Spend a weekend in Berlin, like a local
Explore the beautiful and historic capital of Germany with our insider tips for two days in Berlin. See how many top things to do in Berlin you can fit in a weekend!
Berlin’s beauty is that it’s a city full of possibilities. Whether you’re looking for historical exploration, a pampered five-star weekend, gourmet discovery, or shopping and more shopping, Berlin has choices for the bohemian and business traveller alike. It beautifully meshes punk and posh, with grand opera, art galleries and Michelin-starred dining venues alongside street art, a hedonistic club scene and tasty ethnic food stalls.
Berlin left its impact on the 20th century as a leader in avant-garde art, music and literature, before Hitler rose to power. The city is charged with an edgy vibe in architecture, fashion, art and food, yet it functions on an unpretentious level that makes Germany’s trendy capital accessible to any visitor.
A weekend in Berlin barely scratches the surface of the city’s immensity, but weekenders will get a taste of why Berliners are so proud of their cultural hub. Berlin doesn’t have a single city centre like other cities, partly due to decades of division and because modern Berlin is the sum of several townships that were united in 1920. The city’s hectic pace is overcome by excellent public transportation links, which make it easy to cross the western and eastern parts of the city.
In 2014 Berlin marks 25 years since the fall of the Berlin wall, and the city promises a cultural-packed agenda to commemorate this anniversary. Since the wall’s collapse, Berlin has busied itself growing into a stimulating creative and cultural centre of Europe, and the city’s many faces make a whirlwind weekend in Berlin an exhilarating ride.
As one of Europe’s largest capitals, Berlin is well served by daily flights and public transport links are excellent between the city centre and Berlin Schönefeld Airport and Tegel Airport. The fastest route is via the Airport Express train, which connects directly to Berlin’s Central Station (Hauptbahnhof). If you know your destination, the S-Bahn, regional trains and buses provide services every 10 to 20 minutes to various parts of the city. Depending on which airport you arrive, tickets range from an average of EUR 2.50 to EUR 3.50, with Tegel Airport being cheaper due to its proximity. A taxi will cost from EUR 25 to EUR45, and should be metered. If you have a Berlin WelcomeCard or CityTourCard, public transport will be free, alongside discounts for cultural sites.
Where to stay
Berlin’s many faces come alive in its distinct neighbourhoods. Each locality caters to a different crowd, and as there’s no set city centre, it’s important to research and decide which neighbourhood is accessible for your weekend plans in Berlin’s immense metropolis. There are at least two main centres: in the east around Alexanderplatz and in the west around Breitscheidplatz and Zoologischer Garten, both divided by the vast inner-city park of Tiergarten. As its name suggests, Mitte (‘Middle’) is one of Berlin’s central areas to the most iconic monuments, which can be ideal for first-time travellers. In this district, you can choose from Berlin Old Town, Alexanderplatz, or Museum Island, an ideal area for those who want to hit up Berlin’s museum cluster. Charlottenburg-Wilmersdor and Prenzlauer Berg provide upscale accommodation alongside boutique shopping and chic restaurants, while Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain will appeal to the young, arty, or party-going crowds. For modern facilities, the rebuilt area of Potsdam Platz has landmark towers, entertainment facilities and a shopping arcade.
Spend 48-hours in Berlin
Day one: Diving into Berlin’s history
A good German buffet breakfast of meats, cheeses and breads will prepare you for trekking the city. The tree-lined avenue Unter den Linden is a good start, which stretches from Museum Island to the Brandenburg Gate. Here you can stumble across the shopping street of Friedrichstraße, as well as the Gendarmenmarkt, which some Berliners believe to be Germany’s most beautiful place. Surrounding the square are the German and French cathedrals and the Concert House. At the end of Unter den Linden, you can snap your photo with the Prussian remnant of the Brandenburg gate, Berlin’s only surviving gate, which was also used as one of the Berlin Wall crossings and became a symbol of Berlin’s reunification. Near the Brandenburg gate sits the imposing Reichstag, the seat of the German Parliament and a historic landmark. The glass dome atop provides vast city views but visitors must register in advance to enter it. Otherwise, you can get a bird's eye view from the 386metre-high Fernsehturm (‘Television Tower’), which rises up from Alexanderplatz as a mark of the reunited capital and is the fourth highest freestanding structure in Europe.
