Sunrise is an amazing time to see Berlin. The whole city is asleep and it’s so quiet I can hardly believe I’m in a place known for its perennial construction. When I arrive at the Brandenburg Gate, the huge square in front of it is empty. I’ve never had a major monument all to myself before, and I savor the moment and its solitude.
Why am I awake at sunrise?
I would love to say it’s because I’m so dedicated to bringing you good travel photos that I woke up early to get a clean shot of the landmark, but the truth is that I only have 48 hours in Berlin and I’ve quickly realized it’s not nearly enough time.
Undeterred, I make the most of my mornings in this massive city and get as much sightseeing in as I can. I visit the big landmarks—the Reichstag, Alexanderplatz, Checkpoint Charlie, and Berlin Wall are all on my list—making good use of the public transport and sightseeing passes the tourism board has offered me as I go.
I use my afternoons to visit Berlin’s famous museums.
There are so many that it’s hard to know where to start, a problem I can relate to coming from London. I’ve always wanted to visit the Pergamon Museum, and even though its namesake altar is closed for renovations, the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way from Babylon are amazing to see.
Across the way, the Alte Nationalgalerie has a great collection of paintings and sculptures, and the Hamburger Bahnhof contemporary art museum’s Warhols and Lichtensteins dazzle me with their colors.
But my favorite museum in Berlin is the Bauhaus Archive. After taking a modern architecture class in college I’ve been fascinated by the Bauhaus movement. I fall in love with the collection, from sketches for Oskar Schlemmer’s bizarre Triadic Ballet to iconic chairs designed by Marcel Breuer and Mies van der Rohe.
Back out in Berlin, I balance my indoor activities with outdoor ones starting with a walk through the expansive Tiergarten park.
Spring flowers paint the ground purple as cyclists peddle lazily over storybook bridges.
I take it all in before ending up at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a moving tribute to the victims of the Holocaust.
Also outdoors are some of Berlin’s many cafes and restaurants.
The ones in the Hackescher Markt are buzzing, and local food stalls fill the air with the unmistakably delicious scent of sausages.
Across the street, I duck under an archway and find myself in the Hackesche Hoefe, a labyrinth of little courtyards concealing boutiques and cafes. Some are perfectly pink and pretty, while others are gritty and graffiti-covered, offering something for everyone.
And it’s these little places that make Berlin great. While the Brandenburg Gate and Berlin Wall are must-see monuments, the courtyards and secret streets of the city are what give Berlin its character.
I experience more of it at the hipster lobby bar of the Michelberger Hotel, which has giant paper lampshades and a courtyard with a collection of vintage post boxes on the wall.
Later I see even more of this side of Berlin at Sage restaurant, where exposed concrete walls covered in remnants of graffiti blur the distinction between the dining room and the exterior yard, which itself is a sort of limousine graveyard.
By the time my 48 hours in Berlin are up, I’ve managed to see big sightseeing attractions and quirky local highlights, sunrises and sunsets. But this city is evolving and ever-changing, its constant construction making it a place that reinvents itself all the time. And that’s why I leave not feeling sad, but excited for what I will discover the next time I travel to Berlin. I just hope I have more than two days when I do.