Top 5 Things To Do In Berlin (Besides Beer, Sausage And Techno)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

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Deterred from visiting the German capital because you think it’s just for those who like beer, sausages and techno? I’ll admit it: I was “That Person.” I remember a few years ago a work colleague, about to move to Berlin, excitedly summed up the city to me with those three things. I’m pretty sure I shuddered.

However, having finally got around to visiting what has fast become one of Europe’s coolest city-break destinations, I can confidently report that there’s much, much more to Berlin than beer, sausages and techno. Here are just some of the alternatives . . .

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1) Discover Great Modern art, Indoors and Out

First, Berlin is a modern art lover’s paradise. It’s packed with galleries, ranging from tiny independent studios and private-view-only collections, to the expansive national gallery at the Hamburger Bahnhof.

The latter began life as the city’s train station, and in fact unusual settings are a recurring theme in Berlin’s art scene. Take for instance, the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, housed in a former margarine factory, or the Sammlung Boros Collection, a former bomb shelter, which has also spent time as a prison, storehouse and fetish club.

Then there are the many “unofficial” outlets for art in the city. While the best-known of Berlin’s artists’ squats, Kunsthaus Tacheles, has recently been cleared, you’re still likely to come across small studios and collectives, many with their doors open to the public.

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That said, you don’t even have to go indoors to find art here. Much of the graffiti that covers Berlin is deserving of “street art” status, and it’s also definitely worth a trip further out of the center to the East Side Gallery.

This is a mile-long stretch of the remains of the wall that once divided Berlin in two, covered with artworks by more than 100 artists — some playful, some political — overall adding up to something pretty special.

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2) Delve Into History

Following on the open-air theme, I was very impressed with the Topography of Terror exhibition, an open-air (and free) museum that tells the story of the city in the years before and during World War II.

The material on display is engaging, moving and often disturbing, capturing the horrors of this time by focusing on individual lives and deaths, viewed through letters, photographs, official documents and memoirs.

The exhibition is located on the site of former Gestapo and SS headquarters, running alongside another remaining stretch of the wall.

It’s also close to Checkpoint Charlie, the best-known of the old checkpoints between East and West Berlin during the days of the wall. A replica checkpoint stands on the spot, complete with guards who you can get a photo with if you’re so inclined (for a fee — they’ll snarl if they catch you snapping without paying for the privilege).

Heading further west you’ll find the Holocaust Memorial, a grid of concrete slabs of varying heights, reaching well above your head as you wander further in to its passageways.

And, delving further back in time, it’s just a short walk from here to the impressive neoclassical Brandenburg Gate, and the also-impressive Reichstag, Germany’s parliament.

3) Wander on Foot, Bike or Segway

Okay, so I like walking, and I’m pretty sure any city-break article I write would include the (not so) revelatory idea that walking about is a great way to get a feel for a place.

However, my own predispositions aside, I would argue that Berlin is a city that especially rewards this approach.

It doesn’t take long to get out of the central touristy area (which is itself, generally very pleasant and relatively uncrowded — but then, I do live in London), and pretty soon you find yourself in quiet, leafy streets, lined with beautifully aging apartments blocks and balconies hung with plants.

If walking’s not so much your thing, bike rental is also very popular and fairly inexpensive, starting from around €10 per day. And if you fancy trying something a little different, Segway tours seem to be a growing craze (for better or for worse).

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4) Indulge In Café Culture

As you stroll, cycle or Segway along, you’ll probably notice lots of cool-looking little cafes, bars and shops. During the daytime, these are ideal for sitting outside (in summer at least), grabbing a coffee and snack, and indulging in some people-watching.

In my experience, the food is likely to be at least pretty good (potentially very good), and all the tastier for being relatively inexpensive (though again, I should point out I live in London, so my perspective may be skewed).

As an example, the very first place I ate at was Nord-Sud, a little French restaurant on Auguststraße. The menu here changes every day, but there’s usually a choice of three different three-course menus, for the bargain price of just €8.

I initially assumed I’d misheard this, but no: three freshly sourced, high-quality courses for just €8. (And yes, I did have a sausage — I decided I’d better try one after all.)

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5) Enjoy Live Music, Definitely Not Just Techno

Finally, a brief note must be dedicated to Berlin’s music scene — brief not because the scene is in any way small or unimpressive, but because I’m unlikely to do it justice.

Suffice to say, there’s plenty going on across the full musical-genre spectrum, and, like everything else I’ve mentioned, it literally spills out onto the street.

During the day, you’ll find musicians busking in and around the city’s parks and squares, and at nighttime, many of those cool little cafes and bars turn into intimate venues.

On the way back to my hostel, I came across a gig happening in the street outside one of these cafes, holding captive many people who seemed, like me, to have just been wandering/cycling past.

Of course you can take a more organized approach, and there are larger venues, many of which join the city’s art galleries in gaining character from past lives — Fritz Club was once a post-loading hall, Lido is a former theater, and so on.

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Which pretty neatly brings us full circle. So, in place of beer, sausages and techno, how about cafes, culture and cycling? If someone had used those three words instead, I’m sure I would have visited years ago.

By Laura Bridgestock

[Topography of Terror by Roger Wollstadt/Flickr; Berlin Street Musicians by Thomas Quine/Flickr; Courtyard Cafe, Berlin by La Citta Vita/Flickr;

TheExpeditioner

About the Author

Laurabridgestockbiopic.jpgBased in London, U.K., Laura writes about student experiences in different countries for Top Universities, and covers women’s rights issues for Women’s Views on News. She loves London, but tries to get out of it as often as possible.

  • Angela

    Berlin is an amazing city, up there with London and New York in my opinion. Fascinating history!

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