Berlin’s Unsuspecting Oriental Charm
I always mix business with pleasure. In travels, I mean. So when I was asked to go to Berlin for work (my 5th time already) I wondered: how can I sample Berlin with a twist? You know, once you go beyond the must do’s, tourist hotspots and the classic city icons.
And since I never met Berlin in a good (weather) mood anyway – this time proving to be no exception – indoors was the obvious answer. Fortunately, #raindontcare made me dig deeper than usual and stumble upon some very tempting and atypical things to try out in Berlin.
The Pergamon Museum
Sitting next to the Altes and Neues Museums on Berlin’s museum island, The Pergamon Museum is a literal trip into humankind’s glorious – and slightly forgotten – Oriental past, with Babylon as the poster child of the exhibition.
The Ishtar Gate is the highlight of the visit. The 8th gate to the inner city of Babylon, built by order of King Nebuchadnezzar II in around 575 BC, back in its days was superbly decorated with jewel blue, enameled bricks depicting lions, bulls and dragons.
A reconstruction of the Gate was built in the 1930s and sits at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, waiting to transport you into forgotten times – where you can admire Nebuchadnezzar’s work of art.
The painstakingly detailed Ishtar gate reproduction is impressive in both size and turquoise charm – making you feel like you just drove your DeLorean straight into Babylon.
Some find the museum small. I found it original and intimately welcoming on a late Sunday evening, just before closing time.
Do make sure you buy your ticket online, though. The crowds are not to be neglected, and even on a late, cold Sunday afternoon, there was still a 1-hour waiting queue.
An Intimate Corner of Central Asia – in Central Berlin
With Babylon still in my head and in a slightly nostalgic state of mind, I came back from the Oriental past into an Oriental present, as I headed to the Tajikistan Tearoom.
The tearoom hides in plain sight and in an inner courtyard, less than 1 km away from the museum. You won’t see any signs marking the tearoom in the street – just make your way in, take off your shoes and sit down for some tea madness.
The country of origin of the tearoom is (as the name gives it away) Tajikistan, where the majority of its population still carries on a nomadic lifestyle, with a culture shaped by Islam, where tearooms served as important communication center.
Women were denied entry back then, but that’s definitely not the case anymore! I left my shoes at the entrance and was directed to a table of chatty Germans, who agreed to have me squeeze in next to them.
There is an eclectic selection of oriental teas on offer, from Russian to Chinese, Japanese, Indian and even English.
I tried the Nomad Tea, strong peppermint served with a biscuit and a shot of mint liquor. But let me tell you this, I’ll vouch for the Assam tea any day! Brewed to perfection and with a pleasant smoothness, it was the perfect fix after the slightly spicy solyanka.
Sonjanka is this Russian stew full of sausage strips, peppers and pickled cucumbers, which came served in bread. Yum!
The Tajikistan Tearoom slogan: Drinking tea means forgetting the world.
**Note that you can only pay by cash.
If you feel like it, venture further into Asia with some Zen time in Berlin’s futuristic spa, Liquidrom. Open every day until midnight, this nude spa is everything you can wish for after a cold, rainy Berlin day. (Obviously, pictures not allowed.)
Possibly the best thing about Liquidrom? They host music gigs! So you can relax and unwind on the sound of live jazz or chillout electronic music.
Now this is what I call Berlin with a twist!
Next time you’re feeling moody from the stinging cold, venture indoors. That’s where the magic begins!