The really cold winter in Berlin usually starts around January and lasts literally forever. In 2016, we already had our fair share of snow in the beginning of the year, and now come November, it’s already freezing again. What to do in the meantime? Here are a few ideas – updated November 2016.
1. Visit the Christmas market next to Alexa
I hate Christmas markets. And even more so, I hate the “new” Christmas markets where they sell DIY-trinkets from recycled tofu for 30 bucks a piece. GO AWAY!
But surprisingly enough, the crass Christmas market near the Alexa – the one that doesn’t look like a Christmas market at all – is one of my favorite places in the winter. It’s a Christmas market that has completely given up on traditions (except for the Glühwein). It’s crowded and expensive and the rides look like they could be falling apart at any moment, but it’s fun and gorgeous to look at!
2. Visit Tiergarten while it’s winter in Berlin
Certainly an activity for both winter and summer, the walk gets really romantic when the park is snowed in. Tiergarten is eerie and solemn- it becomes a charmed forest, indeed. Not only because of the cold fog, but because the vast park is rarely visited by tourists in winter. D’oh. And the Spaziergang is perfectly concluded with a piece of apple cake in the romantic Café am Neuen See. You can also add a little cultural stop at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt.
3. Listen to soft pianos at Salon Christophori
A visit to the Piano Salon is recommended for all those who can’t seem to get out of hibernation and can’t be bothered to spend an exhausting night out partying. The Piano Salon Christophori is a shop floor for historical fortepianos in the Uferhallen Wedding. Every two or three weeks, chamber ensembles are organized in the atelier. The beautiful mess of the various scattered tools and pieces of the pianos make the studio a magical, raw and romantic place. The atmosphere relies on the authenticity of the French ancestors of the piano concerts, so patrons and listeners are invited to enjoy the music along with good wines, to have a smoke and to parley with the featured musicians and other guests.
4. Get your tickets ready for Berlins VIP festivals
It’s the season for all sorts of cool festivals, with the Berlinale obviously leading the way. Berlinale will take place in February – it’s our little Cannes festival of movies and usually offers quite the grandeur.
Meanwhile, Transmediale Festival is an exclusive, interdisciplinary festival of art, culture and technology which always puts modernity in a critical perspective. It’s been going on for 28 years now and it’s become one of the most important events within and beyond the city. Also in February, there will be exhibitions, movie and video presentations, live performances, symposia and many different focus areas.
Parallel to the Transmediale is the ctm (formerly known as Club Transmediale). The ctm brings forward club culture and experimental electronic music in a highly educated context.
5. Get physical: activities and wellness in Berlin
It’s probably a lot to ask of you to do sports if you are here for only a short period of time, but if you ended up as a tourist in the blistering winter of Berlin, then maybe you should consider doing something that keeps you from freezing.
Rock climbing is a good way to pass the time, even if you’re by yourself. There’s a new, sleek looking boulder place that opened up near Reichenberger Straße called Boulder Klub. A one time session costs around 10 Euro. There are definitely many other clubs and places around Berlin.
Swimming is also on the list. The Stadtbad Neukölln is fantastic and pretty on the inside, although please beware that it can get quite crowded (with children) on the weekends. There’s also a Sauna at the Stattbad, so you can combine a visit with some chill afterwards. On Saturdays and Sundays, there is the so-called “romantic swim” in the evening. In Prenzlauer Berg, the gorgeous new Stattbad Oderbergerstraße re-opened again as part of a hotel, and it’s supposedly just as marvelous as an antique Roman bath.
You could also buy a day-pass to the fancy wellness gym Holmes Place (there are probably also more gyms to sing up with for a day). They have franchises all across Berlin and are worth visiting if you want a little bit of fitness (including yoga and other classes), a little bit of wellness (sauna and showers, of course) and swimming pools.
For a more fancy approach, or if you’re mobile enough, you can do a day spa / wellness trip to Fontane Therme in Brandenburg or opt for a closer alternative like the Vabali spa. Those tend to get really crowded, though, so if you want more privacy you can go to the Hotel de Rome spa at a higher rate, or to Liquidrom if you don’t need a swimming pool.
