Tag Archives: Berlin

What to do in Berlin and the best Berlin attractions.

Käthe Kollwitz in Berlin

If you’re headed to Berlin, you probably know by now that the city is full of museums. One museum that tends to be overlooked is the Käthe Kollwitz Museum located in the Charlottenburg area. The museum houses a collection of works created by Berlin’s most acclaimed female artist, Käthe Kollwitz.

The loss of her son in World War I, the lost of her grandson in World War II and the many sick, poor and afflicted people she worked with inspired art that many would describe as dark and depressing. Kollwitz’s work depicts heavy themes of poverty, sickness, death and fear. Visiting the museum is by no means an uplifting experience, however a visit does provide many powerful and thought provoking moments about the horrors of mankind. While the museum may seem rather small, the villa actually houses nearly five decades of work that depicts the oppressed, the sick, the needy and the dead. You’ll find an array of charcoal sketches, lithographs, sculptures and woodcuts throughout the villa that opened in 1986.

The Käthe Kollwitz Museum is easily one of my favorite museums in Berlin and one of my top “off the beaten track” European travel tips. Kollwitz inspired me to give more consideration about the sick and the needy living in the world today. She was a true humanitarian and was never blind to the harsh realities facing her people during war. It’s nearly impossible to leave the museum without wanting to make a huge difference among people in the world. If you find that you enjoyed the Käthe Kollwitz Museum, then I suggest heading over to the Neue Wache on the north side of Unter den Linden. The building has been used as a war memorial ever since 1931 and houses one of Kollwitz’s best works — Mother with her Dead Son. This powerful piece depicts a mother holding her dead son who died in World War II. You may notice that the sculpture mirrors the Pieta located inside of the Vatican in Rome – which depicts Mary holding Jesus Christ after the crucifixion. If you noticed this parallel, then you’re right on target. Kollwitz wanted to create a statue that showed the ultimate pain felt from a mother mourning the loss of her son. Also notice the oculus on the ceiling of the building. Kollwitz’s sculpture is placed directly under the oculus so that it is exposed to harsh weather. Being exposed to rain, snow and cold temperatures is supposed to symbolize the suffering from two World Wars. If you love art or if you consider yourself a pacifist, then you won’t want to miss seeing work created by Germany’s most famous advocate and female pacifist, Käthe Kollwitz.

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The Pergamon Altar at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin

Visit the Pergamon Museum in Berlin

If you’re fascinated by the ancient sites of Greece and Rome, then you’ll love the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, one of the highlights of the Museuminsel or Museum Island where you’ll also find several other major museums and galleries. Although I didn’t get time to visit the others when we were there last spring, the Pergamon has the reputation for ‘If you only see one, see this one’

The Pergamon Altar at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin

The Pergamon Altar at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin

Even if you’re not normally one to hang out at ancient monuments, this museum is a great place to get a manageable taste of the antiquities in under an hour when you just see the highlights with the audio-tour. The museum gets it’s name from the huge Pergamon Altar which is more of a complete building frontage, that has been transported into the first room of the museum. Here you can sit on the very steps of the building which once stood in Turkey as you listen to the audio-guide and view the figures on the frieze at close quarters – once they were painted in bright colours and gilding rather than the current stark white marble.

Market Gate of Miletus at the Pergamon Museum

Market Gate of Miletus at the Pergamon Museum

Next you walk through the huge Roman market Gate of Miletus, and imagine the high walls that once surrounded it and the bustle of people passing through. Then just when you may be getting tired on the monochrome marble and stonework comes a burst of colour in the colbalt blue Ishtar gate, from the Babylon of King Nebuchadnezzar, with amazingly preserved tilework of horses and lions along the processional way.

Once you’ve completed the audio-guide with these highlights, there are many other interesting things to explore in the museum, but we had teenagers in tow and they had reached their culture limit by that time and we had to move on.

Ishtar Gate in the Pergamon museum in Berlin

Ishtar Gate in the Pergamon museum in Berlin

If you’re on a budget, it’s worth noting that there is free entry to the museums on all on Thursday evenings and that children under 16 are free.

All photos by Heatheronhertravels

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Chill out at Kunsthaus Tacheles in Berlin

Kunsthaus Tacheles in Berlin is an old warehouse with artists’ studios, clubs cum cafes and outdoor street-art where you can tap into the alternative art scene. The locals we met who recommended it told us we’d know it as it was the only grungy, run down building in a neighbourhood where everything else had been renovated. That and the half buried plane in the yard at the back.

