London, Paris, Rome – while other European capitals vie for glamour and extravagance, Berlin, the city with millions of residents on the river Spree, is primarily characterised by one thing: its care-free attitude. Berlin does not even try to compete with other major cities and that is exactly why it has its very own special charm. Its attitude towards life is relaxed, pragmatic and unperturbed. The city is neither rich, beautiful nor splendid. Even its name, which roughly means “the city in the marshland”, does not sound very illustrious. However, with its unmistakeable mixture of shabby looks and imperfection, Berlin has developed into a magnet for tourists from Germany and abroad during the last few years.
If we examine the city’s eventful history, this is far from being a natural process. Berlin was divided into four sectors after the Second World War. Soviet troops sealed off West Berlin in 1948 and it was only possible to supply the city through the airlift operated by the Americans and the British. The Berlin Wall divided the city between 1961 and 1989. The speech given by John F. Kennedy in front of the town hall in the district of Schöneberg in 1963 was highly acclaimed and his immortal sentence “Ich bin ein Berliner” has earnt its place in history. Berlin was the centre of the student movement and squatters during the 1960s and 1970s. Christiane F. not least publicised the city’s downside in her book entitled “Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo” (We Children from Zoo Station).
After the fall of the Wall, the club culture and clubbing scene moved to the eastern part of the city and the western part has only experienced something of a renaissance through the BIKINI Berlin retail and dining complex, the Zoo Palast cinema and the Haus Cumberland on the Kurfürstendamm boulevard during the last few years. Anybody who is discovering the city for the first time can head for a whole list of famous sights. One of the cheap ways of doing this is to take the 100 double-decker bus service operated by the Berlin Public Transport Company (BVG), which passes many prominent places such as Zoo station, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, the Victory Column, Bellevue Castle, the Congress Hall, the Brandenburg Gate and Berlin Cathedral and then arrives sooner or usually later at Alexander Square (Alexanderplatz), depending on the traffic jams, the number of demonstrations and any road closures. There is always something going in the city’s traffic systems – a pony even travelled on a local railway train a few years ago – and that is no joke!
A visit to the Brandenburg Gate on Pariser Platz forms a classic part of any Berlin tour; it is located in the illustrious company of the Hotel Adlon, the Academy of Arts and the French embassy. The triumphal gate, which was constructed in 1793 on the instructions of the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm II, marks the end of the Unter den Linden avenue. The gate is crowned by a quadriga made from sheet copper and designed by the famous sculptor, Johann Gottfried Schadow.
The city’s highest building rises into the sky next to the “Alex” and it is impossible to miss it. The 368-metre-high television tower, which was built in the 1960s, dominates the city’s skyline. The largest inner-city square forms the centre of old East Berlin and it is a transport hub, a meeting point and a shopping area. More than 300,000 pedestrians cross the square every day. The world clock is located at its heart. If you want to enjoy the view from high up, you can do so from the television tower’s viewing floor, its bar or its restaurant.
Even if you are only spending a short time in Berlin, you should explore the government district. The best and most attractive way to do so is by boat. A large number of operators seek to attract visitors to travel along the river Spree through the Mitte district. It not only takes you past Berlin Cathedral, the Nikolai district and the House of the World’s Cultures, but also the striking Federal Chancellery and naturally the Reichstag parliament building. If you book an appointment in good time, you can visit the dome and the roof terrace of the Reichstag free of charge or stop for a bite at the roof garden restaurant.
As soon as the first rays of the sun warm up the city, many Berliners say, “Let’s head for Wannsee.” Amateur athletes, those enjoying an outing and those seeking some peace and quiet will all find what they need at Wannsee. Wannsee lido is still extremely popular with its striking building in New Objectivity style, its covered promenade and its stands selling chips, ice cream and a great deal more – or its sandy beach that stretches for more than one kilometre; the sand actually comes from Travemünde. Visitors have been able to spend midsummer evenings here at weekends and enjoy the sunset for the first time this year.
The building work for the new Berlin Palace already triggered a huge debate. Even after its completion, the palace and its Humboldt Forum still arouse passions. While the façade has been reconstructed in line with the original design on three sides, the river Spree side and the interior rooms have a modern style. It is possible to visit various exhibitions there. The roof terrace, which is open to disabled people too and is free of charge, is definitely worth visiting. You can enjoy a spectacular view of the Berlin Museum Island, the Brandenburg Gate and Berlin Cathedral from about 30 metres up.
