A Guide to Berlin


Travel Guide to Berlin, Germany, Museum Island

Berlin radiates fascinating history evoking strong emotions. With a tumultuous history so recent it almost feels palpable, Berlin has seen an overwhelming transformation over the last 75 years- Headquartered by Nazis, heavily bombed during World War II, divided by communism with the Berlin Wall and finally reunited in the present day. In Berlin you cannot just see history, you can touch and feel it with every turn.
Despite its dark history, this German city exudes a vibrant culture and delicious cuisine. It doesn’t matter if you’re interested in history, food, art, nightlife or culture – you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for.


TOP ATTRACTIONS IN BERLIN


Brandenburg Gate

The Brandenburg Gate is one of the most iconic sights in today’s vibrant Berlin. More than just Berlin’s only surviving historic city gate, this site came to symbolize Berlin’s Cold War division into East and West – and, since the fall of the Wall, a reunified Germany.


Siegessäule (Victory Column)

The victory column originally stood at the Königsplatz (now Platz der Republik), the square in front of the Reichstag. In 1938 the monument was moved to its current location by the Nazi government as part of a major urban redevelopment plan, known as Germania, that would transform Berlin into the capital of the world.


Reichstag

The Reichstag bears silent witness to the turbulent history of Berlin and is one of the city’s most significant historical buildings. Berlin is the city where German history is written. The Reichstag is an internationally recognizable symbol of democracy and the current home of the German parliament.


The dome sits directly above the debating chamber. A mirrored cone at its center directs light into the Reichstag, increasing the building’s energy efficiency and affording visitors a view of the parliamentary proceedings below. The dome itself can be visited by prior registration and is reached by two large steel ramps that curve up towards it in the form of a double helix. Admission is free; advance registration required here.


Museum Island 

One Island | Five Museums | One Ticket

Museum Island is a unique ensemble of five museums on Spree Island in the district of Mitte in Berlin, which houses over 6,000 years of art and cultural history from Europe and the wider Mediterranean region.

Tip: Visit Berlin's museums with the 3-day Berlin Museum Pass. For €29 the museum pass guarantees free admission for all Berlin visitors on three consecutive days to many museums. Purchase tickets HERE.


Berliner Dom - Berlin's Cathedral

The magnificent dome of the Cathedral Church (Berliner Dom) is one of the main landmarks in Berlin’s cityscape – and marks the spot of the impressive basilica housing the city’s most important Protestant church. With its elaborate decorative and ornamental designs, the church interior is especially worth seeing.


Gendarmenmarkt

Once, soldiers matched here, but today Berliners and tourists stroll across the square. It’s said to be the most beautiful public square in Berlin, and perhaps the most beautiful north of the Alps. The ensemble of the concert house and two church buildings embellished with towers is in perfect harmony. In summer, orchestras play the most beautiful classical melodies at the Classic Open Air, and in winter the square transforms into a winter wonderland with a Christmas market.

Konzerthaus' at Gendarmenmarkt. For many locals and visitors, the neo-classical concert hall is Berlin’s most attractive venue for top-flight classical music.


Kurfürstendamm

Berlin’s most popular shopping boulevard is the beating heart of the western city center. Along Kurfürstendamm you pass the flagship stores of famous labels, shops of international brands and famous names, and Karstadt, another big department store. Towards Halensee from Olivaer Platz onwards, it’s less busy, and the window displays become more elegant and the shops even more exclusive. This is where you will find the boutiques of the top designers and international brands.


Temple of Justice – Berlin Mitte’s Court Building


Charlottenburg Palace

Discover the magic of the rococo at the beautiful Charlottenburg Palace – once a royal summer residence, today Berlin’s largest and most magnificent palace. Sophie Charlotte, the first Queen consort in Prussia, was not only an accomplished musician, playing the harpsichord and singing Italian opera, but also strolled through the grounds here with her friend, the renowned scholar and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. When Sophie Charlotte died, just 36 years old, the palace and the area around was named Charlottenburg after her. The beautiful palace hosts fine collections of china and paintings and is situated in the middle of a picturesque palace garden right next to the river Spree.


