Berlin Travel, Germany

Berlin, Potsdamer Platz, Germany

A panoramic shot of Potsdamer Platz redevelopment of East Berlin and the integration of the previously separate East and West sectors of the city. Photo by Mihael Grmek.

Visiting Berlin

This northern city has a wonderful vitality, creativity and diversity found in few other capital cities, which compensates for some dour, grim housing districts.

Scattered around this spacious and cosmopolitan city are stunning new buildings – like the Reichstag (pictured below) and the cluster in Potsdamer Platz (photo above), alongside many well preserved or well rebuilt reminders of the past, from pre-war to post-wall years.

The Soviet era Berlin Wall years still have visible impact with a clear though decreasing social and financial divide existing east/west.

Unemployment is high and the young are restless but there’s a strange, thrilling joie de vivre about the city, with its superb museums and dynamic youth culture, especially visible in the wild festivals, arts scenes and vibrant night action.

Oberbaum Bridge (Oberbaumbrucke) over the Spree River, Berlin, Germany

Oberbaum Bridge (Oberbaumbrucke) over the Spree River. Photo by grueneberlin.

Berlin weather

Best: May-September.
Avoid: January-March. Short daylight hours, cold and grey, but snow can help the ambience and Christmas fairs late November-December are light and lively.

Things to Do

Germany, Berlin, Reichstag building

Germany’s parliament building, the Riechstag’s roof, with the glass Foster dome in the centre. Photo by Matthew Field.

Berlin was bombed flat during the last great war so old buildings and monuments are limited mostly to a few survivors and some huge restoration efforts.

Unter den Linden avenue is the throbbing spine of the city, running from the River Spree to the Brandenburg Gate (small picture top left). Berlin is multicentred but this is a classic starting point for new tourists and offers many attractions nearby.

The Bundestag (Germany’s Parliament) is at home in the Reichstag building, a fabulous Norman Foster glass-dome rebuild, finished in 1999, one of Berlin’s top attractions which can be visited free with no prior reservation. . . however, the queues are massive and it may take 2 hours to get inside unless you go very early or book a table at the Kafer restaurant – on top of the Reichstag – for any meal including breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea. With your reservation you are entitled to enter the building via the line-free entrance West C to the right of the main entrance.

The rooftop terrace provides superb 360 degree views of Berlin. Behind Norman Foster’s masterpiece pieces of the Berlin Wall are still visible.

The Chinese Garden in Berlin Marzahn park, Germany

The Chinese Garden in Berlin Marzahn park. Photo by Jochen Jansen.

Other examples of stunning new architecture are the Sony Centre, Debisstadt – the hyper modern Daimler/ Chrysler complex and the New National Gallery.
Berlin’s main Cathedral is impressive and fully restored, while you can get a drink and another great view from the top of the fairly hideous TV Tower in Alexanderplatz.
Gendarmarkt square is old and beautiful, while Potsdamer Platz, bohemian Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg are a fascinating mix of tatty old and spectacular new, with cultural happenings aplenty.

A café in Tiergarten park, Berlin, Germany

A café in Tiergarten park. Photo by Schlaier.

Inner City Transport

– River/canal cruising is one of the most relaxing ways to see some of the sights and water tours are plentiful.
– The overground, ultra-efficient S-Bahn (rail) can give visitors a grand overview of the area on the cheap, from the affluent Nikolassee to the miserable Lichtenberg via many of the big sights.
– Yellow double-decker buses are a great way to see the city from a high seat for a low price, particularly the bus route 100 which cruises many of the greatest sights between Zoo Station and Alexanderplatz. Route 200 is almost as good.
– The U-Bahn is the excellent underground (metro) service, with no turnstiles but cruising ticket-inspectors.
– The city is bike friendly with few hills and apparently 860km of dedicated cycle paths; there are city bike rental locations scattered around, as well as bike shops and varied bike tours available.

Discount transport ticket options include a Berlin Tourist Card covering various zones, various attractions, various systems and various numbers of days! Also on offer are Berlin WelcomeCard and Museuminsel card with differing priorities.

For rides to and from the airport try Airport Transfers Berlin.

