My (non-definitive) list, based on my own experiences in Berlin.
1 Get your photos done at a Photoautomat
Once in Berlin, you’ll notice there are photobooths (photoautomats) all over the city. Unlike your boring new photobooths, they give you a retro-looking strip of four black and white photos.
It’s just one of those fun things to do with your mates to ensure you have a memento of your visit — get a few so you have one each! I’ve only used three of the various photobooths — and I shall warn you now, the one down the road from Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstraße is rubbish. Don’t use that one. Two of our friends, my fiance and I attempted to get several — hilares — photos using this device and each time one of us came out with no facial features. The one on Torstraße (near Rosa-Luxemburg Platz station) is much better, as is the one in Eberswalder Straße.
2 Get matching tattoos
Yeah, you can do this anywhere. But it’s always more fun if you do it on holiday and especially somewhere as fun and arty as Berlin. The good thing about getting a spontaneous tattoo here is that tattoo health and safety standards are pretty good. They only use needles once, rather than sterilising and using again. This does mean that it can cost quite a bit more, but when it comes to a needle in your body for a permanent drawing, I’d certainly rather pay for a bit of extra safety.
That said, there are your expensive options, and your cheap options — like anywhere. If you want an alternative experience then I’d definitely recommend a visit to White Trash, just down the road from Badeschiff (also very cool), in the South East. White Trash is a fast food restaurant with an in-house tattoo parlour called No Pain, No Brain. It’s worth visiting for the atmosphere and “fuck you fries” alone. My friend and I visited there wanting a tattoo to be told of the prices, near 60–80EUR each I think (don’t quote me) as they had to charge an hourly price for each due to their strict rules on needles. We only wanted a tiny wrist tattoo, so after attempting to haggle and losing, decided to stick with the food and find somewhere else.
So, the cheap option. This was no easy task. We headed back to my then home of Prenzlauer Berg and Googled for tattoo parlours, in the hope that with less reputation and hype, we’d find cheaper prices. After locating a few, walking to them and finding them closed for the day, we eventually found a little walk-in parlour near Rosenthaler Platz. Quite the experience. The receptionist, with her mean face and tattooed-on eyebrows grunted 40EUR each for our small tattoos, and we figured that was the best we were going to get. We sat in the waiting room, in line, watching the tattooist working, with mixed feelings of excitement and “are we making a huge mistake?” — nevertheless, it seemed like a pretty safe place, and after seeing a few customers walk away pleased with their tattoos, we decided to stick with it. The tattooist was a tiny man with receding but long hair, a crop top, ripped flares and huge boots. He was actually ace. After a few alterations, we were happy with our matching wrist tats.
3 Go on an alternative walking tour
You will notice various walking tours of the city that are run by several different companies. Quite a few of them are free. If it’s your first visit and you want a guide for all the must-sees, I would recommend a basic history walking tour. If you’re interested in the more alternative, underground side of Berlin, there is an alternative walking tour you can do. I wrote a review of the tour a few months back if you’d like more details, but essentially it is a tour of some of Berlin’s famous street art, a visit to some pretty cool areas including the cultural hot-pot Kreuzberg and my favourite little back-alley near Otto Weidt’s old workshop (that is all I will say!), as well as some interesting alternative history. If you’re interested, check details here.
4 Visit Yaam and the East Side Gallery
Yaam sits on the banks of the River Spree, and is an outdoor beach and bar (as well as so much more). Unfortunately, also on the banks of the River Spree is the Media Spree Project — which is selling off the space to large corporations. Yaam has already been moved once and now resides in a new location, but it might not be long before it’s moved again, so please do go before you miss it.
Round the corner from Yaam is the famous East Side Gallery. This is the longest stretch of the original wall, covered top-to-toe in art. If you walk on the inner (bare) side, it really gives you as near-as-possible a sense of the enclosing feeling of The Wall. There is some amazing art, some you’ll recognise, some new, but it is definitely worth visiting.
5 Eat, drink and be merry at Augustiner’s
This place. While I was living there, it was a firm favourite with my fiance and I. We took his family when they were visiting who loved it too. It is a Bavarian-style restaurant and bar located within the Gendanemmarkt, and it’s pretty huge. Filled with barrels, amazing Bavarian decor and staff in traditional German attire — if you’re looking for somewhere central with great German food, this is the place. Sure, there are probably less touristy places that are more traditional but this was our go-to place and I can’t recommend it enough. It was especially lovely at Christmastime, as you can imagine. I can highly recommend the knuckle of pork!
6 Go clubbing
My days of clubbing are kind of, well, over. However. I do appreciate that if you want clubbing, Berlin is the place. If you want a “proper” club, Watergate is highly recommended by a friend of mine. There is a club near Kottbusser Tor station called Ritter Butzke which has multiple rooms accessible via an outdoor courtyard, that I would highly recommend for a night out. When we where there, there was a clubnight, an alternative night held in a room decorated like something out of an alternative Alice in Wonderland, and a chilled out art show (it was Berlin Art Week). If you’re feeling lucky, you can also attempt to get into the mighty Berghain, (probably) only for the experience of being turned away by the scary-looking bouncer, Sven. If you want something a bit smaller, there are some ace little places in Kreuzberg, such as Madame Claud’s, where everything is upside-down. Kreuzberg is an excellent place to begin, if only because that’s where Bowie and Iggy used to hang out. Although, my friends and I went to SO36, the bar they frequented, all excited only to find a Salsa night. We left. I’d highly recommend having a walk around and discovering places for yourself in this district — you’ll never know what you may find. Just be aware that nights out start pretty late in Berlin, so don’t go to a club too early.
