I spent a week in Berlin in late October 2017 and quickly realized I should have visited much sooner! It’s a great city with lots to do but a laid back vibe and a very diverse, tolerant populace. My visit coincided with record-breaking wind storms that made it difficult to experience the famous beer gardens, parks, and outdoor markets – so I definitely want to return in the summer.
I based myself at Hotel Jurine on the western edge of Prenzlaurberg in former East Berlin. It’s a small, family-owned hotel tucked into a residential neighborhood next to a Lidl grocery store (a corporate cousin of Aldi). Several bars, restaurants, and REWE supermarket are to the north and east. Several trams and U-Bahn trains are nearby, as is Maurpark – a large public park and weekend market where the Berlin Wall used to be. The Brandenburg Gate is 25 minutes by public transport or 15 minutes to bike.
Do These Things
Stasi Museum East Germany’s Stasi secret police was among the most brutal and repressive of the Communist countries. The headquarters complex is now a museum explaining one histories most extensive surveillance states. The tram ride there includes typical examples of the German version of Soviet apartment blocks.
DDR Museum Experience life in East Germany with exhibits about culture, work, home, technology, and more. Walk through a typical East German apartment. This was super packed with tourists when I visited, but it was worth it.
Templehofer Feld The former Templehof Airport is now a giant public park where you can roam around the old runways. The old terminal building is an impressive example of 1930s Modernist and Nazi architecture. Many food and drink vendors are available when the weather is nice. In 2017 a large section of the tarmac was being fenced off to provide modular, temporary housing for some of the million-plus Syrian refugees welcomed into Germany recently.
Reichstag The building housing the Bundestag (German Parliament) was burned during WWII and sat abandoned for decades behind the Berlin Wall. Now it features a striking modern glass dome above the restored historic building. You can literally look down on the parliamentary chamber and keep an on eye on the politicians. Beside being one of the world’s most meaningful monuments to democracy, the dome and roof have great views over the city places like the Brandenburg Gate, Tiergarten Park, and Spree River.
Markets like Wochenmarkt Winterfeldtplatz Local Saturday market in Sh oneberg. There are many flea markets (flohmarkt) and weekly food markets (wochenmarkt) across the city, with the one at Mauerpark the most varied and well-known. They are great places to buy things as varied as clothing, take-out food, souvenirs and fresh food for picnics – plus great people watching and local flavor.
Hackescher Markt Market and public square in Mitte, with shops and restaurants. Galleries and nightlight in the surrounding neighborhood.
- Märkisches Museum – local city history
- Amplemann shop – kitschy gifts celebrating the famous East German pedestrian traffic signal lights
- Wikipedia Monument in Slubice, Poland
- Sony Center in Postdamer Platz – impressive shopping area with an American-style movie theater (I saw Bladerunner 2046)
The Berliner Maur or Berlin Wall is mostly gone and the two halves of the city have been almost completely woven back together. Only a few sections of the wall remain. In its place are a several art installations and markings on the sidewalk indicating where the boundary between East and West used to be. “Maur” is German for “wall” and is an indication of something wall-related, like the Maurpark.
One way to get your bearings is to look at the pedestrian traffic signals. Former East Berlin streets use the distinctive Ampelmann lights for walk/don’t walk.
East Side Gallery The largest bit of remaining wall is along the Spree River and features several murals and works of graffiti art related to the Cold War and the East German regime.
Food I didn’t do much restaurant sampling on this trip, but did find a few highlights worth checking out:
- Dolden Mädel Braugasthaus: Beer bar with large selection and good German pub food. Mehringdamm, Kreuzberg.
- Melt: Cafe and creperie, Friedrichshain
- Coffee Fellows / Coworking Berlin: on Danziger Str. in Prenzlauer Berg
- Impala Coffee: on Schönhauser Allee in Prenzlauer Berg
- Ziervogels Kult-Curry: Typical Currywurst join on on Schönhauser Allee in Prenzlauer Berg
Day Trip to Poland
An hour-long train ride to Polish border are the twin towns of Frankfurt (Oder), Germany and Slubice, Poland, on either side of the Oder River. The lovely towns are good for a day of walking and sightseeing. Slubice is home to the Wikipedia Monument, and several shops catering to Germans looking for cheap cigarettes and liquor.
Articles and resources
- Kottke: Some reflections on my trip to Berlin
- Nomadic Matt: How to Conquer the City of Berlin
- Uncornered Market: Berlin Travel: A Beginner’s Guide to Things to Do, See, and Eat
Language English is common in the tourism, retail, and service sectors. However, as with anywhere, you are much better received if you can initiate any transaction or conversation with a few words in German. Spend some time in advance studying a map to look at the names of neighborhoods, attractions, and train stations. German words are quite phonetic, so it’s relatively easy to figure out.
Money Berlin is quite affordable for being a major global capital. Lodging, food, and entertainment are all very reasonable. Cash is still common in Germany. Many smaller cafes, shops, and restaurants do not take credit or debit cards, so be sure to carry €20-30 when you are out and about and research ahead of time for more expensive purchases.
Getting Around Berlin is a sprawling city and destinations can be further apart than they appear on the map. The entire city is very walkable, but public transit or bicycling are important for traveling between neighborhoods. Plan ahead to visit things in the same or nearby neighborhoods, or allow lots of time to travel across town. Public transport is affordable and ubiquitous. The U-Bahn (Underground) is the subway system in central Berlin and the S-Bahn is the surface train network that covers a wider area. Trams (modern streetcars) are common throughout former East Berlin, and line numbers starting with M are 24 hour trams. One ticket or pass works on all modes of transport, but you must stamp it in a validator machine before boarding. There are no gates or turnstiles, so plain clothes transport police will sometimes ask to see your validated ticket. The mobile ticketing app is called “FahrInfo Plus”.