A quarter of a century after The Wall came down and Berlin is a truly buzzing hotspot, overflowing with cool clubs and cultural highs. Berlin is a thriving, vibrant, cosmopolitan international capital. It’s a city with an open-minded attitude, reflected in its bohemian atmosphere and decadent nightlife.
For a city that was levelled in the 40s and then cut in half by communism, Berlin, with its dozen boroughs and 96 Ortsteile (districts), is divided no longer, it’s now a thriving, vibrant, cosmopolitan international capital. There has clearly been a lot of rebuilding, physically and metaphorically, which perhaps explains why Berliners know how to party. There are also loads of festivals – from parades and outdoor events, to music and culture festivals.
Berlin at a glance:
- Though the Berlin Wall tore the capital in half, the city has since rebuilt itself spectacularly
- An unrivalled club scene with an emphasis on techno and dance music
- Berliners like their beer, with traditional beer halls, specialist bars and festivals at various times throughout the year
- A city of contrasts, with architecture encompassing historical gems, stoical communist blocks and ultra modern buildings
Mitte – Berlin’s centre
As the name suggests (mitte is German for middle), Mitte is bang smack in the centre of the city along the Spree River. It’s estimated that there’s around 400 art galleries in Mitte, plus you’ll also find some of the city’s best and most exclusive bars, cafes and restaurants, as well as plenty of department stores, arcades and shopping centres.
Potsdamer Platz – a shopping and entertainment focal point
Once a wasteland between a divided Berlin, it's now the post-modern centre of the city, with a 19-screen cinema, sculptures by such artists as Keith Haring, Jeff Koons and Robert Rauschenberg, and such eateries as Mom's Favourite (where you'll find traditional dishes from around the world), and also The House of 100 Beers (which shouldn't need any explanation).
Charlottenburg – right royal
Affluent area within the locality of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf and home to Charlottenburg Palace, the largest palace and the only surviving royal residence in Berlin. This area expands out to include the Wannsee and Tegel lakes as well as Grunwald park.
Alexanderplatz – a tall landmark
Large public square in the Mitte district, often referred to by locals as simply 'Alex'. The square contains the iconic Berlin TV Tower (Fernsehturm), the tallest structure in the country, and the World Clock, handy if you need to be reminded of what time it is back home.
Best bars in Berlin:
One of the more unusual places to drink, in the evenings, for a small fee, you can rent a glass and drink as much wine as you want/need. When you’re finished, you leave as much or as little money as you’d like. There are three bars in the family run business.
Hidden beneath the train tracks of Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse (Schiffbauerdamm 11), to enter you have to knock on an unsigned iron door. Inside is a modern bar of shiny steel walls and sculpture. The appeal of this place is its secretive nature, making for an exciting atmosphere within.
A great place for a casual drink (Kastanienallee 7-9) and open from April through to September, weather permitting, this buzzing garden offers 600 seats amongst the green trees. The venue also brews its own tipple, Prater Pils, while the restaurant specialises in homemade Berlin cuisine, such as Königsberger Klopse (meatballs in caper sauce), Wiener Schnitzel (veal cutlet) and Senfeier mit Quetschkartoffeln (mustard eggs and mash).
It's the highest bar in the city – 203 metres above the city streets at the upper reaches of the Berlin TV Tower. There's wine. cocktails, snacks, and some of the best views of the city, including over the Reichstag and River Spree.
If you fancy something that feels a little closer to home, The Harp (Giesebrechtstraße 15) is one of Berlin's oldest Irish pubs, just a short walk from Kurfürstendamm boulevard. Other similar 'boozers' in the city include The Kilkenny, situated directly in the train station Hackescher Markt in the Mitte district, and the Oscar Wilde Irish Pub (Friedrichstraße 112A).
Best clubs in Berlin:
A trip into Berlin's famed nightlife wouldn't be complete without a night of hard clubbing.
Berghain (Am Wriezner Bahnhof) was previously a power station, and has now found a new lease of life with a booming soundtrack of electronic techno, house and dubstep – be warned though, it’s notoriously hard to get in so you have to be willing to queue for a couple of hours with the risk of being turned away by the picky bouncers for no apparent reason.
Right in the heart of trendy Kreuzberg, Watergate offers two floors of the highest quality techno, spread across two floors. The stunning river views from the terrace are an added bonus.
Continuing the waterside clubbing theme in Kreuzberg, Club de Visionaire (Am Flutgraben 2) specialises in the latest of the late after-parties, with clubbing continuing well into the daylight hours to a throbbing minimal tech soundtrack.
