What I knew of Berlin was about it’s history: The German Empire, The Third Reich, World War II, Berlin Wall, Reunification. Because of this, I had a somewhat academic preconception of the city with images recalled from schoolbooks or documentaries on television in shades of grey. And sadly, I knew zip-zero about the Berlin of today.
I’ve returned nearly every month since that first trip, and each time I've explored a bit more, learned a bit more and oh yes, eaten a bit more ☺ First-hand experiences have long since replaced my rather dull preconceptions. Vibrant, creative, friendly and fun! – These are all words that would describe my view of Berlin now.
On my first visit to the city, my tour guide said that at least one person in the group would fall in love with the city and decide never to leave. Although I'm not packing my bags and moving, I totally understand what he meant - In fact, Berlin has become one of my most favorite-est places to visit.
On this wiki page, you'll find my evolving list of recommendations for things to do and a few of my favorite places to eat and drink. I'll continue add updates after each trip and hopefully my waistline does't expand along with the growing list of food recommendations :P
Note: "Danke!" to our German friends for their many enthusiastic recommendations and for taking us to many of these places personally. Nothing beats recommendations from locals!
- There are 6 main districts in Berlin comprised of several boroughs within each. It's definately worth planning to visit a few different areas as each has it's own unique 'personality'. Most of the recommendations on this wiki page are in Mitte, East Central and City West areas in bolded font below.
- City West: Charlottenburg, Wilmersdorf, Schöneberg, Tiergarten
- East Central: Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg
- North: Spandau, Reinickendorf, Weißensee, Pankow, Wedding
- East: Lichtenberg, Hohenschönhausen, Marzahn, Hellersdorf
- South: Steglitz, Zehlendorf, Tempelhof, Neukölln, Treptow, Köpenick
- Most shops are closed on Sundays, so plan your trips around this. I recommend a nice brunch and trip to one of the many museums in the city on this day
- The train/metro system is a really convenient way to get around but taxis are sometimes easier/faster depending on where you're going and I love how incredibly clean all the taxis are. the 'My Taxi' phone app is a really handy and efficient way to call a cab.
Dumb American Tip
- When using the toilet, know that 'Damen' is for ladies and 'Herren' for men. I had an embarrassing moment at White Trash Fast Food when headed up to the toilets only to discover I didn't know what the German words were for hers and his...I took a guess and figured 'Herren' sounded close to 'hers' and stepped in on a man with his trousers down *blush*. And I'm not the only one who made this mistake. I found out later the same night my husband had a similar blunder as he guessed wrong and went into the ladies room.
EAT - Guten Appetit!
Local Foods To Try
- Take-away snack consisting of a deep fried german sausage topped with a tomato ketchup like sauce and curry powder. The sausage sometimes has skin removed depending on where you go. This wacky combination was invented by Herta Heuwer in the late 1940s who was inspired by American and British soldiers who loved ketchup and curry powder respectively. Herta started selling this combo at a street stand in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin selling ~10,000 orders per week! This sausage snack even has it's own museum if you're really curious to learn more about this history: http://www.currywurstmuseum.de
- This traditional Austrian dish is a beauty to behold and after one crispy bite you'll be hooked! It's a piece of veal pounded very thin into an enormous disc, breaded and deep fried. There are many varieties of Schnitzel on restaurant menus other than veal, like pork and chicken, but the real deal is actually protected by law in Austria and Germany, and must be made of veal. I just love that there is a law about this! The origin of this dish is a bit fuzzy, but it seems the Austrians were not alone as many cultures around the world have a version of a fried cutlet like the much adored Japanese tonkatsu I grew up with :)
- Spätzle means "little sparrow" and is a type of egg noodle considered a specialty of the Swabian region. The ingredients are similar to Italian pasta: flour, eggs, water, salt - but the dough is wetter and cannot be rolled out. Instead, the dough is spread over a wooden cutting-board (or put in a press) and thin strips are scraped off the board with a knife into boiling salted water. Like pasta, it's versitle and there are many ways to serve and eat it: I like it simple, sauteed with a little brown butter.
