If you only ever want to visit one place in Germany it has got to be Berlin. It’s not only the German capital but one of the major party centrals in Europe. Berlin is one of these places where no matter what you’re up to, you will find it.
Berlin is huge and by huge I mean huge as in massive. Last time I’ve been there officially about 3.5 Million people lived in Berlin and that’s without the affluent suburbs. This figure makes it the biggest city in Germany and apparently the second biggest in the EU. In relation to other Megacities like Tokyo, New York, Rio and Mexico it may sound small but by European standards it isn’t. You also have to consider that Berlin has almost no skyscrapers. It simply covers a huge area (892 square kilometre).
The good news for tourists and visitors is that Berlin has an amazing system of public transport. Getting from A to B normally is not a big deal and surprisingly quick. The best way to travel is the S-Bahn. It’s kind of a local train that runs above ground (most of the time) and connects the different areas of the city and even the suburbs and surrounding areas including nearby Potsdam.
Then there is the subway (U-Bahn). It has a lot more stops but doesn’t cover the suburbs. You can get pretty much everywhere within the city though.
With S and U-Bahn you have two pretty reliable and quick methods of public transport but there is more to come. Berliners don’t seem to like walking a lot so they have the Tram and busses as well that cover pretty much every corner of the city.The best about all this is, you buy one ticket and you can use it for two hours with all of them. Two hours is more than enough to get anywhere in Berlin even if you get lost. Since public transport is so good it doesn’t really matter where you stay; at least as long as there is an S-Bahn station nearby.
Berlin doesn’t really have ONE city centre. The obvious reason is that it was divided during the cold war. Former West Berlin centers to some extend around Zoologischer Garten with the famous shopping mile Kurfürstendamm and Gedächtniskirche (Memorial Church).
Former East Berlin is supposed to centre around Alexanderplatz but that’s not exactly the impression you get when talking to the locals. Alexanderplatz is a huge square in district Mitte (literally translated: Centre). Here you would find the TV tower, city hall (Rotes Rathaus), Berlin Dome and the famous boulevard Unter den Linden.
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Nearby is the Museum Island with the world famous Pergamon Museum, Humboldt University and last but not least the Brandenburg Gate. Another place to visit and also nearby is Gendarmenmarkt. It’s awesome.
The list already indicates that Alexanderplatz is some sort of city centre at least when it comes to sight seeing it’s just the locals that couldn’t care less. The city is divided into districts and when you live in your part of the city you tend to forget that here is more. Living in Berlin in fact feels like living in a small town where you know neighbours and all that.
Since Berlin is now reunited another city centre was built on Potsdamer Platz. Back in the bad old days the area was pretty much a wasteland. After the reunion that suddenly turned into “plenty of space right in the heart of the German capital”. You can imagine what happened. Trillions were spent to build a shiny new city centre. The problem with it is that no one likes to go there.
It’s kind of impressive what they build – especially the Sony Centre – but it’s sterile. The whole place is offices, shops and this kind of stuff. No one lives there and no one wants to live there. During the day you’d see it being busy but at night it is a ghost town.
When you walk up Unter den Linden from Alexanderplatz you end up at the Brandenburg Gate. It is the national symbol for the reunited Germany. The Berlin Wall was just behind it (coming from the east).
The square in front of it (Pariser Platz) is now rebuilt and resembles the original design. There you also find the best hotel in town (Adlon). If you are on budget don’t bother asking for a room. Actually, even when you are not exactly on budget don’t bother. It’s really expensive.
Walk through the Brandenburg Gate and you’ll see a massive straight road in front of you. That’s the Straße des 17. Juni and it leads right through the Tiergarten. This huge park right in the city centre is quite remarkable. It is densely wooded with a number of clearances. Once you leave the busy road you’ll feel like in the middle of a forest. Before going there you may want to turn right and check out the Reichstag. It is only a few meters. Looking at Tiergarten to your left is Potsdamer Platz and the rather interesting Holocaust Memorial.
Berlin is pretty big as initially mentioned. There are plenty of things to see. One area I found interesting is the area around Hackescher Markt. It was rebuilt after the reunion and gives you a good impression how the old Berlin city centre would have looked like without World War II and 40 years of Communism.
Personally I don’t think that Berlin is a particularly pretty city – there are others – but its vibrant night life, art scene, countless museums, theatre and operas, Jazz clubs, Techno temples, small live clubs as well as big stages make Berlin one – if not the – cultural capital of Europe.
The most interesting parts are well hidden. Cinemas that have only a few seats and show art movies from the 50ies, theatre performances in cellars, art exhibitions in ruins, you name it. Best look for this kind of event in Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg. This is where the “hip people” and starving artists live and work.
Things to do
Pergamon Museum: It is one of the most famous museums in all Germany. It was built to host the Pergamon Altar but also other monumental buildings. Also on display and rebuilt from the original parts are the Market Gate of Miletus and the Ishtar Gate from Babylon. Besides these monumental buildings it has a fine collection of Greek art (Antiquity Collection), artefacts from Mesopotamia in the Middle East section and a whole section with Islamic art. The museum is located on Museum Island in Mitte. Bring plenty of time!
TV tower on Alexanderplatz: On a clear day you get a stunning view over the capital. Just around the corner from there are City Hall, Nikolai Quarter Museum Island, Berliner Dom and Humboldt University. A nice walk would lead to Gendarmenmarkt, Friedrichstraße, Unter den Linden to Pariser Platz with Brandenburg Gate.
