Welcome to My Place . . . Berlin
‘You could never do this in Ireland’ is a phrase I hear every Irish visitor to Berlin say
Berlin’s TV Tower seen from Alexanderplatz. Photograph: iStock
Coman Hamilton left Dublin for Germany in 2010 after meeting his future wife, an East Berliner, at UCD. They now have a daughter together in Berlin, where Coman works in the newsroom of the German Press Agency dpa. He regularly visits home in Dún Laoghaire with his wife and daughter.
Where is the first place you bring people to when they visit Berlin?
I take them to a street where Turkish and Arabic culture is battling it out against a new wave of hipster bars and cafes. Once divided in two by the Berlin Wall, Sonnenallee developed into what locals call “Arabic Street”. Increasingly, trendy coffee bars and beard specialists are trying to wedge themselves in between the Syrian bakeries, Lebanese shisha lounges and Turkish restaurants.
The top three things to do there, that don’t cost money, are . . .
Explore an abandoned building. Whether it’s East Berlin’s old Iraqi embassy or the American spy tower built on a hill of World War II rubble, Berlin is famous for having neglected historic sites, although today more and more of these crumbling buildings are being developed. One Irish man has even set up a website on Berlin’s abandoned sanatoriums, refugee homes and amusement park.
Sit out for drinks in the park. “You could never do this in Ireland” is a phrase I hear every Irish visitor say. Beer costs next to nothing in Berlin, so during the summer months, most people sit out in peaceful public spaces like Görlitzer Park, where the weed dealers will always wave at my one-year-old daughter when I bring her to the park’s petting zoo.
Get turned away from Berlin’s most famous nightclub, Berghain, located in an old factory. The hype builds the longer you queue – “I hear it has Europe’s best sound system” and “Have you heard what goes on in the basement?” – before Germany’s most famous doorman stares into your soul to see if you have what it takes.
Where do you recommend for a great meal that gives a flavour of Berlin?
Many claim the doner kebab is a Berlin invention of Turkish immigrants. Regardless of its origin, around Kottbusser Tor station is one of the world’s best spots for a kebab. Nothing beats an end-of-the-night falafel from the 24-hour Gel Gör (pronounced like gaeilgeoir).
Where is the best place to get a sense of Berlin’s place in history?
By looking downwards. One minute you walk over the names of the Nazi regime’s victims, inscribed in so-called “stumbling stones” and placed outside the homes from which they were taken. The next you’re walking over a line showing where the Berlin Wall once stood.
What should visitors save room in their suitcase for after a visit to Berlin?
Rather than a last-minute fake piece of the wall at the airport, visitors are better off taking a meaningful old trinket from one of many flea markets such as Mauerpark.