From capital of the Prussian Empire to symbol of Nazi oppression and Cold War clashes, Berlin has a fascinating history.
9 August 2012
Start in the heart of the city to see the Brandenburg Gate then follow our tips to get the most your of your visit:
MUST STAY: Compared to many other European capitals, hotels in Berlin are relatively inexpensive. For about €150, you can treat yourself to the superb Hotel Concorde, a 5* design hotel, situated just 100 metres from the Kurfürstendamm boulevard, with air-conditioned rooms, free Wi-Fi and free use of the spa and gym.
Or take the advice by HouseTrip who say that getting to the heart of Berlin means living like a local. They suggest to stay in a private apartment, such as a small studio from €15 per night, or a spacious one-bedroom bolthole near Rosenthaler Platz close to the old Jewish district from €82 per night.
MUST BUY: For everything you may need as a visitor to Berlin, get the 2-day or 3-day Berlin Pass, costing €69 or €82 accordingly (use promo code BERPAS05 to get 5% discount). It includes free entry to over 45 museums, art galleries and historic buildings, free travel on public transport in Berlin and free access to hop-on-hop-off open top bus tour, as well as a free 95+ page guidebook.
Of if you just need a card which allows free travel across Berlin's entire transport network and discounts from over 200 attractions, pick up a Berlin Welcome Card from U-Bahn and train stations, from Berlin Tourismus Centres or online in advance. Prices start from €17.90 for a 48-hour pass.
MUST TAKE: A guided tour with Pen Hassmann. Popular themes include: Jewish Berlin, Cold War Berlin, The Weimar Republic Years, National Socialism and Adolf Hitler or The Rise of Prussia. Book Pen direct by contacting her on firstname.lastname@example.org
MUST EAT: Berlin loves it’s pork products – their snack food of choice is currywurst, which is essentially a sausage slathered in warm mayonnaise, ketchup and curry powder. Most traditional meals are of the ‘meat, schnitzel or stew and dumplings’ school of cuisine.
For something a bit more refined, go to Lutter & Wegner, located right on the main city square of Gendarmenmarkt. Founded in 1811, this restaurant claims to be the home of the sparkling wine known as Sekt and has an excellent cellar.
MUST VISIT: Stick to the central neighbourhood of Mitte. Begin your explorations in the north on MuseumSinsel, for a peak at Germany’s Prussian era pomp and power. You will find five world-class museums and the Berliner Dom (cathedral). Here's the promotional video produced by Berlin Tourist Board:
MUST NOT LEAVE WITHOUT: Traffic lights show the cute Communist-era figure known as Ampelmännchen to alert you to stop or go. He acquired cult status and became a popular souvenir item. He’s the perfect child-friendly souvenir to take home.
MUST NOT MISS: the Pergamon Museum with the famous Ishtar Gate of Babylon. The Brandenburg Gate is a stroll down the Unter den Linden from here and the peaceful Tiergarten and Reichstag just a few steps beyond.
MUST REMEMBER: The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a collection of over 2,000 concrete stelae that was opened in May 2005 and the new “stumbling stones” being erected by artist Guenther Demnig. Each stone is erected outside a home that once housed a Jewish resident murdered during World War II. A walk through traditionally Jewish neighbourhoods is especially heartbreaking as you are confronted by hundreds of stones outside every home on the block.
MUST EXPLORE: The streets around Hackescher Markt in the northern part of the Mitte district are packed with Jewish history. Here is where you will find chic, independent boutiques dotted next to highlights of the Jewish community such as the Neue Synagogue, once the main synagogue of the city. Be sure to go inside the Hackescher Höfe, a courtyard complex of galleries, theatres, restaurants and boutiques housed in what was once a major Jewish residential complex.
MUST SEE THE VIEW: The Berlin Fernsehturm, TV tower, is a salute to Communist-era construction. It has its fans and critics, but the view from inside can’t be beaten. It is close to Alexanderplatz, in the former heart of Communist East Berlin, and at 368 metres (1,207 ft) high it is the tallest structure in Berlin. Tickets cost €12 per person. Take our advice and avoid the overpriced and under-tasty revolving restaurant.
MUST BROWSE: For Jewish history, the Libeskind-designed Jewish Museum commemorates centuries of Jewish life in Berlin, culminating in a heart-breaking permanent exhibition examining life under National Socialism.
MUST SHOP: For high-end shopping, there are two districts to head for. Tony Kurfürstendamm (Ku’damm as the locals call it) is home to high-end designer outlets including Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel and Jil Sander. The rule of thumb is that major high street retailers stick close to the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, with quality getting better the further you go West. Berlin’s main department store, Ka De We, is a short hop away from here on Tauentzienstrasse. It’s worth a visit if only to see the amazing delicatessen on the top floor.
The second shopping strip can be found on Friedrichstrasse in Mitte. Here is where you will find branches of Galeries Lafayette and the Harvey Nichols-esque department store Quartier 205.
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