A Backpacker’s Guide To Traveling Berlin

A Backpacker’s Guide To Traveling Berlin

Berlin is a city of extremes. The incredible contrast between traditional and modern is what sets this city apart from the rest of Germany. Historical memorials and sites display the dark history of Germany, juxtaposed against the culture, art, music and creativity that represent modern Berlin. A growing number of artists and creative types flock to Berlin each year, making it one of the most exciting and diverse cities to visit in Europe. From historical museums to modern architecture, vintage treasures, trendy bars, and open-air parks and cinemas; the buzzing atmosphere of Berlin makes it fantastic destination to visit all year round. 

Quick Facts:

Language: German

Currency:  $1 = €0.88

Population: 3.52 Million

Transport: Metro – S-Bahn & U-Bahn

Transport

As with a lot of European cities, their public transport system is incredible and an extremely efficient way to travel the city. The yellow trains of the Berlin metro system seemingly fly over the track that snakes across the entire city. The overground S-Bahn provides wistful views of the streets of Berlin as it zigzags through the laneways, and the underground U-Bahn twisting beneath the city’s underbelly connect the entire city and are the main means of transport.  Most amazingly the metro system runs 24 hours on weekends, and on weekdays the city runs regular night buses to replace the off-duty train services; so you’ll never be stuck between a rock and no transport. A single fair covers a journey of up to 2 hours and costs €2.80 for the AB zone and €3.40 for ABCDon’t be tempted to jump the system without a ticket or forget to stamp your ticket. The fine is €60 on the spot.

History

Holocaust Memorial

If you only visit one historical monument in Berlin, it should be the Holocaust Memorial. Standing in the middle of the city, 2711 concrete blocks stand as a reminder and representation of the entire population of Jews murdered during the war. Standing amidst the imposing landscape, you feel a distinct sense of dread as the rising columns loom over you, and heading further into the centre you become lost in a labyrinth of abstraction.  A place of remembrance and a warning of the effects of war, every visitor to Berlin should experience the foreboding atmosphere of the Holocaust Memorial. 

Brandenburg Gate

The Brandenburg Gate is Berlin’s most famous landmark, depicted on the seat covers of the metro and the only remaining part of the old gate that separated the city in two. Designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans in 1788, the symmetrical columns of the gate were inspired by the Acropolis in Athens. the sculpture of the Goddess of Victory that sits atop the gate was added in 1793. Passing through the gate takes you from the official East side of Berlin to the Westside; with both sides united, the gate is considered a national symbol of peace and unity. 

Reichstag Building

The Reichstag is the current home of the German Parliament and is open to the public by registration. The grounds surrounding the building are a popular place to enjoy picnics and drinks with friends.

Enjoy the exquisite architecture inside the Reichstag dome, and climb up the double helix staircase to discover a sweeping view over the Berlin skyline. It isn’t often that panoramic views can be soaked up with political debates happening below your feet, with the dome sitting directly above the debating chamber.

Admission is free by appointment only. Make a booking and find more info here.

Checkpoint Charlie

The history of espionage in Berlin is centered at Checkpoint Charlie; the former barrier and checkpoint site for access between the East and West. Set up as a popular area for photos, patrons can greet and pose with the dressed up actors. Inside the museum is even more information on the history of the Cold War, and for an extra activity, you can head up into the tethered balloon for a view over  the entire Checkpoint Charlie area. Balloon tickets cost €25 for adults and €12 for kids.

City of Design

Berlin was awarded the title of ‘City of Design’ by UNESCO and it’s a moniker it truly deserves. One of the most important representations and expressions of creativity is centred in the East Side Gallery; the former remains of the Berlin Wall.

Berlin Wall

Once a huge wall separating the city in times of oppression, now the largest open-air gallery in the world; the parts of the Berlin wall that still remain are concentrated in the East side gallery. In 1990 more than 100 artists gathered to turn the former wall into a gallery of art imitating life, with subjects depicted to represent the history of Berlin, the beauty of its future and controversial subjects from across the globe. The most famous is undoubtedly the ‘Fraternal Kiss,’ pictured below between the Russian leader Leonid Brezhnev and East Germany’s SED Party Chairman Erich Honecker. To enjoy the history and symbolism of the wall in full fashion take the Berlin Wall Cycle Route, which covers the entire area where the wall once existed from Potsdamer Platz to the East side Gallery.

