, feeling a little like teenagers again.
With a day and a half in the city, we grossly overestimated how much we’d be able to fit in – making more plans and reservations than would be humanly possible to accomplish. But we did manage to have a culinary experience that might never be topped, drink more half-litres of beer than I care to share and walk more miles than my sandals could bear.
So, if you’re planning a trip to Berlin, some of this might come in rather handy…
Two nights in Berlin
We arrived in Berlin around midday and got a taxi from Berlin Schönefeld Airport to our apartment on the border of Neukölln and Kreuzberg, in the south – former West Berlin – which took around half an hour and cost 30 euros. Four long flights of stairs later, we were in an airy, high-ceilinged Airbnb apartment (£56 a night), being greeted by our host, Christian.
Airbnb can be hit and miss. We’ve had one host cancel last minute in Sicily, another in Whitstable who had ‘do not touch’ signs on every visible surface and another, in Margate, that was kitted out with super cheap but brand new furniture so the owner charged way over the odds. But with this one, we were lucky.
Christian’s apartment has a huge open-plan living space, with a window about three metres squared, opening out with a view of the leafy courtyard below. Next door, there’s a small bedroom with a mezzanine for a double bed and a further kitchen and bathroom. Decked out with carefully selected retro furniture, posters and interestingly designed shelving units, it felt like we were staying in an artist’s studio.
After dumping our bags, we headed to Kreuzberg for lunch. Having been in transit since 5am, with only a G&T (at 7am on the plane. Don’t judge) and a box of Pringles, we were hungry. Passing through what had been referred to by friends as the ‘Hackney of Berlin’, we weren’t surprised to pass a handful of trendy coffee shops, bearded men and arty-looking types dressed head-to-toe in black.
I was surprised by how wide the tree-lined avenues are, like Parisian boulevards more than the desolate, industrial streets I was imagining. The apartment blocks are similarly reminiscent of the French capital, and shutters were flung open, as it was beautifully hot and sunny the whole weekend.
The canal running through Kreuzberg is lined with restaurants and bars and we’d been told about Cocolo Ramen, so headed there for a beer and ramen. The staff were fairly relaxed about serving us but my hunger pangs were causing rising fury so I dashed in to get their attention and eventually, they emerged with a pad.
The food arrived quickly – crunchy cucumber sticks with a sweet chilli dipping sauce, piping hot mixed meat and veg gyoza, tender pork belly and a chicken ramen. Washed down with our first beer, we started to relax. Sitting alongside the canal, in the blazing sun, watching people roam the streets on foot and bike, I could have stayed put all afternoon.
However, a two-night trip means no time for idleness so we marched off to the Berlin Wall. We’d decided against big museums, wanting to avoid tourist hotspots, but Rich – being a WWII aficionado – was desperate to see the remnants of this hugely poignant, graffitied wall. We walked a few miles, up to East Side Gallery, and joined the hoards of sun-worshippers lying out on the riverbank listening to buskers, while drinking beer.
Dinner had been booked at Nobelhart & Schmutzig for 6.30pm (the only table available) so we hopped on the U-Bahn (Underground) and made our way north. Arriving early meant time for a coffee at trendy West Berlin coffee shop, with all the art/graphic/fashion magazines you could wish for. After a quick espresso, we waited outside for the restaurant to open.
The owner, Billy Wagner – familiar to us, as we’d watched Rick Stein’s Long Weekends in Berlin, featuring Wagner and his restaurant, the night before arriving – greeted us. He explained that my reservation request had come through just as someone cancelled, so – without knowing – we’d jumped the two-month waiting list. We were the first to arrive and took our seats at the bar.
The kitchen is lit up under warm lighting, while the rest of the space has low lights and dark mahogany furniture. The idea is that the chefs and waiting staff are ‘the cast’ – performing on stage – and the customers are the audience in this immersive, foodie theatre show. We sat back and allowed ourselves to get swept up in an eccentric eating experience, with a 10-course tasting menu.
Each course was delivered by a different person and accompanied with a short story about where the ingredients originated – whether it was white asparagus pulled from the ground that very morning, or the raw rhubarb sprinkled in sugar that was described as the snack buy generic levitra online food of the waitress’s childhood, in a rather nostalgic tale.
The food is earthy and simple; most definitely enhanced by the description of how local is it, the relationship the restaurant has with the grower or the months it has been in preparation (like a butter, three months in the making). And we were full – but then 10 courses isn’t my average dinner consumption.
