10 top things to do in Berlin: a local’s guide

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From beer gardens to abandoned amusement and airports parks, Tripbod Jeroen reveals 10 of the finest alternative points to see and do in Berlin.

things to do in Berlin

1. The Berlin Wall Memorial

The best place to learn more about the Berlin Wall and the division of Germany is the official Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse, north in the centre. The border ran right across the façades in the houses here, and following the inhabitants were evacuated and also the lower floors were bricked up, people still were able to flee the GDR by jumping out of the top floors. The data centre shows films of the making of the wall, and there’s a view tower overlooking a short stretch of wall which has been restored for the original, brutal look. Walk across the back for a peek in the ‘death strip’ through the gaps within the rear wall.

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Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer

Bernauer Strasse 111 & 119, Mitte

Tel. 49 30 46798 6666

http://www.berliner-mauer-gedenkstaette.de

Open 9: 30am-7pm, Nov-Mar 9: 30am-6pm. Closed Mon (outdoor exhibition open 24hrs).

Admission free

Berlin Wall Memorial © Jeroen van Marle

Berlin Wall Memorial

2. Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is undoubtedly among the best on earth. Directed by Englishman Sir Simon Rattle, it performs regularly in Berlin, and tours the world extensively as well. The orchestra’s home is the striking yellow tent-shaped Philharmonie near Potsdamer Platz. Its interior with seating terraces all over the stage was revolutionary in the event it opened fifty years ago. Don’t miss the free Tuesday lunchtime concerts by upcoming and renowned musicians; arrive 30-45 minutes early and provide something soft to sit on, because the audience sits on the lobby floor!

Berliner Philharmonie

Herbert-von-Karajan-Straße 1, Berlin-Tiergarten

S/U Potsdamer Platz

Tel. 49 30 2548 8999

http://www.berlin-philharmonic.de

Lunchtime concerts: 1pm, 3 Sept – 14 June 2014

Berlin Philharmonic, Axel Lauer / Shutterstock.com

3. Three panoramic places

There are several places to get great panoramic views across town, although berlin may be a relatively flat city with only a handful of high-rise buildings. The Panoramapunkt at the top of the brick Kollhoff tower on Potsdamer Platz is my favourite city centre viewpoint. Europe’s fastest elevator it zips you 100 metres up for views of Berlin’s old and new centre, and it also includes a café and exhibition. Just south in the centre, the monument on top of the Kreuzberg hill in Viktoriapark is Berlin’s highest natural point; buy some beers in a Spaeti shop and walk up over the romantic waterfall at sunset. Inside the Neukoelln district, the brand new Klunkerkranich ‘cultural rooftop garden’ on top of a mall parking garage has a bar, DJs, live music and parties with fabulous views over Berlin.

Panoramapunkt

Potsdamer Platz 1, Berlin-Mitte

Tel. 49 30 2593 7080

http://www.panoramapunkt.de

Open daily 10: 00-20: 00

S/U-Bahn: Potsdamer Platz

Viktoriapark

Kreuzbergstrasse

U-Bahn: Mehringdamm

Klunkerkranich

Karl-Marx-Strasse 66, Berlin-Neukölln

U-Bahn: Rathaus Neukölln

Open Fri 16: 00-24: 00, Sat/Sun 14: 00-24: 00.

http://www.klunkerkranich.de

Victoriapark, Kreuzberg © Jeroen van Marle

Victoriapark, Kreuzberg

4. Take a tour having a difference

There are dozens of tours around Berlin’s tourist sights, but I really enjoy joining small tours around the outlying districts. The history here is no less interesting, and you’ll get insights into normal day to day life in the city. Slow Travel Berlin, an internet site authored by Berlin-lovers, organises district walking tours that really take the time for in-depth exploration of Prenzlauer Berg, western Kreuzberg or Wedding. Finding Berlin is an additional website by Berlin enthusiasts that spawned tours; join their ‘Little Istanbul’ walk that also includes chats with Turkish bakers and shop owners in Neukoelln, or even the ‘Life & Styles’ tour, exploring eastern Kreuzberg using vintage fixed-gear bicycles.

Slow Travel Berlin

http://www.slowtravelberlin.com

Finding Berlin Tours & Vintage Bike Rental

Schlesische Straße 29/30 (2nd courtyard), Berlin-Kreuzberg

U Schlesisches Tor

Tel. 49 176 9933 3913

http://www.findingberlin-tours.com

woman riding bike, Berlin

5. Markthalle 9

Only two of Berlin’s 13 market halls survive, and also the beautiful ‘number 9′ hall in Kreuzberg, going back to 1891, was recently revived using a lively weekly farmers’ market; I live nearby and it’s a great spot for fresh regional food. But there’s more: the Kantine restaurant serves excellent organic lunches each day, there’s a well known street food market every Thursday evening and there are often special markets on Sundays, committed to local crafts or sweets. If that isn’t enough reason to drop by, the new Heidenpeters microbrewery sells its ales on market days. The famous Weltrestaurant Markthalle is a lovely place for a schnitzel, or a beer on the terrace, by the Puecklerstrasse exit.

Markthalle 9

Eisenbahnstrasse 42, Berlin-Kreuzberg

http://www.marthalle9.de

Weekly market Fri/Sat 10: 00-18: 00, Streetfood Thursday 18: 00-22: 00.

