In his other, non-sportswriting career, Mr. Fitz is a music journalist. On Halloween the stars aligned so that his favourite-ever band, Crime and the City Solution, were playing in Berlin for the first time in 20 years.
Legendary goth-punk-romantic-former-junkies playing in what we believe is the best city in Europe on what we believe is the best night of the year? You better believe he’d booked those flights and the four and a half star hotel Expedia recommended before checking if I had any time off/ when we were moving house (the day we got back).
How we got there:We flew on Swissair and my God for £200 return did we get our money’s worth: remarkably patient and polite fellow travellers (I note this because I usually fly with Ryanair, surrounded by hen and stag parties). Comfortable seats, ample legroom, stewards who actually appeared to like their jobs and in-flight food that didn’t make me want to remove my palette with a spoon.
In fact, from now on the phrase Swissair will stand as a testimony to anything’s greatness. Try them.
Where we stayed:As per Expedia’s recommendation, we opted for the four and a half star Berlin Mitte NH Hotel on Friedrichstrasse. I have no idea why it was awarded/deducted that extra half a star but it was ace and, for it’s location, very well priced. We had a delux suite for 4 nights for approx £200 between us. Bargain.
Berlin, as one of the three largest cities in Europe (s’up London and Madrid?) has many distinct areas and is also served by an excellent public transport network. It’s worth researching which areas might be of most interest to you before booking your hotel.
Ours was not only walking distance from infamous entry point to the former Communist zone, Checkpoint Charlie, it was also near to a shopping street where you can browse the rails of Gucci and Louis Vuitton, should that be your thing.
I was amazed to see that Checkpoint Charlie – which my Dad drove us through when I was a kid, and the the Soviet “influence” was still in evidence - is now manned by actors in military gear mugging for pictures with tourists.
What we did:Over four days, we had plenty of time to see things that were not eighties punk bands. The Checkpoint Charlie museum gives an interesting insight into life in what was East Berlin, and is definitely worth a look.
I was actually more interested in a street exhibition where artists were each given a chunk of the former Berlin Wall, and asked to paint either a political mural, or one that reflected their own style. Apart from adding colour to a grey street on a freezing cold day, the political side of the exhibition did a lot to show off the city’s spirit.
This is a town whose citizens responded to growing gentrification by organizing naked flash mobs to demonstrate their disapproval. Like, I said, the coolest city in Europe.
Other stuff we enjoyed included the film museum, eating at Café Nolle, and bar hopping, which we did a lot. If you’re into drinking, we’d particularly recommend Bar Kim, a teeny, minimalist venue, CCCP, a Russian-themed bar on with super-cool bar tenders who’ll chat away ‘til dawn if they like you but refuse to speak English to stag parties (ha!).
I was also a fan of Trinkhalle on the corner of Ackerstrasse, which had a picture of Edie Sedgwick in the window and started the night with northern soul hits and cool sixties stuff, and ended it with The Cramps and Ramones.
I think took this picture in the bathroom of Kitty Cheng’s on Torstrausse but, hey, nights in Berlin rarely start before midnight or end before 5am so I might be wrong:
My cooler-than-me parents-in-law recommended hipster venue White Trash, which has a tattoo parlour downstairs. Decorated like a Victorian salon/ 70’s punk squat, the food is your typical burgers/ steaks/ chicken goujons rendered especially well.
A live rock band (you pay €2 entrance as a tip for them), mostly very cool staff and things like 40’s B-movies being played on loop on TV screens around the place give it a great, frantic atmosphere.
Drinking and eating out in Berlin is strikingly reasonable in comparison to Britain and Ireland, with a decent meal in an upmarket venue plus a bottle of wine coming in at €50- 60, which left me with more than enough to spend on drinks and cigarettes, which you can still smoke indoors in most bars in the city.
In terms of shopping, the city also has a lot to offer. I’ll gloss over department stores as guide books have them covered. When in Europe, I prefer to haunt cosmetics shops such as my spiritual home, Douglas, which is pretty much Sephora with a greater emphasis on skincare, and vintage shops, of which Berlin has many. I particularly liked Made in Berlin for clothes, while Mr. Fitz favoured Da Capo for vinyl and second hand books about music (less useful for non-German readers, that last bit).
I also have to give a special Dirty Weekending nod to Fun Factory, which is easily the best sex shop I’ve ever been into. Set over two floors, the shop is light and open (you can see exactly what it sells from the street).
The staff are helpful and knowledgeable, the stock is far-reaching, with everything from Fifty Shades of Grey and the accessories used in the books neatly laid out to games, vibrators, books and really beautiful lingerie and lacy masks on display. It’s also not particularly pricey.
How it went:It was so, so good. Not only was it one of the most relaxing trips we’ve had in a while, also one of the most fun.
xo Rating:xo xo xo xo xo, and because I’d go back every year if I could another: xo