Kunsthaus Tacheles in Berlin

The building was originally used for shops and businesses, but in the 1990s after the Berlin wall came down, it was occupied by artists to prevent a proposed demolition and is now an arts centre. Walking through to the back, we found a sandy outdoor space filled like a sculpture park with painted bits of metal, old caravans and some places to sit around. In the spring when we were there, people were hanging out, chatting and drinking beer.

Kunsthaus Tacheles in Berlin

We climbed the graffiti covered grungy stairway to the artists studios in the warehouse above, where we found some interesting stuff on the upper floors, not all of it family friendly.  We did find a small upstairs cafe but most of the chilling seemed to be going on in the sunny back yard. On the ground level there were a couple of cafes where you can buy a beer or a coffee, transforming  into clubs and music venues at night.

Kunsthaus Tacheles in Berlin

Further back again there was a patch of waste ground with the abandoned plane carcass with murals on the walls of the surrounding buildings. Next time I go back there will probably be a smart apartment building there instead. Go soon before the place gets smartened up to hang out with the cool crowd or enjoy a bit of alternative art at Kunsthaus Tacheles on Oranienburger Strasse.

Kunsthaus Tacheles
Oranienburger Str. 53
10117 Berlin, Germany
+49 30 2823130

Photos by Heatheronhertravels

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Finding the Perfect Döner in Berlin

Turkish Döner in Berlin

No visit to Berlin would be complete without eating at least one traditional, Turkish döner. While the döner may not be native to German culture, it has become a popular food option in Berlin. With a high population of Turkish people living in the city, Turkish food and culture has become an important part of Berlin culture. To fully experience Berlin would require dabbling a bit into the Turkish influence.

Döner stands line the streets of Berlin and are often the inexpensive lunch option for Berliners. Döner stands are also open later than most restaurants so they are often a dining choice for clubbers or those staying out late.

Döners will typically cost anywhere between two to five Euros — depending on the kind you order. The sandwich is typically served with lamb meat, but be aware that you can order a vegetarian or chicken döner as well. A salad made of chopped lettuce, cabbage, onions and cucumber is then added to the meat in thick flatbread. And your choice of sauce will top the salad. Most stands will typically have a hot sauce, herb sauce, curry sauce and garlic sauce to choose from. My advice? Always order the “Hausegemacht Soße” – the homemade sauce that is unique to each döner stand.

Also, word to the wise: plan on making a huge mess while eating your döner. It is difficult to eat one without getting it everywhere!

While there may be many döner stands to choose from in Berlin, not all of them will give you a quality or worthwhile döner experience. When I lived in Berlin, I had my fair share of good döners and bad döners. And eating a bad döner is enough to ruin the experience for you forever. It became my goal to discover the best döner finds in Berlin before I finished my study abroad. The following are my top three favorite finds:

1. Yorckstrasse Döner: Take the S-bahn to the Yorckstrasse S-bahn station. The döner stand is located just outside of the station. Exit anywhere and once you’re on the street, you’ll find the döner stand. This is my all-time favorite döner. Be sure to ask for the “Hausegemacht Soße” because you won’t want to miss out!

2. Charlottenburg Döner: Take the U-bahn (U2 line) to Sophie-Charlotte Platz. Exit the station on Bismarckstrasse and walk a few steps until you reach SchlossStrasse. Take a left on the street and walk past the small park. On the corner you’ll see a döner station. This döner is delightful and inexpensive!

3. Shark Döner: Take the S-bahn to Hackescher Markt. After exiting the station, look for a gigantic Starbucks. Shark Döner is located right across the street from the Starbucks. Hackescher Markt is a thriving area in Berlin and Shark Döner is located right in the middle of the hustle and bustle.

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Free Podcasts and other resources for Berlin

Part of my anticipation for going on holiday is to download any free podcasts I can find and listen to them as I walk to work – it helps pass the time and provide a little relaxation and inspiration at the beginning and end of my working day. So when I visited Berlin earlier in the year, I scoured the web for whatever I could find. If you’re also planning to visit Berlin, you might like to download these and listen to them on the plane or train – they’re all free.

