When I first moved to Berlin after marriage, I had an initial disenchantment harboured by a stereotype that Germans are rude, high headed and unwelcoming. What I discovered was that while they have no reservations speaking their minds, and there is no beating about the bush with them, they are also extremely genuine, witty and helpful. So, a useful tip: ask them questions at your own risk.
With my stereotype washed away, it is no wonder that I fell in love with Berlin. The city itself is a linguistic experience of sorts; on any given day, I would hear at least eight different languages. Gastronomy took on a whole new meaning as I watched people indulge in foods ranging from typical schnitzels and pretzels, to the more exotic Vietnamese, Italian and Turkish cuisines. Even at 3am, one has a high chance of being greeted by live bands on the streets. Whether live music or street graffiti, there is always something new and exciting to see and do in the German capital. Out of all the wonderful things to do in Berlin, we picked a list of top ten for you:
1. Devour the Heavenly Bread and Doner Kebabs
There is an assortment of over 300 types of bread in Germany. Germans love frisch gebackenes brot (freshly baked bread), which can be found in the bakeries along with other sweet treats. The freshly baked mischbrot (brown bread) is a local favourite. The Germans are not very fond of white bread.
Bread: Organic bakery Beumer Lutum, and the Brotgarten on Charlottenburg Street have some wonderful varieties of volkorn brot.
Doner Kebabs: Turkey’s national dish was introduced to West Berlin in 1972, and is not to be missed. Try it at Mustafa’s Gemusedöner. There is usually a long queue, but trust me, the mouth-watering, fresh toppings are worth the wait. Do also try the Hähnchen Chicken Kebab with grilled vegetables and feta cheese. It is absolutely divine!
2. Bring Out the 2 Wheelers for the Cyclist in You
While the effective public transport system makes it easy to get from one place to another, Berlin is also a cyclist’s paradise, with its flat terrain and wide streets. One can rent a bicycle from a bike rental shop, such as the Fat Tires Bike Rentals. There is an extensive network of cyclist routes throughout the city. All one needs to do is abide by traffic rules to stay safe. Cycling also allows one to get acquainted with Berlin more intimately, and this is when you begin to fall in love with the city. Cycling through the colourful district of Kreuzberg is a delightful experience, where one can see the numerous cafes and shops around Sudstern and Bergmannstrasse.
The most popular bike route is along the Mauerweg, the 160-km-long Berlin wall trail. It traces the course of the former GDR border, encircling West Berlin. It is divided into 16 sections, helping in the planning of the bike tour. One must also visit the Berlin Wall Memorial Museum in Bernauer straße, where the last remaining totally intact portion of the Berlin Wall is.
3. Soak in the Cafe Culture
If you are fond of Bohemian neighbourhoods then Prenzaluer Berg is the place for you. Its countless cafes, bars and restaurants makes it one of the most vibrant squares in the city. One finds a plethora of culinary delights here, and even non-shoppers are charmed by the boutique stores and vintage shops. The narrow streets make for perfect long, leisurely walks. The beautiful Oderbergerstrasse hosts the best cafes in the area, and the numerous playgrounds make it ideal for children.
Breakfast: The cosy Anna Blume – well-known for its delicious breakfast and cakes.
A Lazy Sunday: The Mauer Park flea market – hosting local art and craft exhibitions, a great way to spend a few relaxing hours with a quick bite to eat.
4. Enjoy the ‘Architectural Paradise’ and Spectacular City View
One cannot experience Berlin without exploring the ensemble of imposing buildings in the bustling metropolis. The Brandenburg Tor is one the most significant monuments of Berlin with over 200 years of history. Situated at the end of unter den Linden; a boulevard lined by grand structures built under Prussian kings, and is closed to traffic. Many important events take place here including the New Year fireworks. This iconic triumphal arch looks absolutely stunning at night. Try visiting it after 9 pm when it is less crowded.
Breakfast at Kafer, atop the Reichstag Dome – the smoked salmon, scrambled eggs along with yoghurt, fruit and selection of cheeses was delicious. The best part? Free flow of tea and coffee!
A visit to the roof terrace of The Reichstag Parliament building next door – for spectacular views of the city. (Open daily from 8am til midnight, a pre-booking is needed for this, in order to skip long queues.)
