Whenever we visit a new destination there are two things we want to see: the landmarks that have made the place famous (yes, the ones that grace several pages of any well respected travel guide) and those places that only locals seem to be able to stumble upon.
So, starting out on this bright but fresh morning we wander into Hackescher Markt to see whether, at this time of day, it is as deserted as everywhere else appears to be.
As we turn the corner, to our surprise the chairs and tables from the surrounding bars and restaurants are stacked to one side making way for several creamy canvas-type market stalls selling all manner of delightful trinkets, hand-made clothes, children’s toys and food…more food than I have ever seen on any other market of this size. Fruit and veg stalls shout out next to popcorn producing adolescents; selections of savoury snacks line up to fight it out against the copious amount of sugary joy winking at you as you walk by. The cacophonic dissonance surrounding us is quite alarming – market traders yelling, trains screeching above us and bells ringing to indicate the coming of the hour – just minutes ago we had been in the serenity of a street nearby. Having said that, for the first time since waking, I felt like I was actually in a city and not the countryside where the only noise came from the birds.
Walking on, and without any real plan we head off to see what else we can find. Now, both being stubborn and neither of us particularly wanted to look at a map, after all that would indicate to others that we are in fact tourists in this unknown city, it isn’t long before the crowds thin out and we once again find ourselves on a side street completely alone. The great thing about this pig-headedness is that we often stumble across places that we would otherwise never find and today is no different. Empty space is making way for modern new apartment complexes with penthouse suites looking out over small green parkways mingling in with old buildings that look long past their sell buy date. Half way down one residential street and you are faced with a contemporary, almost out of place, art gallery on one side of the road whilst a more subdued one sits directly opposite it on the other side. Walking under the archway of the second art gallery, pass the climbing ivy, the space opens up and you find locals sat sipping coffee and chatting over their morning brunch in a courtyard.
Graffiti can also be found gracing buildings across the city but not in the way you normally associate it. Here it brightens up buildings that have been left in a state of dilapidation and has become a tourist attraction in its own right. Artists are expressing themselves freely and it seems to be an accepted art form here.
Heading back towards Friedrichstraße Station and the main area of Mitte we discuss the fact that we are walking down a major street, close to lunch time and yet a town in the UK at this time on a Saturday morning would probably have more people sauntering along. It appears that both residents and visitors alike are late risers at the weekend in this city.
Taking stock of our morning rambling around the outskirts of Mitte, whilst relaxing in the sun with a coffee near Wilhelmstraße Bridge, we decide that a more structured afternoon is in order, one where we can see the major sights and understand a little bit more about the history of this once divided city. So we head off in search of the Starbucks on Unter den Linden next to the Brandenburg Gate for the free tour I have booked us on with Sandemans.
Coming next: Our experience with Sandemans New Europe Free Tours.