“Ow!” Craig was right to exclaim, because I’d just punched him on the arm. “What was that for?”
“We never went to Berlin,” I said.
“Ah,” was his only response.
We were on the plane to Perth after two and a half years in Europe, and every few months during that time I’d suggested we go to Berlin for a weekend. “But we can always go to Berlin,” Craig had argued. He was right, we could always have gone to Berlin, but we never did. And now we were flying away, Berlinless.
Luckily, we were back in Europe within a couple of years and Berlin was high on the list of priorities this time. Our first few days there were enough to convince us we needed to spend more time in the city, and we spent the summer of 2013 hanging out in the Tiergarten and eating more döner kebabs that we probably should have. It keeps drawing us back; our Berlin friends are always supremely unsurprised when we announce another visit. “They always come back,” was our friend Holger’s response when we emailed to let him know we’d be there this year.
Perhaps as a result of this undying love, we often encourage people to go to Berlin. “But I could only get there for a weekend,” one girl said recently when we were extolling its virtues at a wedding. “Is it worth it?”
Yes, it’s worth it. It’s worth more time than just a weekend, but you can see a lot of Berlin in a day. How?
When booking accommodation, make sure that it’s in the central area called Mitte, or a little further south in Kreuzberg (a 1.5km radius of Checkpoint Charlie could be a good rule of thumb). Berlin is enormous and if you’re staying in another area you could easily lose an hour just travelling.
If the weather is cool, you can do most of this itinerary on foot, but if it’s hot you might want to consider getting a transport day pass to take the stress off. A day pass for the central area (zone AB) is €6.90 for one person or €16.90 for a group of up to five people. You can also get individual tickets for a single journey, we found the four tickets for €9 option to be good value.
Morning in Mitte
Spend the morning in the central area of the city to see the Reichstag parliament building, the Brandenburg Gate, the various Holocaust memorials, and the line on the ground marking where the Berlin wall stood from 1961 to 1989.
It’s worth doing a walking tour of the area to get a get your head around the history and context of the things you’re seeing. You can either guide yourself (try this guide or this one) but we’d recommend you join a group. There’s a raft of pay-what-you-like options if you like to be in an enormous groups, or companies like Urban Adventures who limit group size to 12 and Context Travel which has a maximum of six.
For lunch, head to a kebab shop for a döner kebab. This dish was created here in Berlin by Turkish immigrants (sources differ as to who first had the idea). Kebab meat was originally served on a plate, but the new version, stuffed into a pita bread and garnished with salad and sauces, proved perfect for busy Berliners.
Now you’ll find kebab shops all over the place. Accompany your meal with a Club Mate for a true Berlin culinary experience.
Afternoon at the wall
Although most of the Berlin Wall has been well and truly demolished, you can still see stretches of it in different parts of the city. Head to the East Side Gallery, which runs alongside the River Spree, for some awesome street art, or visit the Topography of Terror exhibition if it’s raining. The Berlin Wall Memorial is another worthwhile option if you’re interested in the history.
After that, it must be time for a coffee: make sure to accompany it with a Berliner donut! If you’d prefer savoury, go for a currywurst, a grilled sausage chopped into pieces and lavishly coated in ketchup and curry powder.
If you’re interested in seeing the hipster side of Berlin, our friend Adam (a notorious hipster) recommends a wander down Oranienstrasse in Kreuzberg to see the street art and have a coffee. Make sure to stop at the NGBK Art gallery and the Voo store.
If your one day in Berlin is a Thursday, and you like street food, you’re in luck: Street Food Thursdays at Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg is a great choice. Otherwise, head to one of the many beer gardens for a dinner of beer, sausages, and pretzels. Biergarten Prater in the Kastanienallee is a popular choice, and we enjoyed Biergarten Eschenbräu in Wedding, where we ate Flammkuchen rather than sausages.
If you’re having a good time, stay on at the beer garden. Otherwise, Berlin is a great place for nightlife — head over to Travels of Adam for advice about where to party.
Berlin is a fantastic city, with plenty to offer all types of traveller. What are you most interested to see there? What do you love about Berlin?
Context provides private guides and (very) small group tours for the intellectually curious traveler. PhD and MA-educated guides take you deep into your destination, and with a maximum group size of six, you can ask as many questions as you like!
Find out more about Berlin tours at Context Travel.