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Explore Berlin, Germany

Explore Berlin, Germany

Berlin is the capital city of Germany and one of the 16 states (Länder) of the Federal Republic of Germany. Explore Berlin, the largest city in Germany that has a population of 4.5 million within its metropolitan area and 3.5 million from over 190 countries within the city limits.

Berlin is best known for its historical associations as the German capital, internationalism and tolerance, lively nightlife, its many cafés, clubs, bars, street art, and numerous museums, palaces, and other sites of historic interest. Berlin’s architecture is quite varied. Although badly damaged in the final years of World War II and broken apart during the Cold War, Berlin has reconstructed itself greatly, especially with the reunification push after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

It is now possible to see representatives of many different historic periods in a short time within the city centre, from a few surviving medieval buildings near Alexanderplatz, to the ultra-modern glass and steel structures at Potsdamer Platz. Because of its tumultuous history, Berlin remains a city with many distinctive neighborhoods. Brandenburger Tor is a symbol of division during the world war, which now shows German reunification. It was built after the Acropolis in Athens and was completed in 1799 as the royal city-gate.

Districts of Berlin

Mitte (Mitte)

The historical centre of Berlin, the nucleus of the former East Berlin, and the emerging city centre. Cafes, restaurants, museums, galleries and clubs are abundant throughout the district, along with many sites of historic interest.

City West (Charlottenburg, Wilmersdorf, Schöneberg, Tiergarten, Moabit)

Ku’Damm (short for Kurfürstendamm) is, along with Tauentzienstraße, one of the main shopping streets in former West Berlin, especially for luxury goods. Many great restaurants and hotels are here and also on the side roads. The district also contains the Charlottenburg Palace, Kulturforum, Tiergarten and the Olympic Stadium. Schöneberg is generally a cozy area for ageing hippies, young families and LGBT people.

East Central (Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg)

Associated with the left wing youth culture, artists and Turkish immigrants, this district is somewhat noisier than most, packed with lots of cafes, bars, clubs and trendy shops, but also with some museums in Kreuzberg near the border to Mitte. These districts are undergoing gentrification as they are popular with students, artists and media professionals alike.

North (Spandau, Tegel, Reinickendorf, Pankow, Weißensee, Gesundbrunnen, Wedding)

Spandau and Reinickendorf are beautiful old towns which feel much more spacious than the inner city. Pankow was once synonymous with the East German government, and the villas the SED leaders inhabited still exist.

East (Lichtenberg, Hohenschönhausen, Marzahn, Hellersdorf)

The museum at the site of the 1945 surrender to the Soviet Army is of interest, as well as the former Stasi prison, an essential visit for anyone interested in East German history. Marzahn-Hellersdorf has a not entirely deserved reputation for being a vast collection of dull high-rise apartment blocks, as it contains the “Gardens of the World”, a large park where various ethnic styles of garden design are explored.

South (Steglitz, Zehlendorf, Tempelhof, Neukölln, Treptow, Köpenick)

South is a mixed bag of different boroughs. Zehlendorf is one of the greenest and wealthiest districts in Berlin, while Neukölln is one of the poorest of the city. Köpenick’s swaths of forest around Berlin’s largest lake, Müggelsee and the nice old town of Köpenick itself beg to be discovered on bikes and using the S-Bahn.

History

The foundation of Berlin was very multicultural. The surrounding area was populated by Germanic Swabian and Burgundian tribes, as well as Slavic Wends in pre-Christian times, and the Wends have stuck around. Their modern descendants are the Sorbian Slavic-language minority who live in villages southeast of Berlin near the Spree River.

People

Berlin is a relatively young city by European standards, dating to the thirteenth century, and it has always had a reputation as a place filled with people from elsewhere. It may seem tough to find someone born and raised here! This is part of Berlin’s charm: it never gets stuck in a rut.

German is of course the main language in Berlin but you can easily find information in English and sometimes in French.

