Friends had recommended the Hotel Transit Loft in Berlin, describing it, vaguely, as a funky hostel in what was, before the Wall fell in 1989, East Berlin. After short rides by bus and tram – public transportation runs like clockwork in Berlin – from the architecturally dazzling Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the city’s central train station with its multiple levels of tracks and curved glass roof, we found ourselves in an external elevator rising to the transformed upper floors of what was once a yellow-brick, 19th-century helmet factory.
This was the Hotel Transit Loft. Yes, young people populated the place, but we also saw travelers of all vintages – students, families, and our crowd, more, as it were, mature couples. We were quite at home with both our lodging and good fortune. For a rather reasonable 69 euros per night, we were provided with an airy fifth-floor room with views that could have slept six, a private bathroom and shower, and, in the morning, an ample buffet breakfast of breads, cheeses, meats, cereals, waffles, fruits, vegetables, juices, and, of course, coffees and teas.
I dwell on the Hotel Transit Loft because of the ambience and the price, and because of the location, in the section of Berlin known as Prenzlauer Berg. We were a short walk to the trams heading to Alexanderplatz, the transportation and bratwurst-and-beer garden tourist hub. Or, it being early spring, we would stroll in the evening from the hostel, set back from the street amongst buildings in a courtyard, into fashionable nearby neighborhoods with parks and shops and galleries, as well as sidewalk cafes and restaurants offering an array of cuisines. We chose, on both nights, to go German for dinner and were rewarded, to celebrate one entrée, with a hefty veal chop topped by a fried egg and accompanied by raw salmon, a dollop of caviar, olives wrapped in anchovies, cabbage salad, and broiled potatoes.Photos, clockwise from top: The Tiergarten, Berlin’s massive urban park, by Steffen Zahn; visiting the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra; shopping and people-watching in the Prenzlauer Berg, by abbilder; and following the Mauerweg, the former path of the Berlin Wall, by shining.darkness. All photos via Flickr CC BY 2.0. Click on any image above to launch the gallery.
Berlin is an energetic and eminently walkable city, but we had only 36 hours there, and, arriving mid-afternoon on a Saturday, we decided to jump on one of those hop-on, hop-off double-decker tour buses. But being Saturday, city traffic proved exasperating, and the bus made hiccup-like progress around town. Still, we passed alongside several worthy sites – venerable churches and a magnificent surviving synagogue; the venerable Charlottenburg Palace and the Reichstag; the majestic Brandenburg Gate and Siegessaule (Victory Column); the Tiergarten, which is an urban park; and the Unter den Linden, a princely tree-lined boulevard – before electing to get off and explore the city on foot the next day.
On Sunday, we followed the Mauerweg, or the cobblestone footprint of what was the Berlin Wall (1961-1989), winding through the city. The well marked, self-guided tour included the fascinating and sobering outdoor Berlin Wall Memorial. Our walk that day also took us by a desecrated Jewish cemetery that today affords a moment of pastoral reflection amidst the bustle of the city, and by the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial – near the Brandenburg Gate. The memorial is an urban block in which nearly 3,000 concrete slabs — monolithic and evocative coffins — are laid out in a grid of gently undulating patterns, interspersed with the occasional tree and an air of silence.
Throughout our brief visit in Berlin, we marveled at the industry and palpable vitality of a city rid of its dismal decades as a divided city, a city fully embracing both the present and the past.