Berlin Wall: Not much is left of it but there is a walking tour that starts at Checkpoint Charlie, passing remains of the Berlin Wall, the exhibition “Topography of Terror” and the Martin-Gropius-Bau. The latter you should check out. It is Berlin’s exhibition centre. Whenever something really interesting in regards to exhibitions is going on it would be here.
Another great place to see the wall is the East Side Gallery in Mühlenstraße. From 1990 parts of the wall were painted by artist from all over the world. This part of the wall is over one kilometre long, making it the longest remaining part. Unfortunately this East Side Gallery is not very well looked after (as in not at all). Some of the paintings are damaged others destroyed. Still it is cool and behind the wall you’ll find the Strandbar, on a nice day a really good place to hang out.
Pariser Platz / Potsdamer Platz: If not part of your Alexanderplatz tour you should visit these two places. Pariser Platz is quite impressive and you can breathe history here. Right there is the Brandenburg Gate, right next to it the Reichstag where you can watch the German government doing … well whatever they do all day.
Tiergarten: Great place for a BBQ and chilling out on a sunny day (except BBQ’s are no longer permitted).
Zoologischer Garten: The Berlin Zoo well is worth a visit. Pretty much around the corner from there are Gedächtniskirche and Kurfürstendamm. If you like shopping try the KDW (Kaufhaus des Westens). It is the most famous shopping centre in Berlin and actually quite cool. Build as a temple for shoppers worshipping the evil goods of Capitalism and to piss off the poor devils in communist East Germany it still is a consumer Mecca in a rather pretty historical building.
Places to stay
The cheapest and best choice as always is a hostel. I’d normally stick to Friedrichshain, Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg. From there you can get anywhere quickly. You might even consider renting a bike.
A few recommendations we do have: Very central, dirt cheap and extremely popular is the Pangea People Hostel Berlin in Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 34, Mitte.
Just as good and right in the heart of the vibrant and beautiful district known as Scheunenviertel in Prenzlauer Berg is the Pfefferbett Hostel. It’s actually a refurbished former brewery which you got to admit is just cool.
Just around the corner is another popular hostel. The Baxpax Downtown Hostel Hotel Berlin is renown fo its chilled out atmosphere and from a location point of view … well you can’t really argue with Ziegelstrasse 28 right next to Friedrichstrasse.
Other Berlin Sights:
If you do not fancy a hostel there is a wide range of accommodation available in Berlin. Finding a reasonably cheap place in a convenient location is a bit of a challenge but we in fact can recommend a number of places to stay. They are all between 40 and 70 Euro a night which is expensive in comparison to a hostel but of course they do come with the comfort of your own private room.
A popular choice is The Circus Hotel in Berlin Prenzlauer Berg. A truly lovely place but it is almost impossible to get a room there. You may want to book well in advance. Book here ….
A good alternative is the Axel Hotel Berlin. It is situated in Lietzenburger Strasse 13/15 not far away from Wittenbergplatz and Zooogischer Garten. It certainly offers good value for money. Book here …
A rather unusual place is Judits House Apartment Berlin. It is in Tempelhof which doesn’t sound fancy but is actually quite convenient. And the place is awesome. It is located in a green and quiet area with shopping facilities nearby. You stay in a fully furnished apartment with all its facilities. Another benefit, you can cook in the comfort of your own kitchen. Wireless Internet access is available as well. Very highly recommended and quite reasonable. Book here …
Very central and a bit more fancy is Schoenhouse Apartments in Schönhauser Allee 185. The location is perfect and the rooms are rather nice. It comes with a price tag though. Rooms start at around 70 Euro per night. Book here …
Slightly cheaper in comparison is EnergieHotel Berlin. Located in Berlin Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf it is close to Messe (exhibition grounds) and ICC. With easy access to public transport you get where ever you want easily and quickly. Although it doesn’t sound like much the hotel got pretty good reviews. Book here …
Another favorite place in this – well I’d it call mid range – price range is the Adagio Berlin Kurfurstendamm. It is right next to Kurfürstendamm in Lietzenburger Strasse 89 A. From a location point of view that’s pretty much perfect. The area represents the old city center of former West Berlin with shopping, wide range of restaurants and entertainment. Rooms start around 60 Euro. Book here …
Our final suggestions are both a bit out of town but in wonderful locations. The hotel Wannsee-Hof is – as you can probably guess – located in Wannsee which is one of the fancier parts of Berlin. There isn’t much going on in Wannsee but it is right next to the biggest lake in Berlin. Also nearby is Loretta which at least in summer is a popular restaurant. It’s basically a big garden with enough shade and a wonderful view over the lake. By S-Bahn from Wannsee you are in city center within 30 minutes and the trains go frequently. Book here …
Pretty much at the other end of town is Hotel Spree-idyll. It is in Mueggelseedamm 70 near the other really big lake in Berlin: Müggelsee. The hotel is located next to a marina, most of the rooms have wonderful terraces. It is a rather quite place so probably not a good choice for party people. Book here …
FACTS ABOUT BERLIN:
- Berlin is the capital of Germany
- It is the largest city in Germany.
- The city is divided into 12 boroughs.
- Almost 3.5 Million people live in Berlin.
- Berlin is one of the cultural capitals of Europe.
- During the Cold War the city was divided by the Berlin Wall. West Berlin belonged to West Germany but – like an island – was surrounded by East Germany (GDR).
- East Berlin was the capital of the former GDR.
- The area code is: 030.