If you’ve been here before, you know that I typically like to indulge and offer detailed travel guides that attempt to capture the essence of each city I write about. How we got there? Check. Where we stayed? Check. How we planned? Check.
Don’t be fooled by the length. This will not be one of those posts. I started writing this piece on vacation while enduring a mild hangover, a lengthy power-outage (cool, cool), and a level exhaustion that I was convinced I’d never recover from.
So, let me give you a quick summary of Berlin in three words: grungy, historic, eclectic.
You can experience the city’s history by day, have a fantastic dinner in the evening, and rage the night away at a club straight through the early morning hours (we finally returned to our Airbnb near Mauerpark after 5 AM, but many of these weekend parties go straight through the next day… some until Monday morning.)
Additionally: Lots of graffiti. Lots of coffee. Lots to do. Let’s get to it.
Sandeman’s Berlin Walking Tour The Sandeman tour is a great option for Berlin newcomers. Our tour guide was fantastic, and not only was she incredibly knowledgable, but she was funny and even a little sassy. Clocking in at 3 hours, this is a long one. Sign up in advance. Meet at the Starbucks in Praiser Platz – the public space in front of Brandenburg Gate.
Brandenburg Gate – You know this one. Especially pretty in the evening as the sun begins to set. Go see it.
Take a River Cruise – All aboard! Across from Museum Island and along the Vera-Brittain-Ufer promenade, you’ll be able to jump on a river cruise. Devin and I opted for a cruise to see some of city from a new perspective and learn another thing or two. Maybe grab a beverage. Let me tell you this: our Reederie Hadynski tour guide had a real knack for finding serious humor in government buildings and city landmarks.
Museum Island – Located in Berlin’s historic center, Museum Island is home to 5 world renowned museums. Full transparency: not a museum kind of gal, but museum-dweller or not, it’s worth visiting the island to at least take a quick look around because the buildings are stunning. You might even catch a wedding photoshoot or 12. You can also learn about this UNESCO World Heritage site on a boat cruise, OR you can simply enjoy the view of the Berlin Cathedral with an Aperol Spritz in hand at A Tavola just across the way. (Honestly – just do this. See below.)
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: Wandering through the 2,710 concrete pillars that make up the Field of Stelae memorial and touring the exhibition that lies beneath it hit uncomfortably hard. It was emotional and sobering to learn more about the scope of the persecution and murder of Jewish people across Europe in the country where it came to fruition, as opposed to reading about it in a detached high school history book.
I think that what made the exhibit so compelling was the fact that in addition to providing a thorough and clear account of the events leading up to the Holocaust and what followed, it offered insight into the experiences of specific individuals: their lives, their families, and their journeys.
Final note: don’t be a DICK. This is a Holocaust memorial. Explore the Field of Stelae. Take in its disorder. Embrace the near feelings of suffocation and stress. DON’T LOUNGE ON TOP OF THE PILLARS. DON’T RUN ON TOP OF THE PILLARS. DON’T PUT YOUR CHILDREN ON TOP OF THE PILLARS. DON’T CHANGE YOUR BABY’S DIAPER ON TOP OF THE PILLARS. You get it? Yeah, you get it. And no, I didn’t just make up these examples using my imagination.
Rage the night away: It’s no secret that Berlin is known for its exxxstensive nightclub scene.
There is a seemingly obscene number of clubs to pick from, each with its own identity and loyal following. You can check out the list of Berlin’s best nightclubs, a resource we referred to, here. In the end we wound up at #8, ://about blank .
There are bigger, more famous clubs in the city, but in the interest of getting inside in a timely manner and foregoing the scrutiny of strict bouncers we opted for this pick. It was also recommended by a college friend who’s a Berlin local. Be prepared for a “utilitarian club aesthetic” with some deeeeeep house music, dark rooms with different DJs in each, walls of people, and having your phone camera taped up for privacy. Different.
