Berlin. My favorite city in Europe. A unique blend of old and new, of communist and capitalist. The old German capital that has seen so much change over the last 100 years. The home to monarchs, democrats, fascists and socialists, the city has been shaped over time leaving a city like no other. A Stadt characterized by beauty and ugliness, by locals and foreigners, cold winters and hot summers. I love this city for so many reasons and I hope you will too.
Historically after World War II, Berlin has been a city on the move. Basically starting from nothing after its destruction, Berlin has been molded by its immigrants and its split history due to allied and Soviet occupation. The most notable immigrant group in Berlin are the Turks, invited to rebuild German metropolises as migrant workers in the 50’s and 60’s. Today’s Berlin is now the city with the highest amount of Muslim citizens in Germany, an echo from the imported workers of the past.
This varied past has left modern Berlin as a hub for cultural integration, a city that is no more German than it is international. It stands as a testament to the diversity of European integration, which leaves a traveler with tons to see and do, each trip different than the one before. A youthful town with great vibes and an outlet for what ever your fancy is. Late nights, good food, the world’s best beer, incredible structures, Berlin really couldn’t offer much more for a young person on the move. You will not be bored in Berlin, I promise you that.
Berlin is a hostel mecca. If you have never stayed in a hostel, Berlin is definitely the place to give it a shot. If you are paying more than 15 Euros to stay in Berlin even during the peak seasons, you are simply paying to much. The hostels in Berlin are trendy and youth friendly. During my most recent trip I stayed at PLUS hostel on the east side of the city. It was absolutely massive and they even gave my friends and I an upgraded room at no charge at all. The hostel had a giant bar and restaurant offering cheap food for the hungry traveler, game rooms, a soccer and basketball complex and nightly bar crawls. Sitting only about a five minute walk from the Warschauerstrasse U-Bahn stop, the place to be for Berlin’s clubbing scene and only three stops away from the city center, PLUS is definitely not to be missed.
Don’t feel like you need to stay in the middle of the city near all the monuments because Berlin has one of the world’s best subway systems. Not only is the U-Bahn efficient and can take you to every part of the capital, it is also decently cheap compared to other European hubs, with a day ticket only running you about 6 Euros.
I would however avoid staying any farther east than Warschauerstrasse as the city gets a bit more sketchy in that direction. Since Berlin has a very liberal drug policy, many dealers and hoodlums line up near the clubs trying to sell their goods and pickpocket the more intoxicated club-goers. Like any big city, keep your wits about you, especially if you don’t speak German.
Berlin is a food city with many awesome restaurants and small stands vending the treats you need.
Currywurst is arguably the cities most prolific dish. An odd combination that only immigration can create. Long story short, it is basically a rotwurst (red sausage), fried and then served with a hot ketchup curry sauce ladled lovingly over the top. Cheap and delicious, it is a staple of the city and you surely can’t leave Berlin without getting it once, or five times.
Check out the long form article I wrote about Currywurst here.
Döner Kebab is almost as notorious as the currywurst in Berlin and was invented by a first generation Turkish-Berliner in the 70’s. The Döner has become the fast food item of Germany, with the Dönerladen rivaling the presence of McDonald’s or Starbucks here in the US. Döner is comparable to Gyros or Shawarma but is just on another level. The combination of a fresh bun with juicy meat carved effortlessly from a rotating spit is just so right. Also incredibly cheap, only running at its most expensive 4 Euros, you gotta try it. While there are an incredible amount of Dönerladen in the city, nothing compares to Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebab near the Mehringdammstrasse U-Bahn stop.
Check out my article about the best damn döner in town here.
While currywurst and döner are definitely on the top of my cheap eats list for Berlin, I have also had tons of awesome meals that weren’t eaten on the street. If you stay away from the Tierpark-Brandenburg Gate area, you can find tons of awesome food for about 10 Euros. Some of my favorite meals I have had in Berlin were Indian, Vietnamese and Thai, being absolutely top quality.
