Berlin’s best spots for the Cherry Blossom-season

Cherry Blossom in Berlin

What the cherry blossom season in Berlin has to do with the Cold War, how Japan was involved in planting the trees, and where to find the best spots for the pink sea of blossoms – all of this I will tell you in the following blog post.

Every year between mid of April and the begging of May, Berlin blazes in a pink sea of cherry blossoms. The time mostly depends on the weather and how early in the year it is getting warm. In general, the trees bloom between two and three weeks.

💡 Information about cherry blossoms
Cherry blossoms (also Japanese cherry) or in Japanese called “sakura” (桜 ) is the white or pink flower of the ornamental cherry tree and of particular importance in Japan. The blossom of the tree is considered to be the national flower of the country. In Japan, it describes the attributes of beauty, departure, and caducity. In Japanese, it is combined in the non-translatable word mono no aware” (物の哀れ) that describes the bittersweetness of a fading moment of transcendent beauty. The cherry blossom season in Japan markers the peak of the Japanese calendar and the beginning of spring.
The Japanese cherry is only used as an ornamental tree in contrast to cherry trees that are planted for the actual fruit.
A present from Japan

Germany received the cherry blossom trees in 1990 as a gift from Japan. East and West Germany celebrated their reunification on the 3rd of October. Therefore, the Japanese TV broadcast TV Asahi started fundraising for the planting of some cherry blossom trees. They received enough money for more than 9,000 trees, most of them were brought to Berlin.

Exchange of spies during the Cold War

The first trees were planted at the Glienicker Bridge in November 1990. The bridge links Potsdam (former East Germany) with (West) Berlin and was especially important during the Cold War since the USA and the Soviet Union used it to exchange their spies. Until today, the bridge is painted in two different shades of green and markers the borderline (nowadays it is just the borderline between two different federal states). The GDR (German Democratic Republic, East Germany), as well as the FDR (Federal Republic of Germany, West Germany), painted both around half of the bridge. The part of West Berlin is in a darker green shade. Not only because East Germany chose a slightly lighter green but also because West Germany started painting the bridge a few years earlier and therefore, the weather conditions stained the bridge.

The longest cherry blossom alley of Berlin

More than 1,000 trees seaming the TV-Asahi-Kirschblütenallee (cherry blossom alley) on the wall trail (Mauerweg) between former West-Berlin and the GDR (German Democratic Republic, East Germany). The alley is more than 100 metres (109 yards) long. Usually, there is also the Hanami Festival. Hanami (花見) is Japanese and means literally translated “flower viewing”. It describes the Japanese tradition of visiting the first cherry blossoms in spring and enjoying their beauty. In Berlin, the festival offers a picnic, Japanese food, and a cultural programme.

❗️ Cherry blossom ticker
The city of Teltow in Brandenburg has its own cherry blossom ticker (Kirschblütenticker) to check if the blossoms are already blooming at the TV-Asahi-Kirschblütenalle, the longest cherry blossom alley of Berlin. The ticker is in form of a photo gallery with a current photo of the bud of a flower, renewed every second day during the season. You can check out the ticker here (the homepage is in German).
Cherry blossom meets German history

The cherry blossom trees are mainly planted along the wall trail (the former location of the Berlin Wall) and also marker some Historian places in Berlin. A lot of trees are under the bridge “Bösebrücke” which was the first open borderline between East and West Berlin on the 9th of November 1989, the day of the fall of the wall.