Berlin Festivals

The Festival of Lights at/on Berlin Cathedral, Germany

The Festival of Lights at/on Berlin Cathedral. Photo by Thomas Wolf

Dec 31-Jan 1, Brandenburg Gate, New Year celebrations.
February, Transmediale. ‘A platform for artistic and critical reflection on the role of digital technologies in present-day society. ‘
Easter week, Berlin Opera Festival.
May, Carnival of Cultures, Kreuzberg district. Four exotic days of cross-cultural parades, dance, music and artists.
End of June, Christopher Street Day. A monster Gay Pride parade with mad costumes and a wild street party.
Early July, F**k Parade. Anarchy rules during this political event backed by a heavy beat.
early July, Classic Open Air Berlin. Classical music in the open Gendarmarkt.
Mid July, Love Parade, Berlin – the wackiest of local festivals, a weekend of ecstatic body-baring by 1. 5 million techno- ravers.
July, Heimatklaenge Festival. Five days of folk music from Europe.
Early Aug, Klassiktage Berliner Schlossern, 10 days of classical music in the city’s finest old buildings.
Most of August, Tanz im August (Berlin International Dance) – a wide range of innovative, international dances.
All August, Berlin Festival Weeks. More exceptional classical music in various venues.
Late October, Wigstockel, crossdressers unite.
All December, Christmas markets.

For some precise dates or more information see: European Festivals or Arts Festivals

Arts/Culture

Museums
Of around 170 museums, the most popular is the Pergamon, located on an island and housing a spectacular archeological collection.
The Jewish Museum gets 5* for design and layout, while the tiny Haus am Checkpoint Charlie celebrates life and death of and on the old Berlin Wall.

Berlin Museums island, Germany

Berlin Museums island. Photo by Thomas Wolf

Classical Music & Opera
Berlin is home to seven orchestras and three opera houses so finding a seat shouldn’t be too hard.

Night Club/Live Music
wild club scenes are a feature of this hectic city, with many excellent clubs and bars especially found in the cool Kreuzberg and Mitte areas.
For avant-garde clubs and bars head for Friedrichshain – though they’ll probably be out of date by the time you read this.
Flyer magazine lists the latest favourites.
Many clubs offer free entry or ask only a small cover charge.

Clubbing
One of Berlin’s main attractions is its buzzing club scene, with a fine selection of over 200 in the city and mostly not expensive, costing up to €10 to enter (drinks not included). Music leans towards techno-electronic but there’s no shortage of rock, 60’s, alternative music or live acts.
The most progressive areas with the greatest choice are in east Berlin, such as Mitte, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg though there are some long-established clubs in Charlottenburg and Potsdamer Platz.
Premium nights are Thursday, Friday, Saturday and things really start to hum at about midnight.

Short Trips Out of the city

The S-Bahn will take you to the city’s best park, the Grunewald forest, the 1km beach on Lake Wansee, the glittering palace of Schloss Charlottenburg/museum, and to the exotic Park Sanssouci in Potsdam (less crowded during the week), with its palaces, park and various odd structures.

Germany, Berlin city and Tiergarten

A view of Berlin showing, from left to right, the Reichstag, Television Tower, Brandenburg Gate
and historic Adlon Hotel, all in Mitte Berlin, with a section of the huge Tiergarten park visible in the foreground. Photo by A. Savin.

Accommodation

Finding good hotels in Berlin for a good price is not a problem as the post-wall construction boom led to significant oversupply of places to stay. More to the point is where in Berlin is most convenient for you.
For short tourist holidays in the city the Berlin-Mitte area offers best access to main attractions and sights (e. g. Friedrichstrasse), though the best selection of hotels are actually in City West (e. g. Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf).
At the low end travellers need to look for hostels (typically backpacker places) or pension (B&B).

Shopping

Traditionally, the west’s Ku’damm (Kurfürstendamm) and the east’s Friedrichstrasse are the big shopping streets, but Ludwigkirchplatz (square, west) has a good selection of shops, while Potsdam and Prenzlauer Berg (east) are for bargain hunting.
A popular market on Wednesdays and Saturdays is Winterfeldplatz.

Food

Previously renowned for its grossly meaty cuisine, Berlin now offers lighter, more interesting and more health-oriented eateries – even vegetarian and there are plenty of great ethnic restaurants. Furthermore, eating out in Berlin is cheap compared to other European cities.
Try the assorted, attractive eateries and drinkeries in Kurfurstendamm, Oranienburger Strasse or Hackescher Markt, though the latter is very touristy. Many bars don’t open till 10pm!

Tipping

if you’re happy with the service add 5-10% to the bill and tell him/give it to the waiter, don’t leave it on the table. If you’re unhappy with the waiter don’t give anything, it’s not mandatory.

If you fancy a picnic in the Tiergarten park then the wonderful Turkish Market in Maybachufer will supply your every need.
Finally, don’t forget to go into a pastry shop and try a doughnut – in memory of President Kennedy, who, in 1961 in front of half a million people famously said, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner. ‘ (‘I am a doughnut’). His speechwriter was later terminated in extreme deep fat.

Charlottenburg Palace Museum, Berlin, Germany

Charlottenburg Palace Museum. Photo by Thomas Wolf.