If you are feeling like some hearty German fare, stop by
Spätzle and Knödle- Wuehlischstr. 20 · 10245 Berlin http://www.spaetzleknoedel.de
They served up delectable southern German favorites and import their beer straight from the breweries of Munich.
If you are into Markets, one of the coolest markets I have been to is called Markethalle Neun in Kreuzberg. The Markethalle is tucked away in a large warehouse hidden between local residences.. Seemingly small from the outside, the interior is enormous, housing easily over thirty vendors selling high quality food for low prices. While having vegetables, fresh meats and cheeses for locals to bring home, the Markethalle is definitely characterized by its lunch options. Each stall vending a unique array of belly-filling bites from barbecue to Thai food, Venezuelan arepas to French crepes. For the Culinary explorer the Markethalle is a great place to get the local flavor of Berlin’s food scene
Things to Do
Berlin has an endless amount of things to do. No matter what you are into, the capital has a bit for everyone.
If you are in Berlin for the first time, there are a few things that you have to check out, touristy as they are.
Walk through the Tierpark– The Tierpark is a giant, peaceful park in the middle of Berlin, a patch of greenery in the concrete jungle much like Central Park to New York City. On one end you find the Brandenburg Gate, the de-facto symbol of Berlin. In the middle the Siegesäule, a miraculous golden statue with a figure of Nike perched atop. The park is peaceful and a great place to spend a few hours.
Summit the Rathaus– The Rathaus is the monolithic parliament building of Berlin. You have to go to the top and check out the glass spiral ceiling perched at its highest point. The ceiling is an architectural wonder, representing the transparency of the German government and offering one of Berlins best views of the city. One trick for the Rathaus however is that you need to register online a few days before visiting for security purposes.
Explore the Berliner Dom and Museum Island– The Berliner Dom is the largest cathedral in Berlin and one of its main tourist sites. The Dom is back to its earlier glory after being nearly completely destroyed after World War II. It truly is a site to behold. Museum Island holds about five of Berlins greatest Museums. Although I have never been in any of them, I have heard only good things.
Take in the East Side Gallery– The East Side Gallery is the remnant of the Berlin Wall, a memorial to the fall of communism. It’s simply awesome. Miles of historic and beautiful artwork for all to see.
Other Things to Check Out
- Checkpoint Charlie- The old border from West Berlin to East
- KaDeWe- A gigantic shopping center with hundreds of vendors
- Gedächtniskirche- Wonderful old church in the heart of the city
- NikolaiViertel- One of the oldest parts of the cities, traditional German architecture
- Alexanderplatz – The tribute to East Berlin and the largest square in Berlin. You can find great bars and restaurants as well as the Fernsehturm.
- Holocaust Memorial- An ominous and powerful memorial for the victims of WWII.
Berlin is arguably the best clubbing city in the world, home to the weird, the different, the absurdity of German club culture. If nightlife is what you crave, Berlin will not disappoint.
Clubbing for foreigners can be intimidating, confusing and a bit scary but there are definitely hacks to get around this and have the best time possible. While there are many clubs in Berlin, some are not nearly as friendly to foreigners as others, many of them not allowing entry if you don’t speak German.
Be Realistic: If you really want to go clubbing at the giant clubs such as Berghain, don’t go at peak times. Clubs are open at very strange times in Berlin, with some opening at midnight and closing at noon the next day. Don’t go at midnight, you aren’t going to get in. I would recommend going at six am to avoid huge lines and increase your chance of getting in. There is probably nothing worse than standing in line for two hours in the dead of night and getting denied entry because you don’t have the right look or aren’t German.
Be Cost-Effective: There are promoters all over the clubbing areas trying to get you into their clubs by handing out half off flyers and coupons. You want these. If you are really balling on a budget ten Euros for entrance instead of twenty is a steal of a deal. If you are trying to drink, also don’t do it at the club because what was once a one Euro beer outside becomes a seven Euro beer on the inside.
Get Weird: Berlin is a place to be yourself, try something new and have a great time. Don’t hold back and be open to letting go a little bit.