Wednesday, April 12, 2017

My best tips for Berlin

This is what Berlin looks like if you google it.
Ok, I am just going to say it.  Berlin is ugly.  Really ugly.  I am not saying that it doesn't have its attractive parts.  The Unter den Linden is nice, as is the Gendarmenmarkt.  There are also some striking modern buildings.  But most of it looks like the projects. Dismal indifferent apartment blocks.  There is a lot of graffiti. There is surprisingly little foot traffic, although maybe that is because I was there in the middle of winter.  But still, you don't have the charm of taking a walk and enjoying the journey as much as the destination.  Unless you like post war apartment blocks. In which case there is much to like.
This is what Berlin actually looks like.
Still Berlin has its charms.  I am guessing there are many great bars and lots of good nightlife.  Since I was there with my two boys, I did not get to experience this.  Also, Berlin seems to have a lot of hipster coffee houses.  Again, the boys did not want to sit in cafes all day so I don't have much to say about these.  Obviously, if you are interested in WW2 and the Cold War, there is much to see.  But what really impressed me about Berlin was the food.  There is tons of good food, much of it ethnic and inexpensive.

Berlin is quite large and it is not obvious where to locate yourself. Where ever you stay, you will still be traveling, so my advice is to mark all the restaurants you want to go for dinner in google maps, and then find a hotel near them.  In my case, this would be Mitte, above the river or Friedrichshain Kreuzberg.  Sadly I didn't stay in either.  I stayed at Mecure Hotel Residenz Check Point Charlie. (  This was a very clean reasonably priced hotel.  Our three bed room was huge.  They had a nice bar and lounge area.  Our room rate didn't include breakfast, so although the brunch did look nice, we elected to adventure out. The two bad things about the hotel were that the internet was not very good, unless you paid extra and that we were a good half an hour walk from all good restaurants.  On the plus side, the location was very central and near the subway station.

Things to do
There a million museums in Berlin.  My boys and I have a limited tolerance, so we had to pick carefully.  This is what we managed:
Neues Museum
Located on Museum Island, this was a must see because they have the original famous bust of Nefertiti.  Although I was not wowed by the rest of the exhibits, it was definitely worth it to see this famous statue in person.  They also had a huge gold phallic hat.  I will eave you to find out what that is yourself. To avoid the lines, I can recommend that you purchase tickets online.  You have to buy them at least a day before you are planning to visit.  For nearby eats, you can check out Spreegold or Ishin Udon.

Fake history
Checkpoint Charlie (
This is a facsimile of the real Checkpoint Charlie, one of the border crossings from Western to Eastern Berlin.  The actual checkpoint is a sort of kitsch recreation but around the checkpoint are some exhibits and museums about the Berlin Wall and the Cold War.  It isn't worth making a special trip but you will probably walk by it on the way to somewhere else, so you can stop and check it out. (Yes, that was a pun.)

Imposing gate
Brandenberg Gate
An icon of Berlin and a symbol of the Cold War, it is a pretty walk down from Alexanderplatz on the Under den Linden.  You can get a sense of the grandeur of historical Berlin and what it must have looked like before the war.

Methodology behind killing
The Topography of Terror
This museum is located at the site of the Nazi headquarters of the Secret State Police.  The actual building was bombed during the war and the remains razed soon after but this museum was built on top of the site.  This is not a museum for little kids because it is mainly just photographs and a lot of text to read.  It really gives you a chilling overview of the systematic methodology behind Nazi plans.  I found it fascinating.  My kids were slightly less thrilled but endured it without complaint.

Not just concrete blocks
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Much has been said about this memorial which is basically a bunch of concrete tomb like blocks.  It is definitely worth walking through and is better an experience that it looks like in photographs.

History of the wall
The Berlin Wall Memorial (
Pieces of the Berlin Wall are all over Berlin, but if you want to see a large bit, this is a good place to do it.  The memorial covers several blocks and where the wall used to be is marked by a steel sort of fence.  There are information plaques all around explaining the history of the wall, particularly as it affects residents of Bernauer Strasse.

Love flea markets!
The Fleamarket at Mauer Park (
If you like fleamarkets, and I do, you might check out this one that is on Sundays.  They have the normal mixture of old, crafts, and food that you would expect.  It was not very large the day we went after Christmas, but it is probably really great in the spring and summer. The Berlin Wall Memorial is nearby so it is convenient to do the two together.

Mall of Berlin
We checked out this mall which was not that exciting.  It had the usual international shops.  Saturn is a chain of electronic shops which has an excellent selection, if you are looking for gaming mouses and headphones.  But otherwise, I have zero shopping tips.