Most people under 40 in Berlin are able to speak English with varying degrees of fluency, but it might not be as widely spoken as you might expect, so a few key German phrases are worth having, especially in the suburbs and less touristy places. Basic French and Russian are partly spoken because French in West Berlin and Russian in East Berlin were taught in schools.

Economy

One of the most important “products” produced in Berlin by both academic and company-sponsored institutes is research. That research is exported around the world. German labor is highly efficient but comes at high cost. Strong trade unions, the end of West Berlin’s pre-reunification subsidies and Germany’s dense regulatory environment forced industry to concentrate on high quality and expensive products.

Orientation

Berlin is – at least in many parts – a beautiful city, so allow enough time to get to see the sights. A good map is highly recommended. While the public transport system is superb, it can be confusing to visitors, due to a lack of directional signs in some of the larger stations, so a good transit map is also essential.

Berlin is a huge city. You can make use of the excellent bus, tram, train and underground services to get around. Taxi services are also easy to use and a bit less expensive than in many other big Central European cities.

What to see and do in Berlin, Germany.

Shopping

.Generally currency is the Euro. Shops usually do not accept traveller cheques, but do accept debit cards, and increasingly also credit cards (Visa and MasterCard most widely accepted). Banks are generally open from 9 AM to 4 PM mon thru fridays.

Cash machines are widespread, also in shopping malls and even sometimes in large department stores or supermarkets. With a domestic German debit card, using cash machines of major banks – at regular bank branches – often results in lower fees than using machines of rather exotic banks, which might install their machines next to small stores. Watch the fee notices on display, and, if the fee on display appears to be odd, rather cancel the transaction, and ask locals to indicate the way to the next branch of a regular bank, which is never more than a five minutes’ walk away, as fees there will be considerably lower. With an international debit or credit card, almost any cash machine in Berlin will offer you unilaterally free cash withdrawals, as the only fees that apply will be set by your own bank.

There are no legal restrictions on shopping hours Mondays through Saturdays. However, closing times depend on the area; the standard seems to be 8PM, though it can be earlier in remote areas. Most of the bigger stores and nearly all of the malls are open additionally until 9 or 10PM on certain days of the week, often between Thursday and Saturday.

Sunday opening is by law limited to about a dozen weekends per year, often in combination with large events, watch for announcements in the shops and local media. Some supermarkets located at train stations (Hauptbahnhof, Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten, Friedrichstraße, Innsbrucker Platz and Ostbahnhof) are open late and also on Sundays. Many bakeries and small food stores (called Spätkauf) are open late at night and on Sundays in busier neighborhoods (especially Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain). Also turkish bakeries open on sundays.

The main shopping areas are:

Ku’Damm and its extension, Tauentzienstraße remain the main shopping streets with flagship stores of many international brands. KaDeWe (Kaufhaus Des Westens) at Wittenbergplatz is a tourist destination in its own right, not least for the vast food department on the 6th floor. It’s reputedly the biggest department store in Continental Europe and still has an old world charm, with very helpful and friendly staff.

Friedrichstraße is the upmarket shopping street in former East Berlin with Galeries Lafayette and the other Quartiers (204 to 207) as main areas to be impressed with wealthy shoppers. The renovated Galeria Kaufhof department store at Alexanderplatz is also worth a visit.

Other shopping streets in suburbs include Schloss-strasse (Steglitz), Wilmersdorfer Strasse (Charlottenburg), Schönhauser Allee (Prenzlauer Berg), Carl-Schurz-Strasse (Spandau) and Karl-Marx-Strasse (Neukölln).

Large Shopping Malls with well over 100 shops, food court are for example the Alexa (Alexanderplatz/Mitte), Potsdamer Platz Arkaden (Potsdamer Platz/Mitte), Mall of Berlin (Leipziger Platz/Mitte), Gesundbrunnen-Center (Gesundbrunnen Station/Wedding), Gropius-Passagen (Britz), Linden-Center (Hohenschönhausen, Spandau-Arkaden (Spandau), Schloss (Schloss-strasse/Steglitz), Forum Steglitz (Schloss-strasse/Steglitz), Ring Center (Friedrichshain).

