If you like history, you'll love
Berlin. The German capital is no longer
divided between world powers, but
still bears the mark of its historical past while mixing in modernity.
From the symphonies of Beethoven, the horrors of
two World Wars, the covert operations of the Cold War to the flowering of
freedom and modern European internationalism, the city is a mix of beauty,
European flair and powerful historical reminders.
Where to Stay
Berlin is a prime European destination, so hotels can be
found at levels ranging from budget to five-star. However, many Berliners
have extra apartments or rooms in their apartments that they rent out to
travelers -- be it a solo vacationer or families -- for competitive prices.
For a realBerlin
experience, I recommend this route. On my second day in Berlin, I was on a balcony overlooking a
300-year-old church watching the sun set, drinking tea and eating fantastic
chocolate with my charming German hostess, discussing politics and culture
while enjoying the view. You can't get that kind of experience at a hotel.
There are many ways to find either private
apartments or semiprivate rooms, but the easiest way is through services that
act as a middleman to connect you with owners who wish to rent. You make your
arrangements with these services and pay them directly. English is the
preferred international business language in Berlin, so booking these apartments
shouldn't be difficult.
A service I used before I arrived in Berlin is Euro Flat, which connected me with a place
the site's manager thought I would like. Another more well-known service is Sublet.com,
which has apartments not only in Berlin
but in other European and American cities as well.
Like most major European
has excellent public transportation. The city has light-rail trains that run
to just about anywhere you'd want to go, making it easy to get around.
For something a little more adventurous, travelers
can "borrow" one of the many publicly available bicycles throughout
has a system of bicycles that can be rented for as long as you want -- and
easily paid for with a credit card, by dialing the number on the bike with
your mobile phone. You can ride the bike to your destination and lock it up,
keeping it for your return, or leave it there for the next renter.
Berlin also is a great city for hours-long strolls
through history, or short walks in fashionable districts with excellent
restaurants. A walk down the city's Unter Den
Linden is a must. It's on this avenue (literally "Under the Linden
Trees") where you can see some of the most impressive sights in German
culture and history, including the original handwritten score for Beethoven's
Ninth Symphony in the State Library; the Pergamon Altar in the Pergamon Museum; the majestic Berliner
Dom church; and the bizarre-looking, former East German seat of power,
the Palast Der Republik. This landmark (described in some tour guides as
"grotesque") is slated for destruction soon, so you'll have to
hurry to see this major marker of the former Communist East Germany.
|Palast Der Republik
I Am a Doughnut
"Ich bin ein Berliner."
When, during the Cold War, President Kennedy intoned these words in front of
the Berlin Wall as a gesture of solidarity with the West Germans, little did
he know he was rather confusingly implying, "I am a doughnut."
To say "I am a Berliner" the phrase is, "Ich komme ausBerlin." It's
a cultural detail like this that can be the difference between a fun trip or a confusing one.
Germans, like many
Nordic peoples, have a reputation for not being as open as other Europeans,
but that doesn't mean you can't engage them. Many Berliners (especially the younger ones) speak
English, so you'll have little trouble asking for directions
or getting information. That said, learning a little German helps immensely.
A courteous "Sprechen Sie Englisch?" ("Do
you speak English?") can break the ice. And,
like your mom taught you, always say thank you -- "danke."
As the center of two world wars, as well as the
offers much in the way of history. It's still possible to find examples of
the street fighting that went on during war battles, as evidenced by the
bullet-pockmarked walls in the Hackesche Höfe in Mitte or the bombed-out
remains of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche church in
It's been 16 years since the Berlin Wall stopped
dividing the eastern and western portions of the city, but there are visual
past as a focal point of the Cold War. Only small sections of the Wall
remain, the longest of which is in the East
Side Gallery in the Friedrichshain district.
Here, local and international artists were given sections of the Wall to
paint in 1990, many of whom chose messages of hope and the triumph of the
human spirit as their subject matter.
Ich Bin ein Beerliner
Germany, beer is available in just about every place you find food, even coffee shops. The local specialty
is Berliner Weisse, a light, somewhat bitter
beer not unlike Budweiser, which is sometimes drunk with a shot of woodruff
or raspberry syrup. Other common varieties are Weizenbier,
a light wheat beer great for summer days; Schwarzbier,
a dark, full-bodied variety; Dunkelbier, a dark ale; and Bock, a strong seasonal beer, often
flavored with spices. Try surprising your new German acquaintances by
ordering an Alster (beer with sparkling
water) like a local. For the more adventurous, ask for a Diesel, which
is lager with orangeade or Coca-Cola.
A Short Stay
If you have only a day or two in Berlin, spend your sightseeing time in the
East, where many of the major and most interesting sights are concentrated. Scheunenviertel, the historic Jewish quarter of the city,
is a hotbed of art galleries, boutiques, bars and restaurants, not unlike New York's SoHo neighborhood.
It's there you can see street art in the courtyards
of Hackesche Höfe, have a
world-class sushi dinner at trendy Pan Asia, go shopping on Rosethaler Strasse for fashions
that haven't even made it to the world stage yet, take in entertainment like
Yiddish theater at the Hackesche Hoftheater, and spend some time and money in one of the
many bars and clubs that dot the area.
The aforementioned Unter Den Linden is a sightseer's boulevard full of museums, cathedrals, shops,
and, at the westernmost end, the iconic Brandenburg Gate. Just off of Unter Den Linden, crossing
into the former West Berlin, is a memorial to the victims who died trying to escape East Germany.
Just to the south is the Holocaust memorial that couples an exceptional
historical exhibit with a moving memorial of stone. The Reichstag (where the
German parliament meets) is a mix of modern and classic architecture and is
right next to the beautiful Tiergarten park.
Berlin doesn't necessarily get the attention of other European capitals like Paris, London and Rome. But
if you've already been to these cities and are looking for a new and different take on Europe,Berlin
is an excellent option.