JUL 25,2013 - JUL 29,2013 (5 DAYS)
We did a five day trip to the amazing Berlin during Summer 2013.
The city is electrifying and has its own unique rhythm. It's a very large city and requires a lot of walking. On your way, don't hesitate to peek and enter Berlin's many alleys - you'll find many surprises there - whether it's a hidden garden, cool stores or nice cafes.
On our visit, Berlin's sky line was full with cranes and many parts of the city were under construction. Berlin's Champs-Élysées Unter d. Linde avenue was under heavy digging with a new subway line (5?) work in progress, so we had to adjust our plans accordingly.
You cannot miss Berlin's dark past popping out at you from every corner, and you don't want to. It's a reminder to us; what can happen when a country loses it's moral conscious.
Weather was hot. Between 29-35 centigrade. There's no AC in most of the street stores, subways peers, subways, and buses. Take that into account - travel with plenty of water, sunscreen, hats and very light clothes (shorts). On our last evening it started pouring rain. I guess rain can ruin your trip, so the heat in that sense was better.
Perhaps June or September will be better suited for traveling Berlin.
Berlin is huge. And the walking distance between the different places is large. Bring good walking shoes. We preferred walking the city, but if you have trouble with walking there are plenty of alternatives - bikes (Berlin is a Biker's heaven), sightseeing busses, sightseeing bikes, etc.
We arrived for 5 days so we bought the five days version of Berlin's Welcome Card which gives you free access to all public transportation options, discount at various places and coupons. It's worth every penny as it saves you from the hassle of buying individual tickets for each ride. We bought the Welcome card upon landing at Tegel Airport.
You need to validate your card after buying it. At the U/S stations there are ticket validation machines. You need to validate it only once or it's ruined. When you use the bus you can show it to the driver.
Berlin has a very good transportation system, although it takes a couple of days to get it all. With the Welcome Card you'll get a map. We used it all of our trip to get around and to understand which bus/U/S/M to take.
Berlin public transportation includes:
We used U, S and Buses. We never waited more then 5 minutes to any one of them.
We stayed at Hotel Berlin. It was very nice, great breakfast, nice rooms, nice lobby and located near the Nollendorfplatz station, and #100 bus line . Recommended.
We booked two tours in advance:
(1) Reichstag guided tour - you can pre-order them here (free).
We did it a couple of days before the flight and received the confirmation letter after less than 24 hours. We booked the guided tour followed by a visit to the dome. If you don't book the tour, you'll have to stand hours in line, and visit only the dome.
(2) Berliner Fernsehturm - Berlin TV tower: We took the early bird tour but there are various options including a visit to the bar/rotating restaurant. Do yourself a favor and book that in advance. The outside line was very long when we arrived at 8:40, and upon finishing the tour we saw the inside line. Also, very long, without air conditioning...
Our Reichstag tour was booked for the last day at 12:00 and the Berliner Fernsehturm for our second day. So we planned accordingly.
We found the German restaurants really nice. We weren't too picky about ratings or anything. As long as we saw enough people/locals sitting in the restaurants we joined. After all, good beer can be found anywhere...
One word of warning - in many places, kitchen is closed around 21:00, so if you target a specific place, make sure it's open when you're there. If not, try to catch dinner before. The beer gardens usually stay open till 23:00 so it's another great option. If you haven't been in a beer garden before, it should be a must-do on your list.
This is a summary of all our walking routes. I tried sketching them all on google maps, although google tries to be smart when it shouldn't so you may get some weird map. But the general routes are there.
In large shops there's a possibility to to get forms for VAT tax return. The return is valid on products, not services. In one of the places they asked for my passport id so have it ready.
The refund process at the Tegel airport was very easy and quick. They refunded cash. The girl in front of me was too young (<18 or <21), and she had some troubles with that.
Almost all stores and institutions are closed on Sunday. Plan accordingly. Our Sunday day plan turned out to be perfect (see above).
We arrived to the hotel around 14:00, and we immediately took Bus #100 to Brandenburg Gate. There are two stations near Brandenburg Gate - one near the Reichstag and one after. We left the bus on the second station.