U-Bahn: Goerlitzer Bahnhof

Weltrestaurant Markthalle

Puecklerstrasse 34, Berlin-Kreuzberg

Tel. 49 30 6175 502

http://www.weltrestaurant-markthalle.com

Markthalle 9, Berlin © Jeroen van Marle

Markthalle 9

6. Clärchens Ballhaus

Generations of Berliners have danced the nights away at Clärchens since it opened in September 1913. Here normal Berliners could have fun and maybe dance with all the woman or man with their dreams. The front of the building, now a terrace, was bombed in the war, though the photos at the entrance show that very little has changed over the last 100 years. Nowadays, Clärchens is Berlin’s last real dance hall, with great pizza and German dishes, and themed dance nights (foxtrot, salsa and tango etc – free admission) on weekdays. The legendary schwoof parties (€5) happen at weekends, when there’s live music, and you’re welcomed at the wardrobe by Günter who started working within the mid-1960s.

Auguststrasse 24, Berlin-Mitte

http://www.ballhaus.de

S-Bahn Oranienburger Straße

Open daily 11: 00-02: 00, Fri/Sat 11: 00-04: 00

7. Tempelhofer Freiheit Park

Visiting a former airfield may not sound very exciting, but every time I take visitors onto the runways of the former Tempelhof Airport and there’s two kilometres of wide empty runway in front of them, their eyes always begin to sparkle. Tempelhof airport was built in the 1930s to be the world’s most innovative airport and one of the world’s largest buildings. Later, the Americans used it as being a military airport, plus it played an important role in saving West Berlin through the 1949 Soviet blockade. The 1200-metre-long terminal building is used for tours and events, whilst the airfield continues to be changed into a park for lying in the sun, kite cycling, boarding and jogging roller-blading, dog-walking and barbecuing. It is best to come by bike to take full advantage of it!

Tempelhofer Freiheit Park

Several entrances; S/U-Bahn Tempelhof and U-Bahn Boddinstrasse are most convenient.

Open sunrise to sunset, admission free.

http://www.tempelhoferfreiheit.de

Tempelhof © Jeroen van Marle

Catch the wind: Tempelhof

8. Have a beer in Berlin’s new microbrewery scene

Berlin has a long tradition of brewing too, even though bavaria may have Germany’s most famous beer brands. Recently several exciting new brewers have set up shop. Hidden in a Wedding student housing complex, Eschenbraeu is really worth visiting for its home-brewed beers and flammekuchen pies. In the Friedrichshain district, the Hops & Barley bar attracts a young crowd. Nearer to the centre, Brauhaus Lemke is really a nice brewpub. But my favourite places for any beer would be the Prater Garten, the oldest Biergarten in town, serving its own Prater Pils as well as the relaxing Cafe am Neuen See which serves Bavarian beers and overlooks a lovely boating lake in Tiergarten Park.

Eschenbraeu

Triftstrasse 67, Berlin-Wedding

U-Bahn: Leopoldstrasse

http://www.eschenbraeu.de

Hops & Barley

Wühlischstraße 22-23, Berlin-Friedrichshain

S/U-Bahn: Warschauer Strasse

http://www.hopsandbarley-berlin.de

Brauhaus Lemke

Dircksenstrasse, S-Bahnbogen 143, Berlin-Mitte

S-Bahn: Hackescher Markt

http://www.brauhaus-lemke.com

Prater Biergarten

Kastanienallee 7-9, Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg

U-Bahn: Eberswalder Strasse

http://www.pratergarten.de

Café am Neuen See

Lichtensteinallee 2, Berlin-Tiergarten

S/U-Bahn: Zoologischer Garten

http://www.cafeamneuensee.de

beer, Berlin

9. Go urban exploring

Photographers, graffiti-artists and also the plain curious are common drawn to Berlin’s many abandoned and ruined places, and lots of websites are focused on this ‘urban exploration’. Southeast from the city centre in the Treptow district, the first kind Spreepark amusement park is among the most spectacular examples; the Ferris wheel and many rides are slowly being swallowed through the forest, and may be visited on the tour or simply by wandering in. On the western side in the city, there’s the former CIA listening post on Teufelsberg hill. Further afield, explorers may look for the Olympic Village and the Beelitz Heilstätten hospital and many Nazi or Soviet military areas.

Spreepark

Neue Krugallee, Berlin-Treptow

S-Bahn: Plänterwald

http://www.berliner-spreepark.de

Spreepark © Jeroen van Marle

Spreepark

10. Party on in a festival

Berliners want to celebrate outside throughout the warm summer. But the festival season begins annually in the midst of winter with the Berlinale Film Festival in February, which sees a large number of Berliners and foreigners retreat to warm cinema halls to look at the very best new film releases. The outdoor season kicks off on May 1 using the MyFest street festival inside the Kreuzberg district. Berlin’s main street party will be the multicultural Karnaval der Kulturen parade at the end of May. Listen to live music at stages all over town during Fete de la Musique, on 21 June, while late June sees the massive Christopher Street Day gay parade. Finally, the city’s main landmarks and buildings are majestically lit up during the Festival of Lights in October.

Berlinale Film Festival

http://www.berlinale.de

MyFest

http://www.myfest36.de

Karnaval der Kulturen

http://www.karneval-berlin.de

Fete de la Musique

http://www.fetedelamusique.de

Christopher Street Day parade

http://www.csd-berlin.de

Festival of Lights

http://www.festival-of-lights.de