For a curious site, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is a four-building complex in the centre of the Breitscheidplatz. The church burned down from allied bombing in World War II, and the remaining tower was merged with a new concrete and glass construction that contrasts the neo-Romanesque remains. From here you’ll find the Kurfürstendamm exclusive shopping street and Europe's biggest department store KaDeWe. As some shops close on Sunday, you might want to squeeze in your shopping on Saturday.
A hearty lunch
German cuisine is rich and meat-heavy but delicious. Snitzel is a popular German dish with international fame, but for something different, try the sauerbraten (a pot roast, meaning ‘sour’ or ‘pickled’ roast), eintopf, a meat and vegetable stew, or kartoffelpuffer, shallow pan-fried pancakes made from potatoes. An apple-filled strudel or red berry pudding (rote grutze) tops off a hearty German meal. Although, being a multicultural hub, Berlin is also a great place to try ethnic food, particularly Turkish cuisine.
Travel back to the Third Reich
As the historic capital of the Nazi Third Reich, many of Berlin’s renowned sites stem from its Nazi occupation. Germany doesn’t shy away from its tumultuous past, and a range of exhibitions and sites educate visitors on Germany’s fascist period. You can visit the site of Hilter’s former bunker and chancellery, the former SS and Gestapo headquarters, the Topography of Terror (a frank account of the Nazis’ Secret State Police Office), Checkpoint Charlie (a crossing point in the Berlin wall), the Holocaust Memorial, and Goebbels' Propaganda Ministry – to name a few. For those who prefer not to navigate Berlin’s cityscape on their own, there are many walking tours that explain the historical significance of each site. If you’ve had your fill of walking, you can also choose from bike, bus, and boat tours to hit up Berlin’s main sites.
End your tour by taking time to absorb the chilling power of the Berlin wall. Since 1990 artworks have been appearing on the wall, and now it is often described as a memorial to freedom. The most colourful sections can be found at the East Side Gallery, which is the longest stretch of the Berlin Wall still in existence.
Berlin clubbing – all night long
You can easily stumble across a hoard of popular and sophisticated bars and clubs, particularly in the areas of Mitte, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg. But to take advantage of Berlin’s alternate scene, ask the locals where they are going and you might be lucky enough to stumble across Berlin’s renowned underground scene. Berliners are proud of their nightlife, and are generally very helpful. Even the tourism board, www.visitberlin.de, proudly lists some of Berlin’s hottest spots.
Day two: Flea markets galore
As the saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, and you’ll find this epitomised in Berlin’s abundant Sunday flea markets. One of the largest is the Flohmarkt am Mauerpark. Directly adjacent to the Mauerpark (Park of the Wall) in the Prenzlauer Berg district, you can rummage through vintage treasures, antique furniture, household bric-a-brac, clothing, jewellery and anything else you can think of. There are many cosy cafes nearby to regroup. For those closer to Friedrichshain, there’s a vibrant flea market at Boxhagener Platz, and on both sides of the Charlottenburge Gate near Tiergarten, a market is held from 10am to 5pm.
Germany makes more than 1,500 types of wurst (sausage) and street stalls sell them everywhere. Popular sausages include bratwurst (fried sausage), Wiener (Viennese), and blutwurst and schwarzwurst, which are both blood sausages. The regional speciality is Berlin’s currywurst (sausage with curried ketchup on the top). Grab one to takeaway for a pinic lunch in Berlin’s huge urban park, the Tiergarten, which was once the hunting grounds of the Brandenburg elite.
Berlin’s artistic side
Berlin has more than 200 museums, although the UNESCO world heritage site of Museum Island is a great place to spend a Sunday afternoon browsing Germany’s collection of cultural treasures from ancient to modern civilisations. Here you will find five museums clustered together: the Altes Museum with ancient Greek and Roman artifacts; the Neue Nationalgalerie hosting Germany’s largest collection of 20th-century artworks; the restored Nues Museum with prehistoric pieces and Egyptian art, including the bust of Queen Nefertiti; the Pergamon Museum, one of the world’s major archaeological museums; and the Bode Museum displays a large mixed collection. Also stunning is the Liebeskind-designed Jewish Museum, or for food lovers, there’s even a humble Currywurst museum. For an art alternate tour, you can explore Berlin's graffiti and street art scene – several tours also cater for this, some of which are free.
After filling your mind with cultural history, head to one of Berlin’s upscale districts, such as Charlottenburg-Wilmersdor and Prenzlauer Berg, to sample Berlin’s fine dining and end your weekend getaway on a high note.
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