Meeting inspirational, original, and passionate people helps us to grow into the person we want to be. I recently returned from Berlin. This was one of the first opportunities I’ve had to travel since Covid-19. The timing of my trip felt significant and weighted with meaning as we continue to navigate this pandemic, plus, the election for the next German chancellor was at that point, right around the corner. I received a crash course in German politics from the local activists and thought leaders (now friends!) that I had the privilege of meeting on my trip.
I went to Berlin with the express purpose of interviewing two incredible women for the Millie Podcast, I ended up learning so much from them and their circle of friends. I carried their insight and magic beyond those studio walls and held it close as I explored their city. The people and ideas they introduced me to added so much to this trip. One of these women is activist and CEO Lama Yammine, who described Berlin as
“…the one place I have found where there’s a high tolerance for freedom of expression and where animal and human rights, as well as rights for the planet, are embedded in people’s DNA. Berlin is a community and a safe space for all.”
What originally drew me to Berlin was its activism: the female changemakers I had been reading about, the community projects, the incredible amount of green space, and the fact that in 2020, Germany had the highest number of accepted asylum seekers in all of Europe (more than 128,000!). A city of passionate activists and artists, Berlin really felt like somewhere I could connect to and be inspired by. But like most cities, it takes much longer than one week to even scratch the surface – but the people I met gave me a thorough introduction.
In Season 2 of The Millie Podcast, you’ll meet two of the women I interviewed in Berlin: Pauline Schmidt, who works with Save the Children Germany and the Human Rights Film Festival Berlin and Ricarda Bochat, who works with Give Something Back to Berlin. In these episodes you will hear about the complicated history of the East and West divide and how its effect still ripples through families and communities to this day. You’ll also learn about Give Something Back to Berlin (GSBTB), an organization that is the heart and soul of this city and devoted to the integration of migrant communities (although all are welcome – new immigrants, tourists, and people who have lived in Berlin for years!).
Before our interview, I joined Ricarda at GSBTB for one of the weekly cooking events she organizes and the experience jolted me back to life – I started to feel like I could actually fit in to this new city. It was a group-led cooking event followed by a ‘come-one, come-all’ style dinner. As we sat and ate on picnic tables in the gorgeous pre-war building courtyard, I sat quietly – with delicious grilled haloumi and a fresh herb sandwich on warm focaccia – and listened. What I experienced was magnetic. I witnessed connections between people from all walks of life and locations, including Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Berlin and more – all bringing their own experiences with an openness and optimism. I left this event feeling ready to take on the week. I recommend checking out the many programs GSBTB has to offer or donating to them online.
Something I quickly learned was that, like Paris, Berlin is divided into separate areas – there really isn’t one city centre.
Kreuzberg This was the home of West Berlin’s punk scene in the late 70s and early 80s, with some of the historic clubs still standing today. Kreuzberg is still defiantly non-conformist, but with a softer edge. Here you can find creative start-ups and digital media companies.
Mitte Just because Mitte is a tourist-favourite doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit – this must-see area is popular for a reason. Walk up and down Auguststrasse, with its acclaimed modern art galleries and the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, an ‘art lab’ where you not only see art displayed, but watch it being produced.
Prenzlauer Berg is a beautiful and pristine neighbourhood with cafés, old buildings, and independent boutiques – perfect to walk around and explore. It is known for the Flea Market at Mauerpark and its principle sightseeing spot – Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer. This 1.4 km-long memorial tells the story of the Berlin Wall, incorporating an original section of the wall, escape tunnels, chapel and more.
Nikolaiviertel (Nikolai Quarter) is the oldest residential area in Berlin, featuring the 13th Century Nikolai Church Museum, medieval streets and the stunning Knoblauch House Museum. A great way to see Nikolaiviertel is to follow The Historic Path, a self-guided tour you can find online or by using city walking apps.
Friedrichshain has historically been the counter-culture capital of Berlin. After the wall fell, there were riots between squatters and police. That tumultuous past has been replaced by cafés and boutiques, but there is still a cutting-edge vibe there, with the renowned techno venue Berghain and the RAW Complex Berlin night market (a series of industrial art spaces and music venues) calling this neighbourhood home.
Graefekiez is bitcoin and blockchain central – Berlin’s tech centre. There are a number of tech start-ups in this neighbourhood and many of the bars accept Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies for payment. This is in stark contrast with the esthetics of the neighbourhood, which has a lot of Art Nouveau influences. If you’re there when the weather is warm, check out Admiral Bridge, a popular local picnic spot.
Rixdorf is big on charm. It feels like a small town within a big city, with cobblestone streets and old agricultural buildings. Check out the traditional cafés and restaurants and visit nearby Körnerpark, a beautiful green space with a manicured gardens, fountains, and statues.
Things to Do
Berlin has an abundance of museums, art galleries and memorial sites. Here are just a few that I recommend!
Checkpoint Charlie: The best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War.
The Holocaust Memorial: Also known as The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold, this stark space consists of 200,000 sq ft site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs.
Museum Island: Visit five world-famous museum buildings that date back to the time of Prussian rule, plus the modern James Simon Gallery. Awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1999.
East Side Gallery: A permanent open-air gallery on the longest surviving section of the Berlin wall that features a series of murals painted directly on the wall.
The Berlin Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum: This gorgeous garden in the middle of the city is on an area of 43 hectares and features approximately 22,000 different plant species.
