Berlin is a complex place known for many and conflicting things. It’s hard to pin it down or sum it up, though its grittiness, attitude and hip self-confidence mean its increasingly dubbed “The New York of Europe.” Certainly Berlin revels in all forms of urban life, but also brings to the table an equally fascinating collection of relics of its spectacularly volatile history. Few other cities have been so mighty then witnessed such tragic lows.
The two appear connected in having taught Berliners to live in the moment and to embrace – even revel in – change. This hedonistic attitude first developed during the political uncertainties and economic hardships of the 1920s and 1930s, which spawned the city’s famous devil-may-care nightlife. The Nazis changed all that, then World War II all but leveled the city, after which it barely had time to recover before its Cold War division by the Berlin Wall. Then, as remarkably, Berlin became a front-line witness to the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, before again becoming the capital of Germany, Europe’s most powerful economy.
All this volatility and unorthodoxy inspired countless artists over the last century and still today Berlin continues to draw far more than its share of unconventional souls. As a result the city’s air crackles with culture and creativity that extends to building riverside beach bars and volleyball courts on the former Berlin Wall “death-strip, and partying all-night in the ruined power plants and defunct offices of an old Eastern Bloc regime. The appeal of all this vibrancy is international with hipsters from far-and-wide coming to set up shop here, so today you’ll hear as much English as German spoken on the central streets of the capital.
Nevertheless, the city is finally beginning to finish rebuilding after half a century of war and division and cranes no longer crowd the sky as they once did. Part of this healing process is coming to terms with the past by building memorials and museums to help reflection on recent world history. Examining these and other city scars don’t make for a light-hearted itinerary. But it’s an important and often engrossing process, and after all this gravitas you’ve got a mad 24-hour city full of energetic non-conformism to let your hair down in. This balances out nicely and will probably leave the only real imbalance in your sleep!
Like many huge world cities, Berlin often feels like a collection of villages, gathering together as neighborhoods within districts. Most Berliners love their local Kietz (neighborhood) and often spend most of their time in it, rather than exploring the rest of the city – despite the public transport system being almost peerless in its scope and efficiency.
Logically, Berlin’s central district is called Mitte (literally “middle”) and incorporates its downtown and the bulk of the tourist sights. Foremost among them is the government quarter, including the Reichstag, and the old imperial city gathered around the city’s famous Unter den Linden boulevard, which leads to Museum Island, where a gathering of particularly heavyweight museums lie chock full of globally important treasures.
Berlin’s other main attractions are scattered well outside Mitte and are best visited using public transport: The Berlin Wall Memorial, the only part of the Wall preserved as it once was, lies just north of the centre; as do the underground bunkers you can tour with Berliner Unterwelten. A similar distance west of the centre lies Schloss Charlottenburg, a palace and gardens full of the kind of frippery you might crave after Berlin’s darker sights, and the bombastic Olympic Stadium, one of the last architectural testaments to Nazi might. What some of this led to is shown a short suburban train ride beyond the Berlin’s northern fringes, at the former concentration camp of Sachsenhausen.
To get to these sights you’ll also see some of Berlin’s central residential districts whose well-rounded cafe and nightlife scenes also make them good bases. City West, the old centre of West Berlin, lies primarily in the well-to-do suburb of Charlottenberg; the adjacent Schöneberg is famously the location of Berlin’s gay village, while its neighbour Kreuzberg has traditionally been Berlin at it’s most grungy and bohemian. The adjacent and studenty Friedrichshain was formerly a utilitarian part of East Berlin and many of its discarded venues now harbour Berlin’s clubland. To its north the affluent liberal district of Prenzlauer Berg offers 19th-century Berlin at its best preserved.
Around these central residential districts lie the city’s suburbs which you’d typically only explore on a longer stay. In the east sprawling high-rise developments and zones of heavy industry dominate; while the western suburbs are wealthy, attractive and have an almost rural air to their large woodland (the Grunewald) and lakes (the Havel) whose beaches lure many Berliners on hot summer day.
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Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
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See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
€ => Tickets less than €15 per person
€€ => Tickets €15- €30 per person
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Sleep — Out of town/rural
€ => Rooms less than €60 for a double
€€ => Rooms €60 – €100 for a double
€€€ => Rooms €100 for a double
Sleep — Large Cities
€ => Rooms less than €100 for a double
€€ => Rooms €100 – €150 for a double
€€€ => Rooms €150 for a double
€=> €5- €10 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€ => €10 – €25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€€ => €25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
€ => Tickets less than €25 per person
€€ => Tickets €25 – €50 per person
€€€ => Tickets €50 per person