White Asparagus (When in season)
- Everyone goes crazy for this stuff when it's in season, usually showing up in stores in April. Yea, they look weird but these tender vegis taste have a uniquely delicate taste and they are only available for a short window of time each year making it the rock-star of produce when it makes it's annual appearance.
- This "flame cake" is essentially a Belgian pizza. It's thin crust pizza type base with a creamy white cheese or white sauce and various toppings of choice which is baked in a wood-fire oven. Best eaten straight away when fresh out of the oven.
- Another popular take-away food choice, especially after a late night drinking. The sandwich consists of a Turkish pita filled with roasted meat cooked on a vertical spit and topped with various salad toppings and a yogurt sauce. Doner Kebab was invented by Mahmut Aygun aka "Kebab King" in 1971 when he decided to put the kebab meet inside a pita instead of on rice to allow people to eat on the go.
- No doubt you've heard that there are really good pretzels in Germany and you should definately try them when in Berlin, but have you ever had one of these? It's a type of hybrid pretzel-croissant which combines two of my favorite types of baked items - it's genious!
Where To Fill Your Belly
Schwarzwaldstuben (South German Food, Swabian)
One of my favorites spots for simple, 'home cooking' style food served up in a casual dining atmosphere. Beyond the Schnitzel (which is very good), they have a variety of traditional South German dishes. The spätzle is recommended. And they have an English menu if you're like me and need one.
- Recommendations: Spätzle, Schitzel
- Location: Tucholskystr. 48, 10117 Berlin (Area: Mitte)
- Telephone: +49 30 28098084
- Website: http://www.schwarzwaldstuben-berlin.com
Ständige Vertretung (German Food, Rheinland Area)
A good spot to enjoy some Germain cuisine in a lively setting with customers seated at shared tables surrounded by hundreds of pictures of politicians and paraphernalia from the former Democratic Republic covering the walls.
The food is representative of Rheinland gastronomy with the pork knuckle and blood sausage as local favorites. Personally, I like the Rhenish Sauerbraten which is braised beef which has been marinated in vinagar marinated beef and served with a raisin-pumpernickel-sauce, potato dumplings and apple compote. I love the play of sour from the vinager, sweet from the applesauce and savory from the meat and potato.
Another thing I love about this place, is they serve Kölsch beer in tiny, thin glasses and keep refilling them for you until you put your little coaster on top of the glass to signal that you're done. Be careful, you can easily forget how much you've had to drink.
- Recommendations: Kölsch Beer, Sauerbraten (Braised Beef in Vinager), Blood Sausage, Pork Knuckle, Flammekuchen
- Location: Schiffbauerdamm 8, 10117 Berlin (Area: Mitte)
- Telephone: 030 2823965
- Website: http://staev.de/
Gugelhof (German, Alsatian Cuisine)
Brunch is a pretty big deal in Berlin, especially on the weekends. This restaurant is popular with locals and tourists, especially for their brunch.
The restaurant is open all day and if you miss the brunch window, it's still a good choice for lunch or dinner. The food is representative of Alsatian cusine which is influenced by French, German and Swiss tastes. This is one of the places former U.S. president Clinton ate at when he visited the city.
- Recommendations: Breakfast/Brunch, Sausages & Sauerkraut
- Location: Knaackstraße 37, 10435 Berlin (Area: Prenzlauer Berg)
- Telephone: 030 4429229
- Website: http://www.gugelhof.de
Curry 36 (Currywurst)
You can easily find currywurst all over the city. Curry 36 is one of the more popular locations to get your currywurst fix. Nothing fancy to say about it: cut up sausages drowned in ketchup & curry powder are served with fries in little paper trays. Quickly stab away at the little sausage and potatoes with the little plastic fork you get and enjoy...oh and quickly move aside for the others in queue!
- Location: Mehringdamm 36, 10961 Berlin (Area: Kreuzberg)
- Website: http://www.curry36.de
Witty's (Organic Currywurst)Another popular currywurst stand, selling organic sausages in their version. I actually think the quality of the ingredients makes a difference, especially in sausages so IMO it's worth the little extra Euros.
