Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome!
Well, what can we say to sum up the history of Berlin? It really has been in the middle of everything. Dig out the film Cabaret for a glimpse of 1930s Berlin; Downfall, A Woman In Berlin, and Conspiracy for World War II; and The Lives of Others, Good Bye, Lenin! and Sonnenallee for a glimpse into life during the Cold War. The city is scarred by the past, but it wears these scars with pride, a bit of humility and a touch of arrogance. We love Berlin, from Bauhaus to Iggy Pop and David Bowie, its fantastic food scene and its people – they really are welcoming and they DO have a sense of humour!
East or West, there is shopping and lots of it. The main players can be found at Alexa Shopping Centre beside Alexanderplatz, Mall of Berlin and Kurfürstendamm. Close by the ‘Ku’Damm’ is the iconic KaDeWe department store, or to give it its full name, Kaufhaus des Westens, which has been in operation for over 100 years. It is the second largest department store in Europe after Harrods. If you want more choice, the Mall of Berlin has over 250 shops to keep you occupied. Hackescher Markt, on the other hand, is a more traditional shopping area. There is a mixture of brands (e.g. Muji), boutiques and tourist shops, with a market every Saturday on the square in front of the station. For a more independent experience, Friedrichshain, Prenzlauer Berg, Neukölln and Kreuzberg all have small creative and niche shops. Wesen in Neukölln design and produce their own brand of clothing, with a nod to sustainability and fair working conditions.
In Friedrichshain, Schwesterherz have design-led homeware, whilst next door Küechen Liebe is heaven for foodies, with almost every kitchen product you didn’t know you wanted!
Beer gardens and Germany go together like beer and pretzels…try the traditional Prater Biergarten, where there is not only an outdoor terrace for fine weather but also an indoor restaurant for when it’s not so sunny. If seeking a panorama is your thing, head along to Neukölln’s Klunkerkranich, a bar atop a 7th storey car park. Berliner Republik next to the Spree River is a novel concept, where the price of a round is rarely the same twice, as prices fluctuate like a stock exchange. Buy a round of one beer and watch its price rise, while the beers no-one is buying decrease in value. Don’t worry about paying through the nose; there’s a minimum and maximum price! Fan of a brewpub? Lemke is a long-established Berlin chain, and there are three to try: Brauhaus Lemke at Hackescher Markt, Lemke am Alex, and Lemke am Schloss opposite one of the entrances to the Charlottenburg Palace.
It is reported that 70 million sausages slathered in curry sauce are eaten by Berliners every year. The best places are Konnopke’s Imbiss (Shönhauser Allee) and Curry 36 (Mehringdamm). It’s not all currywurst; there are of course kebabs – make space for a visit to Imren (Boppstrasse) or Tadim (Adalbertstrasse). Or for something different, try a Lahmacun (Turkish Pizza).
Kreuzberg’s Markthalle Neun is an indoor market with an on-site brewery (Heidenpeters). Visit on Street Food Thursday for an array of cuisine from Asian and South American to, of course, German. The rest of the time the markthalle is quiete,r and you can peruse the artisan vendors at your leisure. Burgermeister have legendary status for their burgers. Not bad for an outlet which was originally a toilet! Good Bank in Mitte has an unusual vertical-farm-to-table restaurant, and the salads served there are actually grown and harvested in-house – you can’t get much fresher than that! Data Kitchen is a vision of the future perhaps; download the app and order your food en route, picking it up from a window which only you can unlock with your phone. They also have a hidden courtyard for sunny days.
Vegan? Don’t fret, it isn’t all sausage and kebab, but actually Vöner does a good attempt at vegan kebab. Kopps (Linienstrasse) is something different in the vegan food world – fine dining! From brunch to a restaurant worthy of a romantic meal for two. No need to miss out on delicious dessert; Brammibal’s Donuts have three outlets (Maybachufer, Danziger Strasse and Alte Potsdamer Strasse). Completely vegan and sometimes gluten-free options are available. The maple smoked coconut has my name on it!
Being Berlin addicts, we have stayed in a number of different places over the years, but two, in particular, stand out. Hüttenpalast is odd in that it’s an old vacuum cleaner factory which is now home to a collection of caravans and wooden huts, in which you can spend the night without having to brave the elements.
Want to experience life in East Germany? Ostel is a hostel decorated in the style of Ostalgie – that is, nostalgia for East Germany. Naturally, you won’t pick up any WiFi here, but you can sleep surrounded by large patterned wallpaper, teak furniture and the hopes of the DDR!
Speaking of which, at the Kulturbrauerei in Prenzlauer Berg you’ll find a free DDR (East German) exhibition which is every bit as good as the main museum beside the river. Outdoors, there are also many preserved relics from wartime Germany and the Cold War. Sammlung Boros Bunker is a former Nazi-era concrete bunker which is now home to a private art collection. Visits are by appointment only. Teufelsberg (Devils Hill) is an ex-Allied listening post that has been left to the elements, but is still an imposing site with its golf ball structures looming over the Grunewald forest. The hill was built with the rubble of WWII Berlin, so it stands out in what is otherwise a very flat city. Nearby are the Olympic Stadium and Corbusierhaus Berlin for architecture geeks. Urban Spree in Friedrichshain is a gallery, concert room and event space, all housed in one huge artistic compound. Of course, there are also lots of museums, art galleries and attractions. In the past, we’ve used the Berlin Welcome Card, which has over 200 sights and attractions as well as discount partners, plus free public transport. The Berlin Welcome Card Museum Island 72 hours option additionally gives you exclusive access to the five museums on Berlin’s Museum Island.
Not one for walking and think a Trabi tour is cliché? Well, Berlin Horizontal is a tour with a difference, as you will be biked around the sights of Berlin from the comfort of a bed being pulled behind! A blanket and brollies are provided to cater for the weather. Berlin Unterwelten, AKA Berlin Underground, is another favourite of ours. They run tours in a number of usually off-limits locations, including a ruined WWII flaktower and a disused gasometer that has been used as an air-raid shelter and refugee centre.
Berlin has two airports, Schönefeld in the South and Tegel in the North. EasyJet fly direct from Glasgow to Schönefeld and Edinburgh to Tegel, while Ryanair fly from Edinburgh to Schönefeld.