7 Go shopping
There is SO much shopping to be done in Berlin — for every taste. Premium brands are seemingly everywhere here, as well as little boutiques and your highstreet chains such as Urban Outfitters. If you’re looking for premium brands and a generally high end shopping experience, check out KaDeWe. It is an impressive department store that I’d liken to Selfridges or Harrods. It houses make up and beauty, women’s and men’s fashion and accessories, home products, and a lovely cafe bar which sits behind the gorgeous huge rounded windows. Once you’re done there (if you ever are), take a walk nearby down the Ku’Damm, a large street modeled on the Champs Elysees in Paris, adorned with shops of all kinds.
If you want high end independent boutiques as well as few high street favourites, check out the area around Rosenthaler Straße in Mitte, it’s not far from AlexanderPlatz. You can get the U-bahn to Rosa-Luxemburg Platz, walk left and work your way down.
8 Take in the history
I couldn’t write a to do list for Berlin without mentioning history. I am a history buff, and Germany’s — particularly Berlin’s — history fascinates me. I find it magical that a city exposed to such horror, chaos and darkness now has one of the happiest vibes. If you want to cover off the must-sees, I would start at the Brandenburg Gate. Beware of any fake soldiers trying to grab the attention of tourists, I’ve been captured before. Also watch out for Predator and Darth Vader who sometimes make an appearance — though what that has to do with Germany’s history I’ll never know.
From there, ahead of you is Unter Den Linden, the famous tree-lined street that the Nazi’s marched down on their way to the Reichstag, to the right, which is also worth a visit if not just to see the outside of the magnificent structure. If you want to go inside the glass dome, which gives you a 360 view of Berlin along with a headset guide that goes through Berlin’s vast history as you walk up and down the spiral, you have to book. You can do so online very easily but make sure you take your passport along with you as there’s a security check before you go in — it is still a government building, after all.
Walk to the left and you’ll see the Holocaust Memorial, or, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It’s an astounding structure and I would highly recommend you visit it, and walk through in silence. Too many people seem to find the “hide-and-seek” element amusing and it always bugs me. There are other memorials around the city for homosexuals and gypsies also murdered by the Nazi’s during the Second World War, it’s important that they are all remembered so visit if you can.
I’d also recommend visiting Checkpoint Charlie, named so not because of a man named Charlie, but simply phonetically, the third checkpoint. It’s a famous checkpoint with a recreation of the original view — and hidden somewhere in the street is a very interesting museum which details everything you’d need to know about The Wall, including the division of Germany and some individual stories of strength.
If you have time, further out is the Olympic Stadium of 1936, well worth seeing as an example of Nazi architecture. If you enjoy veering off the normal path, there are other things further out you can visit, such as Haus am Wannsee Konferenz, now a Holocaust museum, that was once home to the planning of the Final Solution.
I could go on, but as I said, if you’re a first timer, go on a walking tour — it’ll ensure you get some things checked off the list. It takes a few visits to see everything.
9 Watch Karaoke at Mauer Park
If you have a spare Sunday, visit Mauer Park. This is a large park in the East. On Sundays, it is home to a fleamarket, which is raved about — to be honest, my fiance and I went and were pretty disappointed. It appeared to us like a bit of a tat-market, with echoes of a once-awesome, grab memorabilia for a bargain vibe. Of course, that is what happens — it starts with some ace old items from the GDR, and a smaller audience looking for genuine items and then everyone talks about it and over a few years, tat makes an appearance.
Anyway — also featuring on a Sunday at the park is Karaoke. You can sit outside, bask in the sun and watch people sing or take part yourself. I’m sure I don’t need to describe the concept of karaoke to you, but just imagine that, outside, with lots of other people, in Berlin.
10 Play Ping Pong
A light-hearted one to finish. Just down the road from Eberswalder Straße station is Dr Pong. This is an industrial-style, small (and a bit grotty) bar featuring, you guessed it, a Ping Pong table. You purchase a bat with your drink, wait for a game to start, and get involved. The players walk round the table, batting the ball on their turn, or losing, until two players remain. Then everyone watches and cheers while the two battle it out and one is victorious. Then it all starts again. Of course, there are some who take it very seriously, but ignore them and just have fun. Every time I tried I was out on my first go, one time hitting another sorry player in the face with the ball (by accident!).
Images: Jennifer McDermott, top10berlin.de, Flickr, Resident Adviser, everplaces.com, awayplan.com, bloggeratlarge.com, uberpong.com, berlincitytours.com, gruenderszene.de/