Evidence of bombs
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
This church built in the late 1800s was badly bombed during the war.  The destroyed church was kept as a memorial to the war.  The boys thought it was cool to see.  This church is right near KaDeWe so you can combine the two.

I would like to live in this food hall.
I can't even begin to tell you how much I loved this. KaDeWe is a fancy department store.  They have the normal selection of upscale goods and clothes, with a nice cookery department. But ignore all that.  The real star is the gourmet food court.  Imagine endless shelves of chocolates, piles of seafood, beautiful fruit, and lovely counters serving up hot food of every type.  The seafood counters were amazing.  There was a gorgeous hamburger stand.  We came for the wienerschnitzel.  And it was delicious.  Bigger than our dinner plates.  I would like to live in that food hall.

Christmas Markets
We were lucky enough to go to the Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market one evening for dinner.  We went around and sampled sausages, spaetzle, waffles and more.  It was a lovely festive atmosphere with lots of happy people, food, music, and crafts.

If I would have had more time, I would have liked to visit the following:
East Side Gallery ( the longest stretch of the Berlin Wall still standing covered in murals.  We kept meaning to go see this but it is a bit out of the way of all the other things we wanted to see so it never happened.

Gemäldegalerie ( I really wanted to check out the Vermeer here but I left it too late in the trip and the boys refused to go to another museum.

The Jewish Museum (  This museum is about the history of the Jewish people which I thought would be fascinating but the boys said no.

OK, here is where Berlin got really exciting.  So much good food, I didn't have enough meals to eat everything I wanted to eat.

Yes, they were really good.
Mustafa's Gemuse Kebap (
Did you know that the kebap as a sandwich was invented in Berlin? Neither did I until I started doing Berlin food research.  I read several articles and blogs and they all recommended this particular kebap stand.  They warned that one should be prepared for a wait. A very long wait.  I had to try it.  We went the first night we were in Berlin.  There was a long line.  We debated.  But we were already there, so we got in.  An hour later, the line had moved marginally forward when we were informed that they had ran out of chicken and it would take 20 minutes before the next roast was ready.  Should we wait?  Yes of course we should.  Almost 2.5 hours later, we had a hot Kebap in our hand.  A buttery toasted bun, grilled chicken, three kinds of secret sauce, roasted vegetables, fresh crunchy salad with bits of mint and onion.  It was definitely the best kebap sandwich I have ever eaten.  It was delicious.  Worth the wait?  I don't know.  We didn't go back but we thought about it.

Gracious old world cafe? Yes, please.
Cafe Einstein Stammhaus (
Don't mix up this gracious old fashioned cafe for the Einstein Kaffe chain that you see throughout Berlin.  This was a lovely spot for brunch as evidenced by the line to get in.  But the wait was not too long and the food was delicious.  We opted for lunch dishes but most of the people around were having brunch.  I longed to go back here the whole time I was in Berlin but with so many other restaurants to try, I didn't make it.

Monster brunch platter at Spreegold
Spreegold (
This hipster cafe has huge portions of eggs, pancakes, salads and pastas.  The food was not as good as Cafe Einstein but still well worth a visit.  They do a monster brunch platter. The line moves fairly quickly.

Marheineke Markthalle (
This old markethall is nothing special but we found a fun little tapas stand and ate a delicious dinner sipping cava (that was for me) and eating gambas and tortilla.
Hipster chic at Pho Hoi
Pho Hoi (
This unassuming vietnamese had yummy pho, as well as delicious curries.  This is obviously local and not particularly touristy.

Amazing Baklava!
Pasam Baklava (
This bakery dedicated to Baklava has a wonderful selection of different types.  The place was out of the way and empty when we went but looking at the display case made my mouth water.  It felt like we had stumbled upon a treasure. Grab a cup of tea and a few pieces and then take a big box to go.  I thought we would bring the box home.  No, it was gone by the next morning.

Can't go wrong with good Udon.
Ishin Udon (
This delicious little Japanese noodle shop is very near Museum island so it is a great place for lunch.

Places I would have liked to eat
As you can see, this list is very long.
Monsieur Vuong-One of the first and some say the best Vietnamese in Berlin.
Henne-An old restaurant just serving fried chicken and potato salad.  I really wanted to go here but it was closed the day we decided to go.
Hoai Nam
Hamy Cafe
Imren Grill
Kushinoya-Supposed to be one of the best Japanese in town.
Dada Falafel--Suposed to have great falafel, which I love.
Factory Girl
Bäckerei Balzar
Cafe Fleury-A popular brunch spot.
Mein Haus am See

Love to hear about your favorite spots in Berlin!

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