🚌 Where to find cherry blossom trees
📍 TV-Asahi-Kirschblütenallee (Borderline between Berlin-Lichterfelde and Teltow):
Take the S25 or S26 to the S-Bahn station Lichterfelde-Süd, from there you follow the Holtheimer Weg. After around 550 metres (601 yards) you should reach the cherry blossom trees.
📍 Under the bridge Bösebrücke” at Bornholmer Straße (Prenzlauer Berg/Gesundbrunnen):
The Mauerweg with its cherry blossom trees runs directly under the bridge of the S-Bahn station Bornholmer Straße (S1, S2, S25, S26, S8, S85).
📍 Volkspark am Weinberg or also called Weinbergpark (Mitte):
You can reach the Weinbergpark in around 5 minutes by foot from the U-Bahn station Rosenthaler Platz (U8).
📍 Zionskirchstraße (Mitte):
The Zionskirchstraße is just another 5 minutes walk from the Weinbergpark. If you follow the street in the direction of the same-named church you will find an alley of cherry blossom in the middle of the city.
📍 Schwedter Straße at Mauerpark (Prenzlauer Berg):
The Schwedter Straße on the Mauerpark lays between the U-Bahn station Bernauer Straße (U8) and Eberswalder Straße (U2).
📍 Strausberger Platz (Friedrichshain):
The cherry blossom trees are directly at the U-Bahn station Strausberger Platz (U5).
📍 Gärten der Welt (Marzahn):
Gärten der Welt (literally translated Gardens of the World) offer 22 different garden installations. The park costs an entrance fee and is best reachable with the U5 to the U-Bahn station Kienberg – Gärten der Welt.
Click here to visit the official page and to get more information.
There are a few more spots in and around Berlin, especially at the Mauerweg (Wall Trial) where you can find more cherry blossom trees. These are the more famous spots.
The public transport of Berlin is called BVG, click here to find more train connections.

You have read the blog post Berlin’s best spots for the Cherry Blossom-season on My Travel Journal-Blog.

Between mangas and sex-shops in Akihabara

Akihabara probably sums up what people imagine when they talk about modern and crazy Japanese pop culture. If I think back I remember dolls, toys, cosplay, lots of vending machines, sex-shops, video games, maid cafés, electronic goods, anime and of course mangas. This time I will bring you with me and show you this very unique neighbourhood in Tokyo.

💡 Information about Akihabara
Akihabara (秋葉原) is a famous area around the same-named station of Japan’s capital Tokyo. It is known for its major shopping centres full of electronic goods but also video games, mangas, and animes. Therefore, it is the perfect place for Otaku – which is Japanese and describes people who love consuming anime and mangas. After World War II Akihabara gained the nickname Electric Town.

When I first arrived in Akihabara I was both totally overwhelmed and fascinated. This colourful, glowing, crazy, and flashing district in the middle of Tokyo with skyscrapers wrapped in advertisements. Akihabara (and Shibuya with the stuffed streets – but this is another topic) describes exactly how I expected modern Japan to be.

Vending machines full of food, figures, and toys

In Akihabara, shops exist only filled with different types of vending machines. There are rows over rows with machines. Some are for food, and drinks – basically everything you can imagine. From soft drinks over juice boxes, and canned coffee to cake in boxes, sweets, canned food (apparently even hot soup) and Japanese snacks (we even found some insects for grazing right away). Vending machines without food usually include all kind of (soft) toys, key chains, sweets, stickers and figures to collect. They also have these typical claw cranes where you have to grab a (soft) toy with a gripper. Another type of automats is Gashapon (ガシャポン), themed vending machines filled with capsules that have surprise toys inside. These actually remind me of my childhood memories and gumball machines.

Over 18 only

Some shops just had display cases filled with all kind of figures and dolls you can buy. Clearly, not all of the figures were made to play with (depending on the people inside the store I would say even less – some are just for collecting and surprisingly expensive). In the corners in the back of the stores were sections for “over 18 only” hidden in curtains. These areas are guarded to make sure that minors do not enter them. There were lightly dressed or naked female figures in sexual poses with partial utopic body parts. The shop keepers were smart and covered the genital area with the price labels. But I am seriously asking myself what kind of image these sexist figures mirror and how it affects the society.

Akihabara at night
Pachinko – the amusement halls of Japan

There were also amusement halls called Pachinko (パチンコ) filled with gaming consoles most of them anime-themed, arcade games (these games were especially popular in the USA in the 1970/80ties, it is a gaming machine with a joystick and two to three buttons) and gambling devices. The rooms are filled with flashing screens that are lined up in a row. It was so loud because of the sounds, and music from the games that we had to scream at each other. I really can not imagine staying in these kinds of amusements halls for a few hours. Since gambling for cash is illegal in Japan the gamers actually play to win non-cash prizes.