The main upmarket shopping area for the alternative, but still better-off crowd is north of Hackescher Markt, especially around the Hackesche Höfe. For some more affordable but still very fashionable shopping there is Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain with a lot of young designers opening shops, but also lots of record stores and design shops. Constant change makes it hard to recommend a place, but the area around station Eberswalder Straße, Kastanienallee in Prenzlauer Berg and Torstrasse in Mitte, around Bergmannstraße and Oranienstraße in Kreuzberg, around Boxhagener Platz in Friedrichshain and Eisenacher Strasse in Schöneberg are always great when it comes to shopping.

What to eat

Everywhere in Germany outside Berlin, jam doughnuts are known as Berliner, but in Berlin, they’re called Pfannkuchen. This in turn means “pancake” everywhere else, so if you want a pancake in Berlin, you have to ask for Eierkuchen. Confused yet?

A staple in Berlin is currywurst. It’s a sliced bratwurst covered in ketchup and curry powder. You can find them all over Berlin by street vendors. It’s a must try when in Berlin and for those who don’t eat meat or prefer a less fatty meal it also comes in animal-free versions.

Another famous thing to eat in Berlin is Döner. This is flat bread, filled with Lamb or chicken meat or seitan, salad and vegetables, and you can get it at many turkish stands. The most famous vegan Döner is called Vöner and is served in the eatery carrying the same name close to S-Bahn station Ostkreuz. Other immigrated popular foods include the Falafel and Maqali (fried vegetables) sandwiches.

In September 2015 Berlin was named vegetarian capital of the world by the culinary magazine Saveur. Considering all the vegetarian options in regular restaurants and especially the amount of exclusively vegetarian and even vegan restaurants and coffee shops this title seems well-deserved and it reflects the recent vegan trend in all of Germany which does away with the cliché of the meat-heavy German cuisine.

Eating out in Berlin is incredibly inexpensive compared to any other Western European capital or other German cities. The city is multicultural and many cultures’ cuisine is represented here somewhere, although it is often modified to suit German tastes.

All prices must include VAT by law. Only upmarket restaurants may ask for a further service surcharge. Note that it is best to ask if credit cards are accepted before you sit down — it’s not that common to accept credit cards and cash is usually preferred. Most likely to be accepted are Visa and Mastercard; all other cards will only be accepted in some upmarket restaurants.

One of the main tourist areas for eating out is Hackescher Markt / Oranienburger Straße. This area has dramatically changed during the years: once full of squats and not-entirely-legal bars and restaurants, it had some real character. It is rapidly being developed and corporatized, and the artists of the most famous squat – the former Jewish-owned proto-shopping mall “Tacheles” – were evicted and the area has had a bit of a facelift. There are still some gems in the side streets, though, The “Assel” (Woodlouse) on Oranienburger Straße, furnished with DDR-era furniture, is still relatively authentic and worth a visit, especially on a warm summer night. Oranienburger Straße is also an area where prostitutes line up at night, but don’t be put off by this. The area is actually very safe and several administrative and religious buildings are located here.

For cheap and good food (especially from Turkey and South Europe) you should try Kreuzberg and Neukölln with their abundance of Indian, pizza and Döner Kebab restaurants.

Breakfast

It is very common to go out for breakfast or brunch (long breakfast and lunch, all you can eat buffet, usually from 10AM to 4PM – sometimes including coffee, tea or juice).

What to drink

At Warschauer Straße and more specifically Simon-Dach-Straße and around Boxhagener Platz you can find a wide variety of bars. It is common for locals to meet at Warschauer to go to a bar there. Also Ostkreuz (Eastcross) and Frankfurter Street are very famous meeting points. Especially to visit the alternative (“underground-/left-szene”) locations in house projects (so called squats), like the Supamolly at Jessnerstreet (Traveplatz), the Scharni38 (Scharnweberstreet) and so on.

