Berlin is where it’s at. What’s “it” you may wonder? “It” is art, culture, food, history, shopping, scenery and affordability rolled into a neat little package and presented to you on a plate. Berlin is a city redefined. Unified for less time than it was divided, Berlin is a dynamic, exciting and challenging city begging to be explored and understood. It stands as a harsh reminder of some of the world’s worst political and social atrocities, but is also home to some of the most grand palaces, churches and museums which remind you of its ancient splendour.
Berlin is one of the few cities where I can say I feel genuinely at home and somewhere that I hope to one day call home properly. I first visited Berlin a number of years ago when I was on exchange in neighbouring Vienna and revisited the city last November. I was only intending to stay for a day and use it as a spring-board for other Central European adventures, but ended up staying for 5! Such is the charm of the city. Now – I now that opinions are divided. Some say Berlin is too ugly, too concrete, too fake (90% of the city is reconstructed after being flattened during WW2). Others (including myself) feel it’s a “good-vibes” only city of young, friendly, liberal Berliners who love nothing more than a good beer and some sweet tunes. So not sure which side you’ll be on? Why not use this guide to plan a trip and find out for yourself, I can guarantee the city with have you at “Guten Tag”.
Tiergarten Berlin’s most popular inner city garden is the perfect place to wander, relax or grab a bite to eat/have a cold beer. It is hands down my favourite place in Berlin. I visited during autumn and the colours were brighter and better than my wildest dreams (but my “research” on Instagram shows that it looks like pure magic in winter when it’s snowing). My friend Claire and I grabbed a beer and sat by the lake at Cafe am Neuen See. Worried you won’t have time to visit? Don’t be – the garden sits between Bandenburg Tor, the Reichstag and the Holocaust Memorial so you’re bound to come across it at some stage.
Mauerpark Every sunday Mauerpark, in the trendy district of Prezlaurer-Berg, becomes a popular flea-market selling everything from furniture to vintage fur to Cold War memorabilia. The market also has cool places to sit and eat; with live music and stage-show acts to keep you entertained (including open-mic karaoke). Overall a great day out and an awesome way to soak up Berlin’s young, hip energy.
Fat Tire Bike Tours The ultimate way to explore the city and tick off the major landmarks, as well as learn a lot about Berlin, both past and present. Also, biking is a fun and easy way to get around an otherwise incredibly expansive area.
The Holocaust Memorial (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe) Many walking tours and bike tours will take you past this memorial but if you’re exploring the city on your own be sure to visit the Holocaust Memorial which is dedicated to the dark history of Nazi occupied Europe and the extermination of Jews during WW2. Be sure to ask your guide or the staff at the memorial for the story about the paint which covers the cement pillars, and don’t forget to head downstairs under the memorial to learn more. Downstairs there is also a recording of the names of every Jew murdered during WW2. In the ten years during which the recording has played, it has only made it through the list of names once – taking over 6 years to complete one roll call.
East Side Gallery This decorated 1.3km section of the old Berlin Wall is now regarded as an international memorial for freedom. Located near the centre of Berlin on Mühlenstraße in Friedrichschain-Kreuzberg the wall is covered with murals from artists all over the world representing oppression, the struggle for freedom, peace and community as experienced by groups from every corner of the globe. A true Berlin must-do.
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Museum and Memorial A poignant reminder of a not-too-distant past this “labour” camp on the outskirts of the city is worth a visit if you are interested in Nazi/WW2 history. It requires about half a day but is worth the visit if you have the time. I have been to several other camps, including the more infamous Dachau and Auschwitz-Berkinau, and still find the experience very moving.
Take a photoautomat selfie Scattered across the city and open at all hours (read: all levels of soberness) taking four black and white shots in a photoautomat is almost an obligatory activity. Usually between EU2-3 they are the perfect souvenir of your time in the city. The best challenge? Seeing how many people you can cram into the tiny box.
Museum für Fotografie Home to a permanent Helmut Newton collection and a series of other wonderful exhibitions this museum is a must for anyone passionate about photography.
Ever wanted to feel like Willy Wonka? Obsessed with the myriad of flavours lining the shelves in Euro supermarkets courtesy of Ritter Sport? You’re not the only one. Head to there flagship store to design your own bar for under EU10. Happiness guaranteed.
Cafe am Neuen See Lichtensteinallee 2, 10787 Berlin / +49 30 2544930
Not surprisingly Berlin’s most popular city park also happens to be home to one of its most popular beirgarten’s. The perfect place to stop for refreshment, the restaurant is set on a picturesque lake which makes you feel like you’re miles away from the bustle of the city. While you can grab drinks from the restaurant and sit out on the pier a cheaper option is BYO because the pier is open to the public. During winter there is also a mini ice-skating rink and mulled wine kiosk set up.
Silo Coffee, Gabriel-Max-Straße 4, 10245 Berlin
*Praise Hands* Being Australian I froth over a good breakfast, but unfortunately I’ve found that whilst Europe does a lot of things damn well the best meal of the day just isn’t one of them. Then I went to Silo Coffee and I had to swallow my words. Not only the best breakfast I’ve had in Europe (sorry menemen in Turkish seaside resorts and pancakes on the beach in Santorini – Friedrichschain wins this one) but one of the best breakfasts EVER. Go. Find Heaven. You’re welcome.
(P.S. I found Silo Coffee from recommendations made at World of Wanderlust which I strongly urge you to check out because there are some other fabulous brunch listings, including another personal favourite – Father Carpenter).
Burgermeister, Oberbaumstraße 8, 10997 Berlin / +49 30 23883840
Burgermeister; ich liebe dich. While this burger joint may not look like much from the outside (it looks like a metal shipping crate “dumped” underneath a railway line…how very Berlin) the queue which wraps around it and then down the street just doesn’t lie. One of the best burgers I’ve had. And to top it off, they have fries with melted cheese. *Dies of cardiac arrest but assures God it was worth it*.