A birthday cake arrived for Rich with a candle to blow out but no singing – much to his relief – and was in-keeping with the general vibe: classy, mysterious, special. And these little touches made the bill slightly less painful. But what didn’t help was the awkwardness when it came to money…
We were given a glass each of something sparkling on arrival and it wasn’t clear whether this was included or an expensive glass that would be topping up our bill later on. So when they placed the bottle in front of us, we asked if we could check the price before committing. The waitress rushed away, shocked, then remerged and whispered: 45 euros. We were fine with spending that but not with being made to feel uncomfortable for having asked. It was the same when the bill arrived and we’d been overcharged – rather than apologise, the extra items were removed with more than a hint of disgruntlement.
But that’s a side note, as it didn’t dominate the evening. And if you’re looking for a meal like no other you’ve had before, with the freshest of ingredients, the most attentive of staff, a theatrical introduction to each course in beautifully gloomy surroundings, you’ll love this restaurant. But be prepared to splurge – the 10 courses are 80 euros per person and drinks (a bottle of wine, one beer, two small glasses) easily add at least an additional 100 euros. It’s all relative, but for us – this was a real indulgence.
After attempting to lie-in, I gave up at 7am, put on my running trainers and went on a breakfast mission. I ended up back near the canal, which was quiet but for a few gaggles of young people up from the night before sat playing music on their phones and drinking beer. No shops were open for bread – over the weekend we noticed there aren’t many supermarkets in general, and the ones we could find were mostly closed – so the Airbnb kitchen didn’t get much use.
I went back, empty-handed, had a bath and we headed out for breakfast. Now mid-morning, we were hungover and hungry so gave up on recommendations and headed into the first place we saw – Koyote Cafe which, luckily, is brilliant for brunch. Rich had a thick buttermilk pancake with flambéed banana, cottage cheese, crispy bacon and maple syrup, while I had the house special: a flattened baguette with a creamy bean sauce, topped with melted cheese and served with a fresh, spicy salsa and guacamole.
Now full, we took the underground up to Prenzlauer Berg for the Sunday flea market, set alongside a pretty park. We meandered past stalls selling antique furniture, secondhand kids’ clothes, rusty signs, bronze letters, old bunches of keys and vintage clothes for adults, then headed back towards the station and after draining two beers (each), went in search of a canal-side party.
We liked the idea of Berghain – Berlin’s most famous nightclub; playing dance music from Friday night right through to Sunday with a darkened ‘sex room’ for the liberal-minded – but decided it wasn’t right this time, so instead headed back to Kreuzberg. After yet more beers, we found ourselves lying down on a wall next to the canal feeling pooped. On a short trip, there’s pressure to see as much as possible, but we resisted the pressure, picked up some German lager and headed back to the apartment for a siesta.
By 7pm, we were ready to head out again so popped round the corner to Hamy Café for some Vietnamese. The alfresco tables were packed so we sat inside and ordered from a reassuringly small menu of about seven dishes. I had the Vietnamese salad with chicken and rice noodles, Rich had a ramen. A word of warning: even if you think you’re into chilli, as we do, the fresh chillies they brought as a side dish nearly blasted my eyeballs out. Eat with caution. But otherwise, the food was tasty and cost a mere 3 euros per dish, a satisfying saving, after splashing out the night before.
We gave up on the idea of a canal party and spent the rest of the evening reading and chilling – preparing for an early flight home. After walking for miles, eating lots of rich food and necking copious large beers, it felt nice to kick back and unwind. Then the next morning we got the underground and a bus back to the airport, which cost 6 euros each and was less of a faff than we’d imagined.
Back home, we were greeted by a suspicious Joni who later on had the most epic tantrum I’ve ever witnessed. But what can be expected of a two-year-old who had no idea where her parents had gone and when they’d return? Even in the care of her doting grandparents, whom she adores, she was a little bereft. However, she’ll get over it and we’re looking forward to our next city break.
If you’re planning a bit of a chilled, foodie trip to Berlin, get yourself a copy of this Stil in Berlin map. Our host lent us his and with lots of cool cafes, bars, delis, markets and restaurants marked around the city, it came in quite handy.
Have you been to Berlin? What were your favourites restaurants, bars, cafes, galleries, places to visit? We’d love to hear from you, let us know in the comment section below…