The Reichstag in Berlin

Free Podcasts

Amateur Traveler interview about Berlin
The Amateur Traveler is one of my favourite travel podcasts with interviews about different destinations each week. In this episode, Chris Christiensen compares notes with his guest Julie about her time in Berlin, with useful links to Berlin sites in the show notes.

Dorling Kindersley Podcast about Berlin
Dorling Kindersley is one of the major travel and guidebook publishers and you’ll find podcasts about some major cities including Berlin, on their website.

Guardian Berlin Guide
This audioguide was recorded to accompany the 2006 World Cup, but it still has lots of useful information about things to do in Berlin.

Rick Steves Berlin City Guide and Changing face of Berlin
Rick Steves has two free radio shows dedicated to Berlin, but unless you get them through a subscription link, I couldn’t find a way to download them, although you can listen to them on your computer. You can find them on the radio show archives link above.

Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirchen in Berlin

PDF Guides

If you’re looking for some free down-loadable PDF guides, try the links below;

Hostelworld PDF Guide to Berlin

Arrival Guides – Travel Guide to Berlin

Arrival Guides – Berlin Shopping Guide

Street art in Berlin

And the following newspaper articles give a good overview of what to see and do;

Independent – 48 hrs in Berlin

New York Times – 36 hrs in Berlin

PS – I’ve tested all these links at the time of writing, but if you can’t find them, it’s probably because someone’s redesigned their website.

Photos by Heatheronhertravels

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Olympiastadion – Berlin’s Olympic Stadium

You go to Berlin to see the Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburg Gate.  You don’t go to Berlin to see the Olympic stadium, Olympiastadion.  But you should.

Berlin's Olympiastadion - Olympic Rings Gate

Take the U2 out to Olympiastadion, it’s a ways outside of the city and takes some time, but the stadium is worth it.  The history mixed with the athletic setting is a unique experience.  It is impossible to ignore the Nazi history of the stadium.

Berlin's Olympiastadion - Bell

The stadium was built between 1934 and 1936.  Commissioned by the Nazi party, it was meant to be a show of strength.  Propaganda.  Instead, Jesse Owens, an African-American athlete won four gold medals in front of Hitler and the Nazi party.  Jesse Owens’ name still graces the wall of winners for the 100 meter, 200 meter, and long jump.  His fourth medal was for the 4×100 meter.

Berlin's Olympiastadion - Wall of Winners

Today, the stadium has been renovated and in 2006, 60 years after Jesse Owens’ performance, was home to the final game of the 2006 World Cup.

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See the Berlin sights by rickshaw

When I was last in London for a weekend, I noticed rickshaws in some of the tourist spots, ready to pedal you from one sight to another and save your weary feet. So when I was sightseeing in Berlin this spring, and saw more rickshaws I realised that this is a trend and that rickshaws are not just for South East Asia or India, but a cute way of seeing the cities of Europe too.

Rickshaw sightseeing in Berlin

We had teenagers in tow and when we spotted the rickshaws at the end of Unter Den Linden, the boulevard that runs down to the Brandenburg gate, it seemed an ideal opportunity to get there without exhausting ourselves. However, rather than just take us down to the Brandenburg gate, the rickshaw guides suggested that for a little more, they take us on a round trip of some of the beautiful old buildings and important sites on the way.

The cost was around €18 for each rickshaw, and the tour which lasted about 45 minutes was really enjoyable, with the guide explaining each of the sights and at some places leaving us time to get out and wander round for a few minutes. My friend and I went for the hippy chic style where the poor guide had to pedal as well as explain and answer questions, whereas our teenage girls chose the sleeker electrically enhanced rickshaw.

Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin

We relaxed as we were taken down Unter den Linden, admiring the beautiful buildings, then stopped at Bebelplatz to see the underground memorial of empty bookshelves, to commemorate the spot where the Nazis organised a burning of ‘subversive’ books in 1933. Then it was onwards into Gendarmenmarkt, the old marketplace where the twin churches of Französischer Dom and Deutcher Dom stand facing each other. Afterwards we reached Checkpoint Charlie, and got out to read about the Berlin Wall on the information boards, then along a cobbled road passing a stretch of the wall that still remained. We passed Potsdamer Platz, the complex of modern public spaces, shops and offices, on past the stone blocks of the Holocaust memorial and ended at the Brandenburg Gate.

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

Although it was a whistlestop tour, it was a good way of getting our bearings and seeing a lot in a short time, which allowed us to decide what we would like to go back to, to explore in more depth. And a great way to rest our weary feet.

