Berlin is a magic wonderland of history and modern-day culture. Here’s your guide to Berlin – at least some of it.
I visited Berlin in 2013. That’s a long while ago, I know. But – luckily for you – my mind is a steal trap. Plus, I wrote about my experience back then so it’s been saved for posterity’s (and accuracy’s) sake.
And I know it might seem like writing your guide to Berling based off of what I did seven years ago is a bit of a waste of yours and my time. But I will be supplementing my experience with more up to date research, because probably half the reason why you should be here taking my advice and guidance in your travel life is because I am a really good researcher. But, also, I guarantee you, 90% of the top ‘what to do in Berlin’ posts on Google have been written by someone who’s never stopped foot in the country. So at least my research is combined with very real experience. Drugs. Pink eye. You’ll see.
A Brief History of Berlin
It is nigh impossible to write a brief history of even the most inconsequential of places. Berlin, though, has never been inconsequential.
The first mention of the city is thought to be in the late 13th century, but the first traces of humans in Berlin can be traced back to 9000 B.C. my goodness we can’t go back that far though!
By the 17th century, Germany as we know it today was part of the kingdom of Prussia and Berlin was its capital.
After a little friction with France (remember – I’m paraphrasing) in the late 1800’s The German Empire was established, became the most powerful country in Europe, and Berlin became its capital city.
The First World War brought The German Empire to an end and replaced it with The Weimar Republic. Berlin remained the capital of the newly established republic and, though it suffered terrible inflation and depression for the first decade or so, came upon a time of prosperity by the mid 1920s.
In 1929 Wall Street crashed and sent the world into a tailspin. By 1933 Hitler became chancellor of Germany. By 1939 the Jewish population of Berlin had been halved – the Jews of Berlin mostly being imprisoned at first. Soon, they were being sent to death caps in nearby Poland and Czechoslovak Republic.
From 1939 to 1945 World War II raged and by the end of it Berlin had lost 50-80% of its buildings and about 98% of its Jewish population.
When World War II came to an end, Germany was split into two – East and West – Berlin being divided right down the middle. A wall was built. It was guarded by barbed wire, dogs, and guns. East Germany – which east Berlin was a part of, became a surveillance state in which residents were fed propaganda and trained to report on one another.
Two years after the finish of World War II another war had already begun. The Cold War continued until 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell and East and West were suddenly united.
In 1990 Germany as we know it today was formed and the capital was moved back to Berlin from Bonn, where it had been located since 1949.
Today, Berlin is a haven for artists, creatives, and young leaders.
Read Before You Go
By: Anna Funder
Goodreads Stars: 4.17/5
Funder is an Australian who immerses herself in post-soviet East Berlin to hear the stories of the people who lived there in the time of Communism. She tells this story passionately but with ease as she gets drunk, bounces around the city, and befriends her subjects.
By: Françoise Frenkel
Goodreads Stars: 3.85/5
“The memoir of a Jewish bookseller on a harrowing fight for survival across Nazi-occupied Europe.”
This memoir was found, stashed away in an attic, and then republished nearly 60 years after it was first written.
Watch Before You Go
Starring: Jonas Nay
1 Season, 8 episode
Deutschland 83 takes place in mid-Cold War Germany when a young boy accidentally finds himself as a spy. In addition to history and action, this show has a ‘banging’ soundtrack.
Where is Berlin
Berlin is located in the east of Germany in the region of Brandenburg.
It is about 35 miles from Berlin to the nearest Polish border, just under 90 miles to the North Sea, about 225 miles to Denmark, and slightly over 100 miles to Czechia.
Berlin sits on the River Spree.
What is the Weather in Berlin
Berlin has lovely, distinct seasons which follow the weather which we expect in the northern hemisphere.
Summers are comfortable – they are not too hot but warm enough to get a bit of pink in your cheeks. And winters are cold, very cold, sometimes snowy, and often windy.
