Its been 2 years today since I arrived on cold winter’s night to begin a new adventure in country #7. In 2 years, here are a few of my stand out/tried and tested tips. If you have any questions/suggestions etc, let me know in the comments below!
At a glance, we cover:
- Give me cake
- How to see Berlin
- Practical stuff
- Getting around
- I wanna go for a run
- There’s no such thing as bad weather.. Only bad clothing.
- Stolpersteine/stumbling stones
- Is it worth going up the tower?
- Germany is the home of Christmas markets
- Berlin is a city that has come to terms with its past.
(Most of these are Mitte and periphery because that’s where I live 🙂 )
My theory is the best places in Berlin are owned/operated by Aussies. I’ve yet to find a Turkish breakfast place that has me crawling back. There are a few good cheap spots in Wedding but nothing to really write home about.
The best pancakes in Berlin (besides my house), are at Distrikt. However their extractor/fan broke in the summer of 2017 and its still not operational because of.. paperwork. (That whole thing about Germany efficiency? Yeah that mainly applies to the automotive industry, and that’s in Munich/Bavaria).
Still nice place for a matcha latte and sugary delights plus some other healthy options etc etc
Cafe Fleury run by a lovely French lady, also very reliable for breakfast. Cash only I think, close to Rosenthaler Platz/transport. I was introduced to this place by a longstanding Berliner who also introduced me to Shiso Burger, but that’s not breakfast… more on that later.
For the best croissants in Berlin (imho) go to Cafe Krone. Hubby discovered this place. Also other great breakfast options, cosy spot and a treat in summer.
My go-to place, and whenever I have guests in town is Transit Mitte. Try to go outside of lunch and dinner hours as it gets quite packed and there are usually lines outside for dinner. Make a reservation. One of the main reasons I like this place is because they play classic 90s RnB 🙂 No diggity.
For South Indian, Chutnify is good for lunch especially. Look at the colours… and a more useful food pic here. I was recently introduced to Agni, also excellent. It looks no frills and that’s a good sign – the effort is all on the food. Make reservations if you’re going for dinner. There’s a second Chutnify location, not sure where though..Mr Google can help.
Best Italian – Amici Amici. Run by Sicilians who also bring in produce from Sicilia. I have yet to find a best pizza place.
Best burger – Shiso Burger but alas I have yet to find a best Veggie burger place. I tried a highly rated one in Kreuzberg that’s seen better days, and this artwork was better than the burger. My best veggie Burger recommendation is at Shake Shack (not yet in Berlin) and this little veggie place I went to in Paris…. hubby is a burger fiend and he says its worth paying a bit extra to get the wagyu beef at Shiso.
Best ice cream/gelato – I got my bike in summer 2017 and to explore Berlin drew up a list of the top 10 gelato places and would bike to each one after work 🙂 Based on those exploratory adventures, the top 3 for me (based on stracciatella availability and if not, what other goodies), are:
- Vanille e Marille – there are a few branches – I like the one in Bergmannkiez and Postdam.
- Hokey Pokey
All these places end up with long winding lines so try to go at off peak times (ie when kids are in bed, random times of the day, not summer etc).
Give me cake
Barcomis – cheese cake is their thing (including vegan options) – 2 locations in Berlin
Tommi’s Burger joint. HOWEVER I have cut down going there because they give you plastic straws and milkshakes in single use plastic cups (even when I’ve requested they NOT do this…I’ve written to their corporate office to ask for change in policy because hey, if you do nothing, nothing changes 🙂 ).
Reliable for breakfast, lunch & dinner – Ceconni’s at Soho House. Reservations recommended for lunch and dinner – or go outside peak times (ie early like 6pm). Service has gone down quite a bit but the food is still good. (ps Cowshed at Soho House is also excellent for massages and general pampering).
Over on the west side, breakfast at the Ritz is a lot more affordable in Berlin than if you were in Paris or NYC. Worth going if you’re in that area.
How to see Berlin
On bike (when the weather is nice). Book a tour with Fat Tire. Great tours in English and also Potsdam if you can get out for a day. I found out about these guys while doing a first aid course, and yes, I did re-enact The Office resuscitation scene and only 3 people got it, including the dude from Fat Tire. We were all trying to contain our laughter which is not the easiest thing when a stern faced German instructor is in the room.
If the weather is bleh, do a tour via Trabi Safari (you need a valid driver’s license). These are great fun. You’re essentially driving a 600 kg piece of fibreglass. Hilarity.
The other hilarity in good weather are hot rods. I can’t believe this is legal in Berlin, the land of bureaucracy and rules. Booking essential for all and drivers license for the hot rod’s too. If you do hot rod, someone please get a group together and dress up as Super Mario and friends. Super fun.
If you want to do Berlin on the cheap, just jump on bus M100 which takes you past the main sights (Reichstag, Brandenburg gate, Zoo, Holocaust memorial etc). A day pass is 7 Euro which is essentially hop on/off. Get your tickets at U’Bahn/S’Bahn or via tram machines (cash recommended).
