‘Berlin, the greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine.’ - David Bowie
A melting pot of art, music and individualistic expression, Berlin is the cultural powerhouse of Europe. It is a city which attracts 14 million tourists per year and is famed for its food, scenery, historic sites and its debaucherous nightlife. Its unique and progressive culture is rooted in its challenging past - a history that has shaped today’s Berlin to be one of the most exciting and hedonistic cities in the world.
‘Berlin is poor, but sexy!’ — Klaus Wowereit, Former Berlin mayor, 2004
Berlin is one of the poorest capitals in Western Europe - it is the only national capital with a negative factor to its nation's per capita income! The cost of living in the city is very cheap when compared to other capital cities, which means that spending a weekend as a tourist in Berlin won’t break the bank.
The attraction of cheap rent, masses of studio space and a carefree, freewheeling spirit has resulted in a city full of artists, musicians and other creatives. It is estimated that there are over 20,000 artists living and working in the city. Their impressions have been left in the form of the graffiti which lines the streets, the cacophony of sound which emanates from the nightclubs of Kreuzberg and Warschauer Straße, as well as the counter-culture fashion outfits adorned by local Berliners.
Hence, Berlin is an artistic playground which should be explored by the discerning traveller. It has a plethora of cultural and historic places of interest, plenty of great restaurants and quite possibly the best night life in the world.
What to do in Berlin
East Side Gallery
The East Side Gallery on the banks of the Spree in Friedrichshain is the longest continuous section of the Berlin Wall still in existence and is the longest open-air art gallery in the world at 1316 metres long. Immediately after the wall came down, 118 artists from 21 countries began painting the East Side Gallery, and it officially opened as an open air gallery on 28 September 1990. Just over a year later, it was given a protected memorial status. It is a must-see for all visitors of Berlin.
Since the Reichstag first opened in 1894, it’s been burned, bombed, fallen into disarray and disuse, bordered by the Berlin Wall, rebuilt and finally renamed as the country’s parliament building in the late 90s.
One of the most significant and recognisable images of World War II was the Raising of the flag over the Reichstag which denoted Soviet victory over Nazi Germany and the victory for the Allies was taken here at the Battle of Berlin on 2nd May 1945.
A tour of the Reichstag is free, but it is important to pre-book online a month or so in advance as it is a very popular tourist attraction and they do not accept any people on the day.
The Holocaust Memorial
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a site covering 19,000 square metres and consists of 2711 concrete slabs of different heights arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. Opened in May 2005, the memorial in Berlin-Mitte is located near the Brandenburg Gate and is one of the city's most impressive sights.
Impressive in its awesome grey soberness, rather than sombreness, it includes an underground information centre which complements the abstraction of the memorial with information on the Jewish Victims of the Nazi genocide of World War II.
Located on the corner of Friedrichstraße and Zimmerstraße, Checkpoint Charlie is a reminder of the former border crossing for the Cold War and the partition of Berlin. The barrier and checkpoint booth, the flag and the sandbags are all based on the original site – and are a popular subject for photos.
Checkpoint Charlie was the setting for many thrillers and spy novels, from James Bond in Octopussy to American Widow.
Food - Places to eat
The food in Berlin will certainly not disappoint.
The city has 24 restaurants which have been awarded a total of 31 Michelin stars, putting Berlin ahead of Munich and Hamburg for high end gastronomy.
There are also more than 100 vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants in Berlin. Exclusively animal-free products and foods are also available in cafés, ice cream parlours supermarkets, butchers and even a vegan sex shop.
However, Berlin is most famous for its street food. It is the most multicultural city in Germany, approximately 815,000 of its 3.7m residents hold a foreign passport, which means that the food on offer has moved far from traditional German eats to a metropolitan gastronomic culture, catering to the taste of its cosmopolitan population and the tourists which visit.
Street food can be found everywhere in Berlin. There are a range of established street food eateries across the city, as well as pop up street food events which happen periodically throughout the year such as Street Food Thursday (Eisenbahnstraße 42/43), Thai Park (every weekend in the summer at Wilmersdorfer Preußenpark) and Neue Heimat (Revaler Str. 99).
There are also more döner kebab shops in Berlin than in Istanbul. There are over 1,600 of them in total, selling around 400,000 döners a day. The döner kebab was originally invented in Berlin in the 1970’s in an attempt to create street food which would be appealing to a Berliner’s palette but with Turkish roots.
A list of our top 5 street food/mid-range places to eat are as follows:
- Mustafa's Gemüse Kebap - the best döner kebab in Berlin - Mehringdamm 32, 10961 Berlin, Germany (people queue for hours to be served so make sure you’re prepared to wait!)
- Pizza Zola - the best Neapolitan style pizza in the city - Paul-Lincke-Ufer 39-40, 10999 Berlin
- Curry 36 - for traditional Berlin Currywurst - Mehringdamm 36, 10961 Berlin
- Burgermeister - the best burger in Berlin, it is a chain in Berlin and one site is a re-purposed public toilet - U1 Schlesisches Tor, Oberbaumstraße 8, 10997 Berlin
- Feel Seoul Good - a vegan/Korean restaurant - Husemannstraße 2, 10435 Berlin