5. Visit the Berlin Zoo
The Berlin Zoo is undoubtedly the best I have ever visited. Established in 1844, it is Germany’s oldest zoo. Its impressive diversity and size make it a whole-day affair, with a visit to the aquarium included. Make sure you are aware of the animal feeding times and plan your visit accordingly. Entry to the zoo costs 13 euros for adults, with family tickets for 22 to 35 euros.
6. Experience a piece of history at the Gendarmenmarkt
Located in the Mitte district, the Gendarmenmarkt is my favourite historic square in Berlin. Comprising a German and French cathedral, a concert hall, the best Christmas markets and a stunning view from the Konzerthaus, this square has to be the most picturesque in Berlin. Do catch a performance at the Konzerthaus if you have time. To excite your tastebuds, there is a charming spread of restaurants and cafes around this square, not to mention the Ritter Sport Bunte Schokowelt, a free chocolate museum and store.
Quchnia – a great ambiance to relax in, with delicious snacks.
7. Revel in the Diversity with Karneval der Kulturen
Berlin is a place of myriad nationalities and the Karneval der Kulturen (Carnival of Cultures), a four-day open-air festival which takes place at the end of May, celebrates this cultural diversity. With more than 700,000 people taking part, hundreds of exotic food stalls, live music, dancers, musicians and artists performing on the streets, this carnival is not-to-be-missed.
The highlight is a colourful street parade on one of the festival days, usually a Sunday, where participants from more than 80 countries perform and demonstrate their art in traditional costumes.
8. Immerse yourself in Art and History at the Museums
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Museum Island comprises 5 state museums, and is a destination for all art lovers. One needs atleast an entire day to explore all museums on the island. You may buy individual tickets or a one-day-pass for all museums.
The Alte Nationalgalerie is the best in the country, home to the work of prominent 19th century German and European artists such as Karl Friedrich Shinkel, Karl Blechen and Adolph von Menzel. There are also great masterpieces by impressionists and post-impressionists like Manet, Monet, Renoir and Cézanne.
Then there is the Neues Museum which has quite a large collection of Egyptian artifacts. Nefertiti’s Bust is the main attraction of this museum.
The iconic Berliner Dom is the largest Protestant church in Berlin and is situated on the Museum Island in the Mitte borough. Its ornate interiors hosting church mass even today, and the view from the top of the Dome make it a must-visit. The imperial staircase and the Hohenzollern Crypt with nearly 100 coffins that date back almost four centuries is also not to be missed.
The Pergamonmuseum is one of the world’s greatest museums with the Pergamon Altar, the Market gate of Miletus and the Ishtar gate of Babylon. At the Alte Nationalgalerie, I just love the beautiful Claude Monet “Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois à Paris”. The audio guide is free, so there is no reason not to use it. It is best to invest in the Charlottenburg Plus Day Pass, which gives you access to everything except the Neuer Flugel.
9. See History in its Most Authentic State
Berlin’s best preserved Prussian Charlottenburg Schloss is the largest former residence of the Hohenzoller Dynasty. The palace is a grand ensemble of buildings, spectacular interiors and artistic masterpieces. A splendid garden complex reflects the history of the Court of Brandenburg-Prussia from Baroque period until the early 20th century. It was the summer residence of Sophie Charlotte, the first queen of Prussia.
The stunning Porcelain Chamber with its extravagant abundance of porcelain, and the vast gardens and walkways for strolling and picnics.
10. The Tempelhofer Park
The former Tempelhofer airport is now a recreational park open to public from sunrise till sunset. It is an outdoor – lover’s delight. The huge runway is perfect for cycling, skateboarding, baseball and kite-flying. There are 3 fenced-in dog runs as well. A lot of festivals, exhibitions and music events take place here. It is especially great fun for the children. Escape the city crowds and spend a lazy afternoon here while enjoying a barbecue.
As you must now be convinced, the German capital is brimming with liveliness all year round! Whether you are there for a short family break or to experience art, culture and history, everyone must experience Berlin’s unique exuberance at least once in their lives.
Always keep a city map with you.
Try learning a few words and phrases in German. Not everybody speaks English.
Tip generously. This is approximately 10-15 percent of your bill. You have to figure out how much tip you want to give before you pay. If not and you hand over a 100€ note (for bill of 92€) there is a great possibility they might think all the “change” is their tip!
Faiza Faisal lives in Munich, Germany. She has done her Masters in English Literature from Kinnaird College Lahore, Pakistan. She also has a Diploma in English Literature from The Exeter College, University of Oxford. She is a stay at home mom of a three year old. She enjoys reading, writing and traveling.