What an expanse! People sometimes feel constricted in a big city – if that is the case, it is worth visiting Tempelhof Field. The site of the former Tempelhof airport is a must for those who want to enjoy the view, use their inline skates on the former taxiways or simply meet friends and have a picnic. The people of Berlin fought hard to ensure that they could continue to enjoy this jewel without it being spoilt by buildings. The majority of people of Berlin voted against any construction work here in the referendum on Tempelhof Field in 2014. If you would like to experience the former Tempelhof Airport from inside, it is easy to do so. There are guided tours available in both German and English and they last about two hours.
Those interested in art and culture should plan enough time for a visit to Museum Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Bode Museum with its sculptures, the Pergamon Museum with the altar of the same name and the Old National Gallery and New Museum have impressive exhibits on display to satisfy any art taste. The James Simon Gallery, which was opened in 2019, is also worth a visit; it is the island’s entrance building and was constructed according to the plans of the British architect, David Chipperfield.
Following redevelopment work lasting six years, visitors have been able to enjoy modern art once again at the New National Gallery, which was designed by the architectural icon, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, since last year. However, the collection, the special exhibitions and the sculptures garden are not the only attractions. Those who would like to learn more about the architectural history and redevelopment work should book one of the guided tours in German or English.
Berlin recalls the most barbaric time in German history with a wave-shaped field consisting of 2,711 concrete blocks. The Holocaust Memorial, which was opened in 2005 and was designed by the New York architect, Peter Eisenman, is a place of remembrance. It has been built at the heart of Berlin on a site measuring about 19,000 square metres – just a few metres away from the Brandenburg Gate. There is a memorial site below the concrete blocks and it provides information about the persecution and extermination of European Jews.
What Harrods is for London and Galeries Lafayette is for Paris, the Kaufhaus des Westens of KaDeWe is for Berlin. Hardly any visitor who loves shopping will want to miss the opportunity of strolling along the Ku’damm boulevard and paying a visit to its offshoot, Tauentzien, to see the long-standing KaDeWe department store. Designer fashion and luxury brands on eight floors as well as carefully decorated shop windows are the key features of the store with its high-quality product lines. The delicatessen shops on the sixth floor, the gourmet section, are particularly popular.
An East German Trabant car, which breaks through the Berlin Wall, and the “brotherly kiss” between Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker are some of the best-known motifs at the East Side Gallery, which is decorated by more than 100 works of art. The remains of the depressing wall were decorated by various artists after the fall of the Wall. This has created the longest open-air gallery in the world, stretching for 1.3 kilometres.
You are not only able to enjoy the fresh Berlin air in a vehicle, but in relaxed style on foot, on one of the many new pop-up cycle paths or during a trip on a ferry. You can use the latter to reach Peacock Island in the south-west of the city, for example, travel from Wannsee to Alt-Kladow or glide along the river Dahme to Grünau. With a bit of luck, you might still meet some “genuine” Berliners or people who feel like them. After all, people who have moved to the city, and original Berliners are united by the wish to live in a cool city.
That is particularly easy in Treptow Park, at the former listening station on Teufelsberg, at the newly designed park at Gleisdreieck, at Tempelhof Field or at the numerous lakes such as Müggelsee, Lietzensee, Wannsee, Schlachtensee or Weisser See. Later, as the evening progresses, people are drawn to the clubs or others make their way quite unpretentiously to one of the many pubs or the little shops affectionately described as “Späti”; they offer people a seemingly unbelievable number of solid and liquid types of food that are essential for survival late at night or early in the morning.
It is easy to immerse yourself in Berlin’s night life and not return to your own four walls until dawn beckons. Here is a small selection of what you can experience in the capital late at night.
National and international jazz musicians regularly delight the capital with their live performances. The jazz cellar in Schlot attracts the Berlin scene, visitors can enjoy cocktails at b-flat at the same time and the Yorckschlösschen also has a beer garden. Other popular addresses for evening jazz concerts are: A-Trane, Quasimodo and Zig Zag.
Would you like an ample portion of Berlin bluntness coupled with a great deal of satire? Then definitely visit one of the theatre sit-coms entitled “Good Wedding, Bad Wedding” at the Prime Time Theatre; the performances have been awarded the Berlin Bear Cultural Prize. This comedy theatre is naturally located in the Wedding district. Those who prefer traditional cabaret will find what they want at the Stachelschweinen, the DISTEL cabaret theatre and Die Wühlmäuse. You can also exercise your laughing muscles at the Komödie am Kurfürstendamm and the Schlosspark Theater.
Berlin’s club scene is constantly changing. Parties at the White Trash, Dschungel or Bunker may be a thing of the past. However, Berlin offers dance-lovers numerous locations with very different musical styles – ranging from the legendary Berghain to Yaam and CASSIOPEIA, Kaffee Burger, Lido and Metropol and even Soda Club and Klunkerkranich.
Do you love modern shows, elaborate stage settings and extravagant costumes? Then a visit to Friedrichstadtpalast is just the thing for you. The largest theatre stage in the world offers the very best in grand shows. The Bar jeder Vernunft is the perfect place for lovers of cabaret and chansons, while the Chamäleon Theater offers acrobatics and contemporary circus acts. The Scheinbar is the smallest variety show house in Germany, according to the company, while the Wintergarten-Varieté connects with the exciting night life of the 1920s and provides a varied entertainment programme under an artificial night sky.
There are numerous top-class theatres in the capital. One of the most attractive is the Renaissance-Theater with impressive wooden inlays in Art Déco style. The productions with the crowd favourite, Lars Eidinger, at the Schaubühne are particularly popular. The Berliner Ensemble has had two new stages since the 2019/20 season – but the Threepenny Opera, which was originally first performed in 1928, is still the evergreen. The Maxim Gorki Theatre is the smallest of the Berlin city theatres and is popular for its willingness to experiment – a feature shared by the Volksbühne. The box at the Deutsches Theater gives young productions a chance. The Garn-Theater in the Kreuzberg district is unusual, where Adolfo Assor appears as a solo artist in an intimate atmosphere.
The capital’s beer gardens fill up quickly when the temperatures soar in summer. The Schleusenkrug in the Tiergarten district is very popular. The idyllic Café am Neuen See is situated just a few metres away from it. The BRLO Brwhouse at Gleisdreieck Park serves beer from its own brewery, while Golgotha pale lager beer is available at the Biergarten Golgatha in Kreuzberg. Anybody who needs a breather after a tour of the government district can eat wholesome German food at the Zollpackhof. The Zenner in Treptow Park recently celebrated its comeback – it not only has a beer and wine garden, but visitors can see art in the tower house too.
Berlin’s pub and bar culture is as varied as the local districts where they are situated. Each Berlin resident has his or her own favourites. Do you like nostalgia and 1920s flair? Then visit the Sally Bowles in Schöneberg. Low-cost drinks are available at Trude Ruth und Goldammer in the Neukölln district – and the long drinks are available in three price categories. Leuchtturm and Möve im Felsenkeller are also quaint local pubs. The Kallasch in the Moabit district acts as a bar, cinema and stage. The Mastul in Wedding is a magical bar where less well-known artists perform.
The capital has two top-flight professional football clubs that play in the Bundesliga: Hertha BSC and 1. FC Union Berlin. While Hertha plays its home games at the Olympic Stadium, 1. FC Union Berlin has its venue at the Alte Försterei. However, football is not the only sport where the capital excels: ALBA Berlin is a top basketball team and the Eisbären Berlin jostle for the title in ice hockey.
Alongside its fairly small clubs, the capital has large stages such as Parkbühne Wuhlheide, Zitadelle Spandau, Admiralspalast and the Mercedes-Benz Arena and even the Olympic Stadium. The Waldbühne open-air location is also popular. Vandalised by fans of the Rolling Stones in 1965, the band returned here to finish its tour in 2022 – and on this occasion, everything was peaceful.
Despite being the capital, the prices for food and drink in Berlin are still low compared to other major cities such as Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich. Berlin cultivated its image of being “poor, but sexy” in the early 2000s – a self-image that the then mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, coined. However, the federal capital has now developed into an important German economic powerhouse. The influx of specialists from all over the world, several large universities, tourism, the culinary and creative scenes and attracting start-ups ensure that Berlin is viewed as one of the most promising cities in Europe.
And developments in the state of Brandenburg nearby – Tesla’s enormous factory is only about three kilometres from the city state’s border as the crow flies – the close economic ties with the neighbouring federal state, but also proximity to Poland and Eastern Europe offer Berlin further potential for growth as a metropolitan area and a logistics hub. It therefore comes as no surprise that global corporations have their headquarters here alongside medium-sized enterprises and many logistics specialists are based in the city too.
Berlin food reflects the way that the capital views itself: uncomplicated and without any frills. Even if Berlin does have some top-class restaurants, classic snack dishes such as curry sausage, meat balls and döner kebabs are still some of the favourites for the city’s residents. And vegetarians and vegans can get their money’s worth too.
Rüdesheimer Platz fills up with residents in a good mood and guests, who want to enjoy a glass of wine and food in the fresh air, for four months during the summer, usually from the middle of May till mid-September. The Weinbrunnen has a long tradition: wine producers from the Rheingau-Taunus region have been serving their wines and sparkling wines near the Siegfried well for more than 50 years. Visitors bring their own food with them. The Weinbrunnen is open on Mondays to Saturdays during the season, but closes at 10 p.m.