- Location: Wittenbergplatz 5, 10789 Berlin (Area: Schöneberg)
- Telephone: 030 2119496
- Website: http://www.wittys-berlin.de
KaDeWe Food Hall
KaDeWe is a huge department store in Berlin. On the 6th floor, there is a really impressive food hall covering 7,000 square meters. Worth going to check it out - also, they have all types of food counters so it's more than just a place to look and shop, you can happily eat your way around the food hall to quiet the growling in your tummy from looking at so many good things to eat.
- Location: Tauentzienstraße 21, 10789 Berlin (Area: Schöneberg)
- Website: http://www.kadewe.de
'Mustafa's Gemüsekebap' (Doner Kebab - Non Traditional)
Not your traditional doner, but oh so tasty with no chicken, grilled vegis and fried potatoes. There is always a queue at this little food cart and it's worth the wait.
Chicken Doner (Chicken Doner Kebab)I'm not a fan of the more traditional lamb/meat roasted spits you usually see. I don't know, something about them just screams 'mystery meat' to me. I much prefer the chicken doner at this place. The chicken, pitas, toppings and sauces all taste really fresh and are the perfect 'fast food' on the go type of meal when in the area and shopping. The location is great too: very close to the Hackeshcher Markt station. Just look for the Starbucks on the ground floor of the Die Hackeschen shopping building and you'll find Chicken Doner located across the street.
- Location: Rosenthaler Str. 42, Berlin, 10178 (near Hackescher Markt station, across the street from Starbucks)
Maria Bonita (Tacos)After eating here today, I feel like I've been reunited with a long lost lover. I'm being totally serious! After movng from California to London last year I feel like it's been a terribly long time since I've had authentic Mexican street-style food especially "real" tacos: tasty little mounds of grilled meat, piled on small fresh homemade corn tortillas.
The carnitas tacos are especially good. They also have a beef taco which has crispy pieces of bacon mixed up in it - Oh hells yea!! The quesadillas are made with homemade, fresh flour tortillas and an interesting mix of melty cheese and I think some goats cheese for a little kick.
The place is really small, just a couple benches outside and some counter style seating inside for maybe 10-12 people. If you can't get a seat, just get your food to-go - it is 'street food' after all :)
Due to the success of this place, the owners have a couple other restaurants: Santa Maria is larger and focuses on street-style food and the other sister restaurant named Maria Peligro has a bit of a hipster vibe and a bit more polished presentation.
- Recommendations: Carnitas tacos & Beef/Bacon tacos are the bomb!
- Location: Danziger Str. 33, 10435 Berlin (Prenzlauer Berg)
- Telephone: 030 20255338
White Trash Fast Food (Burgers & Drinks)
Hot damn, I love this place!! Scene is fun, burgers are outrageously delicious and bartenders know how to mix a proper drink.
The main event here are the burgers and wowie they are good! My favorite is the 'Moses Hell-Fire BBQ Burger', which comes with cheddar, homemade bbq sauce, and jalepenos. Each delicious, fiery bite will set off alarms in your stomach preluding a 'hell-fire' night later, but just ignore that and enjoy - Food bliss now, torture later.
Other burgers to binge on include: The Classic Trash Cheese Burger, Extreme Chili Cheese Burger, King Elvis Supreme (cheddar, kraut, bacon, bbq sauce) and The Marquee De Fuck (bacon and blue cheese).
If you happen to be there for 'Rock N Roll' bingo night, you're in for some some fun times and many rounds of drinks while trying to clear your bingo card.
- Recommendations: Burgers, Fries & Drinks
- Location: Schönhauser Allee 6-7, 10119 Berlin (Area: Prenzlauer Berg)
- Notes: There is a smoking area downstairs so you don't need to go and freeze your butt off outside. And, if you are feeling adventurous there is also a tattoo shop :P
The BEST BURGERS! I can easily count this in my top 3 burgers of all time. Amazing! Place is run a dude from New York of course :) Oh and beware of the napom hot sauce on the chicken wings - deadly stuff.
- Location: Am Falkplatz 5, 10437 Berlin
Smart Deli (Japanese Homestyle Cooking)
This is my favorite type of restaurant: Cozy with homestyle cooking run by a passionate and friendly lover of food. This is truly a special and unique place that will transport you to Japan. Yumi (lady who runs the place) and the staff are all super-friendly and they have celebrated over 10 years of business in Berlin!