Street Art & Museum

As a city appreciative of creativity, street art is prevalent around the streets.

Take time to wander aimlessly around some of the areas and discover a plethora of expression and talent. Street Art is a form of expression often frowned upon, but as the capital of creative appreciation, Berlin reveres the talents of its residents and talented creators from around the globe. The Street Art Museum was opened to educate visitors about this style of art. With street art locations open to the elements and often being vandalized, pieces are constantly being updated, covered up and replaced; allowing for a vibrant community of artists and collaborative creators.

Every inch of Berlin seems to be pockmarked with some kind of art, but the areas most saturated are:

Revaler 99 and Urban Spree area

Dircksenstrasse in Mitte

Teufelsberg (Abandoned Spy Station)

Fun Stuff

Fernsehturm (TV Tower)

An unmissable part of Berlin’s iconic skyline, the tall thin building that looks like an enormous pinhead, is the TV Tower. For the highest and most outstanding view over Berlin, head up to the observation deck for panoramic views served with a delicious meal. The ride up costs 15.50 for adults and 9.50 for kids.

River Cruise

The abundance of city cruises are a great way to take in the city. One of the most popular is the Historic City Cruise along the river Spree; enjoying some of the prettiest landscapes Berlin has to offer from the comfort of your windowed vessel. The Bridge Tour showcases – you guessed it – Bridges; of which Berlin has over 60. Although it is not a port town sinking into the Mediterranean, some say Berlin has more bridges than Venice, and who doesn’t love the pretty, architectural wonder of a good bridge? The Historic City Cruise costs €15 and the Bridge Tour is €23 per person.

Liquidrom Spa

The Germans have a reputation for an intense nightlife full of debauchery, so it seems only natural that a bunch of places within the city are dedicated to helping people recover from their hangovers. Get nude, scrub yourself and your dude, and feel instantly renewed.

Hidden underneath Berlin’s striking circus tent shaped concert venue the Tempodrom, is a secret spot dedicated to the world of relaxation and wellness. The Liquidrom, hidden under the floorboards of the concert venue is comprised of four nude saunas and an open-air hot spring. Our favourite was the honey room, where you lather handfuls of honey all over your body, or each other’s; before sweating it all off inside the sauna. The open-air terrace is best enjoyed in the winter when you can challenge yourself to a game of hopscotch across the freezing snow-covered ground and into the steaming depths.

It’s compulsory to only wear your birthday suit inside the saunas, but one of the main attractions is the silent pool. An ethereal dome room where the lights are dimmed and patrons bob around on pool noodles or submerge like mermaids to enjoy the cacophony of sounds that are best heard from under the tranquility of the water itself. As you can imagine, this place is perfect for couples and is a unique and refreshing experience after a long day exploring and discovering the delights of Berlin.

Gruselkabinett

The name sounds a bit like a wardrobe full of chicken gristle but is closer to a warehouse  full of gruesome imagery. The former World War II bunker complete with underground tunnels connected to the old railway system is now a museum documenting the Nazi regime and the heinous war crimes committed during WW2. From the outside, this huge warehouse looks ominous enough, lit up a violent shade of red after dark. Inside, 3 floors contain historical documentation and photographs. Many of the original furnishings are dotted around to give visitors an idea of the horror that lived in the bunkers. The second floor becomes more gruesome with crude mannequins and abject dioramas depicting some of the torture that inhabitants of the bunker were subjected to. If its a little too creepy to travel back in time to imagine the amputation, cannibalism, and animal-to-human blood transfusions that went on inside the thick concrete wall; the third floor offers a bit of respite, albeit replacing it with flashing lights and jump scares. This cheap scare haunted house is a super fun juxtaposition to the horrors below, but with a history like Berlin, you have to have a sense of humour.

Berlin Zoo

Berlin Zoo is Germany’s oldest zoological garden with the world’s largest variety of species. In winter, the grounds look particularly majestic with a dusting of snow. The zoo also houses an aquarium with tropical delights from all 7 continents. Tickets for the zoo are €15.50 for adults and €8 for kids.

Flee Markets & Shopping

David Cunningham | RoughMaps

Flea Markets

Berlin is home to some of the absolute best vintage shopping on the planet, and an abundance of it can be found at the local flea markets.

