8 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Berlin
November 10 2015
Berlin, city of hipsters and history, is one of the world’s most exciting cities to visit. Thanks to a resurgence of culture — with top-quality art exhibitions, a unique fashion style, and a history unlike anywhere else — Berlin remains one of the best places to explore as a traveler. But like any big city, it’s easy to get lost (and not necessarily in the good way). Use these tips to get the most out of your Berlin holiday.
1. Berlin is big, but it’s also really just a lot of villages.
There are a lot of great Berlin neighborhoods. Kreuzberg, in the center of the city, can be pretty touristic, but the neighborhood is also always changing, so it doesn’t matter much if you’re a tourist there. Sometimes the locals feel like tourists themselves!
You can read more about where to stay in Berlin in this blog post.
2. The Berlin Wall is everywhere.
Looking for the best place to experience the Berlin Wall and its unique history? Without a doubt, the best place to learn the history of the Berlin Wall is at the official memorial on Bernauerstrasse. There’s an outdoor exhibition of photographs and info panels with voice recordings along a stretch of the former wall, and a documentation center with a lookout to see what the wall once looked like. One really cool way to experience the Berlin Wall history is on a themed bike tour with a company like Berlin on Bike.
There’s also the famous East Side Gallery, the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, which was painted by a number of international artists shortly after the fall of the wall in the early ’90s. Over time, however, the East Side Gallery has been continuously vandalized, and it’s no longer a stand-out tourist attraction. In fact, the city has recently built a security fence around the wall to prevent further vandalism.
Read more about the Berlin Wall memorial right here, and a more in-depth post I wrote about a visit to the Berlin Wall here.
3. Berlin’s history is more than the wall.
Besides WWII history and the Cold War, Berlin can still hold sway in the realm of history. A day trip out to Potsdam is definitely the way to go in order to get a different history of Berlin. Potsdam — a thousand-year-old city on the outskirts of Berlin — is a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its parks and palaces.
Sanssouci Park, with its many former royal buildings, was once the summer home for the Prussian king Frederick the Great. His grave is still located there, and visitors often leave potatoes on his tomb as a memorial to his remarkable achievement of ending famine in much of Europe, by popularizing the potato as a healthy and cheap food.
4. Berlin’s culinary scene is no longer up-and-coming. It’s all happening.
The food scene in Berlin has been growing ever since Germany’s reunification. Long an international city — perhaps too much so during the era of the wall — today, Berlin has a thriving international food scene. One restaurant, W der Imbiss, has a funky ethos. Located in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood, not too far from the famous Mauer Park, the restaurant serves healthy, vegetarian fast food.
It’s affordable and delicious, and the fusion of Indian, Mexican, and Italian flavors (including pizza made on naan bread, and quesadillas with Indian spices) makes it a unique spot for a taste of the “new Berlin.”
Berlin Street Art in Kreuzberg by Adam Groffman for Smash Transit
5. Art is everywhere in Berlin.
It’s hard not to think of street art when you think of Berlin. From the famous murals that were painted on the East Side Gallery after the fall of the wall, to murals on just about every empty space in Berlin, the city’s grey skyline is often complemented with colorful street art. There are a huge number of street art tours in Berlin.
For some art that’s a mix of that authentic, underground Berlin style — but more than just the stuff you’ll find on the street — check out the cool drawings and artwork on display at the Zozoville Gallery. Artists Johan Potma and Mateo Dineen have an amazing creative style of colorful monsters. You can even find some of their works for sale at the flea markets in Berlin.
6. Beer gardens are still very much a thing.
Berlin may be one of Germany’s most international cities, but that doesn’t mean the German culture isn’t there. When the weather’s good, go to a beer garden, of course! Prater Garten is a great place for everyone, and a fun locale to meet other people. You’ll find long tables of Germans, expats, tourists, and locals, public viewings of football and other sporting events, and general merriment overall.
And, when you get hungry, they’ve of course got sausage and other snacks to eat in between beers. In the summer, make sure to order a Radler (beer mixed with Sprite), which is surprisingly refreshing.
Photo by Gorki
7. Stay in an apartment hotel for that authentic Berlin “like a local” experience.
The apartments at Gorki in Rosenthaler Platz are a great way to see how Berliners live, but still enjoy the perks of a hotel. All rooms have their own kitchen, so you can pick up some groceries at one of the many nearby local markets, and most rooms also have balconies that provide the perfect way to enjoy Berlin when the weather’s good. The rooms are all designed with found objects — almost all from the city’s many flea markets.
For more hotel tips, check out my Berlin city guide.
8. Berlin is one of Europe’s greenest cities.
Due to Berlin’s unique history and geography, the capital city is home to a number of large parks, open spaces, and even lakes. The Spree River runs through central Berlin, delineating north and south, but also allows for a number of canals and jogging paths — great for walking and exploring, no matter the weather. One green place not to be missed is the Tiergarten park. Inside, there’s a huge variety of things to do, from the Berlin zoo to an outdoor museum of gaslight lanterns. There’s also a great beer garden and restaurant, located under a train station in the center of the park. They serve exclusively German food, plus brew their own beer!
And that’s it! I hope you enjoy your stay in Berlin. It’s one of the world’s greatest cities, and you deserve to have a good time.
Have you ever been to Berlin? What’d you think about it? Let us know your thoughts down below!
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