Manga stores and the 18+ section with Ecchi and Hentai

We also went to some of the shopping centres which were filled with a lot of different themed stores. Again plenty of vending machines, but also a lot of shops for all kinds of technical and electrical devices, animes, Cosplay articles – and of course mangas.

We visited two huge floors just filled with thousands of mangas. We browsed through the shelves – and even I recognised some mangas from animes which also aired in Germany. Similar to the shops with display cases they also had an adult 18+ section. My friend and I wanted to take a look inside. We were the only women in the section – no wonder, the magazines were clearly made for men. These kinds of mangas are called Ecchi or Hentai – Ecchi is the softer version that plays with sexual innuendos but has actually backstories and characters. While Hentai is basically porn as a comic version. Some of the magazines allowed a sneak peek inside. I was surprised that some of the mangas actually hid the genital parts with the help of bars – basically censored porn. Most magazines were welded in plastic but I guess the covers already revealed enough about the inside.

Create your own doll

Another two floors were filled with dolls of all sizes, made of different materials as plastic or with porcelain-faces, Barbie-like, in Manga-style, or just plain dolls you could basically build by yourself. – As far as I could see, all of them were female. Mostly with typical doll eyes, long hair, in short skirts – innocent and cute looking. I am not sure who is actually the main customer target here similar to the figures I guess most of them were not made for children to play with. And of course, every doll also had tons of accessories, clothes, hair colours, furniture, and other equipment. There were also doll sets where you could pick all kind of body parts from the eye colour and hair until the size of the breast. At least this time there was also a male version.

Sex-stores and forbidden floors

With a visit to an “adult amusement park”, we ended up in a sex shop – or more accurate a sex department store. These stores were huge – the one we were in had five floors, two for women, three for men. Hence the variety is big. But I would say mostly similar to the sex shops I know from Germany. Though there were actually three floors which were for men only – and two of them were not allowed for women to enter. They even guarded the elevator to prohibit women from sneaking in. Since we were only a group of women in Tokyo we never figured out what they sold in these storeys. Of course, we started guessing a lot because all of us thought it is super weird that we were actually not allowed to enter that particular part of the store.

Maid Cafés
A flyer from my travel journal

Maid Cafés are a big deal in Japan – and as I heard were invented in Akihabara. The staff in the themed cafés wears Cosplay costumes and serve cute or special looking food – for example, shaped like animals. The most common ones are the maid cafés where the waitresses dressed as elegant French maids. The male equivalent is butler cafés but I think they are less frequent.

I saw a lot of girls dressed up like maids on the streets of Akihabara who tried to attract the people around with flyers and their costumes to visit the cafés. The competition is high and most of the entrances hidden on one of the higher floors of the many skyscrapers.

🚌 How to reach Akihabara
If you want to visit the area of Akihabara you can take the metro to stop H16 of the Hibiya Line. Another opportunity is the JR-Line. You can choose between the Yamanote-Line, Keihin-Tohoku-Line or Sobu-Line. The station is called Akihabara. When you reach the station follow the exit signs in the direction “Electric Town Gate”.
❗️ One last comment
I wrote this blog post mainly because I got to know Akihabara as a very lively, exciting and for me also unusual district of the metropolis of Tokyo. Originally, I did not want to include the sexual representation of women – primarily because I only “know” roughly about the role of sexuality and the image of women in Japan, secondly because I was only a few days in Tokyo. But to ignore the whole topic was also difficult because it is very present in Akihabara. I can only speak for myself when I say that I did not feel personally attacked by the figures, dolls, and mangas – even if they are certainly controversial – because at this point I could completely distance myself from the way they were portrayed. Since I am Western European and do not want to judge Japan or its people, and culture – especially since I am simply not qualified for this and also watching two documentaries and reading three professional articles won’t change much – I decided not to go any deeper into the representation of women (especially with a sexual context). The blog post is completely subjective and reflects my own feelings at the moment of my visit.
However, if you are Japanese or feel approached in any other way please use the commentary section to leave a message or write to me privately.