Berlin is known for its exquisite shopping, from vintage designer handbags to taxidermy ducks.  A whole host of flee markets are in full force every weekend, from second-hand clothes to art and antiques of varying value. Grab yourself a bargain that could turn out to be a secret Picasso at Antikmarkt Ostbahnhof. Fesche Lotte caters to fashion lovers of vintage treasures from the past, as well as coveted designer goods and quirky handmade jewelry. The flea market on Straße des 17. Juni is the oldest market in the city, more like a  traditional flea market where you could find a true gem hidden among the junk.

RAW Flohmarket on the East side has a great vibe, set in a location bursting with street art and feel good energy. A little visit to this wonderland will show you some good music, tasty vegan food, and some absolute bargains.

Vintage

Vintage is king in Berlin, and second hands shops, boutiques and warehouses pouring with goods are dotted around the city selling everything from suitcases to earrings.  Anyone with a proclivity for the fashion of times gone by is in absolute heaven in this city and its hard to drag yourself out of the excess of shopping haunts filling every street. Find fabulous 90’s styles for men and women in Let Them Eat Cake. On the lookout for a vintage suitcase? Look no further than Stiefelkombinat, where piles of beauties that would be at home in the luggage storage of a 1960’s funicular spill onto the pavement. Humana stocks everything from coats to underwear, at some of the cheapest prices imaginable.  Another popular shopping trend in Berlin is the Kilo store. Hubs bursting with vintage and second-hand goods you can purchase by weight. Grab delicate cotton dresses over bulky leather coats and you’ll be getting a lot of bang for your buck.

Bars

The nightlife in Berlin is one of the reasons so many visitors flock to this vibrant hub each year. A city bursting with opulent wine bars, raging parties, and diverse events, Berlin has all the makings for an unforgettable night out, or seven. Here’s a different bar for every night of the week to get your feet moving and your heart moving in a city of pure hedonism.

Green Door

If secret bars and anachronistic themes are your thing, keep an eye out for an unmarked green door in the Schonenberg quarter. Ding the bell and be invited into a classy interior with 1970’s decor complete with cosy couches and obsolete telephones hanging from the walls.

Tarantino’s Bar

Adding to the illustrious list of celebrities connected to Berlin, this relaxed bar is dedicated to the legend that is Quentin Tarantino. Sip on a cocktail amidst the stylish decor and enjoy the back-catalog of Tarantino films playing in the background.

Tausend

Behind a different unmarked door underneath Friedrichstrasse train station leads to a different vibe, a chic interior with the mirrored walls and art installations. The subtly lit Tausend offers a range of culinary delights along with its live shows.

Watergate

Watergate is hugely popular and is the longest running electro club in the city, and the pioneer of the iconic ‘Berlin sound’.

8mm

An underground Rock n Roll bar serving exquisite drinks, live shows, and an ambient chilled atmosphere. Relax and unwind with a bottle or three cast against the 8mm projector screen showing quirky movies from the 70’s.

Food

Currywurst

Currywurst is a street food snack that everyone should try. Found in vendor trucks around the city, the unique flavour of curry powder dusted tomato sauce piled on a bratwurst hotdog is a local favourite. 

Vapianos

This one is actually a chain restaurant now found all over the world, but that doesn’t make it any less of a hotspot. The fun interior offers an abundance of Italian style dishes and desserts, with fresh herbs on the tables and personal stations for each dinner choice. Order you favourites, and wait for the buzzer to call you to the stands.

Where to Stay

Berlin is the kind of place that has you wanting to return again and again. The rich history and copious charm of the city provides an inspirational backdrop for artists, fashion lovers, and party goers. So it’s only natural that the city offers a host of hotels and hostels to suit every budget.

Our Favourites:

Minimal

A hostel providing the bare essentials along with a stylish and elegant design. in the cool neighbourhood of Kreuzkölln.

Plus Berlin

Right in the centre of everything and close to the East gallery, Plus Berlin is a celebration of creativity in the artsy district Friedrichshain.

Hotel Bikini

A quirky and playful lodging inspired by animal themes and the flora of the jungle. An in-house bakery and rooftop restaurant add to the charm of this colourful hotel.

Circus Hotel

The Circus is a designer boutique hotel on a budget, with elegantly styled rooms and an all important central location in Mitte for galleries bars and restaurants galore.

If you have trouble finding any of these cool places please check out this map that we have marked to help you along your way. Happy travels.

This article is a contribution from one of our amazing travel writers Becky Coe on her experiences traveling Tasmania. For more by Becky Coe check out her photos at https://becky-alice-coe.format.com/.