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The Definite Berlin To-Do List

Here are a few things you can do on your trip to experience Berlins unique character.
28 Oct ’15 by Sara Other

I am eventually going to have all of this printed on one business card so nobody can ever bother me with mails, calls and texts again about “what to do when you visit Berlin” . If you’re wondering what you should and must do and see in Berlin and you’ve already flipped through all of the usual tourist guides, THIS LIST IS FOR YOU 1

Visit the Boros Collection

I am a horrible, terrible tour guide, but I’m loads of fun: with me, you never have to see the insides of a museum, ever. The Boros Bunker was a surprising exception. This is a private collection of contemporary art by the German couple Boros, who bought a former WW2 bunker to display parts of their relevant collection. You have to book in advance, and every visit is guided, which is great, because even if you know as much about art as me, you’ll gain insight to the Bunkers history as well as to all the great artists and their (mostly interactive, conceptual and impressive) works. This fusion of art and physical/geographical location intertwines perfectly with Berlins history. You don’t need to have any knowledge of contemporary art to enjoy it.

Watch the Sunset on Tempelhof

Tempelhof, loaded with history, is one of the largest buildings ever constructed. It was conceived by Nazis poster-child architecture Alfred Speer, who, together with Hitler, had the megalomaniac vision of Germania. Tempelhof was part of that plan. Tempelhof was also shut down in 2009 because apparently Berlin didn’t need more airports, and the property was going to be used as new construction grounds. Well, Berlins senate didn’t consider the angry Berliners, who sure as hell did not want their historical Tempelhof – also the site of the famous Berlin Airlift – to become the next Potsdamer Platz (i.e. luxury housing and ugly architecture), so they called for a referendum and voilá, Tempelhofs tarmac is now the biggest urban public park; even bigger than Central Park in New York. I recommend you grab a good book about the insane Germania plans and start reading on the history of Tempelhof while there. Grab a blanket in the summer and some bottles of wine and chill out, or rent a bike and ride the approximately 7 km circumference. If it’s too cold, then opt for a tour inside the building, which is now offices and an emergency camp for refugees, but still has some of the elements left of the American occupation (like a basketball court). If you’re into neo-classical architecture or generally interested, then you’ll be fascinated by the Tempelhof building. Besides, you rarely get the chance of taking a full tour through a public and military airport at all.

Go Dancing!

Berlin is known as the capital of nightlife in Europe, but it’s not just the mentality of the city, it’s also it’s great and historically grounded infrastructure that serves everyone’s taste nowadays. Of course, Techno found its roots here – in the many industrial warehouses that were desolated after the war (which you can read up on here). There is public transport all night, cover fee and drinks are cheap. It’s not (only) about the music. It’s about a carefree society that usually doesn’t care about color, gender or sexual orientation. That’s the spirit of Berlin. There’s humility in dancing, in being naked, in demonstrating sexual desire. This is part of Berlins history. There is no curfew, and partying is not just for the night. You’ll meet people of all ages and colors in the various open air clubs of the city, in the little dive bars, on the streets. Dancing is part of life in Berlin, not for everyone, but most people know how to appreciate this part of the city’s culture.

Enjoy Turkish Culture on Oranienstraße

The first Berlin guide that I got advised me to go to Kreuzberg’s colorful Oranienstraße and “experience the Turkish influence”. That was pretty vague. Oranienstraße is nice for a little bit of strolling, sure, but unless you’re also fascinated by the ugly of the Kottbusser Tor architecture, there’s nothing to have on Oranienstraße that can’t be had anywhere else. Oh, except – if you come in the early evening hours, sit down at Smyrna Kuruyemis, a Turkish seed shop. Have some black tea. Enjoy learning how to split seeds with your tongue (no hands), lean back into the “Turkish atmosphere of Oranienstraße”, and watch the people pass by, all on their ways to meet friends, returning from home, making some noise on the weekend. In the summer, you might want to get some seeds to take away and sit at a Späti or in the park with your friends. Berlin is all about chilling out, so get into it.

