Berlin is the perfect place for a festive mini-break. 3-4 days is plenty of time to explore the city and get under its skin!
Here’s a list of my top 5 things to do in Berlin:
- Christmas Markets:
The Germans put on the best Christmas markets in the world, there’s no doubt about that. In Berlin, there are loads of different markets to explore.
Alexanderplatz is a great place to do your Christmas shopping. It’s made up of lots of little stalls selling festive trinkets and treats. There are huts selling steaming hot mugs of mulled wine and all the Bratwurst you could ever want! Very popular with the locals and tourists alike are the German style pizzas, called Flammkuchen, which are usually topped with crème fraiche, lardons and cheese.
There is also the much more upmarket Gendarmenmarkt, which has huge, heated lodges where you can escape the bitter cold and sip on a glass of Prosecco. You have to pay a small entry fee though and aren’t allowed to drag your suitcases around!
This is obviously restricted to winter breaks, but if you go in the summer I would swap out the Christmas markets for the beer gardens. This way you can still get your fill of local beer and cheerful atmosphere.
- Alternative Walking Tour:
This tour is run by an organisation called Free Tours By Foot. The tour guides are only paid on a donation basis (known as a ‘name-your-own-price tour’). Instead of the usual tourist spots, you will be taken to areas covered in graffiti, wall art and tags. It’s a great introduction to Berlin’s underground art scene and the range of street art styles is fascinating. The tour will vary depending on the guide you get, as they take you to their favourite spots around the city. Tours usually start at 11am or 1pm and the meeting point is the Starbucks in Alexanderplatz. These tours are about 3 hours long, so make sure you wrap up if it’s cold!
Check out the Free Tours By Foot website for more details: http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/berlin-tours/
- Museums and Memorials:
A visit to the Topography of Terror museum is fairly overwhelming, but it is an important reminder of Berlin’s harrowing history. It is built on the site that was formerly the SS headquarters. Now a quiet and peaceful place, it is usually teeming with tourists. It’s certainly an emotional visit, but also incredibly informative.
It is also worth visiting the Memorial of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie and the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, to learn more about the split of East and West Berlin and the terrors people faced during that time.
A place that I still have mixed feelings about is The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (also known as The Holocaust Memorial). It is a sea of 2,711 concrete pillars, laid out in a big grid, which you can walk between. It is a place built for remembrance and reflection. A lovely tribute to the 3 million Jews killed during the war. But it was tainted for me by the disrespectful tourists that were climbing the pillars and taking photos standing on top of them.
- East Side Gallery:
It’s not until you stand right next to the towering remains of the Berlin Wall that you realise quite how devastating and frightening the split of East and West Germany must have been. The East Side Gallery is a magnificent and colourful memorial for freedom. It is a 1316m long section of the wall, which has been decorated by artists from all over the world. It is amazing how something linked to such terror and suffering has been turned into something so beautiful.
- Night out in RAW Gelände:
If you want an authentic Berliner night out, head to the unique area of RAW Gelände. Located in Friedrichshain, it is a former train repair yard. It’s home to derelict buildings which have been converted into quirky bars and warehouse clubs, playing techno and house music. The buildings are covered in graffiti and don’t look like clubs or bars at all from the outside. Some of the bars are even located in disused railway carriages. Be prepared for the haze of cigarette smoke though, as people are still allowed to smoke indoors in Germany!
x Morts x