David Whitley finds out what you should be recommending to travel clients visiting the German capital
The historic centre of Berlin can eat up days in its own right. Forget chocolate box cutesiness – Mitte is all stern, pompous buildings, historic import and must-go museums. This is the place to do serious tourism, whether that’s walking tours around the sites linked to the Nazi regime or getting a dose of classical art and antiquities on Museum Island.
Mitte is home to Berlin’s icon, the Brandenburg Gate, with its Quadriga statue of four galloping horses on top
Most tours leave from either outside here Brandenburg Gate or from the Alexanderplatz TV tower. Around Hackesche Markt, you’ll find terrace cafes and indie shops lining the pavements, as well as some quality street art if you start nosying down the passageways on Rosenthalerstrasse.
What to do: Next to the Brandenburg Gate, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a field of grey, concrete stelae of different sizes. It’s deliberately abstract, and hugely unsettling to walk through.
It should be paired up with a visit to Topographie Des Terrors, which is unflinching in explaining how the Nazi regime took power and the horrors of the system.
Then gear up to explore the excellent museums of Mitte. The DDR Museum, which looks at life in the former East Germany, is in equal measures grim and quirky, but Museum Island contains the big-hitters.
The Neues Museum majors in ancient Egypt, the Altes Museum in Greece and Rome, the Pergamonmuseum is the place for monumental ancient architecture and the Alte Nationalgalerie houses an abundance of 19th-century art.
In a city that can be quite full on, this sprawling park is the place to chill out, go for a stroll and maybe have a drink in a beer garden. It is full of monuments and memorials, and neighbours the most traditionally energetic sections of West Berlin.
Shopaholics should hit up the designer-lined Kurfürstendamm strip or newer, more indie-inclined Bikini Mall for a spree
What to do: There are several pretty spots in the Tiergarten, but the Rose Garden is a guaranteed winner in season. Just south of the park, the Bauhaus Archiv delves into the development and execution of Bauhaus architecture and the German Resistance Memorial Centre looks at those who fought against Nazi rule.
Technically the northern part of Mitte, Scheunenviertel has a very different vibe from the rest of the central district. Here, plenty of excellent and experimental – often vegan – restaurants gather. The frenzied pace of development along the river Spree is offset by the delightful oddness of Beach Mitte, a massive artificial beach covered in bar tables and volleyball courts.
What to do: The Berlin Wall ran along Bernauerstrasse, and the Memorial stretching along it today acts as a superb open-air museum. Escape tunnel routes are marked on the ground, dramatic photos of flashpoints are put on the walls of apartment blocks and the photos of the victims are printed on glass bricks. It’s a really good insight into what the wall was like both visually and psychologically.
Once edgy and a symbol of Berlin cool, Prenzlauer Berg has now settled into being a neighbourhood of prams, lunching mums and chilled-out wine bars. It’s a place to mooch and graze, and is the part of the city that those who prefer to go at a slow pace, hopping between bars, cafes and bakeries, will be happiest in.
What to do: The food focus makes Prenzlauer Berg a popular spot for gourmet tours. Plus the Mauerpark, right on the edge of the neighbourhood, is gloriously weird on Sundays, when locals gather in the concrete amphitheatre for ‘bearpit karaoke’ and the adjacent flea market hits full swing.
Friedrichshain, to the east of Mitte, is where the grungy image of Berlin is best maintained. Projects like Yaam – a former wasteland turned bizarre hybrid of African street food, beach bar, club, music venue and gallery – best show this off. The area around Boxhagener Platz is also sprinkled with good local shops and restaurants.
What to do: The East Side Gallery is the most famous remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, and is covered in murals. There’s better street art at RAW-Gelände, however. This former railyard is now home to a Miami-esque outdoor pool in a ruined building, a skate park, several bars, art projects and some of Berlin’s top clubbing. For something completely different, the Computer Games Museum is an entertaining look at the history of video games.
Kreuzberg’s reputation is hip, but its western side is surprisingly green and sedate, with gardens blooming inside a former canal. The eastern side has more energy, with its Turkish population showing through in an array of kebab shops, which sit side by side with plenty of craft beer bars and globe-spanning restaurants.
What to do: There are some traditional attractions here – the Deutsches Technikmuseum is one of those science museums that’s fantastic for kids, and the Judisches Museum looks at the history of Jewish people in Germany, before and after the holocaust. Turn up at Markthalle Neun on a Thursday evening for its street food market.
Where to Stay in Berlin
The Hotel Oderberger (pictured below) in Prenzlauer Berg is set in a former public baths, now transformed into a simple Scandi-chic hotel with plenty of quirks thanks to the eccentric design of the original building. From €129 for a double. hotel-oderberger.berlin
The Weinmeister, close to Hackesche Markt in Mitte, has a bold arty streak to it, with its staircase turned into one giant mural, and rooms that are more like showcases for different artists. Doubles from €79. the-weinmeister.com
Hotel Berlin, just south of the Tiergarten, is huge and impressively individual, with bedroom walls given over to locals to recommend their favourite places in Berlin. Prices start at around €79. hotel-berlin.de
How to sell Berlin: A Travel Agent’s Guide
Accessible travel: Berlin is well set up for travellers with disabilities. It’s pancake-flat, and most attractions and public transport options are accessible to wheelchair users.
Getting around: Walking and cycling tours are abundant, available through the likes of Urban Adventures, Isango and Viator.
Generic overview tours are best avoided in favour of those focused on a topic such as Cold War history, food or street art
City pass: The Berlin Welcome Card includes a range of discounts on attractions and covers public transport. Sell it in advance and customers can use it to get the bus or S-Bahn train from the airport.