Berlin Summer-0677

 Berlins Brutal Architecture

London might have more remnants of brutal architecture, but it leaves a much more memorable imprint in Berlin (in my very, very humble expert opinion). Because it seems so displaced, scattered around the city, and just appears in your view suddenly. You could construct your own tour, or take an actual tour (which I haven’t tested). The thing about brutalism is that it makes for great pictures and actually tells you more about Berlin than a Mauerwalk: because of the geographical divide, you can see the architectural differences between the East and the West. While the East was showcasing powerful Soviet constructions, the Allies-controlled Berlin was flirting with modernity and architecture styles that were “high fashion” in the West.

As for brutalism as sign of modernity, most people misunderstand the crude buildings, thinking the name derives from the English word “brutality”. In fact, it’s literally French for “raw concrete” (béton-brut), but the style is not just reduced to its material. You should read more about Berlin’s brutal architecture in Matthias fantastic post, where you can also see most of the buildings already. I urge you to try and look out for them in West-Berlin and appreciate their glory. They make for much better pictures than the Eastside Gallery.

Stop at the Soviet Memorial

There are plenty of memorials in and around Berlin, but you usually can’t skate or climb them, they’re rarely in a nice park and definitely not as impressive as the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park. First of all, it’s massive. It’s actually the biggest West European anti-fascist memorial. I mean it’s almost half of the whole park, covered in granite. It is also so far off from all the other landmarks in Berlin that you rarely meet big tourist groups or, God forbid, whole bus-loads of visitors, like at the memorial in Tiergarten.

The “Sowjetische Ehrendenkmal” actually left me with goosebumps all over the place, and to this day I can’t pass this gorgeous place without being thoroughly impressed by the forceful atmosphere. You should definitely read on the city’s history and occupation after the War, but even if you’re not a history buff, you will feel the spirit of the past here.

Eat a Köfte

Falafel and Shawarma and Currywurst are the classic recommendations for Berlin street food, and while there are many street food markets trying to compete with the conventional choices now, there’s still one low-key contestant that rarely gets a shout-out; and that’s even though it’s the most reliable late-night snack around Kreuzberg and Neukölln. Let me introduce you to The Köfte. There is no vegetarian option of this, but you can get Halloumi at most places. In fact, there’s quite a myth about the so-called “Tecno Köfte”, aka TECHNO KÖFTE. The Köfte guy on Oranienstraße told me that ravers usually didn’t know what they wanted so they took a sandwich with Köfte, Halloumi AND Falafel. And that’s how the Tecno Köfte came to be. Although I don’t know if that’s true, it’s a story I like to ignorantly reproduce and tell the world.

Anyway. My favorite Köftes can be found at Gel Gör (Neukölln) and Izmir Köfte (Kreuzberg). If you’re already at Gel Gör you might as well try the delicious lentil soup.

Berlins Bridge Culture

Marcus once produced a little series about our fake Mediterranean “bridge culture”. Warschauer Brücke, Oberbaumbrücke, Admiralsbrücke, Hobrechtbrücke, Glogauerbrücke: name a bridge in Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain and I dare you not to find buskers and loads of people there in the summer.

It’s easy to watch the sunset over the canals, there are many Spätis all around and people have found a liking to chill on the pedestrian crossings. It’s quite an atmosphere, which I can probably relate the most to hanging on Plazas in Italy or Miradurous in Lisbon. If you’re on Admiralsbrücke you might as well get a pizza from Casolare to go. It’s the best Italian pizza in Berlin and I won’t let anybody tell me something different.

Visit Hansaviertel

Check out Hansaviertel if you’re into architecture! If you have the time, you should also visit it’s Eastern counterpart, Karl-Marx-Allee, which goes from Mitte to Friedrichshain. Berlin was bombed and needed to be reconstructed, and both the West and the East were having none of that low-key crap. The West went Bauhaus on the quarter that was known as Hansaviertel, we’re talking Alvar Aalto, Walter Gropius, Max Taut, Oscar Niemeyer and Egon Eiermann. It looks like a different universe of Berlin.

