Steeped in history, Berlin has been the capital city of the united Federal Republic of Germany since 1990. In that time, it has become one of the hippest and most vibrant urban centres in Europe — with a flourishing cultural scene, brilliant nightlife, and a plethora of bars, restaurants, shops and cafés, as well as green open spaces. Read on for a few insider tips on what to explore off the beaten track.
Things to see and do
Mauer Memories — Berlin Wall Trail
The loop route along the boundaries of former West-Berlin is also known as the Berlin Wall Trail (Mauerweg). The approximately 160 km (100 miles) loop road is accessible by bike, skates or on foot. The trail follows the former border that ran through and around West Berlin. It turned those parts of the city into an island surrounded by the former East Germany from 1961 until 1989.
Everyone is invited to enjoy all the sights along the road from forests, rivers and parks at the “outer parts” of the trail, as well as architecture and lively city atmosphere at the inner parts of the loop. Along the route there are information stands about historic events in the time of the Cold War and successful escapes. Fears as well as hopes of those fleeing former East Germany are described. But it also depicts personal stories and notes about the dead of the wall (known as Mauertote).
The Berlin Wall Trail combines history and being active in a very distinctive way. At the same time you can see how nature took back areas which used to be known as “death strips”, where people in East Berlin were prohibited to go.
Berlin’s Wall Park (Mauerpark) that used to be a border strip, is the perfect place to go on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Check out the huge weekly flea market, which sells almost anything you can imagine, from vintage handbags to Soviet helmets. If you’re feeling particularly brave, you can also try out a Berlin tradition — outdoor karaoke! Organised by locals, Bear Pit Karaoke lets anyone turn up and have a go at serenading those relaxing in the park with their favourite song. Don’t be put off by the intimidating name, however — almost every singer, no matter how horrendous, is guaranteed a round of applause.
East Side Gallery
Formed of sections from the former Berlin Wall, the East Side Gallery is a permanent installation showcasing some spectacular examples of street art.
Tiergarten is the second biggest public park in Berlin and is located right in the city centre. Within walking distance to other famous Berlin sights like the Brandenburg Gate, the Victory Column or the Reichstag, home of the German Bundestag, the park is a refuge from the loud and busy city life. Tiergarten used to be the royal hunting ground in the 16th century. Nowadays you can walk among mature trees, classic sculptures, ponds and breathe fresh air in an area much more similar to a forest due to its massive size and bunch of trees.
Only a few years ago Tempelhofer Feld was an airfield. Used by the American Allies as an airport and army base until the 1990’s, Tempelhofer Feld is today the biggest park of the German capital. Since 2008 it has been used as a public park, where everyone is invited to spend their free time. Whether it is by bike, on roller skates or even flex-wing, you can get active in the designated areas. But you can also take your barbecue and have a nice BBQ with your loved ones around or meet people from all over the world. Note: there are almost no trees, because the aim to preserve the impression of an airfield does not allow the plantation of trees.
A former Cold War listening post, the spectacular Teufelsberg complex looks like something out of a science fiction movie, perched on an artificial mountain to the west of the city. Abandoned for almost twenty years, the site has since been reinvented as a creative space by Berlin artists and musicians. Whilst off-limits to the public due to the somewhat dilapidated state of some of its buildings, the Teufelsberg is open for official tours.
A striking courtyard complex made up of restaurants, shops, bars, cinemas, theatres and galleries, Hackesche Höfe is one of Berlin’s hidden gems. The striking Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) architecture makes for a gorgeous backdrop for a cocktail outside on a balmy evening. If the weather’s a little inclement, take in a film or a cabaret show.
Maybachufer Turkish Market
Berlin’s Kreuzberg district is home to many people of Turkish heritage, so it’s no surprise that the riverside Turkish Market, which runs twice a week all year round, has so much on offer. Here you can find a wide range of delicious Turkish food and drink. It’s a particularly good place for fresh fruit and vegetables — go along to the very end to get the best deals.
British-German Town Twinnings
Town twinnings between British and German cities play an important role in promoting cultural exchange. Berlin has been twinned with London since 2000.