My favourite thing about Berlin is… the Philharmonie. Its one of the top 3 in the world. Tickets are available/accessible, just try to book far enough in advance. There are also free Tuesday lunchtime concerts at the Philharmonie – recommended that you arrive latest half an hour in advance.
Berlin Underground has also been recommended by Berliners (ie bunkers since WW2)
I’m not a shopper, so not the best to give advice here. Things are still roughly split East/West with the big international names and malls in each. Bergmanstrasse is a nice place to check out with independent/local stores, or just walk around Mitte – Hackescher Hofe etc.
am also not a clubber, so can’t dispense any advice here except good luck getting into Berghain and that there was a meningitis scare at Kit Kat in October.
Berlin has a ton of them. There is of course Museum Island but so much more for every taste such as Spy Museum, Music Museum etc. Gallery scene is also strong. There are late nights monthlies at key museums also and annually ‘late night at the Museum’ which takes a bit of logistics and worth it.
Money – Apparently its still 1989 in a lot of places which means credit cards are a no go. Bring cash with you (cash machines will charge you 5 Euro in service fee if its not your bank you’re withdrawing from).
is easy. You can buy tickets at machines at stations (not on the bus or via conductor). I would suggest getting 4 x trip tickets (9 Euro)/day pass (7 Euro) or get multiple day tickets if you’ll be using a lot. You can also download the BVG app and purchase from there (available in English, credit card friendly).
Do note that ticket inspectors are common and its an on the spot fine if you’re caught without a valid ticket. That, or run away – they are not allowed to pursue you however there have been common stories of aggressive ticket inspectors who have tackled people.
A lot of the taxi drivers are Turkish (yay for Turkish speakers) though I have found many other German drivers resist speaking in English. You can also download the app mytaxi to pre book taxis etc and save time flagging. Cabs are cheaper than London so if you’re travelling in a group, this might be a better option than public transit.
I bike everywhere, in rain, in snow etc and always send my guests to Zweitrad to Lucas or Ulrich for bike rentals. Call ahead to see if they have bikes and check opening times, and let them know I sent you 🙂 Really lovely folks.
Biking in Berlin is safe. There are dedicated bike lines and auto traffic must give right of way to bikes. There are also dedicated bike streets – ie the only traffic allowed in certain streets are for pedestrians and bikes. There are even one way streets that bikes are allowed to journey in opposite direction. Forget mobikes – there’s no pedal power. Lime bike and Donkey bikes seem to have a better rap if thats your cup of tea.
I wanna go for a run
Sadly, Nike is no longer running its run clubs. They still have NTC classes at their stores in Mitte and on the west side. Germany however is the home of Adidas and they are very active in Berlin with run clubs and classes at Adidas run base. More info here. The runs are free with different levels and distances – the classes charge a nominal fee (or they used to – check the site).
Airbnb. Lots and lots of options for all budgets. If I had to hotel it here I would go for
Hotel Oderberger (mainly for the pool). Good for those who would like to relive a Grand Budapest hotel-esque fantasy.
Adlon Kempinski.. Because if you know me, you know me.
There’s no such thing as bad weather.. Only bad clothing.
Berlin in the winter is like any Tom Hanks/Spielberg cold war spy movie. Its dark, grey, foggy and you feel like someone in a trench coat is going to hand you a briefcase from around a dark corner. It can also get cold (like -20degC). We’ve been lucky in the last 2 years but do check the forecast before you travel and daily. I made a rookie mistake of not doing this one day, to emerge from work to full fledged snow. I happened to be wearing my designer boots that day – which have no grip. To walk home was like ice skating without the steel blade. Try that for 20 minutes. The good thing is if you’re missing something, stuff is available and cheaper than say London/Paris prices.
Is it worth going up the tower?
Meh, not really. There is a revolving restaurant at the top which is nice and beats the lines – reservations recommended. You could also go to the victory column and check out the view from there.
Germany is the home of Christmas markets
And I’m not talking about the cheesy Hyde Park winter wonderland fiesta. I’m talking about the real deal. These kick off from approximately the last week of November to about January 6th. The one in Alexanderplatz is tourist central (ie fromage), and the more authentic/my faves are Gendarmenmarkt and near the one in front of Kaiser Wilhelm church (this is the one where the truck ploughed into the crowd in 2016). Berlin is a relatively safe city, but as with any city, take your precautions. The most dangerous part of Berlin is incidentally Alexanderplatz at night. You will also find little Christmas markets virtually in every neighbourhood in Berlin, and they are cute for presents, for the atmosphere and just a nice cosy evening activity during the winter.
Berlin is a city that has come to terms with its past.
You will see a lot of history here – the wall (on Bernauer Strasse or East Side Gallery), the stumbling stones and there are also mass graves for Soviet soldiers, one quite close to the Brandenburg gate.
If there’s anything else you’d like me to cover/or any questions etc, let me know in the comments below.