Berlin – a mini guide

The hipster capital of Germany (and one of the largest capital cities in Europe), Berlin is a city that’s hard to define. For some it’s a hedonistic club mecca (Berliners love their techno), for others a living, breathing history hub, for others a culture and arts hotspot and yet for others, even more – a fashion capital, a foodies dream, a cinematic adventure.

And that’s why this city is such an amazing destination for any intrepid Interrailer. Start your day with fried eggs and chorizo on sweet potatoes at Bastard (yes, that’s the real name) in Kreuzberg then off you go on an explore – selfie at Checkpoint Charlie, relive the 80s at the DDR museum and see the building (the Reichstag) where Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor. And at night? Get your gladrags on and hit the town – this is Berlin baby, let the cabaret begin!

The essentials – top five

  • Checkpoint Charlie – Perhaps one of the most iconic sights in the city, this monument of the former border crossing, the Cold War and the partition of Berlin is located on the corner of Friedrichstradt and Zimmerstradt. Once the most famous crossing point between East and West Germany, the barrier, checkpoint booth, flag and sandbags are all based on the original site – and the perfect place for a photo! *
  • Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – Also known as the Holocaust Memorial, the monument to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust consists of a 4.7 acre site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs of different heights, arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field (the uneven concrete floor giving a feeling of uncertainty).  The memorial opened in 2005, amidst some controversy around its “vagueness”. However, despite this, the memorial is a powerful – and unique – place of remembrance and warning. It is open day and night and located one block south of the Brandenburg Gate in Friedrichstadt.
  • Brandenburg Gate – Located in no-man’s land between East and West Germany during the Cold War, this famous (and massive) monument, was originally built during the 18th-century reign of Friedrich Wilhelm II. It features six Doric columns and a five metre high horse drawn carriage sculpture on top. Previously a symbol of division (visitors used to climb an observation platform on the Gate to glimpse of the world behind the Iron Curtain), it is now a national symbol of peace and unity. Worth a visit in its own right, it’s also a great place for pictures.
  • DDR Museum – Soviet occupation of East Berlin ended in 1990, but you can still take a step back in time to how things used to be at the immersive DDR Museaum (and if you were a fan of the TV series Deutschland 83, then this is unmissable). Explore all aspects of daily life behind the Berlin Wall, including the workings of state and Stasi, as well as a simulated drive in an original Trabant P601, a reconstruction of a high-rise tower block flat and countless interactive games and artefacts. Located at Karl Liebknecht Strasse 1, this is a hundred years away from a typical “Boring” museum experience.
  • Go clubbing – If you’re dedicated to the dance then Berlin is the place to go for nightlife. From mainstream to the, errr, slightly more avant-garde, clubbing in Berlin has to be experienced to be believed. Techno is still king in the city, and the biggest animal in the pack is the exclusive Berghain (we’re talking three hour queues and still maybe getting turned away if the bouncers deem it) but even if Berghain is unattainable, there is plenty more to choose from and the party doesn’t get started till after 1am, so plenty of time to dress to impress!

The Budget or Broke Recommendation (i.e. free)

The Reichstag roof – One of the city’s most historic buildings, the Reichstag is home to the Bundestag, aka Germany’s parliament.  You can grab a free lift ride to the roof terrace, where the views are spectacular and you also get to see that impressive glass dome that tops the building up close. For security reasons a prior reservation is required, which can be booked  online, up to two days prior to your visit or in person two hours prior at the service centre in Scheidemannstraße.

The Wall – The Berlin Wall divided the city for 28 years (1961-1989) and stretches still remain. The official Berlin Wall Memorial at Bernauer Strasse shows a section of the wall fully reconstructed as well as offering a free viewing platform.

Local cuisine

We have one word for you, and that word is sausage. White sausage, fried sausage, curry sausage. spicy sausage, grilled sausage, boiled sausage – y’all get the picture when it comes to the good old sausage. Our personal fave is the currywurst (sliced sausage and served with a curry ketchup) at Curry 36 in Kreuzberg.

Gift ideas

It’s Germany, beer of course! Aside from beer, the chocolates are pretty damn good too…

Getting around

Berlin has an extensive and affordable public transport system, which includes the U-Bahn (subway, underground), the S-Bahn (light rail), buses and trams. The U-Bahn is a great way to get around town, while the  S-Bahn is handy for longer distances. Be warned though that plain clothes controllers patrol all public transportation so make sure to buy and/or validate your tickets before boarding. If you have a few days in the city you may be interested in a BerlinWelcomecard, which offers access to city centre public transport and discounts at some major attractions.

Photographer credit: Flickr user Shadowgate and used under the Creative Commons licence.


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