Berlin was the second major European city I ever visited. In 2005, while I was living in Rennes, I took an overnight train to the German capital to meet some friends for the weekend. It was one of the best weekend trips I’ve ever been on, & left me longing for another visit. Twelve years later, the city is still an eclectic mix of elegant modernity & a certain level of grittiness. Two days definitely wasn’t enough time to experience everything I’d hoped to, but here’s a sampling of what I loved about this lively metropolis. Do yourself a favour & dedicate a few extra days to really explore.
The Street Food
I think this may be my favourite thing about the city. The street food culture in Berlin is like none other; it’s a little glimpse into the vibrant multiculturalism that is such a part of any visit. The best part? You can eat really well on a tiny budget. Seriously well.
Our first stop was thanks to Anthony Bourdain (of course). Konnopke’s Imbiss is a sausage stall beneath the elevated subway lines in Prenzlauer Berg. You can find currywurst pretty much everywhere in Berlin – it’s a cheap & filling lunch, if nothing else – but if you’re going to check out this adorable area, you might as well go here. Afterwards, you can wander the beautiful Oderberger Strasse or grab a beer at Berlin’s oldest beer garden: Prater Garten (or do both, as we did).
If you go to Berlin & don’t experience any Turkish food, I think you’re seriously missing out. Most of my memories of Berlin revolve around doner kebabs. Cheap, delicious, & perfect whether you’re heading out for the night or on your way home. This time around, N & I had two amazing Turkish food experiences. First, we shared an amazing kofte sandwich at Konak Grill in Kreuzberg. Later that same evening, we had the most magnificent doner kebab of my life at a stand on a bridge at Warschauer Strasse S-Bahn. It may have been the beers, but I think I’d honestly go back to this spot if I’m ever in Berlin again (& we almost did on our way home). It was that good.
Part of Berlin’s popularity stems from its global feel. There’s a little corner of Berlin to suit any taste – you just have to find yours.
Mitte is the city’s center, literally meaning “middle” in German. It’s where you’ll find most monuments, memorials, & museums. If it’s your first visit, it’s a good place to start. Check out the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, & Alexanderplatz. Maybe wander the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe or the Topography of Terror.
We did a free walking tour, which I will almost always recommend. Unfortunately, this one was my least favourite & we left disappointed. We just didn’t like our guide, which is the hazard of any tour, free or paid. It really was such a shame as I think it tainted the others’ first impressions of Berlin. (Berlin was actually the first city I ever did a walking tour in & Per set the bar high – it’s still the best tour I’ve ever done.) Museum Island is also undergoing massive upgrades until 2019 & is a little difficult to get around, so budget extra time to see it.
Mitte is an interesting mix of modern buildings & old cobblestone streets. There’s fantastic restaurants & more sights than you’ll likely have time to take in. Don’t underestimate Berlin – it’s huge.
We stayed in Kreuzberg, which feels like a different world from both central Mitte & the pristine Prenzlauer Berg. It’s got a bit of reputation. With a huge Turkish population, this is where we found the best street food. It’s a little bit grimy & a lot edgy; it’s got tons of personality. I’m glad we stayed here so we got to experience it a little bit more than we likely would have otherwise.
Across the Spree River, you’ll find Friedrichshain, known mostly for its wicked party scene & the East Side Gallery: a slice of the Berlin Wall turned open air international mural exhibit. Grab some beers at craft beer shop, Drink Drunk, on your way across the Spree (drinking in public is perfectly acceptable in Germany, & is the perfect way to enjoy the gallery, if you ask me.).
Go out on the town
Berlin is a city for all tastes, whether it’s a simple evening meal with family & friends or a wild night of bar hopping, you can do it all.
While the street food is second to none, there’s also an incredible restaurant scene happening. I had a hopelessly impossible list. We came nowhere near to making a dent in it. In fact, we really only had one sit down meal, our first night in Berlin. We settled on somewhere near our AirBnB, Café Restaurant Jolesch. We sat on their patio, enjoyed fantastic service, & delicious, extra crispy schnitzel the size of our faces (literally). It was a great meal. If you’re looking for great German comfort food, you can’t go wrong with this spot.
Afterwards, we made the trek to Klunkerkranich, in Neukölln. Hidden away on the top floor of the parking garage at the somewhat abandoned-looking Neukölln Arkaden Mall. You’ll walk up the ramp to the very top to find…I don’t really know how to describe it. A trendy hipster bar, with a garden, outdoor tables, & a fantastic view over Berlin? It’s a great spot to watch a sunset, or simply grab drinks at the end of an evening. It’s definitely worth checking out, for its eclectic mix of people & decor & the views. Bring cash, there’s sometimes cover & you’ll need a deposit for glassware (they don’t have anyone to clear their tables).
Our second night, we grabbed a few craft beers for the road at Drink Drunk, crossed the bridge over the Spree, & wandered the couple kilometers of leftover Berlin wall that make up the East Side Gallery. Afterward, we grabbed a drink on one of the Riverboats & watched the sun set.
It was a Tuesday night, but we wanted to experience some of Berlin’s famous nightlife, so we headed into Friedrichshain next. Everything I’d read told me this was the place to party in Berlin, but still, neither of us could get over how incredibly lively it was for a weeknight. We marveled at restaurant patios packed with locals enjoying a meal together, & bar after bar with no shortage of thirsty patrons. There were so many charming options (& no shortage of night clubs either, if that’s your jam). Friedrichshain is fantastic!
We settled on Hops & Barley, one of the oldest craft breweries in the city. It’s a pretty unassuming spot, brewing natural unfiltered beers. They aren’t afraid to experiment a little, so there are some intriguing options. The patio was full, but we managed to find ourselves a little table in the back, amid a funny mix of locals & foreign exchange students. We stayed until they wouldn’t serve us any longer before making the trek back to Kreuzberg for the night.
Our time is Berlin was a little more limited that I’d expected. Picking up our rental car was more time consuming that I’d hoped, & we hadn’t budgeted a lot of time to begin with. The construction on Museum Island also threw a wrench in our plans as it was much harder to navigate than when I’d first visited. If we’d had more time in Berlin, I’d probably have suggested we spend some time in the Tiergarten (a 500 acre park in Mitte) or exploring the Reichstag. There is truly no shortage of things to do in Berlin.
The next morning, we grabbed coffees & hit the road for our next stop: Prague!