Altes Museum

The monumental arrangement of eighteen Ionic fluted columns, the expansive atrium and sweeping staircase that invites visitors to ascend to the top, the rotunda adorned with Antique sculptures on all sides as a place to collect one’s thoughts and an explicit reference to Rome’s Pantheon: such signs of architectural refinement had previously only ever been seen in buildings designed for royalty and the nobility.

The inscription on the portico reads: ‘Friedrich Wilhelm III has dedicated this museum to the study of all antiquities and the free arts, 1828’.  Today the museum houses the Antikensammlung, showcasing its permanent exhibition on the art and culture of the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans. The Münzkabinett complements this sweeping overview of classical antiquity with its display of ancient coins.


Berlin Television Tower (Fernsehturm)

Soaring 368 metres into the sky, Berlin’s TV Tower is the city’s most visible landmark. From its viewing platform, you have spectacular 360-degree panoramic views out across the entire city – and beyond! Book your tickets HERE.


The Holocaust Memorial: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The Holocaust Memorial is a monument that should be visited to be really understood in the truest sense of the word. The individual concrete blocks are laid out on an undulating background, divided up by symmetrical paths. The blocks gradually increase in size as they move into the center, allowing just a fraction of light to penetrate through. The many different paths create a maze and a sense of “getting lost” among the grey, monotonous blocks, which combined with the lack of light inside the monument engender a particularly strange feeling for the visitor. The German President that visitors grasped “what loneliness, powerlessness and despair mean,” a space of “sensuous and emotional power.”

The towers that at first seemed like solemn tombs for the victims, rise and rise until they become tall walls and their shadows swallow you. The light from the sky is still there, above, but somehow it feels far away, and whoever came in with you through another path seems distant, visible only through momentary glimpses. It is as if you were alone, surrounded by immensity yet unable to see it, your sight trapped between endless towers. Sounds, views, everything is fragmented, chopped off at an irregular rhythm as you walk onward. The feeling some people get is somewhere between an introspective contemplation and a glimpse into the loneliness of the victims caught in the horror of their time. The dense and smooth concrete, as well as the cold and sharp rectangular shape of the towers, convey a powerful sense of depersonalization and namelessness, as if all the people who had to walk these paths were forced to lose their identity, their status, their names, even their very nature.

As if all that happened was beyond words and description – and that words could never come close enough to what happened – heavy silence is sometimes the most eloquent. Between these chilly and dark walls of history, the visitor is plunged, alone, into reflections on the past, of human nature, of society-wide madness.

As you walk out and surrounding sounds start to get clearer once again, you slowly end this excursion inside your own consciousness and come back to the outside world, perhaps carrying with you a certain reminder that the human collective mind can easily slip into illusive extremes.


The Berlin Wall 1961-1989

On August 13, 1961, the Communist government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany) began to build a barbed wire and concrete “Antifascistischer Schutzwall,” between East and West Berlin. The official purpose of this Berlin Wall was to keep Western “fascists” from entering East Germany and undermining the socialist state, but it primarily served the objective of stemming mass defections from East to West. The Berlin Wall stood until November 9, 1989, when the head of the East German Communist Party announced that citizens of the GDR could cross the border whenever they pleased. That night, ecstatic crowds swarmed the wall. Some crossed freely into West Berlin, while others brought hammers and picks and began to chip away at the wall itself. To this day, the Berlin Wall remains one of the most powerful and enduring symbols of the Cold War.


Before the wall was built, Berliners on both sides of the city could move around fairly freely: They crossed the East-West border to work, to shop, to go to the theater and the movies. Trains and subway lines carried passengers back and forth. After the wall was built, it became impossible to get from East to West Berlin except through one of three checkpoints: at Helmstedt (“Checkpoint Alpha” in American military parlance), at Dreilinden (“Checkpoint Bravo”) and in the center of Berlin at Friedrichstrasse (“Checkpoint Charlie”). (Eventually, the GDR built 12 checkpoints along the wall.) At each of the checkpoints, East German soldiers screened diplomats and other officials before they were allowed to enter or leave. Except under special circumstances, travelers from East and West Berlin were rarely allowed across the border.


