Written and photography by AJ Zeilstra ’11

Welcome to Berlin, the capital of Germany and the unofficial Coolest City in Europe. I’m AJ Zeilstra, class of 2011. I’m a freelance writer working on a Master of English and American Studies at Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, Germany. Berlin has centuries of history and the spirit of a city that’s constantly reinventing itself. To get a taste of its past and present, I’ve got five things you need to do when in Berlin

1
Schloss Charlottenburg
Charlottenburg is the 17th-century palace of Prussia’s first queen, Sophie Charlotte, and generations of other rulers. The palace offers self-guided audio tours of its dozens of ornately furnished rooms.

Currywurst

2
Currywurst
Currywurst is to Berlin what deep-dish pizza is to Chicago or what cheesesteaks are to Philadelphia. This signature street food first gained popularity among construction workers rebuilding the city in the late 1940s and consists of a bratwurst (pork sausage) steamed, fried and topped with curry ketchup, usually served with a side of fries and mayonnaise. Stop by one of Berlin’s dozens of currywurst stands for a savory, crispy lunch, and enjoy it from one of the city’s many parks or squares.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

3
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
This free outdoor site consists of 2,711 concrete columns built on sloping ground. As you descend toward the center of the memorial, the coffin-like slabs rise ever taller until you are overwhelmed by stark blocks of concrete. It’s a moving memorial — a reminder that change comes in degrees, and even unthinkable places are reached one step at a time.

4
East Side Gallery
The East Side Gallery is a 1.3-kilometer section of the Berlin Wall that once bisected the entire country into East and West and is a popular attraction for art lovers, history buffs and cultural tourists alike. Rather than separating people, this graffiti art project with murals from 118 artists now brings people together from all over the world, celebrating the fall of the wall and calling for the erasure of the many lines we’ve drawn to divide ourselves.

Fairytale Bar

5
Fairytale Bar
Berlin is internationally known for its club scene, but in recent years craft breweries and themed bars have diversified the city’s nightlife. Fairytale Bar celebrates Germany’s long tradition of fairytales and mythical figures with an immersive experience of costumed bartenders, whimsical decorations and themed drinks. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, so make a reservation to take in the atmosphere — and drinks — for yourself.