You have read the blog post Between mangas and sex-shops in Akihabara on My Travel Journal-Blog.

222 days of Asia

Snorkelling with fishes, kayaking, street art, a lot of Buddhist temples, eating insects, public bath, vulcanos, motor rides, meditation with a monk, Full Moon Party, dolphins … 

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First of all, don’t get killed

“Oh, you really want to go to South Korea? That’s brave since North Korea has atom bombs and will for sure use them soon.”, “My uncle went to Cambodia but he died six months after this trip since he got cancer from there and the doctors couldn’t help him anymore.”, “I heard a lot of women get kidnapped in Vietnam.”, “Oh, you have really to pay attention. I heard a lot of stories where people got rob out in Indonesia.” Well, I heard a lot of stories like this when I told people about my plans to travel through Asia. I really don’t get why people can not just wish you a good time instead of trying to freak you out with the worst travel stories. Whatever it couldn’t stop me and I’m glad I ignored most of the warnings and just enjoyed Asia.

Furthermore, a lot of – especially Asians – told me I am very brave because I travel on my own. But actually, I didn’t feel I’m brave at all at least not because of my travels. Nonetheless, there is a point where you need to overcome yourself and make the first step for your travel plans all by yourself. But fortunately, the curiosity was always bigger than any fear.  And in the end, most people were really friendly and helpful. I found people who hosted me, invited me for food or gave me a ride. It’s incredible and most places were not scary at all.

In 222 days I saw thirteen different countries. All started with my exchange semester in Seoul, South Korea at the end of August. During my semester I travelled for four days to Tokyo, Japan and also visited different places in South Korea as the borderline to North Korea, the island Jeju, the second biggest city Busan and an island in a river – Nami Island. One day before new years eve I took a flight to Beijing and from there I started my travels through South East Asia – to Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapur, Indonesia and on my way back from Korea to the United Arab Emirates.           

But I will tell you more about all the places piece by piece. So hang on and read about all my crazy, funny and adventures stories.

Japanese Christmas Market in Berlin

In Japan live about 2 per cent Christians. So for sure, it would not be the first country you would associate with Christmas. But this fact doesn’t keep Berlin from organising a Japanese Christmas market. What you can find there? Please scroll down …

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At the weekend of the second advent I had visited the Japanese Christmas market together with my flatmates (Sometimes we’re kind of Asia nerds). The market was in a big hall in Alt-Treptow in Berlin. The first look wasn’t really Christmassy (neither the second). There were a lot of different booths with typical Japanese stuff like soft toys, pictures, little action figures and accessories. You found hand-made kimonos and self-made art. The vendors were different people from Germany or Japan, who came to the market to present and sell special things.

Beautiful kimonos
Japanese art
Try sumo wrestling
Thuna-Don and Zenzai
Korokke (related to croquette)
Yakitori (chicken)
Gyoza
And of course, there were many different booths with Japanese food. In Germany is a big trend to eat vegan, so there were also a lot of possibilities to have dishes without animal products. Of course, they had a lot of meals with rice like Japanese Curry or Thuna Don. The last one is a rice bowl with marinated tuna Sashimi. Other little things were Yakitori (chicken) or different crepes with Salmond-Teriyaki, Kimchi-Cheese or Matcha-Atzuki. They also sell kind of Hot Dogs with specific food like Kimchi, Wasabi and Teriyaki. Okonomiyaki reminded me of a big pancake, I think you could compare it with each other. Of course, you could eat typical food like Sushi and Japanese soap. They also sell Zenzai. It’s a sweet red bean soup. 

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My Gyoza

It was really hard to choose only one dish from the big offer. I decided to try Gyoza. It’s thinly rolled pieces of pastry filled with meat (pork) or vegetables (vegetarian). If you know the German “Maulentaschen” you will know, what I mean. You eat it with soya sauce. It was really delicious, but I waited for one hour to get them because the food needs a lot of time and many people wanted to eat them. But I was lucky because the seller gave me one Gyoza more. Thanks to the hospitable Japanese.

Click here to find more blog post about different Christmas markets in Berlin