The menu is simple, fresh and authentic Japanese home cooking - the kind of stuff you'd find coming from a real Japanese kitchen including: Grilled fishes, Yakiniku beef, Miso tofu, Teriyaki Chicken, Noodle bowls, Sushi, Japanese rice porridge and a range of authentic side dishes. The dishes are carefully prepared and arrive the table looking picture perfect - how often do you get a salad with little carrots cut into cute little flower shapes?
- Location: Chausseestr.5, 10115 Berlin (Area: Mitte)
(Restaurant is hard to miss with the most colorful and cute artwork painted on the storefront windows)
- Website: http://www.smartdeli.org
I Due Forni (Pizza)
Bella, Bella!! The wood fired pizzas here are a beauty to behold and taste perfect (simple and fresh) Delizioso! *sharp kiss to the mouth with fingers* In fact, the owners believe the pizzas are so perfect they won't let you change anything on the menu...pizzas are served as is, no modifications. Sit outside (when the weather is nice) and enjoy - Oh, and be sure to get nice and relaxed with lots of beer and wine because the service can be a little rude and slow at times so don't come here if you're in a hurry.
- Location: Schoenhauser Allee 12, 10119 Berlin (Located just a block away from one of my other favorites: White Trash Fast Food)
- Note: Cash only
This one is still on my 'to try' lists for Berlin. It comes highly recommended by a friend for very good Austrian-inspired cuisine served up in a cool looking restaurant with a minimalist 'Snow White' design concept.
- Location: Simplonstraße 16, 10245 Berlin
- Telephone: +493029049704
A real treat. Borchardt is a VIP dining experience. Established in 1853 Barack Obama, Mick Jagger and Karl Lagerfield have all dined here.
The wiener schnitzel in particular is elevated to new standards: it's ultra thin and has the lightest and crispiest coating imaginable. Yes, there is also an elevated price too but my friend put it best "You can't put a price on good schnitzel!".
The wiener schnitzel in particular is elevated to new standards: it's ultra thin and has the lightest and crispiest coating imaginable. Yes, there is also an elevated price too but my friend put it best "You can't put a price on good schnitzel!". The goose dinner I is also exceptional. I'm not sure if this is part of the regular menu, but I highly recommend it if it's available.
- Recommendations: Wiener Schnitzel, Goose Dinner (if available)
- Location: Französische Straße 47, 10117 Berlin (Area: Mitte)
- Telephone: 030 81886230
- Note: Make a booking, especially if you're planning on going on a Friday or Saturday evening.
Cookies Cream (Vegetarian)Okay, I know vegetarian food is not exactly the first thing people recommend when they talk about German cuisine but actually Berlin has some good vegetarian places...yea really.
Cookies is a great example of some of the creative dining experiences in the city. With a speak-easy vibe, this restaurant is located down a dark alleyway behind the Westin Grand hotel, you'll pass under a large chandelier and if you look very closely at what appears to be the back service door of a business, you'll see a little sign marking the entrance to the restaurant with a doorbell where you can be buzzed in.
There is a club located downstairs and the restaurant is upstairs. The interior is a strange mix of industrial with exposed pipes in open loft warehouse type space and yet cozy with cushions and candles on the tables.
Get yourself started with whatever the house cocktail is for the day and then tuck into a really great dinner. The chef is unbelievably imaginative with his flavors, ingredients, textures and presentation. He makes it really easy to forget you don't have any meat on your plate. I had a potato tart for my main - it's pretty surprising what can be accomplished with a humble potato!
- Location: Behrenstr. 55, 10117 Berlin - located down an alley behind the Westin Grand hotel (Area: Mitte)
- Telephone: 030 27492940
- Website: http://www.cookiescream.com
Grill Royal (Steak)
Swanky dining with excellent steaks.
The location in the middle of Berlin along the river Spree, sophisticated dining atmosphere (indoors and outdoors), superior quality steaks and attentive staff all add up to deliver a luxury steakhouse experience - heck, even the name 'Grill Royal' sounds posh!