If you’re trying to figure out the best time to visit Berlin it’s probably from mid spring to mid autumn – June to September, more or less.
What to Pack for Berlin
I’ll give you the same advice I give myself – you need a change of undies, and a credit card. Oh – and your passport. But of course.
Honestly, treat yourself one day and leave with nothing more than that – and Berlin might just be the perfect place to turn up with no more than a change of undies. But in case you’re not feeling it, here are five essentials for your trip to Berlin.
For the clubs. Honestly you need to go to the clubs and while there you’re going to want to make sure your toes don’t get stepped on or stabbed with random needles – kidding (kinda). Closed toed shoes are also just good to have in general – day to night kinda versatile travel stuff.
Bumbag for you Brits out there reading this snickering just a bit.
Berliners are weirdly stylish but in, like, a weird way. They were wearing fanny packs before the rest of us decided they were cool again, and probably by the time I caught on they’d already moved on – sorry if you get laughed at. But fanny packs are also super helpful to keep things safe – on the streets or in the clubs.
To nurse those hangovers.
Honestly, this might be your third always essential – undies, credit card, reusable water bottle. Nobody should be using plastic anymore. No more excuses.
Germany, even in summer, can be a bit grey and rainy. And no one likes it when a bit of lame weather cancels their holiday plans. That’s why we come prepared with a comfy, cool, waterproof jacket!
Honestly, Berlin is ‘hella trendy and I don’t know you but I’m willing to bet you’re not going to be able to keep pace. But, I still encourage you to throw something that you think is cutting edge in your bag and give it a walk about in Berlin to see what kinda side-eye the locals give you. Flaunt your not-cool-enough-for-Berlin style. I’ve got your back.
Where to Stay in Berlin
When I was in Berlin I stayed in a hostel which, very sadly, no longer operates. I loved the hostel so much that I followed it on Facebook (thus how I know it closed down) and am still friends on Facebook with the manager at the time.
It was the first time I was offered a pill from a stranger and shared a bunk with people having sex (luckily it was past 8 in the morning so I just got up and took a shower).
The hostel’s site had a disclaimer about the neighborhood where it was located “not for the faint of heart” and so here is where I suggest that is exactly the neighborhood you should stay in. Kreuzberg.
Back when I visited in 2013, this is what I had to say about the area:
“other backpackers told me their hostels had told them not to go into that area. I loved it. The streets are covered in graffiti and there is a noticeable lack of tourists. The park across the street is full of Nigerian drug dealers just next to mothers with strollers and students sunbathing. And that’s how the neighborhood is, extremely diverse and interesting. Kreuzberg is packed full of cafes and restaurants of all different ethnicities, all extremely cheap and delicious, including burger meister, a delicious burger spot just below the subway on the side of the road, and huhner house, a rotisserie chicken spot where you can get a half a chicken and chips or salad for €4.50, and plenty of 24 hour kebab shops (mini kebab €2). It is also full of loads of bars and the biggest and best clubs in the city. What more could you want? In my opinion, this is the place to stay!”
And I still think it is. The place that most travel guides tell you not to go is exactly where you want to be – especially in a city like Berlin which is – for all intents and purposes – safe.
Where to Stay in Kreuzberg
So, based on my research solely, here are some recommendations for where to stay in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin:
Budget Range: Luxury
If you were into the brief history of Berlin and want to learn more, this is an excellent choice to start with. The building which Orania.Berlin is in has been around since 1913.
Along with its history, today you’ll have access to a 24-hour fitness center, an on-site restaurant, musical events in the building, and luxury accommodation.
Budget Range: Mid-range
For mid-range accommodation, this is an excellent choice. You’ll get clean, comfortable rooms, breakfast each morning, and access to fitness facilities.
Should you need them – bikes, car parking, and a sauna are all available for an extra cost.
Budget Range: Budget
Hostels are honestly a wonderful thing, and a god-sent for the budget traveler.
