Berlin: a living historical museum that has been the backdrop of some of the world’s most polarising events. People from all over the world flock here to walk the streets and see the monuments that symbolise both the beautiful and ugly parts of German history.
There are so many epic visuals to take in that one could spend weeks trying to capture them all, but you’re here to see the city as a local, so let us take you off the beaten path and away from those terrifying appendages also known as selfie sticks.
Before we begin, there are some things we should clarify to make our journey less turbulent.
First, Berlin is geographically located in Germany, it is also the capital of Germany and the formal language is German, but that’s where the German connection stops. If you don’t believe me ask any German not from Berlin – they’ll undoubtedly tell you how bad the Berlin accent is and how different Berliners are from everyone else in the country.
A word of warning: if you do begin this conversation, plan an exit strategy beforehand because it could take a while and I imagine you’d rather be doing just about anything else on your holiday.
Second, Berlin has multiple-personality disorder. Don’t freak out though as it’s actually what makes the city so unique. There are so many social groups that call Berlin home and somehow they all live cohesively in this man-made habitat.
From punks to hipsters and everything in between, you’re sure to find a like-minded group to connect with. Just make sure to stay inside the ring line when you go exploring as some crazy people tend to frolic beyond it.
Third, summer is the optimum time to visit. Not only are there many things to do, but the rare occurrence of a Berliner smiling is more likely to be seen.
Wow, you’re still reading?! Glad you’re still here; I guess I’ll stop stalling and get to it. Think of the following list as a Berlin starter kit.
1. Späti Beer
Spätkaufs are late-night convenience stores that, in most areas, are open 24 hours. They come in many shapes and sizes, but one thing they all have in common is cheap bottled beer.
The true Berlin way on a warm afternoon is to stop at a späti for a cold beer before continuing on to your destination. If you really want to be hip, you can plant your flag and hang out right there. Many offer seating for those who simply want to hang with friends and aren’t looking for a bar atmosphere.
Not a beer fan? Don’t fret – Berliners are often seen drinking a “natural” energy drink called Club Mate in droves as well.
Photo credit: Martijn van Exel
Not particular to Berlin, but definitely cherished here more than in most places, biking is the most popular way to get around and see the city. And oftentimes it’s the fastest way to get from one point to another as trains can be delayed and trying to find parking can be a nightmare.
There are many bike rental places located throughout the city, the most popular being in Alexanderplatz and some of the major train stations.
Photo credit: Alexander Rentsch
3. Mauer Park Karaoke
Are you karaoke royalty in your local pub? Well, you haven’t done anything if you haven’t stood before a crowd of hundreds of people, dare I say thousands, belting out your version of one of the greatest hits of our time.
Mauer Park Karaoke is held every Sunday in the spring and summer at the amphitheatre located in the centre of the park. The guys who host it provide all of the necessary equipment and it’s free to watch and participate, though you can show your appreciation by donating a euro or two.
It’s definitely a fun experience and the crowd is always supportive, so I highly recommend taking a shot of liquid courage, getting your butt up there and creating a story to laugh about for years to come!
Photo credit: sfreimark
4. Flea Markets
Stores in Berlin are generally closed on Sundays, but fear not as there are plenty of flea markets around the city to quench your thrifty thirst. The one in Mauer Park is especially popular, so after serenading your new fans you can head across the park to reward yourself with a snazzy gift.
I also recommend the one on Boxhagnerstr. and the one in Neuheimat. There’s definitely an East Berlin bias here, though I’ve heard that there are many “fun” ones in the West.
Photo credit: urbanartcore.eu
Now that you’ve built up an appetite biking around to the flea markets and have a nice buzz from the späti beers, it’s time for you to taste the local cuisine. Sure, kebabs can be found all over the world, but döner was created here.
There are thousands of places all around the city, and to the novice they often seem all the same. Maybe you were crafty and asked a buddy who visited Berlin once for a recommendation. He probably went with the safe and typical answer of Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap in Mehringdam, which would explain the incredibly long lines seen almost every day out the front of this place.
BUT, you my friend came to this site to get the real low-down and I will not send you to an over-hyped place where you might die of hunger before you even make it to the counter. So, lean in for a minute, really close… Okay, back up a bit – you’re fogging up the screen.
The best kebab in Berlin can be found at Hasir on Adalberstr. in Kreuzburg, near Kottbusser Tor. This place has grown in size and become quite popular over the last couple of years. And they’ve not forgotten what started them on their path to greatness: you can still walk in and order a döner or dürem to go. Trust me, you won’t regret coming here!
Photo credit: Steffi Reichert
Now this is where the fodder for the comment section trolls will come from, but (looks into mirror) I shall not fear them and will carry on (steps away from mirror)! Bars are plentiful in Berlin and most of them are super relaxed, offering a chill place to hang out with friends. It’s not uncommon to find them filled with old couches and chairs, with some strange art on the walls.
One of my favourites is Bar 39 on Orianienstr. in Kruezburg. The no-fuss name ensures you’ll easily find it and, since it’s located in building 39, there’s no way you’ll miss it. The bartenders do a good job with the cocktails, but in all honesty they can take a while to make them. In other words I recommend you stick with beer or long drinks to keep your patience under control.
For all you cocktail lovers, I recommend Booze Bar on Boxhagnerstr. in Friedrichshain. The bartenders are mad scientists who create wonders in a glass. I also recommend going on an off night as they’re more than happy to explain their mad science to you when they aren’t running about. They only have two beers on tap (light and dark), both of which are phenomenal!
Photo credit: Booze Bar Berlin
Let’s be honest, this is the only info you were looking for when you landed on this page. After all, Berlin and nightlife go hand in hand. So, what is the best club?
Well the de facto answer would be Berghain, which is considered to be one of the best clubs in the world. It hosts one of the craziest weekend parties and has one of the best sound systems on the planet.
People going in on Friday night and leaving on Sunday evening is not a myth. The queue for this club is almost as famous as the club itself and the doorman has made a name for being as picky as they come. So good luck my fellow traveller, give it your best and if you make it in, be ready for a night to remember…
For the rest of you and those who don’t make it in, let me tell you where else you can go to have a good time. Wild Renate, Ritter-Butzke, Chalet and WaterGate are some other popular ones. I’m not here to rank them – there are other websites that cover this stuff.
My advice is to go with a good attitude and some cool people – that way it doesn’t matter where you end up, you’re sure to have a wonderful time. Just be prepared to come out of wherever you are with the sun beaming in your eyes and wondering what day it is and if you’ve missed your flight.
Photo credit: Watergate club “official”
So there you have it. I know, I know, take a second to catch your breath. You were just hit by the most inspiring piece of literature to grace your brain in a long, looonggg time. Now I need to take a moment to give thanks to the people who inspired this article.
Thank you to that drunken man passed out at the train station while his dog ate his döner. Thank you to the bicyclist who screamed for five minutes at a driver for not hearing the little bell when reversing his gigantic truck. Thank you to the ladies and gents in their mid-20s stumbling home mid-afternoon with the stink of last night’s drinks still on them – their walk of shame did not go unnoticed.
There are so many other people to thank for this article that I don’t have time to mention. So, let me end it here and welcome all you new locals to Berlin!
Words by Berlin local Stephen. A long walk to the bar while discussing the purpose of life and our existence pretty much sums him up. For more travel tales and existential musings, be sure to visit his blog.