You want to see the old stuff damnit! Berlin has plenty of that. While I love the alternative side of Berlin, which is alive and thriving, the traditional sites and side of the city are just as exciting.
Fit Food: Ein Laden, CHIPPS, District Mot, Monsieur Vong
Detox to Retox: Ausfurtz, Aigner, Rausch, Ritter Sport
Where to find good chocolate: Laderach, Rausch, Ritter Sport
You cannot get more traditional than a tour of the German Parliament. Free, only requiring a booking ahead of time online, it gives a good overview of the political system in Germany, and the best part, a visit to the amazing glass dome topping the building. Book your visit here.
Next door is the famous Brandenburg Tor – that Gate. The gate that Hitler marched through as the newly appointed Chancellor in 1933. The gate where John F. Kennedy mistakenly called himself a jelly doughnut. And where Ronald Reagan famously asked Gorbachev to tear down this wall.
Sandemans runs free tours of Berlin, lasting about 2.5 hours, every day starting from the Brandenburg gate. For a general overview of the city and some recommendations from the ever-friendly guides, these tours are perfect.
Continue to the South, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews is a stark feature in the landscape. Steely grey stones of varying heights run in rows. Some people see an abandoned city, others a graveyard. Walking through is eerie – a sense of total isolation, occasional glimpses of other visitors as they flash past between stones. Like something you almost had and then it’s gone again. The idea of the architect Peter Eisenman, as described in his project text, “the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.”
Further past the memorial is a parking lot, below which resides Hitler’s bunker. The place where he committed suicide hours before the end of the war.
Walking over to Gedarmenmarkt, between the French and German Domes, this beautiful plaza is a good spot for people watching and enjoying the sunshine. You can pay 6 euro and climb up the French dome for a beautiful view over the city.
Conveniently, Rausch, the famous German chocolatier, is very close by 😊 On the main floor, all variety of chocolate bars and pralines are on offer (try the salted Caramel dark chocolate heart). Upstairs is where to go for hot chocolate. Choose your cacao percentage and your add-ins – options include chili, orange, or espresso.
In case you want to design your own chocolate bar (yes, it’s a thing!) head to the Ritter Sport factory, on Franzosische strasse.
A stroll through the famous Tiergarten is not to be missed. An expansive green area in the middle of the bustling city, Berlin’s very own Central Park.
For a proper traditional German night out, Ausfurtz is the answer. A student-ish bar in Friedrichshain, there are no white table cloths or prim waiters. Instead, an infinitely long global beer list and hearty main dishes are the idea. Goulash comes in a deep rich sauce, with red cabbage and dense bread dumplings for soaking up the sauce. Winter food.
Time for a jog. Leaving from the hostel, I make my way along a few busy streets before finding the river and a more friendly pathway. Rivers are always a winning location for jogging – less interrupted by intersections and often populated by fellow joggers.
CHIPPS is the ticket for a late breakfast/brunch. Try the No. 6, Dancing Queen (Eggs Florentine) or the No. 8, Walk of Shame (tomatoes, feta, chili, coriander, and cashews on toast). The service and coffee were as good as the names.
A Berlin institution is the KaDaWe department store. Similar to Harrods Department store in London, the KaDaWe is an eight floor monstrosity of clothing, designer purses, makeup, shoes, books, housewares, and the gourmet level – complete with champagne and oyster bars. It’s a right of passage to have a glass of bubbly and people-watch.
Time to head to all the things you’ve seen on TV – Checkpoint Charlie and the remaining piece of the Berlin wall. Behind the wall resides the Topography of Terrors museum. No artifacts, no art, no objects – rather descriptive text and powerful photographs of the years leading up to and during the war. It’s a raw and uncensored view of the horrors of war and the pain the population went through.
For dinner, Restaurant Aigner offers local traditional dishes such as schnitzel with warm potato and cucumber salad. Another night of proper German fare. Feeling like a proper cocktail afterwards, we go to Victoria Bar – you cannot get more old-school then here. Ring the doorbell and you enter the past. Smokey, filled with fashionable patrons, and the most meticulously prepared drinks.
Sit back, relax, and take a boat tour of the city. Just like the canal tours in Amsterdam, it’s a different perspective on a perhaps familiar place. Within one hour you learn a lot about the different parts of the city.
Another right-of-passage in Berlin is some authentic Berlin street food. Two items are very well-known here – currywurst and doner. Currywurst is fried sausage, cut into pieces and covered in ketchup and curry powder. It was inspired by American and British soldiers in World War II (who loved ketchup and curry powder respectively). If this sounds too much for your stomach to handle (but I promise you it’s delicious) then go for the doner kebab. Sold positively everywhere, you’ll be handed a soft pita round filled with juicy meat, cabbage, lettuce, onion, tsatsiki, melding together to make an ooey gooey masterpiece. It shouldn’t cost more than 3-4 euro. Check out this list by Thrillist of the best places for Doner in Berlin.
In the afternoon, it’s time for Museum Island. As the name suggests, you can take your pick of where you want to go. The Neu Museum is fascinating not only for the items inside but the building itself. An architectural marvel, spacious, bright, grand. It was heavily bombed in WWII and even has a room of building “pieces” – ones they aren’t sure where to put back!
Though you thought you were in for a traditional weekend, it might be time for something besides schnitzel and sausage.
District Mot is the place to go for some Saigon street food. We shared a hot pot – lemongrass coconut broth arrives steaming at your table, and you self-cook the vegetables, fish, seafood, beef, chicken, tofu, and noodles it comes with. Cooking time is brief, and you get to enjoy a progressive meal with a variety of add-ins.
Another Asian option is Monsieur Vuong. This Vietnamese restaurant serves delicious soups and stir-fries – with proper spice and fresh flavours. Try the unique and delicious teas and juices.
Sadly, it’s time to end the long weekend and leave the glory which is Berlin. But don’t worry, you can always go back.