6. Have a Shisha at La Vie on Sonnenallee
Maybe this is special interest, but it’s become one of my favorite activities. La Vie is a Shisha café on Sonnenallee. They serve no alcohol, but amazing virgin cocktails and solid water pipes. The A/C works, so you’ll never feel smoked out. You can have some snacks there or you can just pop-by for a game of backgammon. What I love about it is not just that it’s cozy and comfortable on the big couches or that it’s got free Wi-Fi: all over the place there are big, fat flatscreen TVs with eclectic Medleys of contemporary pop-music. You have to be prepared for the headache, though, as “contemporary medleys of pop-music” can be terrifying.
Also, if you’re already on Sonnenallee, you can see for yourself the hectic nightlife of the Arabic community. Go have a snack in one of the oriental fast food joints! You can grab some Fatteh from Akroum Snack, or a bit of Tabbuleh or a Köfte or anything your heart desires. There are also many shops that sell Syrian and Lebanese dessert specialities, so if the cream heavy cocktails at La Vie aren’t good enough for you, pass them on and test your heart out on sweet and sugary heaven!
7. Roam through (vintage) book stores
Books are best read when eaten with cake, at least that’s the motto on which I live life by. In general, one of my favorite places to hang out is now the café WestBerlin – combining food and coffee with magazines and books – and, surprisingly, the little bookshop down at Modulor / Aufbauhaus. The various bookshops in Gräfekiez and on Oranienstraße are also worth rummaging through, but if you need a more thorough list, check out Luca’s favorite book stores in Berlin.
8. Eat cake specialities at Katie’s and other cafés
My favorite café in Berlin is definitely Katie’s. Most people have started to hate it because it’s always super-crowded, but there’s a reason for that: the cakes are fantastic. If you’re lucky enough to get a seat on the weekend – winter in Berlin is not merciful at all -, you should definitely try their vegan varieties.
Katie’s is closely followed by Bitte, a new addition to the Reichenberger Kiez with an ever-changing Greek snack menu. The best all-round experience can be found at Kaffeebar in Gräfekiez. For Westberlin, my go-to when it’s winter in Berlin is Schwarzes Café. Their Vienna-style restaurant is not only open 24/7, but it has good food and even better cakes and desserts like Apfelstrudel.
9. Take a guided tour through the Boros Bunker
My favorite art gallery in Berlin is the Sammlung Boros. Since you can only book a small tour through the private contemporary art collection, you’re promised a great experience with a lot of love for details. You have to book ahead, but if you’re lucky you might get a spontaneous spot on a weekday. The art is showcased in a former bunker of Berlin, so you will not only learn about contemporary art, but also about Berlins crazy history. It’s definitely worth a visit, and this is coming from someone who isn’t particularly much into art.
10. Visit Gropiusstadt & admire the impressive architecture
It might be too cold to take a walk, but Gropiusstadt is easily fascinating – especially in winter, when the leaves have dropped and all that is left is the bleak architecture. If it gets too cold, there’s a huge mall that will give you shelter when it’s winter in Berlin.
11. Enjoy a nice dinner experience at a Michelin star restaurant
I admit, this is not a small-budget way of spending the night. But if you really want to make something of your stay during winter in Berlin, but have no idea how to spend your nights, skip the bar scene and go straight for the incredible dinner night out.
Go to a restaurant like Nobelhart & Schmutzig, Panama, Ryōtei 893 or Zenkichi for an extraordinary culinary experience. Those restaurants all have bar seats, so even if you’re without a date, you still won’t be alone. A fancy dinner like that can take 3 to 4 hours.
13. Visit the Planetarium in Prenzlauer Berg
The Planetarium only recently re-opened its doors. Here, you can watch an artificial night sky or become a scientist by discovering new stars in the observatory. It’s the perfect “winter in Berlin” activity.
Sometimes, the Planetarium offers audio book adventures that you can listen to while watching the starry sky, other times, you can actually educate yourself and listen to exciting NASA style lectures.
14. Discover the history of the world at the Naturkundemuseum
I don’t like to recommend art museums, because their quality really depends on what’s being shown at the moment. But there’s one particular museum that is extremely fun to visit during winter in Berlin – even if you’re an adult! The Naturkundemuseum Berlin, the natural history museum, has dinosaurs, pretty stones, and a lot of history to discover. I absolutely recommend going during the week, as the weekends can get super crowded (with feral children, it seems).
This is it for now, but this article is always due for an update. Here are a few more, unvetted recommendations for winter in Berlin that I’ll tell you more about once I’ve tried them: