“I don’t believe there is anything in the whole earth that you can’t learn in Berlin except the German language.” – Mark Twain’s Notebook
The Zeitgeist of Berlin emboldens you to do whatever you want. Eat whatever you want, wear whatever you want, learn and study whatever you want. But try to speak German with a Berliner and they will probably insist on English. In other words, it’s fine if you have not mastered that Dativ case yet. Berliners save their dialect for each other.
Berlin is a city of water, bridges, greenways, parks, museums, and volumes of preserved living history juxtaposed among skyscrapers and dreamy medieval structures. It is a city that does forsake or hide any part of its past.
My song for this is “The Metro” by the band Berlin,
Previously I wrote about Berlin’s fascinating history in my blog Jeder Einmal in Berlin. That entry is centered around events that happened between World War I through the Cold War and has my list of must-see places, but it may not be for everyone.
Here are my suggestions for a nice visit to Berlin that has absolutely nothing to do with war or tragedy.
1. Take a River Cruise
Berlin has over 1,000 bridges, that’s even more than Venice! River cruises are the best way to see the city when your feet are blistered from walking, and help to gain a more uplifting perspective when needed.
Germans are outdoor enthusiasts- whether it’s hiking, skiing, climbing, running, or just enjoying a nice afternoon in the park. Parks and riverbanks are always full of people sitting on blankets and socializing. Don’t be afraid to join them!
River cruises are also a great way to unwind and collect your thoughts after a full day of navigating and making decisions. Even the most avid adventurers don’t mind letting someone else take the wheel sometimes.
2. Splurge on Delicious German Food
You really can not beat German food. You can find pretzels, sausages, schnitzels, sandwiches, and beer on every corner but there are so many lesser known hearty dishes that can only be found in Germany.
Traditional German restaurants can be a bit pricey sometimes but are filled with beautifully carved wood and decor, and I always fall for Old World flair.
Nervous about dining in Germany? Check out a few tips at the end of this blog.
3. Visit Unique Museums
Berlin’s most famous museum is actually a complex called Museum Insel, a UNESCO world heritage site with five beautiful museums on one island.
Some of Berlin’s gorgeous museums as seen from the river cruise.
Berlin Naturkunde (Natural History) Museum has a jaw-dropping collection of treasures from the natural world.
One of my favourite galleries is the notorious East Side Gallery in Freidrichshain that you can read about here, and VisitBerlin has an excellent collection of even more museums and galleries in Berlin that you can read here.
4. Chill in Public Squares
Pariserplatz, Potsdamerplatz, Hackescher Markt, and Alexanderplatz are a few of my squares to visit, especially if you are only there for a short trip.
Alexanderplatz is full of monuments, shops, restaurants, and Renaissance sculptures including the famous Neptunbrunnen.
Neptunbrunnen (Neptune’s Fountain) depicts the Roman god Neptune looking out across his imagined kingdom. It is an extremely popular spot to meet and take photos.
Four women surround Neptune in this fountain, and each lady represents the four rivers flowing through what was Prussia. The woman below in the foreground holding grapes represents the Rhein.
Hackescher Markt is a lively square with several restaurants and nightclubs with a shared courtyard.
Pariser Platz and the Brandenburg Tor (gate) is Berlin’s most iconic square. It is easy to reach and join a walking tour because they always meet here.
5. Give in to Voyeurism
The Fernsehturm TV Tower is the tallest structure in Germany, making it the perfect place for people watching. Its highest point reaches nearly 1200 feet, and it has an elevator that leads to a complete 360 view of the city.
Definitely spend a few Euros to ride up to the top for a most incredible view. The Fernsehturm website has a gorgeous video of the city near the bottom of the page.
6. Treat Yourself in the Main Shopping District
Kurfürstendamm, more commonly known as Ku’Damm, is one of the most famous boulevards in Berlin and crosses the city from West to East. Ku’Damm is Berlin’s answer to the Champs Elysees in Paris and if you can’t find what you need here, you don’t need it.
There are countless historical buildings like the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, the Europa Cultural Center, blocks or plazas dedicated to famous artists, and some offbeat museums.
7. Time Travel to Medieval Berlin
Nikolaivertel (NIkolai Quarter) was built around the reconstructed Nikolaikirche (church) and is the oldest parish in Berlin. It was rebuilt to some degree in the late 80s and has numerous restaurants and taverns, biergartens, boutiques, fountains, sculptures, and historical plaques.
It is a pedestrian-friendly and quaint craftsman village with highly skilled woodworkers, basket weavers, jewelry makers, iron works, and other trades on display.
A small exhibit called Ephraim Place from the 1700s showcases some of Berlin’s craftsman history and other exhibitions.
8. Search for Bears
The origin of the name Berlin comes from two sources, but in this case let’s say it means Bear, or Bär in German.
Countless bears are scattered all over Berlin, painted with maps and popular neighbourhood features. They are bright and colourful, and remind me of the painted bears I used to see all over Knoxville, USA.
Staying for an extended period? Consider a visit to Charlottenburg Palace, the Tiergarten zoo, Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Gardens, the Badeschiff swimming ship, the zany Monsterkabinett amusement park, or follow me into some of Berlin’s dark history.
Are you thinking of all the bad things you have heard about customer service in Germany? Feeling a little intimidated about taking on a server who does not greet you with a huge fake smile? I have been asked how to deal with “rude German servers” SO many times.
It is true that customer service in Germany is not the same as in the USA, with some aspects I actually prefer, but here are some suggestions.
- Check out the online menu or the menu posted outside before entering to get an idea of what you want or prepare any specific questions. If you seem to be indecisive or to have all the time in the world to place your order, servers will move on to other guests who are ready. This is really no different than anywhere else in the world. Basically, think ahead and be an opportunist with time.
- Be prepared to pay in Euro bills/coins, not credit cards. Many places may accept credit cards for a fee.
- Be prepared to receive one tab, regardless of how large your group is. It will be up to you to split it among yourselves and pay in Euros, not by multiple separate credit transactions. This is not always the case in larger cities or tourist areas but being prepared just in case will lessen frustrations.
- It is polite to tip in Germany, but never an excessive amount. 10-15% is normal. However, do not wait for your server to count back every cent of your change first before you pick it up and decide how much to set back on the table as a tip. This is seen as extremely degrading and rude.
Instead, try this-
Say that the server tells you that the total is 13 Euros.
You plan to pay with a 20 Euro bill and leave a 2 Euro tip.
This means you will ultimately give the server 15 Euros total out of 20.
As you hand the 20 Euros to the server, immediately tell them to just give you five back. In German you might say “Mach’s fünf”
Paying/tipping in one combined step will lead to a much more pleasant experience, I promise.
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