No club sums up Berlin’s post-industrial shabby chic clubbing ethos more than long-established favourite Tresor (Köpenickerstrasse). Now housed in a former power station, it’s a big name on the circuit, attracting techno heavyweights and keeping the hardcore fan base happy across its three rooms.
Smack bang in the middle of the city, in Mitte, Weekend Club (Alexanderstrasse 7) is a big draw, not only for its impressive lineups of house music innovators, but the in-demand roof terraces offers stunning views of some of Berlin’s icons. Being based at the top of a communist-era tower block merely adds to the experience.
The irritatingly named and formerly illegal ://about blank behind Ostkreuz station, is perfect for open air partying, complete with wooded area, chill-out caravan and bonfires in winter.
Ritter Butzke, Sisyphos (with playground animals to sit on), and SO36 are other unique clubbing spots worth checking out.
Food: eat like a local:
Currywurst is a must. There are numerous stalls dotted across Berlin selling the famed fast food, made up simply of steamed then fried pork sausage seasoned with a (slightly sickly) curry sauce. It's usually served with bread rolls or fries. Invented in the late 1940s, the Germans love it so much they've even opened a museum in the dish’s honour – Deutsches Currywurst Museum Berlin, close to Checkpoint Charlie.
Other local delicacies include sauerkraut (finely-cut ‘sour’ fermented cabbage, usually served with sausage), pretzels (a cheap snack), eintopf (a German ‘one pot’ stew that can consist of any number of ingredients) and käsespätzle, the German equivalent of mac’n’cheese.
Markthalle Neun (Eisenbahnstraße 42) is a food court where local producers come together. Open on a Thursday, it’s a great place to hang out and try a variety of international street foods, from tapas and BBQ, to smoked fish, veggie, Thai, Italian and German. Popular with locals and visitors alike.
If you'd prefer something a little more posh to nosh, Hotel Adlon (Unter den Linden 77) is a well-known hotel with a gourmet menu (with seafood a speciality) while Hugos (Budapester Straße 2/14) boasts a panoramic view of Berlin and a Michelin-starred French menu.
Elsewhere, Café Sieben (Fritz-Erler-Allee 57) is a near unbeatable cheap-price buffet, Corroboree (in the Sony Centre, Potsdamer Platz) mixes Australian with German flavours, and includes kangaroo on the menu, while Unsicht-Bar (Gormannstraße 14) is a German take on the food-in-the-dark concept, forcing you to concentrate on the tastes, away from the visual distractions.
Best view of the city:
This has to be the glassed dome of the Reichstag (home of the German Parliament). When you enter the dome you follow a gradual slope circling the dome, giving a great panoramic view of Berlin. You can literally see all of the city. Best yet, you can view this for free, although you must pre-book in advance here and have proof of ID to get through security.
The U-Bahn (underground) and S-Bahn (overground) trains run at 5-10 minute intervals and are pretty easy to navigate. For areas outside of the main network, there are buses and trams, though the Strassenbahn (tram) lines are restricted to the eastern parts of the city.
The city is divided into three tariff zones – AB, BC and ABC – with single and short distance tickets available, though better value are one-day and seven-day tickets (for one person) and Group Day Tickets, which are valid on all public transport until 3am, for up to five people).
Make sure tickets are validated before your journey starts (in yellow or red boxes) as plain-clothed ticket inspectors are not known for being lenient to tourists. Taxis can be hailed in the street with fares metered. There are surcharges for bulky luggage, groups in larger taxis, and card payments.
When to visit:
The summer months are almost certainly the best time to travel to Berlin with temperatures hitting up to 25°C. As autumn appears the temperature drops to an average of 12°C-9°C, but Berlin can still be enjoyed in these months.
Berlin in winter is cold, experiencing temperatures of around 2°C to -3°C and fewer hours of sunlight. However, if you don’t mind the cold, the festive cheer is great to see. Spring enjoys more sunlight and better weather, making it a popular time for tourists.
Berlin is generally regarded as a safe city but, as you should anywhere, take sensible precautions, such as avoiding dimly lit areas, flashing technology and carrying wedges of cash. Be vigilant around parts of Neukölln, Wedding, the remote parts of East Berlin, Zoo Station, Breitscheidplatz and the eastern end of Kantstrasse. Görlitzer Park is known for its drug dealers and remember that cannabis possession is illegal.
Hello - Guten Tag
Goodbye - Auf Wiedersehen
Do you take credit cards? - Nehmen Sie Kreditkarten?
A large beer - ein großes Bier
Please can I have the bill? - Die Rechnung, bitte
Where's the loo, please? - Wo ist die Toilette, bitte?
I love you - Ich liebe dich
Cash machine - der Geldautomat
Do you speak English? - Sprechen Sie Englisch?