Now, the East – its the same insanity, but a different architecture. Karl-Marx-Allee, formerly known as Stalinallee, is exactly as imposing and powerful as the Soviet War Memorial. Like Hansaviertel, it is basically nothing but a conglomerate of Plattenbauten, but they don’t make them like this (and by this I mean socialist style) anymore. Before the Wall came down, this was the most magnificent street of the East. And it serves as a good contrast.

Shop at KaDeWe

The KaDeWe isn’t particularly exceptional to the cosmopolitan visitors. It’s just a posh warehouse. But it’s THE warehouse in Europe, a landmark of the Western World, of freedom, capitalism and a very well curated assortment of products.

It’s also my personal favorite place to have Oysters. The casual canteen atmosphere, embedded into one of the most privileged outlets of the city, has a very distinct Berlin flavor. You don’t need to actually buy anything.

Eat at Thai Park

New York’s got Chinatown (and Koreatown and Little France and probably also some kind of Venezuela and a German Octoberfest), but we’ve got the amazing  Thai Park at Fehrbelliner Platz! Every weekend! While everybody treats Dong Xuang as the utmost experience of Berlin – WHY – Thai Park actually serves nice food in an even nicer environment. Not to say that a visit to Don Juan isn’t worth it, I found some of the best ripe mangos there, but it’s not like you’re going to buy anything if you’re not a wholesaler or have a particular fetish for the smell of plastic and child labor.

Thai Park: it’s the perfect hang out in the summer and makes for a nice bike trip if you’re not used to the area. It’s a culinary feast and very informal.

Stop at Schwarzes Café

It took me 8 years to go to Schwarzes Café and then I realized how many great nights and days I must have missed. It’s open 24/7 and a real Berlin institution, born out of the anti-anarchist situation of the West at the end of the 70s. It’s not particularly anti-anarchist now, but it still carries the kind of Berlin charm that many places have tried to reproduce (and failed at) in the past. As for quality, I tried everything: the food, the drinks, the coffees, the  cakes, and yes, absolutely fantastic. With a huge menu and a lively, but not crowded or annoying atmosphere, Schwarzes Café is usually the best choice when passing through the West or Kantstraße in particular. You can have breakfast at ANY time of the day here, which is great in itself. There’s also some typically German / Austrian stuff on the menu, and since many people also ask me where they can try the mythical German cuisine, well… there you go.

Enjoy the Berlin Breakfast

I already mentioned the breakfast at Schwarzes Café. If you like breakfast, you’ll love Berlin, because guess what: breakfast is a 24/7 thing here. Because people are extraordinarily chill, breakfast ist served usually really late into the afternoon or sometimes even later. And there’s a flamboyant and outgoing breakfast culture, too, so many cafés offer what resembles a typical German “Brotzeit” consisting of fresh baked bread and rolls (German speciality), different varieties of cheese and cold cuts or vegetarian options. You’ll also find fancy Chia puddings, mueslis and whatnot, but it’s the relatively typical German breakfast platters that foreigners usually love. And so do I.

(My breakfast advice for Kreuzberg would be Bastard or Nest. Please also check out Stil in Berlin’s insane list of the best breakfast options of Berlin).


Take a Schlauchboot-Trip

Full disclosure: I’ve never done that. When people come visit me and it’s fairly nice weather (hell, even if it’s raining as always) we take a commercial boat trip. Three hours of slow, painful intoxication, but the view is great. But: whenever I see people riding down the Landwehrkanal in a Schlauchboot, I feel a pang of jealousy. Then I always remember that the waters of the canal are mud and that I’ve seen more dead in there than in all of the SAW movies. It still looks nice.

  1. Also, I did created this definite list of ultimate things you need to do in Berlin because if people keep recommending BLACKLIGHT MINI GOLF I'm just going to fuck something UP   (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ 

Four comments

  1. i love that list!
    there’s still so much to do for me here :D

    (i believe berlin has 4 airports and 2 (sfx, txl) are working)

  2. This is an amazing guide! Looking forward to Part II (i.e. Klummer Lanke in summer, Hasenheide in Spring, an so much more.

  3. That club picture… Plötzlich am Meer? ;)