Berlin is a city of many trades- history, culture, nightlife, and cuisine. Many who come to Berlin will stay in Mitte, the central area of Berlin which offers many opportunities to learn about the city’s dark, but powerful history. However, as our group found, Berlin has many pockets throughout the city that are defined with distinct personalities only Berlin could offer. Below I’ll outline some of the areas we were able to visit along with our favorite things to do in each.
Historical Tour of the City (Sandemans Walking Tours) – Mitte
Our travel group is not one to sign up for tours where we travel in tourist packs to take pictures at popular destinations; however, you cannot leave Berlin without at least slightly immersing yourself in the city’s past. The city is very open about its solemn history, which seems to send a powerful message to all who visit or live in Berlin – that humans can be persuaded by evil to do horrible things to each other, but at the end of the day we learn from our mistakes and move on from it. And that’s exactly what Berlin has done.
If you want to learn about Berlin’s history, Mitte is the place to be! We did a 3 hour walking tour of the city through Sandeman’s Walking Tours, where a tour guide walked us around the city to different historical sites such as the Holocaust Memorial, Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, Bunker Hill, the Berlin Wall, and many more. The tour guide was extremely knowledgeable in German history and made it a point not to take us to tourist traps. At the end of the tour, we were tired, but extremely grateful to have explored the city at a deeper dimension. The tours typically meet throughout the day at the Brandenburger Tor train stop which is right next to Pariser Platz. Key piece of information: the tours are free! (Well, based solely on tips.)
Mustafas Gemusedoner (Doner Kebaps) – Kreuzberg
If there’s a meal you need to try in Berlin, it’s the DONER KEBAP! And boy, they are quite delicious. Prior to the doner kebaps at Mustafas, we were starting to get frustrated at German food. Quite frankly, we were not that into sausages, potatoes, and meatballs, all of which seems to dominate German cuisine. In our search for the doner, we found Mustafas on Yelp. The food cart is located southeast of the city center in what appeared to be a mostly residential area. Wait time for the doner: 2 hours. What it worth it? I think so. The thing with doners is that they are DEFINITELY not created equal. Mustafas adds small details to their kebaps that make them delicious and justify average wait times of 1.5-2 hours. For example, they deep fry their vegetables and stir fry then in special seasoning. They also offer 3 delicious sauces you can add to your kebap to spice them up. If you’re planning on going to Mustafas, I’d try to go at non-peak meal hours and suggest bringing a cooler of beer to drink while you wait.
Urban Spree – Friedrichshain
So we’ve all heard that Berlin is supposed to be this grungy city with underground techno clubs filled with men in black leather jackets, and partially yes, that’s true. However, what we came to find was that Berlin’s reputation as grungy, underground city had much more to do with its truly free-spirited culture and not so much with a pretentious facade we all seek to find as tourists. After the walking tour, our group stumbled upon Urban Spree, which is an open hang-out spot where you can buy a nice beer to chill on the patio, check out some amazing graffiti art splattered across the walls, eat at one of the many food trucks parked on the lot, or relax in the beer garden that opens later at night. I think of all the areas we visited in Berlin, Urban Spree was our favorite, because it felt like we were relaxing in the backyard of someone’s eccentrically decorated home. No tourists. No Nikon cameras. Just great vibes.
Later at night, we revisited Urban Spree, and went to this sketchy, underground nightclub called Suicide Circus. Door open at 12am and shots are 2 Euro. Recipe for disaster (but in the best way!). This huge nightclub is not like any normal nightclub you’d find in the US. Suicide Circus has multiple rooms you can hangout in (all of which are eerily dark), including a patio centered around a huge tree trunk, a dance room blasting deep house music, or multiple bar areas where you can sample European beers and liquor for 1/10 of the prices you’d find in the US. If you’re not into discovering the stereotypes of Berlin’s nightlife, I wouldn’t recommend coming here. However, our group had a great time, even if we stuck out among all of the men in black t-shirts.
House of Weekend (or Weekend) – Alexanderplatz
Photo from House of Weekend website
If you’re not into the techno scene… well, you shouldn’t be in Berlin. Though I will admit, House of Weekend, is a nice alternative to Suicide Circus. (Fair warning, you won’t be able to escape the deep house.) Located in Alexanderplatz, Weekend is a rooftop patio nightclub. On the first floor, you’ll find a spacious dance floor with notable DJs who perform throughout the week. Even on a Monday, the Weekend dance floor was filled to capacity with tipsy Germans, and it was amazing. On the second floor, is the rooftop patio that overlooks the Berlin skyline, which will make you feel like you’re in bougie New York. So at Weekend, at least you have options. If you get sick of electronic music blaring through your ears, take a walk upstairs and enjoy some cocktails at the bar.
While House of Weekend is the last destination I’ll talk about in this blog, do know that this list is in no way exhaustive. At the end of our trip to Berlin, we realized we ended our trip too soon. There’s so much more to Berlin than what I described above and I wish I was there a little longer to explore.
The Holocaust Memorial, which I definitely recommend a visit to with a tour guide.
Some other activities I would’ve done if I had the time would be to check out more of the art scene in Berlin, visit a couple museums, and find some good, authentic German food. On our last day, we did happen to stumble across an Austrian restaurant called Mutzenbacher, which served really good schnitzel and dumplings (I recommend going if you’re in the area). But alas, new discoveries of Berlin will have to wait for another day.