Photos by Heatheronhertravels

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Berlin on a budget

In this guest post Lindsay Sydenham gives Europe a la Carte readers advice for a budget conscious trip to Berlin.

“It can be difficult to travel to Europe on a modest budget. With the weakness of the Dollar against the Euro, some travelers are hesitant to take any trips in this economy. Berlin is a relatively inexpensive city to travel to – especially in comparison to Paris and London. The purpose of this review is to provide peace of mind to future travelers and to inform readers about the many free and low-cost opportunities that exist in Berlin.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Brandenburg Gate

Be sure to eat a heavy, traditional, German meal during your stay in Berlin, but remember that the best and most authentic German eats are ones that are cheap. Eat your daily breakfast at bakeries. Every morning bakers arise early and make all sorts of breads, pastries and croissants for Berliners to purchase on their way to work. An authentic, fresh breakfast could cost you one Euro – total. For lunch or dinner, consider the Turkish döner. While this does not sound like a taste of Germany, it is actually one of the best ways to enjoy Berlin as a true Berliner. The döner is a cheap, Berliner favorite for a quick bite to eat. The price of döners range anywhere between one to three Euros a piece. Döners can be purchased at many different street vendor locations and consist of pita bread, shaved meat (chicken or pork), lettuce, garlic sauce, onions and other vegetables you want to add. It is cheap, delicious and you can eat it on the go!

Most of the greatest sights to see in Berlin happen to be free. No visit to Berlin would be complete without walking under the famous Brandenburg Gate. The gate stands today as a symbol of freedom to Berliners and is a constant reminder of a painful past of separation and war. Visit the gate and think about the time when the gate was a separation between East and West Berlin. If you get the opportunity, ask locals about their feelings regarding the gate and the history of Germany.

Just around the corner stands a thought-provoking monument that should be visited by any tourist visiting Berlin. The Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe consists of an entire street block filled with slabs of concrete – some two feet high and others 10 feet high. The purpose of the monument is to create a feeling of confusion and distortion, much like the feelings the Jews experienced as they were lead off to concentration camps all over Europe. It is perfectly acceptable to sit on one of the concrete slabs and to ponder the meaning of the monument. Many Berliners go to the monument to think, some go there to eat lunch and others go with flowers to remember their loved ones lost during the war. Many other monuments and museums about the Holocaust are scattered throughout the city and are free to individuals who want to see them.

Jewish memorial, Berlin

Monument to the murdered Jews of Europe

Another free option is to visit the impressive Potsdamer Platz. This area consists of high rise buildings, a movie theatre, trendy cafes and interesting architecture. The buildings in the area are built mainly with glass in order to symbolize the transparency of Germany and the German government. Potsdamer Platz was a bustling area during the 1930s with shops, theatre, restaurants and social activities. After the war and the separation of Germany, the area was destroyed and became a barren area known as “No Man’s Land.” The death of this bustling area was troubling for many Berliners as it had once symbolized the growth and prosperity of the city. Within the last 10 years, Potsdamer Platz has been reconstructed and has given the city of Berlin a new confidence of prosperity, wealth and happiness.

Potsdamer Platz, Berlin

Potsdamer Platz

After World War II, most of the beautiful buildings and churches in Berlin had been completely destroyed. One of the few buildings that were left standing majestically was Berlin Cathedral. This Baroque and even Neoclassical cathedral is free to visitors who want to admire both the outside and the inside of the historical building. Inside the cathedral, visitors will hear the music play from the pipe organ on the top deck. Some visitors find the peaceful nature of the church as a great place to write in their travel journals or ponder other matters. In front of the cathedral there is a giant lawn where many Berliners flock to during good weather. On warm days there are literally hundreds of people laying on the lawn and eating their lunches. Potsdamer Platz and Berlin Cathedral specifically, are places that locals love to spend their time on holidays and weekends. These are great opportunities to mingle with the locals and experience Berlin the way Berliners do.

Berliner Dom

Berlin Cathedral

Berliners are also incredibly dedicated to the arts, film and theatre. There are many opportunities to experience the arts in Berlin. See a show at one of the many opera and theatre houses in the city. You can also discover some of the city’s best museums in the Museum Island. There may be too many museums for you to see in one short visit. Pin point your interests to discover which museums are best for your visit. Are you interested in Greek artifacts? Would you like to see the Pergamon gate? Do you prefer Romanticism art such as pieces created by Caspar David Friedrich? All of these are options you can enjoy in one of Berlin’s many, impressive museums.