The Brandenburg Gate: A stunning, world famous 18th century monument built on the orders of Prussian King Frederick William II.
The Berlin TV tower (Fernsehturm Berlin): Go to the top of the tower at sunset for the best view of Berlin.
Picnic in a park: Over 30% of Berlin is green spaces and woodlands! Choose a park, bring your lunch and people watch (my favourite thing to do!).
Bergmannstrasse: Bergmannstrasse is a must-see street with all the restaurants & cafés you need. This incredible neighbourhood is filled with thrift shops, boutiques, cafés and restaurants.
Dresden Daytrip: If you have the time, I recommend taking a day trip out of the city to Dresden, nicknamed the “Florence on the Elbe” due to its location on water and dedication to the arts. Dresden was part of former occupied East Germany and many families are still feeling the repercussions of occupation and being separated.
You will find castles and churches that look like pre-war structures but have in fact been rebuilt with historically accurate materials after they were destroyed by bombing in WW II. Dresden also offers quaint antique shops, its famous Porcelain Cake, restaurants and cafés with friendly staff and romantic tucked away wine bars. Highly recommend a day trip or staying the night.
EMOTION Magazine Women’s Days: If you are traveling around Germany and plan to be in Hamburg around May 19 and 20, 2022, check this out. EWD is an in-person and online conference with panels in both German and English. It is a great opportunity to network offline and meet incredible women from around the world.
Human Rights Film Festival Berlin (HRFFB): If you find yourself in Berlin mid-September, check out the Human Rights Film Festival Berlin (HRFFB). Founded by Aktion gegen den Hunger (Action Against Hunger) in 2018, HRFFB screens powerful and important human rights stories from around the world.
Where to Podcast
- If you are in town to do a podcast recording of your own, book studio time with We Are Producers located in beautiful Prenzlauer Berg!
What stood out were the required negative tests when entering the podcast studio or a cooking event (even if you’re vaccinated!). My immediate reaction was, where do I find a test? Do I have to wait 24 hours for results? How much will it cost? Send help! But after a simple Google search, I discovered that Berlin offers testing pop-up booths all over the city. They are accessible, free and take about 5 minutes. Results are quick – 15 minutes for the required rapid test. The pop-ups also offer PCR tests necessary for travel, at a cost of 100 euros. For more information about where to get tested visit tipBerlin.
So, do we dream with our eyes or our bellies? I still don’t know the answer to this, but food is a language of its own that I strive to discover everywhere I go! There are too many great spots to list, and so instead I will highlight my top spots.
- Mezze Bar by MontRaw was my absolute favourite. Tucked away on a beautiful, quiet street, Mezze Bar features an intimate setting with delicious shared plates. From their deconstructed beef tartar and brown butter carrots, to their handpicked wine list and gorgeous windows that opened to the street – I saw stars.
- Fatoush sidewalk dining and Syrian cuisine at its best, with delicious shared plates. fatoush was founded by three brothers – Samer, Simon and Souhel. And my favourite part? They have a dedicated spice manager (!!!) – their sister Souad!
- Café Nest ‘good mood food since 1972’. International cuisine (German, Mediterranean, Caribbean and Persian) with a ‘Berlin touch’. From inventive comfort food to their new Jerk Master Pop Up Kitchen featuring the finest Jamaican soul food (available every weekend!), this is your brunch spot figured out.
- 1990 Vegan Living is a booming women-owned vegan restaurant scene in Berlin. Check out the casual but exquisite scene at 1990 Vegan Living. You can find a table on their patio and take in the trendy passersby.
We have all the best street food recommendations courtesy of our new local friend, Ricarda Bochat from GSBTB – everything from international vegetarian dishes to Berlin’s iconic currywurst.
- Courgette Fritters at the Turkish weekday market on Maybachufer “This has become a bit of a tradition. With a small group of friends and Open Kitchen participants, we try and meet here every Friday for crispy fried fritters with tzatziki, salad and bread.”
- Basmah Sudanese Street Food “One of our former regulars at GSBTB (who is also brilliant cook) has been working here for a while now, which obviously makes it a special place. It is in middle of Kreuzberg. Try the crispy falafel with peanut sauce in bread.”
- Thaipark (Germany’s biggest Thai street food market) “Nearly every day, and definitely every weekend, this longstanding market features many different stalls selling predominantly Thai but also Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese food. Loads of different options so worth a visit more than once.”
- Curry 36 (Not strictly “street food,” but dine in or take out, with locations across the city!) “According to my father, this is the best currywurst in Berlin. The reason he recommends this one is because of the sauces, with their different degrees of spiciness.”
- Oriana Berlin's lobby bar is for ‘nomads and locals’. Located in Kreuzberg, their gorgeous book of drinks (you can’t call this a menu!) includes creative storytelling behind each concoction that makes it a whole experience! Try handcrafted cocktails like Kennedy, Aphrodite and ménage à trois.
The Koffee Scene & Café culture
- Hop on the U-Bahn or walk to the trendy part of town, Kreuzberg, and visit women-owned café, Mahlzeit Kreuzberg, across from Hotel the YARD. Take your lavender karrot cake & latté macchiato for a walk to a park.
Public transport aka the U-Bahn
Don’t shy away from the U-Bahn (although on weekends you might find it not operating due to a strike!). It’s a quick and cost-effective way to get around. Bring your Google map app to navigate the stops!