Destination Insight: Berlin City Guide
Affordable rents, outstanding transport connections, open-minded outlooks and a certain scruffy, bohemian energy has swiftly established post-reunification Berlin as a mecca for start-ups, making it an essential city on any business traveller's map.
Here are a just a few of the many ways to spend your downtime in Berlin.
Frequent some Beer Gardens
Nobody does beer gardens (or biergartens) with quite as much panache as the Germans, and Berlin is no exception. They're eminently social spaces which place just as much emphasis on people watching, catching up with friends on huge communal benches while sampling a wide array of local food as they do on the main attraction, the beer itself.
There are dozens to choose from across the city, but some of the best ones include the fairy lit Parter Garten, in achingly hip Prenzlaur Berg and Brauhaus Sudstern in Kreuzberg, south of the River Spree, where you can even meet the master brewer and learn how he concocts his potent poison.
Picture the East Side Gallery
If you only manage to find time for one attraction on your Berlin business trip, make it this one.
The largest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall is now one vast, mile-long mural of 118 fantastic eye-popping public artworks by over 20 of international artists.
In particular, look out for the heroic Trabant bursting through the barriers, and the iconic scene of German statesmen Honecker and Breschnew exchanging an intimate moment. It’s completely free to view too.
See the Brandenburg Gate via the Tiergarten
The city's defining monument is of course the mighty Brandenburg Gate, erected by architect Carl Gotthard Langhans in 1791 as a palatial symbol of peace which dominates the city centre.
The broad thoroughfare leading to the Gate, Unter der Linden, is just as touristy as you might expect, studded as it is with souvenir shops, Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts franchises, but you can reach it in a far more pleasant fashion by strolling through the Tiergarten, a vast park with a boating lake, biking trails and yes of course, its own pleasant beirgarten to boot.
Take the Berlin Music Tour
Among the myriad range of interesting walking tours available in Berlin, one of our firm favourites is the 'Fritz Music Tour', which gives you an alternative view of the city's Mitte area, including social unrest and the area's anarchistic squatting scene.
Animated locals put you through your paces pointing out underground music venues and clubs from the punk era onwards to the modern day, taking in legendary clubs like White Trash Fast Food (which looks like a Chinese restaurant from the street) and the sweaty basement box of hardcore techno that is Tresor.
The tour departs from the Kulture Brauerei, an arts and entertainment complex housed in a former brewery which is well worth spending some time exploring.
The tourbus version also takes you inside Hansa Studios where David Bowie, Depeche Mode and U2 have all recorded at pivotal stages of their careers.
Visit the Holocaust Memorial & Berlin Wall Memorial
To truly understand the spirit of a city it often pays to spend some time appreciating its history, even if that means dwelling in some uncomfortable subject matter. Berlin chooses to memorialise its recent and checkered history in sober fashion with two starkly effective memorials in particular.
The Berlin Wall Memorial uses original fixtures from the structure itself to tell the personal stories of some of the final people who lost their lives in desperate bids for freedom.
The more recent Holocaust Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is even more low key in nature, being a dense maze of plain grey concrete plinths and pillars reminiscent of gravestones, arranged at varying heights which visitors can walk around.
Both are free to visit. We don't need to tell you this, but sadly some tourists seem to exhibit a shocking lack of respect for the lives these memorials are dedicated to, posing for tasteless selfies as this article demonstrates, so please don't follow their example.
Delve into Berlin's Jewish History
On a similar tack, Berlin has a rich Jewish heritage which can be celebrated in a wide variety of ways these days. Experience some contemporary twists on the traditional Jewish music of klezmer, with variants encompassing elements of gipsy swing, Russian folk, flamenco, jazz and tango.
Stroll around the pleasingly intimate independent shopping arcades housed in the former Jewish ghetto of Hackeschen Hofe, which is a fine place to treat yourself to a ampleman decoration, still one of the city's iconic symbols which you might have spotted from the distinctive traffic lights. And you'll surely by tempted by some kosher cuisine of course. Try the rugelacchs and latkes on sale at the Best Daily Dishes Kosher Cafe and Bakery or stop in for a pastrami bagel at Italian-Jewish hybrid that is the Gourmet Deli Luigi Zuckermann.
See some Contemporary Art
Contemporary art is practically a living, breathing entity of the city, you'll find plenty to inspire and challenge you at every turn. There is fantastic street art everywhere, not to mention copious subversive grafiti daubed on virtually every building in the east and Mitte areas.
The Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwar housed in a former railway station building hosts anyone who's anyone in modern art milieu, including the likes of Andreas Gursky, Joseph Bueys and Robert Rauschenburg.
Then there's the mysterious Sammlung Boros Collection, housed in an ex-World War Two bunker, which is only open by appointment during the weekend and which showcases work by the likes of Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas and Wolfgang Tilmans.
To top it all, there's the UNESCO World Heritage Site Museum Island where serious culture vultures can gorge themselves on treasures split across five sites, from Byzantine at and sculptures in the Bode Museum to the steam-built architectural marvel of Neues Museum housing countless classical antiquities, from Egypt and pre-history.
Sample some Currywurst
One of the city's defining culinary innovations is the ever-popular street food of currywurst, For the uninitiated, this is simply German sausage sliced and doused in copious measures of ketchup and turmeric, which was 'invented' by Herta Huewer in 1949 when she got her hands on both condiments from British soldiers amid the rigours of strict rationing.
Opinions on the best place to sample it tend to divide between old east and west rivalries, with 'Ossies' favouring Curry 36 and 'Wessies' swearing by Konnopke, but really it is a very basic, cheap late night staple widely available across the city. There is even a Currywurst Museum, believe it or not, such is the hefty cultural significance attached to a simple sausage snack.
Getting to Berlin
Berlin’s main international airport, Tegel, is 8 km from the city centre with a number of bus providing connections into town.
Schonefeld is Berlin's secondary airport, served mostly by budget airlines, it's 18km southeast of the centre. The Airport Express Train takes 28 minutes and runs regularly between 5am and 11pm.
Of course Berlin is right at the heart of Europe's railway network with easy connections from many key cities, including Amsterdam, Prague, Zurich, Vienna, Hamburg and Warsaw.
Getting Around Berlin
Berlin's impressively integrated transport system is arguably the envy of Europe. One ticket can be used across a network, comprising reliable overground S Bahn trains, bright yellow-coloured underground U Bahn trains, trams and buses. Many run late into the night too. One way 'short journey' fares start from around 1.30 Euros, with day tickets costing around 4.70.
Need to Know
For more info on Berlin, just visit http://www.visitberlin.de/en