The construction of the Berlin Wall did stop the flood of refugees from East to West, and it did defuse the crisis over Berlin. (Though he was not happy about it, President John F. Kennedy conceded that “a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.”) Almost two years after the Berlin Wall was erected, John F. Kennedy delivered one of the most famous addresses of his presidency to a crowd of more than 120,000 gathered outside West Berlin’s city hall, just steps from the Brandenburg Gate. Kennedy’s speech has been largely remembered for one particular phrase. “I am a Berliner.”


Topography of Terror

A place where terror is tangible, a place of remembrance and a warning from history, the “Topography of Terror” exhibition is located on the site where between 1933 and 1945 the principal instruments of Nazi persecution and terror were located Photographs and documents illustrate the history from the time the Nazis took power until the end of the war. The tour takes in 15 information stations directly where the crimes were planned. The site also contains the longest surviving section of the Berlin Wall in the center of Berlin.


Checkpoint Charlie

Despite remaining in operation for nearly three decades, the Allied side of Checkpoint Charlie consisted of only a tiny prefabricated shack and a few sandbags. The original wooden guardhouse was replaced by a larger metal building in the 1980s, but the Allies always kept their operation simple as a way of symbolizing their view that the Berlin Wall was not a permanent or legitimate border. This stood in contrast to the more elaborate East German side of the checkpoint, which boasted guard towers, cement barriers and a shed where departing vehicles underwent searches and heat scans to ensure they weren’t hiding fugitives.

Non-military travelers were often subject to intense scrutiny before being allowed to pass the East German border, and guards were known to confiscate any newspapers or literature that contradicted communist ideology. Since Checkpoint Charlie was one of the few gaps in the maze of barriers, barbed wire and guard towers that made up the Berlin Wall, it attracted many desperate East Germans looking to flee to the West.


Book Burning Plaza 

When you stroll across Bebelplatz you often come across people staring at the same spot on the ground. When you get closer, you see a glass plate set in the paving stones, and below it an underground room with empty bookshelves. What was lost and burnt were the books by those who the Nazis ostracised and persecuted, who had to leave the country and whose stories were no longer allowed to be told. Symbolically, the underground bookshelves have space for around 20,000 books, as a reminder of the 20,000 books that went up in flames here on 10 May 1933 at the behest of the Nazis. The Israeli artist Micha Ullman designed the library memorial, which was unveiled on 20 March 1995.


Hitler’s Fuhrerbunker

Under a parking lot was one entrance to Hitler’s former bunker, the so-called “Führerbunker” (“Leader’s bunker”). There are no signs or plaques installed. It’s just there, underneath the ground, inaccessible. The residential buildings and the parking lot were designed to cover most of the area of the former bunker in the hope that people forget about it. As Wolfgang Benz said: “There is nothing to remember and nothing to learn." Many disagree with this opinion, as the famous quote says, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

The Hitler bunker was completed in two phases, 1936 and 1944. This air-raid shelter was the center of the Third Reich’s government from January 16, 1945, when Hitler retreated into the bunker, until Mai 2nd 1945, when General Helmuth Weidling, commander of the Berlin Defense Area, surrendered to General Chuikov of the Soviet Army.

The bunker was a highly sophisticated product of German war technology. It had 30 rooms on 2,700 square feet (250 square meters) and several exits, one to the garden of the New Reich Chancellery, where the parking lot is now.

The facility was 16 feet below the surface, which in Berlin means also below the groundwater, so there was a lot of pumping necessary. The cover and the walls were made of two layers of armored concrete and the ventilation had a filter system against lethal gas. The bunker was independent of the Berlin grid as it had its own diesel generator.


HOW TO FIND HITLER’S BUNKER: I recommend using this Google map for exact directions to the bunker location. The bunker was located between Potsdamer Platz and Brandenburger Tor.


Bunkers: The Secret History Of Underground Berlin

Many of these underground structures haven’t changed at all and traces of the past remain intact. Hidden meters underground, they contain the deepest secrets of the city’s history. Underground walls and hallways tell us stories about many of Berlin’s most famous events and characters, but also about the daily activities of regular people attempting to escape or survive wars.


