There's much more to Berlin than what's in the guidebooks. Get off the tourist track and experience the city from the perspective of those who know and love it best - Berliners
I don’t know a single person who has visited Berlin and not returned home completely in love with the place.
It's got nothing to do with the Reichstag or the Brandenburg Gate, as fantastic as they are, but is instead more to do with the graffiti, the squats and the hundreds of other hidden attractions the city has to offer.
This is a guide to why Berliners love Berlin, but I hasten to add that even some of what I’m about to tell you might come as a surprise to a few of them.
Whether you’re a fan of street art or not, you can’t help but admire the vibrancy, audacity, and in many cases, sheer scale of the graffiti on show in Berlin. To get to the heart of Berlin’s artistic community, find your way to Tacheles on Oranienburger Strasse.
What were former SS offices are now home to local artists and sculptors, squatters and several exceptionally good bars when the outdoor beach comes alive at night. A trip to Café Zapata in particular, should be compulsory.
You can find street art literally everywhere in Berlin, so if that’s your kind of thing I recommend picking up a book on the subject from one of the many bookstores across the city (There’s a great one in Hackescher Markt, just look out for the shiny silver façade of the furniture shop nearby).
Or, if you’re limited on time you could do worse than to check out the Tommy Weissbecker Haus in Kreuzberg (www.tommyhaus.org) or beeline straight to the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall, The East Side Gallery, near Warschauer Strasse U-Bahn, currently in the middle of being restored.
If you’re a real culture vulture, the opera in Berlin is another of the locals’ favourites and with tickets starting at around €8 it’s also good value. For more information about what’s on when check out the website (www.berlinfo.com) which will also give you info on other goings on in the city.
And on the subject of guides, most restaurants, takeaways and hotels will usually have a copy of Zitty Berlin, the definitive bible of what’s going on in the city. Although it’s in German, the listings section at the back is pretty easy to navigate, and it’ll keep you abreast with all the best parties, gigs and shows.
If the weather is good in Berlin (it happens, I’ve seen it) then you’re spoilt with options. If the beach is your thing then head over to the east side of the city, where you’ll find Yaam, a tiny Jamaican community living on the banks of the Spree. Admittedly the sand might not be real but there’s volleyball, deckchairs and plenty of Red Stripe on offer.
Plus, it’s not too far a walk from there to Bar 25, one of the best places in Berlin to spend a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night, or in many cases, all three at once.
On the other hand, renovation in the Stadt Mitte has seen a huge temporary field appear smack-bang opposite the city’s cathedral, the Berliner Dom. Perfect for endless hours of people watching, sun bathing, or a picnic; it’s probably the most conveniently placed sun spot if you’re based in the centre of town.
Everywhere you go in Berlin, you’ll see bears of many varieties; stuffed bears, fiber-glass painted bears and tacky souvenir shop plastic bears. What you might not know about however are two very alive, very real bears, living in the centre of the city, and outside the walls of Berlin Zoo.
Take the U-Bahn to Markisches Museum, and make your way to the centre of the small park there. Just next to a children’s playground (possibly a disaster waiting to happen) you’ll find the home of Maxi and Schnute, two adult brown bears. Once you get over how surprisingly close you can get to them both, you’ll notice that the area is for the most part, tourist-free, frequented mainly by local Berliners.
If you’re looking for an alternative tour around one of Europe’s most fascinating cities, I definitely recommend a trip to see the real Berlin bears.
For sleeps, the lively Wombats Hostel near Rosa Luxemburg Platz is perfect for the budget traveller, or for something a little more central you might wish to try The Ritz-Carlton on Potsdamer Platz.
Eatswise, Berlin again has plenty to offer from great Lebenese takeaways like Dada Falafel on Linienstrasse 132, Indian cusine at Yogi Haus, Belziger Strasse 42, or Kreuzberg’s mysterious Shy Chef, who you can contact at www.theshychef.wordpress.com. A must-do for gastro fans.