What’s so special about Berlin?

By Abi King | Western Europe

Jan 20

Top things to do in Berlin tips from locals via @insidetravellab

Berlin. The world seems to love you but I’m not quite sure why. I went, once, and the two of us had a pretty good time. Your Christmas Markets glittered, your Currywurst tickled me pink and the history from your Wall (and the years that surrounded it) seeped deep into my soul. I was tired, almost broken. Searching for missing pieces and finding them in your winter heavy rain.

But I can’t help but notice that others talk about you in a very different way.

“I love Berlin,” they gush whenever I mention your name. “It’s such an exciting city.”

In dazzling Toronto, the folk who represent T.dot sighed and told me “We want Toronto to be like Berlin. A place people can’t wait to go to.”

Just what’s so special about Berlin?

It’s unsettling. Rather like finding out that kid you went to school with now works with Brad Pitt and George Clooney. (Only joking and sorry to disappoint. I have no such school friend…as far as I know.)

So, over to you, dear readers. I have a day and a half in Berlin next week – and I’m wondering what I should do.

 I have a day and a half in Berlin next week – and I’m wondering what I should do.

Where should I go?

Where can I find the glitz, glamour, funk, fun, excitement and energy that you all seem to talk about in this cold German capital?

Go on. Let me in on the secret. What makes Berlin special to you?

What's so special about Berlin?

Update on Berlin: I’m back!

And I’ve gathered up all this information to write about the best things to do in Berlin over here.

Go on. Let me in on the secret. What makes Berlin special to you?


About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more.

  • We spent a month in Berlin. Me, the hubby, my two teens and my 5 year old. and we have to say, we loved it too. For a month..

    We loved the variety of food. As compared to France where we are now where you’re lucky if you can find a descent egg roll.

    We loved the bikes. Bikes, Bikes.

    We loved how tall everyone was. I am only 5 ft 8 but i tend to tower over people here in France.

    We loved the history and education for the kids. It’s one thing to read and see in a text book but to have the kids touch the wall. stand in the same place where actual history events happened was surreal.

    I know it’s not much but these things are subjective. and well it’s just one womans opinion.

    • Abi says:

      I’m seeing a “bike” theme emerge which I’d never have guessed…and I’m a big fan of food ;-)

      I love tracing historical events through travel but I wonder if I did a bit too much of that last time. Berlin’s history is pretty bleak…

      • Annie André says:

        Yup Berlin’s history is bleak but for my two teenage sons who lived a privlidged life in Silicon Valley it put things into perspective for them. At least I hope so.

    • Rheinsberg says:

      I am speechless. As I am German myself, I would not think about food in Berlin – okay, nowadays you might find some from different countries, also something eatabel. But in France? Wow, wish I was there just for the food!

      Berlin: no idea what would be special. I used to go there on and off, usually for work, and happy when it was time to leave. Sorry, Berlin.

      • Annie André says:

        France has great food for sure. But… it does not have so many other great foods. I.e. as i mentioned above, no good indian food, or chinese food. Maybe it’s good by french standards but not authentic. I lived in San Francisco where there were so many great authentic food types and i was so happy to find that there were descent asian restaurants.

      • Abi says:

        I know what you mean. I lived in Toulouse for a while and I loved the food there but really did miss some more international flavours…

  • A Montrealer Abroad says:

    I love wandering around the streets of Prenzlauer or Krauzberg – very hip and “homy”. The WWII history on Unter den Linden is fascinating. The East Side Gallery too.

  • Audrey says:

    We fall into the category of people who have fallen under Berlin’s spell. But I think it usually takes time for this to happen. Berlin’s history is one of destruction and rebuilding. We are drawn into its spirit of constant renewal and experimentation. There is also the feeling that anything *might* work, and people just give it a go to test whether it *will* work. Another thing we love about Berlin are the neighborhoods and how traveling from neighborhood to neighborhood almost feels like going from city to city. We’re partial to Kreuzberg and Neukölln, especially the back streets full of small cafes and restaurants, with parks every few blocks it seems.

    I don’t mean to spam your comments section, but here are some more thoughts on how to plan a visit to Berlin: http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/2012/08/berlin-travel-beginner-guide/

    • Abi says:

      Not spamming at all – thank you so much for the personal recommendations! I think I’d like to see more of the rebuilding side of things this time around. Last time, my focus was more on the destruction (aside from the currywurst!)

  • Oh-Berlin says:

    Hi Abi!

    A cycling tour maybe a good idea to ensure you see (and feel) the main areas of the city. The ‘main’ sights are all relatively close so you could certainly tick them off your list through the day. A Currywurst for breakfast and a Döner for lunch, then, all that’s left is to head to the Berghain for some famous Berliner hedonism. Make those 36 hours count! :).

    • Abi says:

      Yes – I’m liking the sound of a cycling tour. It might keep me warm as well!

  • Adam says:

    Say hi to me while you’re here. What are you here for and why so short on time?

    • Abi says:

      A really short assignment…Would be good to say hi…will drop you a line.

  • Jenna says:

    Abi, I think you need to visit in summer to feel the energy everyone is gushing about. Parks and streets are absolutely flooded by people enjoying the outdoors after the kind of cold winter you mention. It’s like one big party, but not a party like a crazy summer festival – more like a lazy summer party in a good friend’s backyard. You’re just there visiting the friend, but you realize that if you lived there, you’d definitely be friends with all of these people, too.