The Cat’s Pajamas is not technically right in Kreuzberg, but it’s just over in the neighboring neighborhood so you’ve still got easy access to the fun.
This hostel offers dorm and private rooms all with wifi and comfortable, clean beds. There’s a 24-hour reception and breakfast for a few extra euro. A shared kitchen is available as well as a terrace and lounge.
My Original Blog from Berlin
July 27, 2013
4 days and 4 nights was a crazy whirlwind and not nearly enough time in Berlin. I believe you’d need a few lifetimes to truly take in everything the city has to offer. You could spend a good few months just on the museums, another while on the other tourist attractions, and yet another month exploring the much more interesting non-touristy neighborhoods.
Then there’s the nightlife. You’d need a good Friday night to Sunday night spent in most of the clubs in the city, not to mention the bars which would need their own weekends.
Then there’s the food! You could spend a month eating at a different kebab shop every night, or at a different Vietnamese restaurant, or at a different chicken shop, or pizza place. Then there’s the parks and lakes. Well, you get the picture. Berlin has so much to offer. And while I cut my sleep down to maybe three hours a night – I still barely skimmed its surface.
I tried my best to do a good bit of the touristy things in town, the city is so packed full of interesting, and recent, history that is really worth exploring and understanding. I took a free walking tour my first day to get a sense of some of the important spots. That included things like Checkpoint Charlie, Hitler’s bunker (nothing but a car park), the Holocaust memorials, a memorial to people of all genocides everywhere and always, and a book burning memorial, where just across the street at the university they sell books out front. Of course, parts of the wall that are still standing, museums island, and Nazi and Soviet built buildings.
On my own time I made my way over to the East Side Gallery, which is the longest stretch of wall that still stands, covered in murals and graffiti. I climbed to the top of the cathedral in town to get a birds eye view of the city and I went beneath the holocaust memorial to a very nicely done, simple, and personal info center.
I took two day trips outside of the city; to Sachsenhausen concentration camp and to Potsdam, where all past royalty based in Berlin built their palaces and gardens. It’s a very pretty area which reminded me of the royal palaces in Vienna.
My days were jam packed, but I didn’t stop there, I spent my nights just as busy. Club culture in Berlin is just short of insanity. The first thing to know is how to wait in line. Bouncers won’t let you in if you’re too dressed up, if you’re too loud, if you’re in a group, or if you look tired. I read that they look at your eyes and if they think you’re there for the music, they’ll let you in. I got in everywhere I tried, though I had a close call after waiting in line for 2.5 hours when the bouncer said I looked tired (yeah, no kidding!). Once inside, the clubs are like nothing you’ll see anywhere else. They did remind me a bit of the ruin pubs in Budapest in the way they’re designed, but the music, the people, and the drug scene are completely unique. There was a cat hanging out in one, beach volley ball, sand, photo booths and basketball, fog rooms and tree forts. Everyone is shamelessly on any drug you can imagine. Name it and you can get it. I got asked to buy and sell a number of drugs. I watched people snort coke off of €50 bills right in the middle of the club, and Australian tourists give MDMA a try for the first time. Once you’re nicely drugged up is when you can dance, otherwise the music is incredibly dull and repetitive house. But everyone is loving it, completely swept away by that single beat, they are all dancing like crazy. This scene goes on and on and on. The clubs don’t close through the weekend, most people stay Friday night until Sunday night. 6:30 the next morning was the longest I made it (I then went straight for the kebab stand). Berlin gives NYC a good run for its money as the city that never sleeps. I might also mention here that at some point in the dancing and the people and the drugs I contracted pink eye in Berlin. I’m not sure there is any other way to have left the city.
I met up with a friend in the city and he commented that Berlin wasn’t very pretty. I didn’t think I agreed until I looked through my photos and realized I’d only taken a very few…regardless, the city is fabulous and four days has only left me wanting more, I will be back for sure!