Berlin. Its previous mayor, Klaus Wowereit termed the city as “poor but sexy”. Whatever your take, it challenges expectations of a country’s capital. It is a city of contrasts, being Germany’s greenest city with three UNESCO heritage sites, but it is also filled with street art, abandoned spaces, cocktail bars and infamous clubs. It is historical and cutting edge; raw and decadent, polished and tranquil.
After spending a month in Berlin last summer I discovered just how much it has to offer. Here are some of the many reasons to visit:
It will not be long before you notice Berlin’s history stamped around the city – from the Prussian rule to the Soviet era. The Bibliotek memorial is discreet yet poignant, red bricks line the pavement where the Berlin wall once stood, abandoned buildings remain in areas of gentrification with anecdotes about squatters and underground cultures. The neo-classic Brandenburg Tor was the old gate to the city, and Gendarmenmarkt is a square which allows you to step back in time.
When a city boasts a museum island, you know they’re serious. Berlin has over 200 museums, such as the Filmmuseum, a museum of letters, the Currywurst museum and the Olympic Stadium. There is a museum for almost (if not all) everything in Berlin. The Pergamon Museum is full of artefacts from the Middle East and Europe. The reconstruction of the Ishtar gate is a highlight. Best of all, most of the museums are free or very cheap to enter.
Hour long queues for a kebab stall (Mustafa’s), lengthy brunches, a burger bar in an old public toilet with the U-Bahn roaring overhead (Burgermeister), the Nordic Embassy’s canteen, vegan and vegetarian options aplenty, cucumber ice cream (Fräulein Frost), a beer garden where you can hire a paddle boat on the surrounding lake (Cafe AM Neuen See) and of course the currywurst.
There are so many cheap food options in Berlin, which take the average kebab to a level of deliciousness you didn’t know was possible! Street food Thursday, in the undercover Markt Halle Neun, is slightly more expensive, but it provides a taster of the huge range of food options available, and is definitely worth a visit.
Berlin does not sleep, with many nightclubs open from Friday to Monday. Electronic music pounds the city, but head to the notorious Berghain or Watergate. Do not be surprised if it becomes logical to try and gain entry at 10am on a Sunday, or if you see revellers leaving as you start a day of sightseeing.
There are also many live music venues, Electric Swing and bars for a quieter night. From a ping pong bar, top-quality craft beer, Bingo with a twist (Kiezbingo), to Green Door – to enter, you must ring the doorbell.
There are so many parks to make the most of the bike-friendly city. The historic Tempelhof airport closed in 2008, and Berliners demanded that it be kept as a green space. It is perfect for roller skaters, cyclists, runners, dog walkers, and those simply wanting to hang out at an old runway!
There’s also Tiergarten, lakes further afield, plenty of palaces, such as Schloss Charlottenburg, and Kreuzberg’s Prinzessinnengarten – an urban garden with a nice cafe, allotments, and workshops!
Each neighbourhood has something to offer, and many are still developing and changing. Examples include dreamy bookshops and brunch in Prenzlauer Berg. Mitte, a cultural collision of historic sites, third wave coffee (The Barn) and the Street Art alley. Kreuzberg is filled with vintage stores, cafes, the turkish market and many bars dotted around the river. The East Side Gallery, food spots, and many clubs are in Friedrichshain. There are reasons to visit all of Berlin’s neighborhoods, so do your research and take your pick!
TIPS: Pay for your U-Bahn ticket! It works by honesty policy, so non-uniform officers will regularly perform inspections.
Take the free ‘alternative Berlin’ tour for a historic, but different, view of the city. The guides have lots of knowledge on what’s on and the best places to visit.