One of the most interesting cities I have visited, perhaps even the most interesting. Berlin is contemporary, vibrant, dynamic with slices of the old and steeped in history.
YOU MUST DEFINITELY DO THIS
THE FAMOUS INSIDER WALK: Not just The Insider Walk but The Famous Insider Walk and I really cannot recommend this walking tour enough. It is superb; doesn’t start too early (about 10am), lengthy (in the best way) at about 5-6 hours and jam packed full of history, locations and knowledge. Put simply it is the best 12 Euros you will spend. The value for money is phenomenal and our guide, Brian Bell, a Texan who adores Berlin, was friendly, upbeat and uber-passionate about the city.
We did this a couple of days into our trip but I suggest you do this on day one. Not only will it help you get your bearings, of which I am always a fan, but you will learn so much that really puts parts of the City in context. This includes, if you don’t know already (my knowledge was a little patchy, but not any more!), how Berlin came to exist (with a gallop through several hundred years), the split between West Germany and East Germany and the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall.
MUSEUMS, MEMORIALS & GALLERIES
THE EAST SIDE GALLERY: Not a gallery in a building but a monument to the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is a stretch of the original Wall now painted with murals. We did this straight after The Famous Insider Walk hopping on the tram before walking along the Wall then onto to Alexanderplatz.
TOPOGRAPHIE DES TERRORS: It’s quite difficult to know what to say about this relatively new and very modern museum. It charts the activities of the Nazis and particularly the secret police from 1933 to 1945. It’s frank and brutal. It’s also informative, heart-wrenching and exceptionally well laid out. It’s a tough couple of hours and the (exceptionally graphic and haunting) photographs will stay with you. One of the best museums I have visited.
BRANDENBURG GATE: Next to the Reichstag and the Tiergarten, it is the emblem of Berlin and a symbol of its unity.
HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL: Designed by Peter Eisenman, the memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is very close to the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate and Tiergarten. It is comprised of various concrete slabs known as stelae which run perpendicular to each other whilst sloping up and down. The slabs, tomb like in appearance, are also set at angles which when you walk through the memorial create a sense of claustrophobia. Each person who walks through memorial has a different experience.
KAISER WILHELM MEMORIAL CHURCH: The church was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1943 and stands today as a memorial. Inside is really quite beautiful. Next to it a new, and slightly bizarre looking, church has been built next to it (you can see it in the bottom right hand corner of the picture below).
PLAN IN ADVANCE
THE REICHSTAG: A visit to the Reichstag building and the Bundestag, the German Parliament. A modern dome and a rooftop terrace are new additions to the building. You must buy your tickets in advance. It is popular so I would encourage you to do it as soon as you book your flights. I left it until about the week before our trip and it was fully booked not only for the time of our visit but for a good while afterwards. If don’t book in advance then you still might be able to visit and you can do this by registering at to do so at the service centre at least two hours before your visit. You can also register to visit in the following two days.
CHICAGO WILLIAMS BBQ – Think ribs. Think pulled pork. Think BBQ chicken. Think MEAT. So so tasty. Does a mean pulled pork with mac and cheese.
WURSTEREI: It’s not the wurst, it’s the best! (Sorry). You cannot go to Berlin and not have currywurst washed down with a cold beer. There are various dotted around the city and they are, excuse the next pun, cheap as chips. We went to Wursterei next to the zoo and ate our lunches happily on the chairs and tables dotted on the pavement.
OXYMORON: Take a break from exploring and sip on a cold drink in a beautiful blue-tiled, art-nouveau courtyard in Hackescher Höfe. It’s hidden away and tucked behind Hackesmarkt and part of a warren of eight adjoining courtyards.
RADISSON BLU HOTEL, ALEXANDERPLATZ: Stop off at this unique hotel bar for a drink. It has the most ridiculously enormous fish tank that fills the entire lobby right up to the top floor. When we were there there was even a diver in it. Well worth popping your head in if you are in the area even if you don’t fancy a drink.
BIKINI BERLIN: Nothing to do with a bikinis, this is a boutique (as in small, concept shops, not high end fashion) shopping centre next to the zoo and Tiergarten. If you’re not going to go to the zoo then there are viewing galleries and a roof terrace in Bikini Berlin from which you can watch the monkeys. I’d also throughly recommend a stroll through the vast Tiergarten which is in West Berlin.
BOCONCEPT: A Furniture store that, as it turns out, is not local to Germany. I did get a very nice concrete dish there though.
SWERVE & AVOID
CHECKPOINT CHARLIE: What can sadly only be described as a tacky tourist trap. Whilst the Berlin Wall was up it was a point at which the Berlin Wall could be crossed. After the wall came down the original guardhouse was removed. It can now be found in the Allied Museum. In its place is a mock-up surrounded by brash actors dressed up in fake uniforms with whom you can pose if you are willing to part with some Euros. It is briefly touched upon during the Insider Walk and warrants no more than this. You can read more here.
Close to it is the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. It’s a large, rather poorly laid out museum (think information dump – it lacks any real structure (including a history of the wall’s existence and the split between East and West Germany)). However, there are some extremely interesting sections looking at the incredibly ingenious ways that people used to try and cross the Wall – parachutes, cars with hide-y holes. It’s a real Marmite museum – a friend absolutely loved it, I’m afraid, I didn’t.
IF I HAD MORE TIME
I would have:
- eaten breakfast or lunch at The Store Kitchen. Part of SOHO House in Berlin The Store Kitchen was opened by Johnnie Collins and Tommy Tannock. Think Green juices, super healthy salad, soups and sandwiches. If you are into healthy eating then Deliciously Ella published this post in September last year as to her favourite hang-outs which has loads of great ideas.
- visited some of the amazing bars listed in this article. If you are going from May to September then the Badeschiff Escobar looks great (outdoor swimming) otherwise The Monkey Bar and Lebensstern also look great (the latter especially if you are a Tarantino fan as Inglorious Basterds was in part filmed here).
I hope this has given you some ideas.
If you have any recommendations please do let me know.