There are lots of Irish bars all over the city, as there are in all European cities. If you like off-the-shelf Irish bars or watching football in English then you won’t be disappointed, but in a city with new cool bars opening pretty much daily and a huge range from which to choose, you’ll find that these cater mostly to the Irish construction workers and Germans attracted by Irish music, which is often played in them. If you want to get some tap water in a bar ask for “Leitungswasser” (if you just say “water” (Wasser), you will receive mineral water.) This is common if you drink coffee. They should not charge you for it but you should order another drink as well.

Bars

Berliners love to drink cocktails, and it’s a main socializing point for young people. Many people like to meet their friends in a cocktail bar before clubbing. Prenzlauer Berg (Around U-Bahnhof Eberswalder Str., Helmholtzplatz, Oderberger Straße & Kastanienallee), Kreuzberg (Bergmannstraße, Oranienstraße and the area around Görlitzer Park and U-Bahnhof Schlesisches Tor), Schöneberg (Goltzstraße, Nollendorfplatz, Motzstraße for gays), and Friedrichshain (Simon-Dach-Straße and around Boxhagener Platz) are the main areas. There aren’t as many illegal bars as there were in the ’90s but bars open and close faster than you can keep.

You can find internet cafes and telephone shops all around Berlin. Do a bit of research with the telephone shops because most have a focus region in the world. Many bars, restaurants and cafes offer free wi-fi for their guests.

The police in Berlin are competent and not corrupt. Attempting to bribe officers will likely result in at least a night behind bars to have your background checked. The police are generally helpful to tourists. Most of the officers are able to speak English, so do not hesitate to approach them if you are frightened or lost. The nationwide emergency number is 112 for medical emergencies and fires, while the police emergency number is 110. Berlin Police are ready to sincerely investigate petty crimes and have formed special units to investigate them and are present in plain clothes at tourist hot spots and, with consent of the owners, also in some clubs. Thus, calling the police emergency number once you fell victim or are witness of a petty crime as soon as possible might help police to track down perpetrators, or to identify some stolen goods belonging to you.

Day trips from Berlin

Potsdam is the capital of the surrounding federal state of Brandenburg, not far southwest of Berlin, and makes a perfect day trip. Especially the park of Sanssouci, a world heritage site with its great famous palaces, is worth a visit. The grounds of Sanssouci are huge (over 200 hectares, 500 acres). It takes all day if you visit all the buildings.

Sachsenhausen is in outer Oranienburg, a quiet suburb housing the remains of one of the Nazi concentration camps on German soil. There’s also a small palace in the center of Oranienburg.

The Müritz lake region to the north is a national park with a few hundred lakes.

To the south, Dresden is 2.5 hrs & Leipzig is about 1.25 hours by train.

The beautiful Baltic seashore (e.g. Usedom) is near enough for a day trip by train.

The Spreewald is a protected UNESCO biosphere reserve. It includes low-lying areas in which the river Spree meanders in thousands of small waterways through meadows and forests. It is a beautiful, unique landscape about one hour south of Berlin and well worth a day trip or a weekend trip to relax from the buzzing city life.

Frankfurt an der Oder on the Polish border is within easy reach.

Explore Berlin, Lutherstadt Wittenberg is about 40 minutes south of Berlin on the ICE. The Schlosskirche was the church where Martin Luther hung his Theses. Across the street from there is a visitor’s center with great information. Great city to tour and one can easily explore on foot.

The motorway Raststätte Grunewald at the S-Bahn station Nikolassee is a good spot for hitching if you’re heading south or west.

The Polish border is just some 90km to the east of Berlin; therefore it might be interesting to do a trip to:

Szczecin (Stettin) in Poland is about two and a half hours by train.

Poznań (Posen) in Poland is three hours by train.

Warsaw (Warschau) in Poland is five and a half hours by train. 

Official tourism websites of Berlin, Germany

For more information please visit the official government website: 

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