Gesundbrunnen

Under the Gesundbrunnen train station, the first bunker opened to the public in 1999. View authentic artifacts- gas masks, books, and letters. The exhibit also gives visitors an idea of how the technology worked, like the telegram system and the subterranean tubes.


Atomschutzbunker

The Atomschutzbunker, located in Kurfüstendamm is a private museum that preserves all the objects and rooms the exact conditions they were found in. A visit to the nuclear bunker brings home the immensity and scale of mankind’s most destructive invention.

Bunker info provided by The Culture Trip



DAY TRIP FROM BERLIN


Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Discover the brutal history of the facility that was primarily used for political prisoners. The camp was also used as an administrative center of the Nazi concentration camp system.


You will be exposed to the grim realities of life and death at Sachsenhausen. Learn the stories of tragedy and triumph, how everyday life was in the camp, and some of the tactics used here. Although this is a very sobering and somber tour, there are celebrations for the strong survivors and victims that suffered here, in hopes to inspire others.

Free entry, Audio Tour- EUR 3


Directions: Take the regional train RE 5 (Regionalbahn 5) from Berlin Hauptbahnhof towards Stralsund/Rostock, alight at Orangienburg station. Journey time is around 25 minutes from

Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Train comes every hour). When arriving by train, follow signs to the memorial on foot (20-minute walk to reach entrance)




BEST PLACES TO EAT IN BERLIN


Zeit für Brot

Sourdoughs as plump and heavy as vespa tires. Bread rolls that echo like a perfectly ripe melon when you tap them with your fingers. Loafs with crusts so crispy and sharp they almost cut your fingers when you touch them. What sounds like a bread aficionado’s fairytale is everyday reality at “Zeit für Brot”, the bakery chain that’s scaled this kind of bread craft into three locations since 2012. Made with organic ingredients. Recommend their famous cinnamon “Zint Sdinedke.”


Madam I - Mom’s Vietnamese Kitchen

Perfect place to try authentic Vietnamese food. Amazing flavors! Reasonable prices for big portions. Situated near the main station, Alexanderplatz.


Rausch Schokoladenhaus Cafe

In 2018, the Rausch House of Chocolate celebrated its 100th anniversary with a refurbishment. Today, you can explore the world of the best in fine chocolate on three floors. In 2018, the Rausch House of Chocolate celebrated its 100th anniversary with a refurbishment. Today, you can explore the world of the best in fine chocolate on three floors.


Distrikt Coffee

A hidden gem for breakfast! Delicious pancakes and coffee made with locally and internationally roasted beans, selected for their depth of flavor and richness.


Asteria

Best Greek food in Berlin! Cash only.


Marjellchen

Marjellchen serves traditional dishes from the formerly German territories of Eastern Prussia, now part of Poland, Lithuania and Russia. Expect delicious Slavic-influenced dishes. Possibly the best thing about Marjellchen is the old-world feel. Highly recommend! Call +49 30 8832676 to make a reservation.


House of Small Wonder

The culinary concept follows the footsteps of its Brooklyn café and has numerous Japanese influences: comfort food with organic, local ingredients freshly prepared with Japanese flavors. Homemade bread, croissants and pastries are all freshly baked throughout the day.


Haveli

Best authentic Indian food! Freshly made Indian Tea.


Classic Berlin Dishes

  • Currywurst- A matter of national pride for Berliners. There’s even a museum in its honor. On every street, you can be sure to find a place where this cheap, humble grilled sausage is served. The secret is in the sauce; a combination of the three key ingredients ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and curry powder. The combo dates back to 1949 when Herta Heuwer poured the ingredients she got from some British soldiers over grilled sausage.

  • Spätzle- Welcome vegetarians. This Swabian specialty originally from the area around Stuttgart is Germany’s take on pasta. The dough consists of eggs, flour, salt and a hint of fizzy water. It’s generally served topped with mountains of quality cheese adding flavor and texture.

