Berlin. The first thing you should do when you get to Berlin? Take a deep breath and understand this: you will not see it all in 48-hours. Berlin is huge, as in nine times the physical size of Paris. There is no downtown area per se, but several, and no two neighborhoods have the same look and feel.
So what to do? Step back, understand, and come along for the ride.
Once a city literally divided in two by a wall, Berlin is now a magnet for creativity, the arts, entrepreneurship, technology and most recently, food. But amidst all of those activities and urban spaces are vast areas of green space, rivers, and canals. When the sun is out, you’ll find locals enjoying impromptu gatherings and picnics. When the sun goes down, it’s time to party.
The second thing you should understand after arriving in Berlin? Rent a bike! While the public transportation system is phenomenal, the city is best experienced on a bicycle round-the-clock. A bicycle-friendly culture, supremely flat terrain and dedicated lanes make it accessible even to the most fearful of two-wheels. You can find bicycle rentals across the city for rates that run €8-10 per day. Not only will it allow you to cover a lot of ground (and pack in all those photos), it’s just plain fun.
Without further ado, let’s dig into what to do in the great city of Berlin!
The First 24 Hours
VISIT: Begin with a stroll through history, past and present, on Unter den Linden. Admire the grandeur of Brandenburg Gate, then take a somber walk through the Holocaust Memorial.
Continue on into the Tiergarten to the Siegessäule (Victory Monument). Be sure to stop off at Soviet War Memorial along the way, where some large format black and white photos of Berlin before, during and after World War II will help you understand the scale of the destruction and all that has since been rebuilt. Berlin, you’ll find, is a city of continual rebirth.
VISIT: Checkpoint Charlie Museum. Although this area of town is exceptionally touristy, the museum is worth a visit. It not only tells the history of the Berlin Wall, but also shares the stories of those who escaped, those who tried but failed, and the families caught in between on both sides of the wall. Details: Friedrichstraße 43-45, 9AM – 10PM every day except major holidays, €12.50
EAT: Turkish Food: Head over to the Kottbusser Tor U-bahn stop in Kreuzberg and dig into some of the best Turkish food the city has to offer. Stop by Hasir on Adalbertstrasse for a döner kebab at the place where it was supposedly invented over 40 years ago. We prefer the döner wrapped in a durum (flatbread). If you’re still hungry, try Tadim, just outside the U-bahn station for lahmacun (Turkish pizza) with salad and sauce. For the sweet-toothed, grab a piece or two of baklava from the shops along the way on Aldabertstrasse.
EAT: German Food. If you prefer good, traditional German fare then make your way to Kuchen Kaiser on Oranienplatz in Kreuzberg. Lunch specials usually run around €5-7, but we recommend the regular menu with German classics like Käsespätzle (German noodles/gnocchi in a cheese sauce) and Sauerbraten. Ask about the local beers on tap, including the unfiltered Kreuzberger Molle.
VISIT: Alexanderplatz. No matter where you are in the city, it’s almost impossible not to see Alexanderplatz because of the famous TV tower (Fernsehturm) plunked in the middle. The tallest building in the city and the most admirable piece of DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik, Communist East Germany) architecture in town.
Tip: If you’re an adrenaline junkie, head to the top of the Park Inn Hotel on Alexanderplatz…and jump off. Enjoy baseflying from 37 stories up. It’s a fabulous way to celebrate a wedding anniversary, or any other day. More information here.
VISIT: Museum Island. Not too far from Alexanderplatz you’ll find Museumsinsel
(Museum Island) filled with art and antiquities museums. It’s impossible to see them all, so pick one or two for the visit and enjoy the rest some other time. Alternatively, just stroll around and enjoy Berlin at its open air finest.
VISIT: DDR Museum. East Berlin, DDR and Communist kitsh and culture – this hands on museum has it all. Its goal is to show what daily life was like in Communist East Germany. Turns out the East Berliners had a thing for public nudity as a form of rebellion. Who knew? Details: Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 1 (on River Spree), Monday-Sunday 10 AM-8 PM (Saturday until 10 PM), €6
VISIT: Contemporary art galleries in Mitte. Just after the Berlin Wall fell, Mitte was the home of cheap rents, squatter artists in unserviced buildings and a prevailing “anything goes” attitude. Although the situation has changed and rents have increased, pushing some art studios further afield, Mitte remains home to many art galleries and a few unpolished bits of the city’s not-so-distant and divided past. For a taste of Berlin’s modern art scene, head over to Auguststrasse and Linienstrasse streets for galleries (most are free to enter). Pop into Kunsthaus Tacheles (Tacheles Art House) for a peek at the gallery and the open-air sculpture garden.
EAT: Naan Pizza at W Imbiss. This little place looks almost like a fast-food joint, but it serves up delicious – and cheap – fusion food. Our favorite is the naan pizza – a wonderfully tasty merge of cultures.
NIGHT: Berghain. Arguably one of the top clubs in the world, Berghain is among the more difficult to gain entry into. Be sure you dress the part and be prepared to wait in lines to get in. If you don’t make it in the first time, don’t despair. Up your cool (or just play it down) and try another time.
The Next 24 Hours
EAT: Berlin Brunch at A-Horn. Get your brunch on with a traditional gemischte (mixed plate) of cheeses, jams, pesto, tomatoes and sliced meat at A-Horn, a pleasantly set café tucked between Kreuzberg and Neukolln. Address: Carl-Herz-Ufer 9
VISIT: East Side Gallery. Artists from all over the world have left their creative stamp on this 1.3 km remaining section of the Berlin Wall. What was once a symbol of repression is now a monument to freedom. Beautiful views of the Spree River can be had from here as well. Details: Along Mühlenstraße in Friedrichshain.
EAT: Mustafas Gemüse Kebab (Kreuzberg). When you see the line snaking down Mehringdamm, you know you’re getting close to Mustafas. Yes, the kebabs are that good. Roasted vegetables, perfectly grilled chicken and a heavy dose of salad and spice. Perfection. Address: Mehringdamm 32
VISIT: Tempelhof Park (Neukölln). Tempelhof is the airport site identified with the Berlin Airlift (June 1948-May 1949), when American and British forces delivered food, fuel and other supplies to West Berlin during the Soviet blockade. The airport was closed in 2008, leaving pretty much everything as it was, including a few supply planes. Now the whole thing, runways and all, stand open to the public and offers the possibility of riding your bicycle down one of the airport runways. Now where else can you cycle down an airport runway?
EAT: KaterHolzig. For a spiffy splurge on the town, call ahead and reserve a spot at KaterHolzig Restaurant. The setting is a dilapidated brick building, covered with graffiti on the inside and decorated in the finest Berlin uber-hip and shabby chic. Be cool, eat well. Then dance the night away in the club.
And if you’ve managed all this in 48 hours, give us a call when you’ve awoken from the dream.