TheThaipark is really called Preussenpark and is Germany’s largest Thai street food market. Families met in the park to enjoy a picnic as early as the mid-1990s. This is not just a special culinary experience for Asia fans. Visitors can try Thai food from more than 60 sales stands. The open-air market is open from Fridays to Sundays from April until October.
It is true that the people of Hamburg claim to have invented the curry sausage, but Herta Heuwer from Berlin patented the recipe – in 1949, to be precise. For cultural reasons alone, any visit to the capital should be accompanied by a curry sausage bought from a stand. However, people differ when it comes to deciding which is the best curry sausage in the capital. One of the best-known institutions is Curry 36, which has four outlets. Bier’s Kudamm 195 is supposed to attract a particularly large number of prominent people, while guests heartily enjoy their food under the elevated railway at Konnopke's Imbiss. You need to be prepared for one question when you place your order: “with or without the gut?”
Florida ice cream, which is made in the Spandau district, has been a favourite for Berliners of all ages for almost 100 years – and not just in the summer. The ice cream manufacturer relies on hand-made, ecological, CO2-neutral production. Alongside classic types of ice cream, unusual creations such as whiskey cream, Snow White’s roast apple, marshmallow, elder crème and sea buckthorn yoghurt are all part of its range.
Napoleon’s soldiers already raved about the “champagne from the north”, the top-fermented draught beer. The Berliner Weisse is a cult drink and is now even part of the region’s cultural heritage. Gourmets usually drink the Berlin beer in two variants – green (woodruff) or red (raspberry). You can find the beer at many beer gardens and pubs, for example, at Loretta am Wannsee, at Tegeler Seeterrassen or at the Biergarten Luise.
It is hard to believe, but döner kebabs are supposed to have been invented in Berlin and have now made their way to the rest of the country. However, its vegetarian variant, the veggie kebab and vöner, is now just as popular. Vöner and Mustafas Gemüse-Kebap offer popular meat-free sandwiches, but you can expect a long queue at almost any time of the day.
Berlin minced meatballs are usually eaten with mustard and potato salad with vinegar and oil is the side dish. This hearty meal without any culinary frills is not only found on the menu at restaurants, but is also offered as a snack at many pubs – for example, once a week at the quaint Strassenbahn pub in Friedenau.
One thing you must be prepared for is the direct comments from the capital’s residents. Berlin people do not hide their feelings. The famous and infamous Berlin bluntness is a trademark of the capital. “Dit is mir schnurz piepe!“ (I’m not in the slightest bit interested) is still one of the most popular expressions for “I couldn’t care less”. People do not beat about the bush in Berlin, but say what they mean – in a gruff manner, but they are always honest.
There is probably no other city in Germany that has so often been the subject of songs as Berlin – whether as a rap, an Indie song, a sentimental ballad or German pop. Here is our selection of music from or for the capital:
Many visitors primarily associate Berlin with fairly short weekend trips. Here is our selection of small and large, cheap and expensive souvenirs with Berlin charm.
A porcelain gift from KPM, the Königlichen Porzellan-Manufaktur, is a top-class and high-value souvenir. The Berlin manufactory, which was established by Friedrich the Great, combines tradition and design. Enzo Mari, Trude Petri, Karl Friedrich Schinkel – world-famous artists have designed KPM porcelain. Here is our tip: coffee-to-go beakers or cadre vases make wonderful gifts.
This is a must for lovers of spirits from the city: Berliner Luft, a clear peppermint liqueur, which arouses nostalgic memories of long nights in the Kreuzberg district. There are other sorts alongside the classic peppermint flavour such as chocolate, elderberry and blackcurrant.
Earl Grey lime is not a kind of tea here and lavender blossom grapefruit is not a kind of jam either. Those who like crunching their food and having an unusual combination of tastes in their mouth might like to make their way to the popcorn shop in Friedrichshain, try the Knalle-Popcorn(popping popcorn) and take some home for their nearest and dearest.
Summer truffles with yogurt and fruit, coconut flakes in dark chocolate or Berlin bear balls: do you like things sweet and chocolate-flavoured? Then going to one of the Sawade shops is just the right thing for you. Berlin‘s oldest chocolate factory, which was opened on Unter den Linden in 1880, was even the royal court supplier at one time.
Although both of these ladies were born in North Rhine-Westphalia, our authors Gwen and Astrid both moved to the German capital after gaining their university degrees. Both of them worked together at an agency and enjoyed the benefits of Berlin. While Gwen made her way back home some years ago, Astrid has remained faithful to the German capital.
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