Unlike many other cities in Europe, Berlin is a city that can be visited on a moderate budget. The main costs that tend to arise come from food and accommodations. Other than that, many attractions and non-touristy opportunities are free to visitors or come at a low cost. Be sure that you mingle with the locals and ask them for their opinions about what you should enjoy during your stay in Berlin. Most Berliners speak excellent English and are more than willing to help you with any questions you might have.”

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Sightseeing around Kurfürstendamm – in Berlin

Kurfürstendamm or Ku’Damm as it is known to the locals is the heart of West Berlin and is the major shopping district in the City, if you like the big names. There are plenty of high street chains that you’ll find in every European capital as well as department stores which have all the top brands. I was in Berlin with my teenage daughter who loves nothing better than to hit the high street with Euros in hand, but if you’ve seen it all before there are some other things in this area to enjoy.

Getting there
For a low cost sightseeing tour, jump on the public double decker Number 100 bus which will take you right from Alexanderplatz, down Unter den Linden, past the key sights of the Brandenberg gate and Reichstag, through the Tiergarten park and sets you down right in the heart of Kurfurstendamm.

Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirchen in Berlin

The Blue Glass church
In the centre of the shopping district you’ll find the gorgeous Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church, known for it’s blue glass walls. This must easily be the most photogenic church in Berlin and it’s a chance for a quiet reflection after the retail overload and bustle outside. The church was built in the 1890s and in the war was all but destroyed leaving only the ‘hollow tooth’ of the spire and entrance standing. Out of the ruins, a new church and bell-tower were completed in 1963 using blue glass panels with the giant golden figure of Jesus floating above the altar. I loved the way that each of the blue glass squares is a little stained glass picture in itself with different shades of blue, green and gold making subtle patches of glowing colour in the midnight blue.

Berlin Zoo

The Berlin Zoo
If you have young children, this could be the place to take them for a run around and to gaze at the animals. Our teenage girls enjoyed themselves although I found the zoo a little dowdy and old fashioned myself, having been spoilt by the wonderful zoo in my home town of Bristol.

Thai food at Kurfurstdamm in Berlin

Street entertainment and street-food
If you want a little street ambiance then buy your currywurst or other street-food from the stalls outside the Kaiser Wilhelm church and then sit down and people watch or take in some performances by the street performers that you’ll find around there. We each sampled different things; as well as the currywurst, there was Thai food and Crepes on offer and a steady stream of breakdancers and entertainers took their place in the square, gathering a crowd of passers by.

Fruit smoothies at KaDeWe in Berlin

Foodie fare at KaDeWe
If Gourmet fare is more your thing then walk down the road to the department store KaDeWe and take the escalators straight to their Gourmet floor which is entirely devoted to food. I’ve been to the food halls at Harrods and Fortnum & Masons in London, but this was something else with fresh food counters, and different displays of speciality and delicatessan food. This could be the place to shop for gifts to take home to your food loving friends and family. There are several places to sit down and sample different food from a bar stool, feeling rather elegant as you sip your wine and try some light lunchtime dishes, or do as I did and try a fresh fruit smoothie.

Photos by Heatheronhertravels

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Berlin Wall getting repainted?

I’m a huge fan of Berlin, and since I was lucky enough to be visiting there during the 1990 reunification celebrations, the Berlin Wall has a particularly soft spot in my heart. So when I heard that they were scrubbing it clean, I was more than a little surprised (and concerned!).

Berlin Wall

Image – sainz via CC

It turns out that, since this year is the 20th anniversary of the November 1989 fall of the wall, the Berliners have decided to get what’s left of the wall touched up so that it will be better preserved for future generations. Apparently vandals, car fumes and natural wear and tear have all been damaging the wall. This project involves the 1,300 metres of the wall known as the East Side Gallery, where artists were invited to come and create their own street art masterpieces shortly after the wall fell.

About 60 artists have now been invited to Berlin to repaint their parts of the wall, after it’s been cleaned and recoated. Apparently there have been a few disgruntled artists who wanted bigger fees or to paint something different, but on the whole, it seems like most are on board with the project. Once the wall has been fully renewed, there are plans for a grand reopening in November when the 20th anniversary celebrations hit their peak.

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