The star here is the steak: I ordered a cut of aged filet, which was perfectly cooked, rich and full-flavored. My husband tucked into a bone-in behemoth sized steak that was also delicious.
The starters and sides are good, but I'd recommend you keep it simple with the following order and you won't be disappointed: 1) Champagne and oysters to start 2) Steak of your choice 3) Bottle(s) of a bold German red wine which pair nicely with the steak.
- Recommendations: Oysters, Steak, German Red Wine
- Location: Friedrichstr. 105b, 10117 Berlin (Area: Mitte)
- Telephone: 030 28879288
- Website: http://www.grillroyal.com
- Be sure to call ahead to make a booking, especially if you'd like to go on a Friday or Saturday night.
Where To Get Your Caffeine Fix
Balzac Coffee"ball sack" first thing in the morning? Yes please :D This is a chain of coffee shops, with good expresso and and really tasty pastries. A couple of my favorite sweet treats are the 'waffles' which taste like a cake dount in a waffle shape and thier little Portuguese nata custards. If you're really dragg'n, the large size to-go coffee is no joke - it's huge.
- Locations: 7 locations in the city. The one I frequent is next to the Radisson Blu and near the DDR museum at Karl-Liebknecht Strasse 5.
- Website: http://balzaccoffee.com
Where To Wet Your Lips - Prost!
The Prater Garten is Berlin's oldest beer gardens founded in 1837. The restaurant is open year-round, and in the Spring and Summer there is a huge outside seating area that can accomidate up to 600 people. It's a really fun place to go and have some beers and eat some typical German fare. I love their Schnitzel :)
- Recommendations: Schnitzel, Sausages & Beer!!!
- Location: Kastanienallee 7-9, 10435 Berlin (Area: Prenzlauer Berg)
- Telephone: +49 30 4485688
- Website: http://www.pratergarten.de/d/
- Note: Cash Only. Restaurant accepts reservations, but outdoor beer garden is open seating.
Local hangout bar in Mitte which is very low key considering it's location on trendy Alte Schönhauser Strasse. It's a good place to stop for a drink and unwind when you're looking to avoid the crowds of a beer garden or club.
- Location: Alte Schönhauser Strasse 44, 10119 Berlin (Area: Mitte)
Unmarked night spot beneath the train S-train bridge at Friedrichstrasse. There is no sign on the entrance, just look for an iron door under the train bridge and knock.
What I love about this bar is that they don't let groups of young 20-somethings looking to party in. This is for a slightly more sophisticated and older crowd. I got a kick out of seeing a group of young girls getting turned away as we were being let in. It's not often that happens anymore :)
The bar area is swanky and modern and quite the people watching scene. The effort of finding this place and getting in is worth it once you get to the bar: The cocktails are amazing - the bartenders know how to mix a drink!
- Location: Schiffbauerdamm 11, 10117 Berlin
- Telephone: +493027582070
- Website: http://www.tausendberlin.com/
Yes, you will look like a dork on the segway with your helmet riding around the city and you can count on people pointing and laughing at your expense. But get over all that because zooming around on a segway is seriously fun!!! You know you want to...
- Advance booking is required. You can do this easily on the website.
- Website: http://citysegwaytours.com/berlin
One of the first things I do when I visit a city is take a walking tour. It's the best way see the major sights with a guide who can explain this history of what you're looking at. It's also a great way to get to know the layout of the city and a sense of direction.
I went on the 'free' walking tour run by Sandemans. The tour is 3.5 hours long and runs daily (rain or shine). You can sign up for it on the website. Oh, and although it's a 'free' tour the guides make their money off tips so plan to tip them fairly if you have a good time.
- Location: The start point is at 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM at the Brandenburg Gate, in front of Starbucks. (S/U-Bahn Brandenburger Tor).
- Website: http://www.newberlintours.com/daily-tours/free-tour.html
- Note: This company also runs some paid tours which sound interesting too.
Berliner Unterwelten (Underworld Tours)
This company offers a variety of very interesting guided tours exploring the history of Berlin from an unconventional perspective - the city's underground structures, including many that are not publicly accessable.