  • Königsberger Klopse- Prepared using various ingredients, including ground veal, beef, pork, onions, eggs, anchovies, and flour, before being cooked in a broth. It’s the sauce that has given them glory status, a creamy mixture with capers and lemon.

  • Schnitzel- This is Germany’s most international dish, and with a delicious tender and crispy taste, it’s not difficult to imagine why. The most famous version of Schnitzel is Wiener Schnitzel, which is a thinly sliced piece of veal-meat, covered with flour, egg and bread crumbs and then deep-fried in oil or a lot of butter until it turns golden on the outside. These days it can also be made pork, chicken breast, and even soya meat, though always served with potatoes.

  • Bratwurst- This sausage is the reigning king of the German barbecue, especially the short and thin ones which hail from Nürnberg. Grill your Bratwurst for a few minutes on each side, stick it in a bun, add some ketchup and mustard.

  • Maultaschen- Pasta filled with stuffing from pork to beef to vegetables. These pasta pockets are either boiled or fried.

  • Bockwurst- Invented in 1889 by a local restaurant owner who added pork to the classic veal bratwurst mix, today’s bockwurst is really just a mish-mash of different meats stuffed into a sausage form. We hear there’s even a fish-only version.

  • Eisbein- Pork knuckles boiled or grilled and come served with sauerkraut, peas, and potatoes. Seeing one of these enormous knuckles on a plate is reminiscent of medieval banquets.

  • Senfeier- The equivalent of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for young Berliners. It’s simple and to the point and you must enjoy mustard to enjoy this dish. Senfeier are literally ‘mustard eggs’ – hard-boiled and served with mashed spuds, all covered in a creamy mustard sauce.

  • Döner Kebab- Meat and salad stuffed inside a wrap, perfect for any time of the day, especially when you’re short on time.

Berlin dishes provided by The Culture Trip


ACCOMMODATIONS IN BERLIN


Jewel in the City Center

From $56/night 

Superhost, entire Apartment has 1 bedroom, 1 bath, kitchen, and lounge area.


Central Flat Near Potsdamer Platz

From $52/night 

Superhost, entire apartment has 1 bedroom, 1 bath, kitchen, and lounge area. 


Beautiful Apartment in the Center of Berlin

From $143/night 

Superhost, entire Apartment has 3 bedrooms, 5 beds, 1.5 baths, kitchen, living room, and dining room.


CLICK HERE TO USE MY AIRBNB LINK TO RECEIVE $40 OFF YOUR FIRST TRIP! IF YOU ALREADY HAVE AN AIRBNB ACCOUNT, YOU CAN SIGN UP WITH A NEW EMAIL AND STILL RECEIVE THE DISCOUNT.



TRANSPORTATION 


Berlin's public transportation is comprehensive and covers all corners of this sprawling city. It takes you over, under and through Berlin and connects travelers to greater Germany and beyond.

The all-inclusive system consists of U-Bahn, S-Bahn, buses, and trams. It's run primarily by the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe or BVG. A single ticket grants access to an array of transport options and most people use several modes of public transport on any given day. Though the system is well-organized, spacious, safe, and fairly punctual, it's massive and takes practice to understand. Use our complete guide to Berlin's public transportation to navigate the capital city.


U-Bahn

The U-Bahn (underground) operates mostly below ground within Berlin city limits (AB zone). The first stations opened in 1902 and have operated consistently with periodic closures, improvements, and expansions.

An illuminated "U" marks the entrance with the station name in a variety of traditional scripts. Enter the platform and once you have a ticket (bought from a machine on the platform or BVG distributor), stamp it and board your U-Bahn.


Maps are present on the platform, with electronic boards notifying travelers of the next trains and estimated arrival. The U-Bahn runs from 5:00 a.m. till 1:00 a.m. on weekdays. On weekends and public holidays, there is a 24-hour service with reduced frequency. It runs every 3 to 5 minutes within the city center. The U-Bahn runs every 10 to 20 minutes after 8 p.m. with night buses taking over at night.


