Thu, September 16th, 2010 - By

Spotlight on Berlin

Berlin is a city that has a youthful, trendy atmosphere, is known for its music scene and nightlife and best of all, you’ll get a lot for your Euro compared to other European cities.

I visited the city in the spring for a short break with my teenage daughter and her friends and found it a fantastic place with something to interest everyone from the foodie, to the arty, to the culture vulture; here’s what we enjoyed.

Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin

Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin

The top sites on a budget

At the Brandenburg Gate, once the dividing line between East and West, you’ll find guides who will take you on a free walking tour, visiting the main sights in the central area. A tip is expected, so it’s not truly free, but they do work hard to entertain and inform, so it’s generally worth the money. Close by you’ll find the German Parliament building or Reichstag where you can take a lift up to the dome designed by Norman Foster, although the queues are long and so it’s advisable to visit early in the day. On the other side of the Brandenburg Gate is the Holocaust memorial, a sculptural forest of concrete blocks that create a sombre maze to walk through, and a little further on it’s worth wandering through the Potsdamer Platz development with striking modern architecture, shops and restaurants, where there’s often some public entertainment going on.

Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirchen in Berlin

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin

There are many other free attractions in and around the elegant boulevard of Unter Den Linden, such as the Gendarmenmarkt square with its twin churches of the the French Franzosischer Dom and the German Deutscher Dom and Checkpoint Charlie with its copy of the US guardhouse, nearby information boards and stretch of original wall. In the Kurfürstendamm district, we enjoyed a reflective moment in the beautiful Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which was bombed in the war, with it’s photogenic walls of blue glass and information centre in the original church entrance. If museums are your thing then check out Museumsinsel – we enjoyed the Pergamon museum with the enormous Pergamon Altar that fills a whole room and the colourful Babylonian Ishtar Gate and an interesting audio-guide to explain the highlights.

Street art in Berlin

Street art in Berlin

Street Art

Berlin is a haven for artists due to the lower rents and living costs than other parts of Germany and if you enjoy street-art, you can find it everywhere down alleys and in courtyards. The East Side Gallery is an outdoor street-art gallery that runs alongside the river Spree, where a large section of the old Berlin Wall has been painted with murals. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to visit East Side Gallery but instead we found our edgy Berlin experience at Kunsthaus Tacheles, in the Oranianburger district, where an old warehouse has been taken over by an artist’s commune with café that turn into clubs at night, weird metal sculptures in the back yard and artists’ studios to visit upstairs that you access through a grungy, graffiti covered staircase.

Kunsthaus Tacheles in Berlin

Kunsthaus Tacheles in Berlin

Shopping – from high street to quirky originals

If you like to shop for high street names and designer brands, then Kurfürstendamm in the heart of old West Berlin is the place for you. For something more unusual, stroll through Hackesche Höfe, where you’ll find a series of restored Art Deco courtyards, with cafes, small craft galleries and boutiques selling quirky and original souvenirs. In the same neighbourhood you’ll find others less commercialised courtyards and shops that also sell interesting products.

Eating out and night life

While you’re sightseeing around Berlin, you won’t need to pack a picnic as inexpensive street food is everywhere and we found you can buy excellent fresh sandwiches from stalls in the major stations. You must try the typical Berlin snack of currywurst, where a large German sausage is served with chips and curry flavour ketchup with an additional sprinkling of curry powder if required. For some high class foodie souvenirs or a gourmet picnic try the famous food hall at the department store, KaDeWe on Kurfurstendamm – just wandering around is an experience in itself. Berlin has plenty of hip, trendy and inexpensive neighbourhood bars and restaurants, so for eating out in the evening just ask locals or your hotel for recommendations as you won’t have to travel far to find something good. We took local advice on where to enjoy a teenage friendly meal with some live music and enjoyed our burgers and fries at White Trash Fast Food, in Prenzlauer Berg, where there’s live music most nights and the decor combines Chinese kitsch with wooden panelling from it’s former existence as a bank.

Thai food at Kurfurstdamm in Berlin

Street food in Berlin

Getting around

When taking a short city break I always prefer to buy a 1-day travel pass which is normally cheaper if you’re sightseeing but also allows you the freedom to jump on and off trains, buses and trams on a whim. We bought the Berlin Welcome Card when we arrived at Schönefeld airport, which is particularly good value for family groups and available for 48hr, 72hrs or 5 days, covering travel by train, bus and tram as well as giving you discounts at many of the major sights around the city. The S-bahn and U-bahn trains are extremely efficient but for sightseeing hop on the No 100 public bus that starts from Alexanderplatz and passes many of the major sights such Unter Den Linden, the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate and through the Tiergarten to the Berlin Zoo and Kurfürstendamm.

The Reichstag in Berlin

The Reichstag in Berlin

All photos from Heatheronhertravels on Flickr

Heather Cowper

Heather Cowper is the author of “Heather on her Travels“, a blog she started to share her passion for her travel experiences with her friends and quickly became as passionate about her travel writing.

Posted : Thursday, September 16th, 2010 at 11:51
Category : Spotlight
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