East Side Gallery: Two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the East Side Gallery was commissioned. It’s now the longest preserved remnant of the Berlin Wall and boasts impressive murals painted by artists from around the world. While wildly unique in their own ways, each mural is a nod to both the struggle for, and power of, unity and freedom. Even though it’s a sight to behold and an instagram backdrop for the ages, it’s a stark reminder of the divide that plagued Berlin for 28 years, and of the repression fostered by Communism during the Cold War era.
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”: Your history lesson continues.
As we’ve already covered, the wall that stood between East and West Berlin for 10,316 days fell in 1989, with the Cold War ending two years later in 1991. While most of the wall has indeed been torn down, you can spot pieces of the original structure throughout the city, in addition to the portion of the wall that spans the length of the East Side Gallery.
We saw remnants of the wall on our tour near the Topography of Terror Museum, but you can also spot them at the Berlin Wall Memorial which we passed on our way to our Airbnb on Eberswalder Street near Mauerpark.
Oderberger Straße – Coffee, cafes, vintage shops, record stores, boutiques, etc. Go check it out! In fact, go check out the entire Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood.
Mitte- Berlin’s city center. Lots of restaurants and bars, big name brands, and “big city feel.” Here, you’ll also find a ton of culture and history, as it’s home to Museum Island, the Holocaust Memorial, and Brandenburg Gate, to name a few. Think: classic European city vibe.
Berlin Eat and Drink:
Bonanza Coffee Heroes – This spot is allegedly one of the most popular coffee spots in Berlin. Luckily, it was right around the corner from our Airbnb! Roasting coffee is no joke here.
Monsieur Vuong – For a second, you might think you’ve been transported straight to Saigon or Hanoi. This über (hehe, German) trendy Vietnamese street eats spot needs to have a spot on your list. The vibe is incredible, the drinks are delicious, and the Pho is out of this world. Be prepared to wait.
Aiko Sushi – Awesome sushi. The quintessential izakaya feel was a nice touch, too. Cash only.
Silo Coffee – This was our first stop in Berlin! Great brunch spot with a Bluestone lane feel. Poached eggs, iced coffee, the works. It’s in a really neat neighborhood with lots of shops and other restaurants.
Calm Coffee – Right near Silo. Super sleek aesthetic and sweet staff – the barista at the time was Japanese and had moved to Berlin from Tokyo a few years earlier. We had a lot to chat about, which was super cool.
Lokal – I hate the fact that I want to say this place “is a vibe”, but this place is a vibe. And a sophisticated one. Interesting menu that changes daily. Great wine selection.
Father Carpenter – This is a great brunch option in Mitte, which, as we’ve covered, is Berlin’s bustling city center. Not far from Museum Island, which is why we opted for this spot before we headed that way.
Kafe Krone – ANOTHER great brunch spot (or if you’re looking for a lunchtime pick me up.) Solid menu, tasty matcha, and is in close proximity to various thrift shops, gift stores, and boutiques on Oderberger Street and in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood. Also: Germans love to consign Barbour coats.
Holzmarkt– This is a great spot where art, culture and food come together. You’ll find this funky oasis along the river. It has an outdoor market feel and all of the buildings are mix-matched. It’s pretty neat – even on a rainy day. We stopped for coffee, but you’ll find small art galleries and the likes.
Steinkeller – Tiny basement bar in Mitte with interesting cocktails and an underground-lounge vibe.
Klunkerkranich – Don’t waste time trying to pronounce it. Just get there as quickly as you can. Super casual with a quirky vintage vibe. And while I’ve learned that not every skyline has the awe of New York’s, this spot offers a really cool view of the city. This bar is slightly beyond the city’s center and is on top of the parking garage in the Neukölln Arkaden mall (we have this thing with parking garage bars, I guess…) Enter through the doors beneath Bibliothek and next to the bright yellow post office on Karl-Marx Street. Go for sunset. Bottle deposit, cheap booze, expect a cover, bring cash.
Scotch and Sofa – Cozy cocktail bar with a speak easy feel and extensive whiskey and gin lists. Try the Licious Lychee Drop cocktail.