There are different tours described on their website that run on different days/times of the week. I went on the 'Subways, Bunkers, Cold War' tour and found it really interesting. The tour takes you to two different underground locations 1) An older civil defence shelter and 2) A more modern defence shelter built to protect the citizens of West Berlin in case of a full-blown nuclear war.
- Note: If you are claustrophobic, don't go on this tour.
- Location: Tickets for all regular tours are available from 10:00 a.m. at the ticket office pavillon of Berlin Underworlds’ Association, located next to the southern entrance of the U8 subway station Gesundbrunnen (exit direction to Humboldthain Park, Brunnenstraße)
Want to try something wacky? Check this out: You and a group of your friends can tour the city on one a bizzare looking multi-person bike contraptions while drinking beer -- Yup thats right, drink and bike -- So crazy! I saw groups on these when I was there last time and was incredibly jealous. My husband recently went on one with a group and said it was ridiculously fun.
- Advance bookings are required. You can fill out a request for a reservation on their website.
- Website: http://www.bierbike-berlin.de/start.html
This is a unique, interactive museum with a focus on the everyday life in the GDR. I love that it's designed for you to touch and explore but can be a bit of a drag when crowded as everyone is trying to touch/feel at the same time. Go early if you can to avoid the tour crowds.
- Location: Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 1 (Right on the river Spree, next to the Radisson Blu hotel and opposite the Berlin Cathedral)
- Website: http://www.ddr-museum.de/en
Amazing exhibition of antiquities and large scale reconstructions of archaeological buildings like such as the Pergamon Altar, the Processional Way of Babylon and the Mshatta Façade. Entrance includes an audio guide which is available in many languages which is really great because you can walk through the museum at your own pace and just punch in the number labeled on the item you're looking at and you the audio will play providing you with the history of that piece.
- Location: Kupfergraben 5, 10117 Berlin (On 'Museum Island' )
- Telephone: 030 266 424 242
East Side Gallery
Open-air gallery with over a hundred paintings covering the largest surviving section of the of the border of the Berlin wall. This is a really famous and interesting place to visit and it's free :) The location is very easy to get to, just off the Ostbahnhof stop, along the Spree River .
Shopping in MitteThe Mitte area is a great place to stroll the streets and shop. They have a lot of the usual chain store shops close to Hackescher Market like H&M, Mango, etc. But if you wander a little futher up Alte Schönhauser Straße you'll find a line up of smaller boutique shops. One of my faves is the Berlin location of a store called 'OK' (the other is in Cologne) which has a unique collection of imported decor items. I picked up some colorful enamel plates for 3 euros each to take back to London. There are also a number of good restaurants on Alte Schönhauser Straße where I like to stop and grab a bite including: Makoto (Ramen), Yam Yam (Korean), Monsieur Vuong (Vietnamese).
Christmas Markets (Winter)
Christmas time is a really fun time to be in Berlin with German Christmas markets set up up all over the city. I heard there were more than 60, but I only made it to 6 of them.
It seems everyone in the city is hanging out at one of these markets in the evening or weekends. The markets include many booths with vendors selling a range of crafts, holiday decorations, gifts and of course food and drink! A popular area in the market is usually around the vendor selling 'Glühwein, mulled wine. Phew, this stuff is potent! Hot wine gets right into that blood stream *instant buzz* One or two of these will really help kick up your holiday cheer :)
Below are two of my favorite markets, each have very distinct characters.
- Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market is a really posh. It takes place in a beautiful historic square in Mitte nestled between the French and German cathedrals and the Concert Hall. There is an entrance fee of a couple Euros, but it's worth it to see. Inside, the market set up is to a high standard with small rows of exhibitors and food stands. There are even some little cafes enclosed in temporary 'pop-up' covered shelters where you can get out of the cold.
- Location: Gendarmenmarkt square (Area: Mitte)
- Lucia Christmas Market takes place in the outdoor space in the two courtyards of the Kulturbrauerei in the Prenzlauer Berg area. There are little wooden booths to house the vendors which are really cute and adds a special charm to the market rather than the usual white tents.
- Location: Schönhauser Allee 36 (Area: Prenzlauer Berg)