S-Bahn

The city's S-Bahn or Stadtbahn (city train) is the local rail that runs primarily above ground. Distance between stations is greater than the U-Bahn and it is the quickest way to travel the city and to the outskirts like Potsdam and Wannsee. Unlike most of Berlin's transport, the S-Bahn is operated by Deutsche Bahn (German rail company). The same tickets offer access to the S-Bahn as the rest of Berlin's public transport.


S-Bahn stations can be identified by the green and white "S" symbol. Enter the platform without barrier and once you have a ticket, stamp it and board the S-Bahn. Maps are available on the platform and electronic boards provide info on the next arrival. During the week, the S-Bahn runs from 4:30 a.m. until 1:30 a.m. On weekends and holidays, it runs 24 hours a day. Trains run at least every 10 minutes, with frequency slowing to 10 and 20 minutes outside of peak hours and every 30 minutes at night.


Buses

Berlin's buses add even greater coverage to the city's already impressive network. Though a slower mode of transport, Berlin buses minimize walking in this rambling city. They can also be a great way to tour the city as many travel right by top attractions and provide exceptional views from their double-decker levels. Buses are more common in former West Berlin as they "modernized" by tearing out earlier tram lines.


Bus stops are marked by a circular sign with a green "H". Tickets are purchased from machines at S- or U-Bahns, BVG ticket-sellers, or directly from bus drivers. If you have an undated ticket, stamp it with the machine near the entrance.


Trams

Mostly in former East Berlin, trams travel at street-level, winding their way throughout the city. Tickets can be purchased beforehand or at machines on the train.

MetroNetz, marked with an "M", offer higher frequency service (about every 10 minutes) and operate 24 hours a day. At night, trams run every 30 minutes.



Tickets on Berlin's Public Transport

Regular tickets cost 2.80 euros and allow for travel on all forms of transport. They are valid for 2 hours with unlimited transfers in one direction.

For example, you can travel around the city on a single ticket for 120 minutes from the time the ticket was stamped/purchased, but you can't go in one direction then come back the same way. Children under 6 do not need tickets and reduced fare is available for children 6 to 14.


Fares are subject to the length of your trip and which zones you travel. The city is divided into zones A, B, and C. Most of the city is in the A and B zone. A is inside the ringbahn, B just outside, and C up to 15 kilometers (9 miles) around Berlin. Regular tickets include the A and B zone, but you can buy ABC tickets (usually only necessary if you are going to Schönefeld Airport or Potsdam). You can also buy an AB pass and get a C extension if you are taking a single trip to the C zone.

Ticket machines are available on U & S-Bahn platforms, can be purchased in small shops with a "BVG" signs, buses, or with the BVG app. (Tickets from the app should be purchased before boarding transport.)


You must be in possession of a valid ticket on public transport and it's largely on the honor system. However, you need to show a ticket when entering buses and when ticket controllers ask to see your ticket by saying "Fahrscheine, bitte" (Ticket, please). If caught without a ticket, you are subject to a 60 euro fine and controllers are infamously unsympathetic.


Use the BVG website to plan your trip and find real-time departure/arrival information.


Other Berlin Ticket Options:

  • Berlin Welcome Card: This tourist ticket offers access to transport and discounts on attractions from 48 hours to 6 days.

  • Tageskarte: Day passes for 7 euros (AB zone) are available for unlimited travel from the time of purchase until 3:00 a.m. the next day. Up to three children (6 to 14) are included in the ticket.

  • Wochenkarte: There are weekly (30 euros) and monthly tickets (81 euros). A major advantage for these tickets is they allow you to take 1 adult and 3 children under 15 with you after 8 p.m. Monday-Friday and all day on weekends.

  • 10-Uhr-Karte: An alternative to the regular monthly ticket is the 10 a.m. ticket. It costs 59 euros and allows for unlimited travel after 10 a.m. Note that you cannot take additional passengers with you.

  • Kurzstrecke: For three (or less) stops on S-Bahn or U-Bahns, or six stops on buses and trams with no transfers, buy a short trip ticket for 1.70 euros.

  • Fahrradkarte: You can take your bike on S-Bahn, U-Bahn or tram (not bus) but you must buy a ticket for 1.90 euros.

Transportation info provided by Tripsavvy



BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT BERLIN


May-September