When Scottish writer Ailsa Ross visited Berlin for the first time, she described it as “a big shiny carousel where even under the pale watery skies of winter, you feel part of a Golden Age.” After she decided to call the German capital home, her enthusiasm for the city only grew. During the year she spent there working as a travel editor, Ailsa could be found discovering new neighborhoods on her bike or reading at her local cafe. Here are a few of her favorite things about Berlin.

Follow Ailsa’s story on her blog and on Twitter @ailsa_writes.

Berlin is My City

When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is Teufelsberg, a graffiti-laden abandoned U.S. spy station in what was once West Berlin. Set on the city’s highest hill deep within Grunewald forest, the views from the top are stunning.

What remains of a U.S. National Security Agency "listening station" atop the Teufelsberg, a manmade hill in Berlin (Photograph by astranilsson, Flickr)

What remains of a U.S. National Security Agency “listening station” atop the Teufelsberg, a manmade hill in Berlin (Photograph by astranilsson, Flickr)

Summer is the best time to visit my city, because that’s when Berlin becomes a white-hot whirl of open-air festivals and world-class clubs that never close.

You can see my city best from the glass dome of the Reichstag. Entrance is free; all you have to do is register online in advance.

Locals know to skip Potsdamer Platz and check out Tempelhof–the fun airfield-turned-park where little kids fly their kites down the old runways–instead.

Nowkoelln’s Sunday flea market is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs.

In the past, notable people like David Bowie and author Jeffrey Eugenides have called my city home.

My city’s best museum is the Pergamon Museum. It’s not often that you can climb an Ancient Greek altar surrounded by 4,000-year-old marble gods, then turn around and wander through Babylon’s gates 10 minutes later. The Pergamon is no secret, though. To skip the long queues, book ahead online.

If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that biking is a breeze. Berlin is as flat as Amsterdam or Copenhagen, and there are bike lanes everywhere.

The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is at one of Berlin’s leafy lakes. Schlachtensee is particularly lovely, and was carved out of the Earth during the last Ice Age approximately 15,000 years ago.

An interior view of the Reichstag's glass dome, which was designed to symbolize Germany's reunification (Photograph by hindrik, Flickr)

An interior view of the Reichstag’s glass dome, which was designed to symbolize Germany’s reunification (Photograph by hindrik, Flickr)

My city really knows how to celebrate struggling artists because rents are still cheap enough to allow people to do what they really love.

You can tell if someone is from my city if they have a penchant for Club Mate or Fritz-Kola.

For a fancy night out, I love to watch a performance by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

Just outside my city, you can visit Potsdam’s Sanssouci Palace, a Rococo fantasy fit for Prussian kings. Be sure to visit the fairytale-like Chinese House, too.

My city is known for being a hipster haven, but it’s really just a lovely and relaxed place to live.

The best outdoor market in my city is Mauerpark flea market. The prices may be inflated, but it’s the liveliest market in the city, with live music on every corner.

Nalu Diner is my favorite place to grab breakfast, and City Chicken, a Neukolln institution, is the spot for late-night eats.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read the Exberliner calendar listings.

Best Museum: The Pergamon (Photograph by swiv, Flickr)

Best Museum: The Pergamon (Photograph by swiv, Flickr)

When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I head to the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Museum. It’s free, and full of fascinating details about Berlin’s most vibrant and multicultural boroughs.

To escape the crowds, I cycle along the river Spree in Plänterwald forest.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be the artist Tracey Emin because it’s messy, fascinating, heartbreaking, and, most of all, honest.

The dish that represents my city best is currywurst, which originated in Berlin, and Club Mate is my city’s signature drink.

The TV Tower (aka Berliner Fernsehturm) is my favorite building in town because it helps me find my bearings when I get lost while cycling around the city.

The most random thing about my city is the small garden colonies and tiny summer houses you find everywhere–downtown, next to railroad tracks, under bridges, behind supermarkets…

Madame Claude is the best place to see live music (check out open mic night on Sundays), but if you’re in the mood to dance, check out hedonistic Berghain. It’s one of the best clubs in the world.

The Labyrinth art project at the Salon zur wilden Renate could only happen in my city.

Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam (Photograph by josema_a, Flickr)

Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam (Photograph by josema_a, Flickr)

In the spring you should eat as much white asparagus as possible, just as the locals do.

In the summer you should pack a picnic and cycle to Liepnitzsee, a lovely countryside lake.

In the fall you should wander the grounds of Charlottenburg Palace. The leaves are especially stunning from early to mid October.

In the winter you should sip on mulled wine at one of Berlin’s Christmas markets.

If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss rowing around Neuer See lake in Tiergarten.

The best book about my city is Funeral in Berlinby Len Deighton.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is “Take a Walk on the Wild Side,” by Lou Reed.

In 140 characters or less, the world should heart my city because this is Berlin’s Golden Age, and a throbbing underbelly of artistry and anarchy threatens to burst into the streets at any time.

Comments

  1. Martin
    London
    June 28, 8:38 am

    I wouldn’t associate the words ‘shiny’ and ‘golden age’ with Berlin but it’s definitely one of the coolest must-see cities in the world.
    Here’s a few of my impressions: http://www.fm1721.net/#!berlin/c19dc