At that station you'll find Cafe-Lebensart in which we ate lunch. I ordered Berlin's famous currywurst with french fries and it was the best I tasted the entire trip. In other places they drowned the sausage with too much ketchup.
The plaza before the gate is called Pariser Platz and it's always full with action - street shows, guys dressed up like Russian soldiers, etc.
From the gate counter clock wise you'll see:
DZ Bank hall
Since we planned on being in the Reichstag another day we continued from Brandenburger south on Ebertstraße. After crossing Behrenstraße you'll see the Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas
und Ort der Information (Holocaust Denkmal).
You can see our route on the map above. We visited:
We ate dinner at Andy's Diner & Bar outside the Sony center. The place was nice, we saw many locals eat there so we joined them and had a nice dinner. We returned another evening when we had plans to eat inside the Sony center only to discover the heat inside the dome was unbearable.
From there we just continued touring in the museum area without visiting any of them. The heat fried our brains and we just wanted to get some rest at our hotel.
Fun Factory Store Berlin - It's on your way, so don't miss it. Even you're not the potential customers. The design and aesthetics of the store is just cool.
We ate at Clärchens Ballhaus. Food was nice, beer and atmosphere even better. It's located in a nice garden which allowed us to rest from the hot weather. This place is supposed to be a ball house in the evening if you brought your evening gowns with you...
We caught the train to Bahnhof Berlin Friedrichstraße and started there. We walked south on Friedrichstraße, turned west on Unter den Linden till we reached Brandenburger gate, turned east till we reached Friedrichstraße again and then went south with Friedrichstraße. On the way you'll see -
South on Friedrichstraße you'll see:
While there, I managed to catch a karting tour. I managed to catch this tour another time in our stay, but do I always drove so fast and things seemed to catch me under surprise. This is what I managed to shoot:
From there we continued to Neue Schönhauser Straße, Alte Schönhauser Straße, nice streets filled with galleries and stores. Don't hesitate to explore every alley you see. You'll find nice surprises everywhere.
After resting a bit, we went to do some shopping in Primark. It was very nice and worth it. I personally bought something like eight T-shirts within a price range of 2.5-3 Euros for a shirt. I put them in the washing machine several times already and they haven't shrunk or lost color so I can fully recommend them.
My wife (the real reason we went there...) bought something like 5(!!!) different bags for something between 5 and 8 Euros for a bag.
Fourth Day (Sunday)
The East Side Gallery stretched for more than 1 km and includes some really neat pieces of art!
This is the second place where I managed to shoot the karting tour...
After catching our breath (35 centigrade....) we made our way to Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg which hosts a flee market every Sunday. This place is super cool even if you don't buy anything. It's worth coming here to absorb the culture and the atmosphere - clothes, vinyl records, beer, Turkish food, currywarsts, and many more clothes - all mixed up with a good mood and good vibes.
We were there at noon on a super warm day. People had to chill out...
After going back to the hotel to get some rest we headed toward Schleusenkrug - a beer garden which was quite close to our hotel. I couldn't understand how exactly to get there so we took a cab. The driver dropped us at the Zoological Garden station and told us just to head north to the park. After 200 meters you're there.
This place is really nice, serves good food, great beer, and has a really good atmosphere. We enjoyed the food, the beer and the company.
We had a pre-scheduled tour at the Reichstag so we arrived a little earlier and toured the area, including the German Chancellery, Angela's crib :-)
The Berliners calls it Bundeswaschmaschine (federal laundry machine)...
The tour in the Reichstag was very interesting and impressive and included a visit in the plenary and the dome. It was interesting to learn that Hiltler never sat in the Reichstag. This is the reason Germany decided to move it's Bundestag to this building after the reunion with east Germany.
We had to bring some presents home for our kids, so we headed to Prenzlauer Berg again, which gave us an opportunity to enjoy this cool neighborhood again. We headed toward Ratzekatz Spielzeugland which turned out to be a really nice store with a large variety. After that we just toured the place.