Berlin is a city that’s packed to the rafters with hidden history, cool cuisine and quirky surprises.
Yes, there’s the well-trodden tourist trail to follow, but where’s the fun in that? To really get under the skin of the fascinating German capital, you need a local on your side. Former producer of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and Paris cultural expert and personal guide Ute Biefang has recently returned to her country of birth to create a series of tailored tours of Berlin for inquisitive travellers. She’s passionate about helping people discover the city’s unique personality.
Here are ten of Ute’s tips to get you started. Gute Reise!
Popular Prenzlauer Berg offers no end of people watching opportunities and one of the best options for breakfast with a street view is Café Anna Blume. Pull up a pew on the big sunny terrace and order the special three-tier etagere filled with tasty German breaky treats. At night, the café turns into a fully-fledged restaurant with a diverse menu.
Walk off your breakfast indulgence with a stroll by the River Spree. Start at the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Museum Island for views of the latest addition to Berlin’s amazing architecture — the James Simon Galerie, which opened in mid 2019. Walk past the Tränenpalast at Berlin Friedrichstrasse railway station — a former border crossing point between East and West Berlin — and continue on to the Reichstag. Admire the stunning architecture of the parliamentary buildings and the German Chancellery. Allow one hour for the walk.
South of the city centre is the Schöneberg district, which is home to the Winterfeldtplatz Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. It’s one of the best markets in Berlin and a must-do for foodies if your dates line up. Visit Caros Imbiss in the middle of the square for an authentic Berliner currywurst, and Bauer Lindner for sausages, dairy products and ever changing lunch specials. Seafood lovers should drop by the Stecklerfisch & Co stand for whole grilled fish from their BBQ, and don’t miss trying baker Brot ist Gold’s ultra-tasty organic bread.
As you would expect, the cafe choices in Berlin are endless. One option that’s uber popular with Berliners is The Barn. There are various locations across town, with the main roastery located at Schönhauser Allee 8 in Pankow in the city’s north.
For Australian-style coffee and a rustic-chic setting, drop by Silo in Friedrichshain.
Berlin’s street food scene may come as something of a surprise for the first time visitor, but it’s a key component of the local culinary landscape. Cult-status currywurst (pork sausage in curry sauce, usually accompanied by a serve of French fries) is on offer at Curry 36. There are three outlets across town, but the main one is at Mehringdamm 36 in Kreuzberg. If meat is not your thing, just next door is Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebab — renowned for the best veggie kebabs in the city.
For a microcosm of Berlin art, music, and culinary culture, make your way to the Spree-side Holzmarkt in Friedrichshain. This urban playground is full of kooky nooks and offers casual eats and yet more people-watching opportunities.
Art aficionados should definitely check out Sammlung Boros — a private contemporary art collection housed in a former military bunker. Book for a guided tour of the facility well in advance. Also visit the Koenig Galerie in Kreuzberg, which occupies a former church built in the Brutalist style of the 1960s.
For those who love classical music, concert hall Piano Salon Christophori offers a highly unique sonic surprise.
The Bikini Berlin concept retail mall by Berlin Zoo is one-of-a-kind. Shop for an eclectic array of designer wares, then rehydrate with a cocktail at Monkey Bar on top of the 25hours Hotel. It’s a refined but relaxed rooftop space that offers sweeping views over the city and zoo.
The capital has hundreds of amazing restaurants, but one that is particularly good is Cookies Cream. This upscale vegetarian eatery is so very Berlin! Even confirmed carnivores will love the chef’s incredible plant-based concoctions.
Hidden behind an unmarked door under Friedrichstrasse station, you’ll find super cool Bar Tausend. This stylish mirrored bolthole is always full of fun-loving locals dining, drinking and dancing until the early hours.
Ute Biefang offers personalised tours of Berlin that incorporate culinary highlights and cultural gems. For more information, visit www.uteinberlin.com.
Do you have any tips to add to our insider’s guide to exploring Berlin? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Ruby Boukabou is a travel, culture and lifestyle reporter. She has written for dozens of publications, including Qantas in-flight magazine, The Age, The Australian, The Diplomat, Paris Voice, Get Lost and France Magazine. She has produced and presented culture and travel stories for the ABC, SBS and Screen Australia. Ruby is author of The Art Lover’s Guide to Paris and Sense in the City, Paris. When she’s not exploring, you’ll probably find her tap dancing.