Berlin is a sure-fire crowd pleaser

By | Category: Travel destinations

Catherine Henderson visits the third most popular destination in Europe after London and Paris, Berlin.

Amel Mann

Berlin was just a pretzel away from seeing 11 million tourists last year – Berlin is Germany’s most multi-cultural city (20% of inhabitants owning a foreign passport) giving it a lively cosmopolitan vibe; a city saturated with galleries and museums, from traditional to the more underground avant-garde variety; its unique identity as a city divided both physically and politically less than 25 years ago means that as a tourist destination it continues to evolve. Bring all those factors together and you’ve got a unique and vibrant ‘on trend’ destination.

The vast majority of UK tourists visit the city for four days or less meaning that there are some tough decisions to make on how to get the most out of any Berlin city break, here’s some ideas to help you get the most of Germany’s must-see capital city.

1 Pedal power
Nine times the size of Paris, covering 892 sq kms Berlin is big with a capital B; divided into 12 districts all with their own distinct brand; the opportunity to get onto a bike and get a glimpse of some of the main landmarks should be high on your list of priorities once you’ve stowed your luggage. The successful Fat Tires franchise has set up shop in Berlin and offers a range of general and specialist guided tours of the city, with the four hour tour, being intersected with a rejuvenating stop at one of the city’s Beer Gardens where you can sample a chilled glass of Berliner Weizen (wheat beer).

Chiara & Marco Supper Club

2 Meet the locals and dine out pop-up style
Getting to know the locals isn’t easy as a tourist but checking into one of the city’s thriving Supper Clubs and dining in style in the home of a Berliner means you can sample fine dining without breaking the bank, meet a few Berliners and have a unique and memorable evening to boot.
Musca (otherwise known as ‘The Italian Supper Club in Berlin’) is one such Club, run by two Venetian artists, Chiara and Marco, who have been perfecting their pop-up supper club since 2010; inviting up to 12 guests to feast on five courses of Masterchef quality food whilst the energetic young cooks slave away in their tiny kitchen; expect to dine on contemporary Italian cuisine such as Potato Gnocchi on Topinambur cream, Buffalo mozzarella, semidry tomatoes and deep fried carrots leaf in Prosecco tempura.
3 Test your driving skills East Berlin style in a neon Trabant
Despite its fuel guzzling two stroke engine, (Time Magazine rated the Trabant high in the ‘top 50 of worst ever cars’,) the affectionately known Trabi has now become part of the Berlin tourist experience. Back in the days of a divided city, the waiting list for Trabi’s in East Berlin was 12 years; despite the fact that the cars were made of a Bakolite material they were highly prized, with second hand Trabi’s often having a higher value than new.
The Trabi Safari Company, located close to CheckPoint Charlie, has 125 lovingly restored Trabants and organises tours around the city lasting from 30 minutes to two hours. In close convoy, nervous tourists can be seen hunched up inside their Trabant working out this very

remember the Trabant?

