1. You don’t have to sell a limb: For a big European city Berlin is value for money for a tourist across accommodation, food and commute. Further the Berlin City Center pass helps reduce museum entrances and gives discounts for tourist attractions. A decent double-occupancy accommodation will cost between 100 – 150 euros a night, apart from which you may end up spending an average of 100 euros a day including meals.
Any shopping or luxury dining would exceed the average budget although I would encourage you to indulge in some shopping especially at stores that promote local artists. I found one such store near Check point Charlie called Vielfach Das Kreativkaufhaus. I bought everything from beer mugs, to bookmarks, to souvenirs and I wanted more!
Visiting the Reichstag dome is free – and I would add it to a traveler’s must-do list. This is a large glass dome built on top of the Reichstag building symbolizing that people are above the government. However, one is required to register and get a time slot physically in a booth close to the Reichstag building.
The dome provides a spectacular 360-degree view of the city along with an informative audio guide. We timed our slot during sunset and that was the best decision ever!
2. Such a Hippy Vibe: My mental map of a hippy vibe translates to friendly, chill, conscious, and fun. Berlin has all these elements and more. One of the most easy-going cities where locals are happy to share information, will communicate in English and where you can find people walking around with bottles of beer on the street. In the summers, streets are filled with music, summer festivals and food fiestas.
To get a slice of the pie, visit the Mauerpark flea market where you will see rows of vintage and up-cycled products, apart from homemade botanical gins, handmade bags and clothes, quirky souvenirs, interesting jewelry and crazy karaoke. You will come back with empty pockets, music filled hearts and a beautiful day.
3. Travel like a Local: Getting around Berlin for a first-timer or a solo traveler is quite easy – through local transport, maps and local help. Once or twice of hopping on to the Berlin subway, you will be riding the U Bahn like a pro! If you plan to get a Berlin City Center pass they include subway passes as well. Like many Europeans cities, Uber is not an option and local cabs are much more expensive to get around.
Berlin is very cosmopolitan and this is reflected in the cuisines you get. Some popular cuisines are Turkish, Vietnamese, Italian, and Spanish. For good Turkish food, head to Kreuzberg, Burgermeister outlets for delicious burgers and stop by Van Anh for some Viatnamese. It may be hard to find typical German food though!
4. Crazy Street Art: You absolutely cannot walk away from the city without exploring the street art scene. The colors, techniques, tools and creativity will blow your mind. Keep your eyes open as you will be staring at graffiti at random corners and walls. Mitte, Kreuzberg and East side gallery neighborhoods will show off some of the cool art.
I would highly recommend taking up a guided tour to understand the depth of the art work – Alternative Berlin Tours has a popular walk. Before you dismiss this, did you know that murals, graffiti, stencils, paste ups are different kinds of wall art at the least!
In your art adventure, you will meet Mr. 6, Little Lucy, Bear Mascot, Elephant Playing with a Balloon, Cosmonaut and encounter the controversial Fraternal Kiss among others.
5. History lessons revisited: They say no one admits their mistakes (in history) like the Germans do and you will see this reflected in the museums across Berlin. A large part of our trip was spent in museums because each museum has in-depth information, interestingly presented information with a perspective that was intended to be honest. History is often infamous due to the bias and viewpoints presented in ways that may be false or deliberately colored but the museums here seemed different.
Some of the highlights were Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Checkpoint Charlie Museum, Jewish Museum, Topography of Terror.
Given there is so much information to digest, we did a free 3 hour guided tour with Brewer’s Berlin Tours for setting context to our upcoming museum venture and visiting the popular historical sights and sites. One of the coolest highlights was standing where the Wall once existed, so that one could be standing in East and West Berlin at the same time.
As I was leaving Berlin, the only thing on my mind was that I will be back. There are so many more reasons I would revisit Berlin but I will leave you with a sixth reason for now!
6. Green and Lean but not mean: I did not imagine big cities were capable of having such large green spaces. Berlin is one of the greenest cities of Europe with large spaces covered by parks, garden and forested areas. Tiergarten, the ‘Central Park’ of Berlin, is considered the most popular and is spread across 210 hectares.
I would further recommend visiting Volskpark Friedrichshain, the first park opened to the public in 1848. The fairytale fountain in this park, with its beautiful stone sculptures based on German traditional folk tales, will take you straight into your dreams and their pond area with beautiful ducks and landscape will make your day.
Spend some time walking or biking around the city to come across some hidden gems, cool cafes, and quaint neighborhoods.