Berlin: Have You (Ich) Bin?

The cultural capital of Europe remains a vital place to visit.

By: 

Ed Dyson

Published date: 

Jan. 30, 2017

 

The Germans have always been famed for their unrivaled efficiency. And funnily enough, to get the most of their capital, it’s somewhat of a crucial quality to possess. Ah Berlin. There is just so… much of it. Every pause for breath you take feels like a once-in-a-lifetime activity potentially missed, a gallery unseen or a bar unvisited. Yet look around at the inhabitants and they seem so oddly relaxed. So unfazed by it all. There’s none of the bird-like thousands flocking along the streets of, say, Tokyo, and none of the pushy loudness of cities like New York and London. For a city so full of, well, everything, the natives all take it - quite remarkably - in their stride. That means tourists, if they hope to fit in with the achingly and effortlessly cool Berlin look, can only strive to do the same. 

Perhaps in this way, it is more comparable to Paris, with its Francais-esque "couldn’t-care-less" swag. But Berlin is a staggering nine times larger than the French capital. So whereas you may very well be able to spend a romantic afternoon strolling around pretty streets in Paris and not feel like you’ve wasted your time, in Berlin this feels like a luxury you simply don’t have. The streets are - on the whole - not so pretty by European standards, and there’s just far too much to be doing to risk playing it by ear. The best approach? Make like a German and plan, plan, plan.  

A good start would be planning which museums you want to go to. The city famously boasts that it has “more museums than rainy days” – that’s 175 museums, in case you were wondering, which usually just beats the drizzly days by about two weeks. So choose them wisely. The most obvious lure will, of course, always be for tourists to come and learn more about the world wars that changed humanity forever. As we know, Berlin was right at the center of these wars, causing, and then suffering, the greatest damage, meaning there is arguably no better place on the planet to find out more about the colossal and devastating events of the early 20th century. Its beginnings and the repercussions remain widely visible today.

The Jewish Museum Berlin in Kreuzberg is a harrowing - and important - place to start. Every moment spent learning about the Holocaust is one spent in complete disbelief, no matter how many different places you visit. You can’t help but look at the events of the past and frame them within the narrative of what’s going on today, swaying from thanking God you were born now and not then, before feeling discomfort creep in as you ponder current affairs and wonder whether history will ever completely be a thing of the past. 

In the same area as the Jewish Museum Berlin - adult €7.00 child/ €3.50 - you’ll find the oldest remnants of the Berlin Wall that once divided a city that seems to now be one of the least divided places on Earth. Those crumbled bases lie defeated as a stark reminder of how far this great country has come, with the wall still looming large over the region purely by the sheer force of its absence.  

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In this area you’ll also want to walk through Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous of the former crossing points of the wall. Berlin bleeds history, perhaps more than almost any other city in the world. Every building was born out of - or miraculously survived - unimaginable destruction and chaos, perhaps explaining why visually the place is so modest. Strong, but not imposing. Resilient, yet generous. 

Most incredibly, a place that has held - and still holds - so much pain, can now boast being one of the most progressive, liberal and tolerant places in the world. With this, of course, comes the fun. Don’t be fooled by the stern faces. If you came looking for a good time, it’s extremely unlikely you’ll leave disappointed. 

The greenest city in Germany also has more bridges than Venice - by a long shot - with 1,700, and by the rivers of hip areas like Mitte you’ll find some of the more noticeably happening joints. Google popular places in whatever area you’re in, then enjoy whittling them down until you find the right match. Think of it as "tourist Tinder."

Max und Moritz’ restaurant is well-known in the capital, and couldn’t be more German if the building was shaped like a giant sausage. The wooden exteriors, the music, the eye-watering massive plates of meat upon meat - and a friendly warmth that you get inside the venues that you’d never be able to guess from the outside, where people line up for what looks to be hours on the cold streets to get to kebab stands that are intriguing because of their monumental popularity alone. 

Bikes are a good way to get around the city, if you don’t feel like spending hours walking down straight roads with nothing to look at. Ride and explore the endless cafes and bars that are in darkness but lit by candlelight, adding much-needed touches of romance to a city where the bleak exteriors often fail to do justice to the vibrant goings-on indoors. 

Of course, you’re probably never more than 50 feet away from a bar within which there is something X-rated going down. Often literally. But if you aren’t looking for it, rest assured, you probably won’t find it. 

Unless of course, you’re heading (wisely) to find out why the city is, to many, the club capital of the world. If so, then naughty shenanigans, as well as techno, may prove unavoidable. As will standing in line, being out until crazy hours of the morning, and being faced with the prospect of being turned away from places for not looking cool enough. Or, God forbid, not German. OK, so perhaps it’s not completely free of division then…

But this will only happen if you aim for the coolest of the cool clubs. The crème-de-la-creme. One place that’s name is unavoidable on the club scene is that of Berghain. The utterance of the word alone is enough to electrify your surrounding atmosphere. A bit like saying Candyman in the mirror - if you say Berghain three times anywhere in Berlin, a taxi filled with beer arrives. As one of the biggest clubs in the world, and in fact formerly number 1 ranked too, it is famed for having an unrivaled sound system. Mass debauchery goes on inside, and a strict door policy matches an equally strict no photo policy within. Yes, if you want to see what’s going on there, then turn up, look cool and be prepared to stand in line. 

For an easier way to party, try Salon zur Wilden Renate - the circus-themed club open 24 hours over the weekend (entry €155) that is basically a giant labyrinth with a different curiosity, dance floor, or fabulously decorated bar around every corner. Here, plans may end up forgotten, but immerse yourself and new plans might just prove worthwhile. To boot, there are over 150 theaters, the world’s biggest stock of zoo animals - at the Zooloschier Garten - the world’s largest captive hot air balloon (take a ten-minute ride for €20, you won’t regret it), and that’s all before you get to the tax free shopping. 

Berlin’s influence is, simply, undeniable. Go. Learn. Enjoy… and then, of course, brag about it afterwards, in the most un-German way possible. Now, doesn’t that sound like a good plan? 

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