unique driving. Tour guides ensconced in the lead car provide an insider’s insight into the city, pre and post unification via Eastern Block quality walkie-talkies.
4 2000 years of German/Jewish history combined with modern architecture at its international best in Berlin UNESCO City of Design
The German Jewish Museum in Berlin deserves your time and attention, its quickly become a must-see venue as much for the building as what’s inside it; opened in September 2001 and designed by American architect Daniel Libeskind (master architect of the new World Trade Centre in Manhattan) the building takes the physical form of a burst Star of David with underground tunnels or “axes” representing the connection between the three realities of Jewish life in Germany, as symbolized by each of the three spaces: Continuity with German history, Emigration from Germany, and the Holocaust. The zinc-clad structure is designed to create a sense of disorientation, interspersed with feelings of claustrophobia and panic, to convey the horrors of persecution all of which make this a challenging experience but one that deserves a visit.
5 Check out Germany’s new political power house – the Reichstag
After Germany’s unification in 1990 it was decided that the parliament should move back from Bonn to Berlin, the Reichstag building was given a serious makeover with British architect Norman Foster (of London Gherkin fame) in charge; Foster created a spectacular glass dome (more artichoke than gherkin) with two spiral walkways which afford visitors unrivalled 360 degree views of the city, as well as views down to the Reichstag debating chamber. Foster’s focus for the glass dome was transparency, a feature missing in previous German administrations and setting a new theme for German politics post unification.
6 Art or graffiti? You decide, at the world’s largest open air gallery – the East Side Gallery
The majority of the Berlin Wall is now marked by two rows of cobblestones, with very few stretches of actual wall remaining, the 1.3km stretch, now known as the East Side Gallery is significant just as much historically as artistically. 105 international artists came to Berlin in 1990 to paint onto the wall their take on Germany’s past and future, making this the world’s largest open air gallery. The live debate now is whether the wall should remain or make way for new luxury apartments – so check out East Side while you still can.
7 A resting place for tired feet – check out Berlin’s green side in the city’s largest park – Tiergarten
Dating back to when Berlin was the Prussian capital, this inner city park was the former hunting grounds of the Great Elector Friedrich Willhelm. Fast track to 2013 and the 210 hectare park is a microcosm of Berlin city life – cyclists, joggers, family picnics, students, velo taxis and tourist mingle, enjoying meadows, pathways, small lakes and Berlin’s largest zoo in the heart of the city.
8 East German nostalgia “Ostalgie” – look out for Ampelmannchen
The wall has well and truly crumbled and often the mantra “west is best” has overpowered all things East Berlin, but East Berliner’s weren’t willing to let go of their distinctive traffic sign, represented by a tubby and jaunty hatted man which can now be seen at many traffic crossings in West Berlin as well as well as throughout the East. Get up close and personal with Ampelmannchen (now a West Berlin patented design) by visiting one of the four Ampelmannchen shops in Berlin (with a £7m annual turnover), selling everything from Ampelmannchen earrings, to bags, dog collars to briefcases, and of course the obligatory iphone app to match.
9 Turn off the lights and enjoy the food – Unsicht Bar Berlin
Berlin revels in the experimental, from underground clubs, alternative life styles, radical movements, all part of the vibrant mix that make Berlin distinct; so when going out to dine why not try something different and eat in complete darkness, heightening the other senses, being waited on by visually impaired staff, this experience will be like no other, and is proving a hit for tourists and Berliners alike.
10 No man’s land turns into marketplace with street vibe – Mauerpark
Every Sunday a former strip of “no man’s land” previously in between East and West Berlin hosts a raggle taggle flea market and, just as importantly, acts as a magnet to all kinds of street entertainment, even during the summer months turning into an open air karaoke site with an open mic for Berliners and tourists alike. Once you’ve had your fill of the eclectic entertainment wonder further afield into the Prenzlauer District for a memorable Sunday lunch or brunch in one of the hip cafes spilling onto the wide boulevards.

Reichstag

Before
• Book into one of Berlin’s growing number of supper clubs – book at least four weeks in advance to be sure of getting a much sought after reservation, most Clubs open only once or twice a month.
• Book ahead of your visit onto a guided tour of the Bundestag (I.D. needed) to avoid queues on the day.
• Check out Visit Berlin’s website, for practical information, insights and booking in for events prior to arrival – this is a one stop shop. www.visitBerlin.com
• Get into the Berlin groove ahead of time by reading
o Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder
o Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada
And watching
o Goodbye Lenin (2003)
o The Lives of Others (2006)

During
• Buy a Welcome Berlin Card (two, three or five days of unlimited travel on Berlin’s public transportation system plus over 200 partners offering significant reductions for tourist attractions, events and cultural facilities. http://www.getyourguide.com/berlin-l17/city-cards-tc101/
• Ensure you’ve got plenty of cash to hand, credit cards are often not accepted in restaurants and bars.
• Don’t rely on your feet to get you around Berlin, the city’s sheer size will defeat you, get up close and personal with the U Bahn (underground) and S Bahn (overground) train networks.

After
• Start planning for your next visit, keep in touch with the Berliners you’ve met who will be only too happy to give you ideas for your next Berlin adventure.

The Practicalities

o Accommodation: €€ : We were hosted by Metro One Hauptbahnhof – Stylish but kind to the wallet the Motel One chain now has two contemporary hotels in city centre locations, ideally situated for public transport links. Living up to their strapline “Great design for little money” Motel One is a perfect match for the city’s contemporary feel.
o €€€€: nhow Berlin – stylish, decor in red or blue located on the river Spree in the east; has a high-end recording studio.
o €€€: Soho House Berlin –hip place to stay in Berlin, a sophisticated Berlin industrial vibe. Stylish elegance guaranteed.
o €€€: Propeller Island City Lodge – rooms with slanted floors and “flying beds”, a very quirky hotel!
o €: Circus Hostel Berlin – modern well-located apartments for 2+ which include self catering facilities; popular hostel, book in advance.

Flights : there are direct flights from most UK airports (Jet2, easyJet, Ryanair, BA, Lufthansa and others)

Images © Kay Frances

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