Berlin is one of these cities that has it all. Plenty of history, lots of water and green areas, funky neighbourhoods and a diverse and excellent range of dining options. Easily accessible via its two airports, also with low cost airlines, it is a perfect destination for an inexpensive weekend getaway. I recently went myself for the first time, and I loved it! As usual, I am happy to share my tips for a first-time visitor of Berlin who is keen on seeing the most important sights but who would also like to experience the young urban lifestyle that Berlin is so popular for today.
History is everywhere
Staying in the cute Grimm’s Hotel close to the central location of Potsdamer Platz, we were able to start our sightseeing tour by foot which is certainly a plus. Potsdamer Platz is really not all that exciting, but you may pass by it anyway and take a photo with one of the boys posing in old US uniforms in front of pieces of Berlin wall covered with chewing gum. From there it is only a few minutes to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and another few minutes from there to Brandenburger Tor and the Reichstag building. It is certainly worth visiting the Reichstag dome and the rooftop terrace; the architectural construction of the dome is rather impressive, and the view over Berlin is breathtaking as well (admission is for free, open daily from 8-24 hours). However, it might be worth registering online for a visiting slot as queues tend to be long and the waiting can easily take 1-1,5 hours which you might rather spend elsewhere. The good news is though, that you may still be able to get tickets and even choose the best time for yourself – for example for a visit at sunset, to be followed by drinks and/or dinner in the rooftop restaurant.
From top left to bottom right: (1) Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe; (2) Reichstag dome by night; (3) Reichstag building; (4) M.E. Lüders House, government district.
Passing by the Reichstag building you may want to continue your walk along the river Spree until arriving at the Museumsinsel. You will notice when you are there when seeing the majestic building of the Bode Museum. Turn left and walk to the other side of the river and you will arrive at the Monbijoupark where various bars and sun loungers invite you to take a break. From there you may want to continue visiting one of the museums or the Berlin Cathedral on the Museuminsel, or continue walking north towards the restaurant and shopping are around the so-called Hackesche Höfe.
Where the cool kids go
After browsing around a bit and perhaps a quick lunch and coffee, take the metro and go all the way down to the Southeast to Warschauer Strasse to visit the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is the largest outdoor gallery of the world with 105 paintings from artists from all over the world, painted in 1990 (some were restored in 2000 and in 2009) on the east side of the Berlin Wall alongside the river Spree. The most memorable painting is certainly the one by Dmitri Vrubel, depicting Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker kissing (painting #25).
Arriving from Warschauer Strasse at the riverside, you will also be able to see the famous double-deck Oberbaumbrücke, which is also considered to be a Berlin Landmark, linking the districts of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg. Those districts are two of the young and hip areas of Berlin, and thus perfect for dinner, drinks or even a club night out if you are into that. If you want to take it easy but yet visit one the popular places, book a table at Freischwimmer which is nicely located at the Flutgraben waterside (tables indoor and outdoor). If you want to grab another drink afterwards and you are up for some electro beats, you just need to cross the bridge to get to Club der Visionäre bar (outdoor only). Other trendy options on the Friedrichshain side are Kreativdorf Holzmarkt (e.g. restaurant Fame and later Kater Blau club).
And there is room for a little bit more sightseeing
You may want to sleep in and enjoy a late breakfast at your hotel on Sunday before continuing your exploration. Why not start with a trip to Checkpoint Charly, the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin, during the Cold War. The name Charlie derives from the letter C in the NATO phonetic alphabet; there were also less famous Checkpoints Alpha and Bravo at other locations. To be frank, the checkpoint is not all that exciting, however from there it is only a few meters to the last remainders of the Berlin Wall and a free outdoor museum documenting the “topography of terror” (Niederkirchnerstrasse) which you may not want to miss. For a quick snack you may want to drop into the nearby cafe and have the obligatory Currywurst, Berlin’s most popular snack next to Döner Kebab, which has a long history in the city as well.
From top left to bottom right: (1) Remainder of the Berlin Wall; (2) Oberbaumbrücke; (3) Check-point Charly with fake US officer; (4) boat on the Spree.
Sunday afternoon fun
If the weather is good, head up North to the district Prenzlauer Berg, get off at Eberswalder Strasse and head to Mauerpark, which is popular on Sundays for its fleamarket, food stalls and street musicians. Flock around the area and perhaps shop one or the other bric-a-brac. Alternatively you may want to go to Klunkerkranich in Neukölln (Karl–Marx-Str. 66), another one of these popular places for the young and hip Berliners. As a rooftop bar it is perfect to spend a warm Sunday afternoon. If you are looking for something more upscale and less hipster, you may want to visit Alexanderplatz and Berlin’s landmark the TV tower instead and then head to the restaurant bar of Soho Hotel Berlin, Torstrasse 1 (the rooftop bar is unfortunately for members only but the groundfloor bar is accessible to everybody) or to Monkey Bar of the 25 hours hotel Bikini Berlin, Budapester Str. 38-50 (these places may also be a good choice for Friday night).
From top left to bottom right: (1) Bar at the Soho House Berlin; (2) Fleamarket at Mauerpark; (3) street concert & party at Mauerpark; (4) Currywurst and Börek.
Well, and with that one weekend is already over. As usual, there is plenty more things to do, e.g. I heard that boat cruises on the river Spree are a splendid experience, and I would have also loved to explore the affluent neighbourhood of Charlottenburg, have lunch at the Markthalle Neun, take a stroll in the Tiergarten and do one of the eat-the-world walking tours (more info here). But how did a good friend used to say? You always need to keep something that makes you come back. Therefore, see you soon again Berlin,
Lots of ❤ Kate