Berlin: Your Travel Guide to Europe’s ‘Poor but Sexy’ City
Photographer, potter, and globe maker Chloe Dalrymple fits right in with Berlin’s creative scene. A native Brit, she moved to Germany’s capital three years ago and shows visitors around her adopted city as a freelance tour guide, primarily with Insider Tour.
But her first impression of Berlin? Gritty, gray, and wet.
“It was in November and it was really rainy,” Chloe says. “And there’s some really ugly parts of the city. But then we discovered some really beautiful parts. Now that I live here, those ugly parts of the city are actually part of its charm.”
What to do in Berlin
- Enjoy amazing views of Berlin inside the TV Tower in Alexanderplatz. You can also dine up here. The restaurant rotates every half an hour, and there’s also a bar down below. Prices to the observation deck range depending on whether you get standard or fast-track tickets, and if you make reservations. Student discounts available.
- Picnic in Tempelhof, an old airport the Nazis used for parades. It was also used during the Cold War, but now it’s a public park where people cycle around and barbecue. Nearby Viktoriapark, a big hill, offers great views of Berlin and has a waterfall running through the park that “kind of turns into the road,” Chloe says.
- Visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Disturbing fact: The company supplying the anti-graffiti spray for the stones is the same one that supplied the nazis with Zyklon B poison gas. “It's actually really difficult in Germany to find a company that wasn’t involved with the nazis back then,” Chloe says. Don’t forget to visit the memorials of the nazis other 5 million+ victims: Roma, Sinti, political prisoners, homosexuals, people with disabilities, and others.
- Drink a beer in Prinzengarten. In this little oasis, you’ll find food, drinks, and activities like screen printing and open air cinema. Freiluftkino Kreuzberg also shows outdoor films, including ones in English. “You can get a beach chair and a beer and some popcorn. That’s really nice.”
- Tour the Reichstag, which is parliament. Today it’s called the Bundestag and you need to plan ahead for this one and bring ID. “You can walk to the top of the dome. If you get an audio guide, that's the best thing to do because it will tell you about all the buildings around.” The Reichstag went up in flames in 1933 and was left in ruins until the late 1990s. English architect Norman Foster redesigned the building with a glass dome to symbolize transparency. So, you can go to the top and look down to see what’s going on in parliament. “It’s to show that parliament today has no secrets like what they had during nazi Germany. Sometimes Angela Merkel could be down there giving speeches.”
- Explore East Side Gallery, a mile-long piece of the wall that remains in Friedrichshain. “Some artists came together when the wall fell and they wanted to encourage people from the East to come and paint at the Wall to express how they felt about the Wall through art.” For more history, visit the Berlin Wall Memorial to see where the tunnels used to run and where people managed to escape. The museum is free.
- Take a walking tour. This is the best way to see the city and learn about its history. Chloe is one of the guides leading Insider Tour’s Famous Walk and Sachsenhausen tours.
- Visit the Topography of Terror. “That’s a must. It’s information from 1933 to 1945 about the SS and the Gestapo during nazi Germany. Other museums to check out: the DDR Museum, which shows you what life was like in East Germany before the Berlin Wall fell; and the Pergamon, a collection of antiquities and art. All three are open on Mondays, when other museums are closed. Berlin has around 170 museums, a collection of the best on ‘Museum Island.’
- Wander around Haus Schwarzenberg. Near the Neues Museum and Otto Weidt Museum, you’ll find a courtyard with street art and flags. “There you’ve got a bar called Cafe Cinema, where you can grab a beer or coffee cake and sit outside in the alleyway. If you were to come out from Haus Schwarzenberg, and turn right and then turn right again, go down another alleyway and you’ve got all these little side streets with little shops and a little coffee place, as well. It's just really beautiful to wander around and then you can go and visit the New Synagogue.” Note: the museum at the New Synagogue is closed until summer 2018.
- Markthalle Neun. Close to Görlitzer Park in Kreutzberg, they've got a delicious food market on Thursday evenings, and other things going on the rest of the week. “They’ve got a wine store where you can buy a liter of wine, I think for 15 euros — dangerous!”
- Hackescher Markt. Find cute gifts here every Thursday and Saturday.
- Turkish market every Tuesday and Friday at Kottbusser Damm. “Grab some Turkish food. It’s on until about 5 or 6 p.m. They start giving good deals towards the end of the day, but they’ve also got art art stalls there, as well, and they sell jewelry and things like that. All along that canal, it’s just really nice to sit in a cafe or you can even just go sit in the grass.”
Other cool neighborhoods
Go down a couple of bridges from Kottbusser Damm, and you’re at Admiralbrücke “where there's all these musicians playing. Then you've also got Weserstraße, which is really beautiful. It's in Neukölln and it's all these cobbled little streets. You can go down any of the side streets and you’ll be able to find some cute little bars.”
Head to Mauerpark for the flea market, busking musicians, and even public karaoke depending on the week and time of year. “Maur means wall, so it’s where the wall used to run through,” Chloe says. “It’s a little touristy, but it's still where the locals would hang out.”
Shopping in Berlin
“You have some really cute shops down Bergmannstraße (street), and restaurants, as well,” Chloe says. Also wander around Hackescher Markt and Friedrichshain for cool boutiques, like Wolfen and s.wert.
Looking for a souvenir? “There is one thing that people love here in Berlin, and that’s the Ampelmann.” He’s the little man who lights up green at the crosswalks. “He was designed in1961 by a traffic light psychologist, and he was only for East Germany.” The government started replacing the Ampelmann a few years ago and people screamed, so they brought him back. Germans take crossing the road very seriously and if you cross on a red, they will glare or even shout at you.
Checkpoint Charlie. You’ll see pretend U.S. military officers dressed up at this Cold War border crossing in Mitte. “It's really touristy there and everything is actually fake,” Chloe says. “If you really want to go, see everything really quick and then get out of there.”
Day trips from Berlin
“I would probably go to Potsdam,” Chloe says. “It’s about an hour from Berlin and you’ve got the palace from Frederick II, also known as Frederick the Great, a very powerful military leader.”
Another option is Teufelsberg, which means Devil's Hill. It’s made out of the rubble from World War II. “On top of this hill is an old American spy station. It’s kind of been taken over by street artists…Then I would recommend going to Teufelssee, which is a really nice lake nearby, and you can go swimming if it's warm.”
What currency to they use in Berlin?
They use the euro.
Best time of your to visit Berlin
The weather is perfect in May, and May 1 is Labor Day, which means thousands of people partying in hipster Kreuzberg, as well as political protests. Summer is also nice, but can be too hot for some people. Another great time to visit: December.
“If you go down to Potsdam, they’ve got a really beautiful Christmas market, but you’ve also got the Christmas market, Gendarmenmarkt, right in the center of Berlin. There’s one by the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial as well, which is a very famous one, and one by Charlottenburg Palace. So December is probably the busiest time.”
Shops are closed on Sunday, and most museums are closed on Monday.
“Sunday is a day of rest, and they really mean it.”
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