The challenge with a short trip to Berlin is in choosing between the array of eclectic neighbourhoods to visit, but thanks to an accessible public transport system and friendly locals, you can get around easily and cover plenty of ground in a couple of days. What can be assured is that this vibrant city will get under your skin even after a short visit, but this may or may not be in the form of an ink tattoo.
First… Understand The Past
Few moments in history had the worldwide impact of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. And while much of the turbulent history of Germany has been taught in classrooms across the world, wandering the landmarks where so much of the power and devastation played out is essential for any trip to Berlin.
New Europe run free city walking tours (though a tip is expected so don’t leave the wallet at home), which meet under the red umbrella at Brandenburg Gate every day on the hour every hour from 11am – 4pm. The 2 ½ hour tour takes in sites such as the fascinating concrete structures of the Holocaust Memorial (officially named the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe), the unmarked car park under which lies Hitler’s Bunker, Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall, and the Empty Library in Bebelplatz, an underground memorial that marks the spot where 20,000 books considered subversive texts were burnt by the Nazi German Student League in 1933.
While a history such as theirs must be endlessly uncomfortable for German’s to address, the sites in Berlin reveal respectful care and responsibility has been taken to commemorate and ensure the mistakes of the past are not forgotten. Other popular tours include the Sachsenhausen concentration camp just outside the city, an alternative tour taking in the street art of East Berlin and a tour that focuses specifically on the history of the Third Reich.
Fast Food, Street Food, Meat Food
While these days in Berlin you can find a variety of international food options (for example the new local fave Street Food Thursday), the staple of the German diet is undeniably meat, meat and more meat. The fast food of choice is Currywurst (sliced sausage covered in spicy tomato sauce and curry powder), which is available on every street corner, sold from street carts and food stalls.
There’s no need to feel like you’re missing out if you are vegetarian though, as Kopps in Scheunenviertel serves up a surprisingly tasty vegan currywurst, as well as other animal friendly versions of German stodge such as gulasch and ‘veal’ sausages. Further excellent vegetarian dining options include the trendy Cookies (which gets you entry into the adjoined club Cream) in Mitte, the pay-what-you-think-it’s-worth banquet (including wine!) at Weinerei Forum (though occasionally carnivores get a dish or two here as well) and Lucky Leek, both in Prenzlauer Berg.
From Ping Pong To Street Art
In how many cities can you play ping pong in public parks, experience the wonder that is Bearpit Karaoke (at Mauerpark’s amphitheatre on Sundays from April to September), or dance the night away in a 1913 ballroom (Clärchens)? Berlin is a mecca for creatives, and as such offers a seemingly endless array of inventive attractions. The city is teeming with galleries, both inside and outdoors, the most famous of which (and apparently soon to be demolished) is the Eastside Gallery, painted on a stretch of the Berlin wall in Friedrichshain.
Friedrichshain is also where you can explore some of Berlin’s best street art, as well as shop in some of the coolest indie boutiques, especially around Boxhagener Platz. For more great street art, head to the graffiti covered building complex of Haus Schwarzenberg off Rosantaheler Strasse (right near Hackescher Markt S-Bahn), which also houses an insightful Anne Frank Zentrum. When your camera can no longer fit any further colourful street stencil shots from the alleyway, be sure to pull up a bench seat to enjoy a pint of Berliner Pilsner on tap.
Getting Around Town
An efficient public transport network, coupled with the fact most German’s speak English, makes for easy travel around the city. For most trips around town you will use the trains U-Bahn (underground subway) and S-Bahn (light rail), and a ticket will cost around €2.60 and remains valid for 2 hours. But why not make like a Berliner and hire a bike? There are rental stations all across town, and most hostels will hire out their own for around €12 per day.
There are tons of places to stay around Berlin, but for clean, reasonably priced and centrally located rooms, try Meininger Hotels, located in Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Central Station and near Schönefeld Airport, where dorms will cost from €17 per night.
Words by Katie Mayors