Sunny Spot Berlin
One week in Germany’s capital is hardly enough time to scratch the surface of all the city’s treasures. Berlin’s rich history offers a palate of old and new; 90 percent bombed during World War II, the cityscape is a jumble of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century reconstructions, Weimar-era beauties, Soviet structures, and über-modern post-1989 skyscrapers. It is a diverse city with many cultural pockets and historical tidbits to explore – there is something for everyone in Berlin.
1. Where to stay and how to get around
Berlin is an extremely flat city – their marathon has the fastest course in the world – and my favorite way to explore a new place is on foot, so lace up your walking shoes and take to the streets! Alternately, you can rent bikes from many corner souvenir shops for about 10 Euros/day and tour the streets like the locals. In order to get the most out of your environmentally-friendly transport, stay in Mitte, the touristy center where many of Berlin’s main attractions lie. If you have the cash, renting an apartment is much cheaper – not to mention more comfortable – than staying in a hotel. There are also plenty of hostels for the budget traveler. If you opt to stay outside of the tourist districts or ever get tired of walking, Berlin has excellent above- and below-ground public transportation (the S-Bahn and U-Bahn systems).
If you like ethnic food, you will love Berlin. My family and I especially enjoyed Turkish food at Hasir – a few locations throughout the city – and Moroccan food at Kasbah – not far from the Hackaescher Markt, though far enough to avoid tourist crowds. For those of you who are itching to eat German cuisine – hearty, meat-and-potato-based – just stop at one of many Biergartens (outdoor cafes) lining the streets and enjoy a cheap, filling meal. Berlin also does breakfast well: countless cafes offer dense, moist fruit tarts to accompany your morning latte. For a delicious breakfast off the beaten path, try Markettas Greisslerei, unassumingly tucked in a Bohemian corner of Mitte not far from Hackaescher Markt. Generous meat-cheese-bread platters and tasty plum jam-filled rolls fueled us for a five hour jaunt with…
This is a must do for newcomers to Berlin. Heck, I’d do it again on a second trip. The general city tour consists of about five hours of easy riding on cushy bikes with plenty of informational stops. The guides – all native English-speakers – come from all over the world and must have been trained to be hilarious. We had a great time with Francis from New Zealand, a German history expert. The general city tour covers Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, Gendarmenmarkt, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (a must-see), the Reichstag, Unter den Linden, and more. The tours are reasonable priced – 22 Euros – and include a stop at a Biergarten in the Tiergarten – Berlin’s 440-acre public park, once the Prussians’ royal hunting ground – for lunch on your own dime. (Note: Fat Tire also has branches in Barcelona, Paris, and London. I will definitely look them up when my adventures take me to these places.)
Berlin has about 160 museums. How to choose? Get the best bang for your buck on Museumsinsel (“Museum Island”), a small island in between branches of the Spree River that holds five museums and the Berliner Dom, a gorgeous Protestant cathedral. You can pay about 12 Euros for admission to all five museums – Bode, Pergamon (a must-see), Altes, Neues, Alte Nationalgalerie – with the only catch being that this ticket is only valid for one day. Better start early! (Bonus: excellent audio guides are included in the admission prices at all of Berlin’s state museums.) If you clamor for more after Museumsinsel, two other museums are worth a visit. The Sammlung Berggruen, in Charlottenburg – across the street from the Prussian palace – has an intimate and impressive collection of Picasso, Matisse, Klee, and Giacometti. For more modern art, visit the Neue Nationalgalerie near shiny Potsdamer Platz.