Berlin City Guide
Why I went here? I’ve always been intrigued by Berlin. Not only is it one of the great capitals of Europe, but also because of its involvement in modern history: World War II and the Cold War to be specific. Berlin is also cheaper than most European cities.
Best time to visit? When you look at any Berlin city guide, it will tell you that the best time to visit is spring and summer. I agree with those but I also want to include fall and the period around Christmas time. Berlin has plenty of parks and gardens that begin to blossom around springtime. Summer provides the best temperatures and outdoor activities, while autumn highlights the foliage. The city also hosts plenty of Christmas markets should you happen to pop around the holiday season.
Best way to get there? Travelers arriving by air will arrive at one of these airports: Berlin Tegel (TXL) or Berlin Schoenefeld (SXF). The former is the closer of the two and is the hub of international arrivals. Most low-cost airlines however end up at Schoenefeld. Both airports are well connected to public transport via buses and trains. If you’re arriving by train, you’ll likely end up at the central station, Hauptbahnhof or at the east station, Ostbahnhof. Both stations have a U-bahn stop and multiple busses and S-bahn lines are available just outside as well. Check out the Berlin city guide from WikiTravel for a more detailed information on getting in.
What to see/do? Berlin is a large city divided into several districts and for most tourists, the best way to make the most out of their visit is to categorize their sightseeing itineraries into eras: pre-war, Nazi, Cold War, and modern. Most of the pre-war attractions lie west of the Brandenburg Gate. One of the most visited is Charlottenburg Palace, once the home of Frederick the Great. In addition to the palatial rooms, you can also tour the large manicured garden and visit the smaller, but well curated museums nearby. There’s also the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, the 19th century church that suffered heavy damage during the Berlin Blitz, and the Berlin Cathedral, located in the city’s Museum Island. The Nazi era sights include many of the memorials associated with World War II. Places like the Jewish Museum, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, the Monument to the Lost Sons, the Topography of Terror and Treptower Park reminds us of the perilous consequences of war. If Cold War history is more aligned with your interest, make sure to stop by the Berlin Wall Memorial, the Allied Museum, and the East Side Gallery. The walking tour company Insider Tour has an excellent one for Cold War in Berlin. Try to get Michael if you can.
Berlin is also home to many great modern works of architecture including the performance hall of the Berlin Philharmonic, the Reichstag, and Potsdamer Platz. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, artists flocked to Berlin to express themselves and the city became their canvass. The neighborhood of Kreuzburg particularly Oranienstrabe and Bülowstrabe are lined with street art.
Food and drinks: The best food I had in Berlin isn’t some Michelin-starred restaurant but an unassuming Vietnamese restaurant on a side street just east of the Berlin Mitte. The restaurant is called Monsieur Vuong and provides affordable and delicious food and drinks. The majority of the patrons are locals, but there are a handful of tourists too thanks to the positive publicity the restaurant received over the years. Make sure you try their spring rolls. Turkish food is also very popular in Berlin because of the large number of Turkish population that came over after World War II. Dada Falafel in the Oranienberger District has one of the best falafel and hummus I’ve tried while Mustafa’s Kebab in Kreuzberg whips up a very tasty kebab. Be forewarned however, that this unassuming stall is very popular and it’s not unusual to see a queue of at least 25 people. I might not be inclined to do so every day, but it’s certainly worth the wait the first time.
Daytrips: If time permits, head to Potsdan, an area just southwest of Berlin, where Sansoucci Palace is located. The former home of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, is often called the German Versailles. Its elaborate gardens and stunning Rococo-style architecture is a sight to see and it gives visitors to Berlin an alternative place to escape the hustle and bustle of the capital city. In addition to the elaborate interiors, Sansoucci also features a unique terraced garden and in the heart of it is an elaborate fountain surrounded by marble statues of Roman gods, modeled after the one in Versailles.
Why I would go back? Berlin surprised me. I knew that I always wanted to come here because of its Cold War history but my expectations were smaller than any other capital city in Europe. The neighborhoods are so diverse that merely walking around them is fascinating. I was also very surprised at how affordable everything is. Unfortunately, my first trip was only for a weekend—nearly not enough time to peel off the outer layer of this capital city. There are the districts in the western portion of Berlin like Charlottenburg that I barely grazed. I also skipped the Jewish Museum and left out the chance to hear the harmonious sounds of the Berlin Philharmonic.