Berlin for Dummies
You are a tourist. Or a student. Or a professional from abroad who is coming to try their luck in Berlin. Or you don’t even know what you’re doing in Berlin. Fabulous, join the club. Berlin is a great and vibrant city that will suit anyone’s tastes. It is the best place to hit the streets, lounge and dine outdoors and explore the city in all its different ways. Whether you have been living in Berlin for years and years, or whether you have only just arrived – the German capital is a city that keeps surprising you.
In this little overview, we will give you a short basic how-to list that can be a helpful crutch for your stay and life in Berlin. The most important thing of course revolves around where to eat, drink, dine and sup. But our manual to Berlin might also include some non-food related basics. Maybe stuff that you already know, or might be new to you. If you have some cool tips or recommendations of your own, do not hesitate to get in touch! And to get started, you may want to read through ten of Berlin’s nicest coffee places.
General Info: The Bezirke
Berlin is divided up in many different Stadtteile (areas), otherwise known als Bezirke. The central Bezirk is Mitte (center) and from there on, all other areas are further and further away from the Berlin most tourists know – the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Brandenburger Tor and the Alexanderplatz. The most centrally located Bezirke are the most lively and ‘fun’ areas of the city.
Mitte is the Bezirk where many people work and many tourists hang out. Therefore it may not come as a surprise that this is a lively area where you shop, drink and dine in whichever way you want without any problems. Mitte is the museum-Bezirk where you can delve into my historical and cultural enjoyments that Berlin has to offer. The Berliner Dom in the middle of Mitte and on the Spree is one of Berlin’s most recognisable cultural buildings and definitely worth a visit. A popular area for tourists in Mitte is the Oranienburger Straße and the Hackescher Markt, which is filled with many restaurants, eateries and funky shops. However, do not expect not to run into any other tourists.
Friedrichshain used to be the ‘alternative’ Bezirk of Berlin. Located in ‘the East’ of the city, it used to be a cheap and popular location for youngsters. Lately it has slowly grown into a gentrified, largely student-populated young and hip area. Here you find all sorts of interesting and ‘typical’ shops, bars and restaurants. Especially when you are looking for a bit more of a ‘Berlin’ experience, Friedrichshain is the place to be. I would especially recommend it for the young of heart or body, who are looking for a varied tour of the city. Definitely a great place to spend your weekend while going out brunching and dining!
Prenzlauer Berg used to be cool too. It still is. It is one of the most desired Bezirke to live in for many Berliners – and therefore also one of the priciest. It borders on Mitte and is also a very practical Bezirk when you want to explore the city as much as you can, without travelling great distances. As Prenzlauer Berg (also a former East-Berlin Bezirk) used to be place where students hung out, it is currently being invaded by many young parents and their offspring (apparently, the students grew up). Because of the area’s family-friendly atmosphere, it is a very beautiful, spacious and green Bezirk. Prenzl’Berg has many pretty streets, gorgeous houses and offers a lot of facilities (what makes it such a desirable corner of Berlin to live in). Here you can dine, walk and visit the popular Mauerpark for a Sunday stroll.
Neukölln is up and coming. Students are currently moving down into this ‘international’ Bezirk, where a lot of lively Turkish shops have opened their doors and many different cultures mix. Neukölln is a rather decently priced area and therefore attractive for young professionals, students and start-ups. In the last couple of months, this has not gone unnoticed and even Neukölln is getting more expensive and exclusive. This Bezirk is actually very fabulous and fefinitely worth a stroll and a visit if you want to experience the growth and change of Berlin first hand!
Kreuzberg is the classical and popular multi-culti Bezirk. It is colourful, confusing, loud and very interesting. Filled with real Berlin stuff. The Bergmannstraße near Mehringdamm is surely worth a visit – one long street filled with shops, restaurants and nice bars. Nicely tucked away, without too many loud tourists. On Mehringdamm you can visit the Schwules (Gay) Museum and relax in various cute bars. Another Kreuzberg hot spot is the Oranienstraße, where you can visit one of the city’s coolest bars, named Luzia and where you should definitely pop into Roses – a small gay bar with walls covered with pink fur!
Schöneberg is the ‘gay’ Bezirk of Berlin, near to Zoologischer Garten and covering part of the shopping spree haven around the Kurfürstendamm. Schöneberg is a bit more classy, pricey and grown-up in comparison to many of Berlin’s youthful Bezirke. Here you can saunter through nice and relaxing parks, pop into the shopping walhalla KadeWe and eat at some great restaurants. In Schöneberg you can go clubbing, shopping, strutting and drinking. Every weekend there’s a nice market near the Nollendorfplatz, a great idea for tired Kudamm-shopping feet to rest at. Christopher Street Day (a monumental gay event, taking place on a weekend in June-August) should be spent here. Fun guaranteed.
Nightlife in Berlin
If you want to clubbing and you’re one of those people who likes to have a Plan A, a Plan B and maybe even a Plan C – there are two websites you need to check out. For gay clubbing (which, even when you’re straight, is a fabulous recommendation) you need the Siegessäule website. Here you find a daily overview of all parties and cultural events that are gay-themed. My favourite parties where you will definitely feel very welcome are Irrenhouse (with drag queen shows and nice dance and pop music), the Klub International (in the old DDR-Kino International, a great experience) or the Propaganda parties. For an English website on gay life in Berlin, check out the Patroc Gay Travel Berlin website.
Not into the gay scene or you want some ‘conventional’ clubbing? Check out the Berlin 030 website, where they list all parties and clubs at any day of the week. But the best thing is to tag along with random friends or Berliners if you want an ‘authentic’ experience. A WG-party (a party at someone’s house/ flat) is always a nice way to get to know people, or lounging about along the Spree in summer, in one of the many parks in Berlin (e.g. the ever-popular Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg or Volkspark Friedrichshain in Friedrichshain) and you will get to know some fun people that might lead you to an unexpected experience.
Berlin Tips – Where to Go and What to Do?
- If you are in Berlin anywhere between November and Christmas time: visit at least one of the many Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas markets) that Berlin has to offer. Drink hot Glühwein or another alcoholic hot drink and enjoy some typical German and Christmassy products. There is a large and pretty Weihnachtsmarkt next to the opera (Unter den Linden) and a special one (with a small entry fee or one euro) on the Gendarmenmarkt (walking distance from Unter den Linden/ Friedrichstraße). A walk on the beautifully lit and decorated Unter den Linden is also a recommendation for dark and wintery days.
- Museum tip: the Naturkundemuseum (walking distance from the Hauptbahnhof or use the U-Bahn stop appropriately called Naturkundemuseum). This is one of the most fabulous museums in Berlin, which is brilliant for adults as well as children. You can look and experience all possible animals, dinosaurs and geographical exciting rocks (gold, sparkly diamonds and such). Children can press buttons and watch movies and adults can be eye to eye with extinct species. Perfect museum day material.
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