Berlin is one of the most open, accepting cities in the world, a fact that exists almost in direct contrast with its sordid history. From the rise of the Third Reich to the imposing Berlin Wall, the city has endured a lot of pain. Berlin acknowledges and memorializes its heavy past, ensuring that the history is remembered as the city evolves into one of unparalleled nightlife, art, and inclusivity.
When visiting Berlin, there are a number of historical sights that demand a visit. The East Side Gallery, housing the longest stretch of the Berlin Wall still standing, is famed for its panel-like paintings commissioned from artists around the world after the wall fell. It’s rare for a city to boast a site that contains history, art, and a beautiful atmospheric walk all in one, but the East Side Gallery does just that and is a perfect introduction to Berlin.
Also unmissable when it comes to art is the Berlinische Galerie. This modern art museum, one of Berlin’s newest, features a standing collection as well as rotating exhibits of Berlin art from 1870 onward. A visit to Berlinische is well worth it, and usually less crowded than the touristy Museum Island. The first Monday of every month entrance is only 4 Euros, a nice treat for your travel budget.
Berlin has some excellent walking tours, and most will take you around Brandenburg Tor and the surrounding monuments. It’s definitely worth spending extra time wandering amongst the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The memorial, designed by architect Peter Eisenman, is a field of gray concrete slabs that rise in height towards the center, invoking feelings of claustrophobia and oppression. The memorial is controversial for many reasons, but I was extremely moved by it. A formal Holocaust museum stands adjacent to the concrete slabs and is also worth visiting, though be prepared for hour-long lines at peak visiting hours.
Two neighborhoods stood out during this particular Berlin visit. Kreuzberg, where we were lucky enough to stay with a friend of mine, was reminiscent of some neighborhoods in Brooklyn with its abundance of thrift stores, cocktail bars, and multinational restaurants. Some highlights were Limonadier cocktail bar (happy hour until 8pm for some of the most inventive drinks you’ve ever tasted), Dolden Mädel brew house, and La Bionda pizzeria. A whole burrata arrives atop the Nona pizza, and there are very few things I wouldn’t do for a whole burrata. The leftovers make for the perfect breakfast food as well.
Mitte, the city’s middle area, is home to all of the shopping your heart could desire, plus some amazing restaurants and the grand, imposing Volksbuehne theater. For breakfast or lunch, Strandbad Mitte and House of Small Wonder will fill your appetite and your aesthetic sould. House of Small Wonder has a flagship location in Williamsburg (of course we would travel across the ocean to visit a New York cafe) and will probably have a wait, so if you’re starving, head to Strandbad first. Their traditional German breakfasts are filling and delicious, and definitely shareable.
Lebensmittel in Mitte was probably our favorite meal in Berlin. The traditional German fair is served on large wooden tables with giant candles burning between guests, making the whole place feel like someone’s homey Bavarian dining room. From traditional gulash and schnitzel to schupfnudel, a kind of potato pasta I’d never had before and am dying to eat again, the menu is hearty and warm with a familial, cozy feel to it. Lebensmittel has an amazing selection of local wines and beers, as well as an unbelievable fruity cakey ice cream-adorned dessert, the name of which I can’t remember because our friend Yannic ordered it for us and I was too busy salivating over it to ask.
Last but never least, Berlin has some of the best street food on the planet, period. Make sure to eat at least several doner kebabs and try a currywurst, superior to bratwurst in my opinion. These local foods are easy on the wallet and will definitely sustain you for several hours of city trekking. Don’t forget to wash them down with some gluhwein.