    Fall and spring are stand-ins, but winter would be tough unless you’ve been there in a different season previously. However, you can still find a lot to enjoy. Eat at Monsieur Vuong’s – yummy Vietnamese, and the entire street is fun to stroll, with a great coffee shop up the way. Favorite museum is actually The Story of Berlin – best interactive history museum I’ve visited, with a nuclear fallout shelter underneath that eerily tells of how futile their attempts would have been to withstand a nuclear attack (luckily they didn’t know it at the time). The places under the S-bahn near Humbolt are always lively because of the university students, and they’re probably the best ones to help you find the good stuff going on behind closed doors (the ones blocking out the winter chill). Good luck

    • Abi says:

      Thanks Jenna. It’s snow covered right now but the sun is shining! I’ll have to imagine it’s summer – or else follow all these recommendations and come back again in August.

  • Alvina says:

    Berlin. Yes, I am one of those people who loved it. And as a general rule I am not a ‘city’ lover. Went in summer so was outdoor dancing by the river. Music everywhere. For those who didn’t have a ticket, picnics were allowed by the temporary outdoor location of the opera.

    Beer gardens. Not exactly ‘quality food’, but fun and friendly.

    Bikes. Yes, everywhere. Take a tour round the city or out to Potsdam.

    Favourite museum. Topogrphie Des Terrors Inside the exhibition shows and explains the insidious propaganda that led to such fear perpetrating communities where trust was destroyed as neighbours betrayed neighbours and brothers betrayed sisters. While I was listening to one eloquent guide explaining how the propaganda proclaimed that all who did contribute to society were a drain on resources and so their extermination was justified, it struck me that I was standing next to a wheelchair user. This young man would have been first in line for Hitler’s train to extinction. I was deeply disturbed, how must he feel?


    • Abi says:

      Yes, such an interesting and thoughtful look at “how” the slippery slope to total terror managed to happen.

  • Sofie says:

    Ok, I’ll try to make this not too long:D
    I’ve been to Berlin twice: once a week in freezing winter (February, -10°C), once a week in the blistering hot summer (July, 36°C). Both visits were completely different but equally great. OKay, maybe the heat of the summer was a tad bit better than the cold of the winter:)
    On my first trip there (winter) I went with a friend and we tried to do all the must-see stuff: the Jewish museum, the whole of Unter den Linden, Alexanderplats, the Stasi-museum, the Dom, a whole lot of monuments etc. Although I always try to get some culture when abroad, this almost completely cultural trip was the most interesting I’d made so far. You can just feel history still being alive in Berlin. It makes you feel really small and engaged at the same time.

    My summer visit was completely different. We stayed in Kreuzberg, which is still kind of a communist neighborhood and a very lively place with lots of small cafes. We mostly just hanged around and explored the surroundings, walking along the water, swimming in a pool they’d hung in the river, going to Potsdam for a day.

    Options are endless, really.
    I didn’t go partying on my trips, but I’ve heard tons of good things about the Berlin night scene.

    So I think you’ll want to book a much longer trip once you’ve been there:)

    • Abi says:

      The longer the better! And yes, I think I will want a longer trip at this stage! Thank you…

  • MSC says:

    I’m more interested in cruises myself, but I would love to travel to Germany. I’ve heard the Berlin marathon is actually a great way to experience the city, here’s hoping I can work up the money for that someday.

    • Abi says:

      Good luck! But I’m hoping I can see the city anohter way ;-)

  • Sarah says:

    It’s the rich history and palpable feeling that the people from Berlin really celebrate freedom and individuality in their daily lives. Take a guided walking tour…I’m usually not a tour person but the history and stories I learned on my tour were life changing. Going from a city with so many hardships to a forward thinking city that celebrates life, that’s what was amazing for me. Have a great trip!

    • Abi says:

      You’re right, that is an amazing feat. Last time I think I really got to grips with the hardships in the past. This time I hope to find the celebrating life part you mention to balance it out. Thanks!

  • Natasa says:

    museum city!

  • Brandon Elijah Scott says:

    I’m stoked to visit Berlin! Great blog.

  • Cristina says:

    Sometimes it takes more than one visit to appreciate a city. i didnt like Paris my first time. I’ve been to Berlin once – the history of this city always fascinates me and the outdoor beer garden festivals were filled with such great vibe and friendly people. But I still don’t feel ‘in love’ with Berlin. I wish I did. i promised myself i’d return because I really think it deserves a second chance. I know there is more to their culture than beer and a brick wall. I’m determined to find it! Sometimes places need a second chance :)

    • Abi King says:

      Yes…it definitely sounds as though a summer chance is in order!

  • Berlin left me in a weird mood. I was there for a conference and in the off time we explored Berlin – to begin with: at Alexander’s platz they had this big gathering of the right wing party, our hotel was in the Eastern part of Berlin left a depressing impact on me. Our hotel was probably the mood lifter (nHow Hotel, check my Blog)!
    The last day my colleague and me took up Berlin by foot from the Museum Island on to Brandenburger Tor, Holocaust memorial (at night! leaves me with a cold feeling down my spine even today) and then came the more positive perspective of Berlin with the Potsdammer Platz and the Sony center, where we had dinner with baked potatoes and ribs, the portions where far too big, really! We couldn’t finish it! Have been putting off the write up, but you inspired me now!

    There may be brighter sides to Berlin, but to me it was more depressing and yet impressing!

  • Anesa says:

    Kreuzberg: soak in the Turkish market, an outside fiesta

    Prenzlauerberg: hip hip hip

    Art: it’s everywhere!!!Beer: cheap, buy it at one of the many Spaetis (a 24 hour or late night kiosk) who carry the best selections

    Couchsurfing: join one of the many weekly meet ups

    Best way to quickly soak up the tourist stuff: Sandemann’s free walking tour

    Street Art free walking tours: learn about graffiti culture and take some dope photos

    Abi, I know you have already gone to Berlin by now but if you ever need a cheerleader for the city, please contact me. The energy of Berlin is free, contagious, wild, artistic, sharing, daring, hip, sophisticated.

    Best city in Germany. Period.

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