Berlin is one of those places that keep its charms well-hidden. Grey, vast and sometimes a little confusing to navigate, it’s nonetheless an incredible place to enjoy world-class culture, festivals, green spaces and Europe’s magical four seasons. Once you have more time on your hands and move to a lock-and-leave home, you’ll have more time to head to Berlin to use as your base for exploring Europe. Here are some tips to make the most of your time here.
Art and culture
It’s hard to know where to start but most people begin on Museum Island. Don’t miss the Neues Museum, which was rebuilt by British architect David Chipperfield after being left a ruin for many years after World War Two. While you’re there, wander through the Humboldt Forum – once the Berliner Schloss, or palace, it was razed by the East German government and replaced with their parliament building. After the collapse of the GDR, it was decided that the asbestos-riddled building would be demolished and the Schloss rebuilt. Now, it's a modern cultural centre with stunning exhibitions and open days.
Other galleries worth visiting include the newly reopened Neue Nationalgalerie by mid-century architect Mies van der Rohe, and Gropius Bau for contemporary art. The Jewish Museum is worth visiting for architect Daniel Libeskind’s incredible architecture alone, as well as current exhibitions.
Berlin has always been a musical city. Due to the city’s historic division, there are two opera houses, the Staatsoper in the east and the Deutsch Oper in the west of the city (double check your tickets and make sure you’re at the right one!) as well as the Berlin Philharmonic. Or, for something a little different, you can go to a tea dance. Even if you don’t want to dance, it’s a lovely sight to see people dressed up and dancing in the afternoon.
A walking tour of Berlin is a great way to soak up the world events that happened here, and there are many on offer. For more in-depth experiences, there are three places that are worth visiting:
Gleis 17 at Grunewald station is the platform where thousands of Berlin’s Jews were put on trains bound for death camps in the East. Now a memorial, it’s a moving place to literally walk in the footsteps of those Berliners and to reflect upon the loss of their lives. You’ll also notice Stolperstein, which are small brass plaques set outside the homes of Jewish Berliners to remember them.
A free exhibition that is worth visiting both for its architecture and its story is the Tränenpalast or Palace of Tears, right next to Friedrichstrasse station. This was the place where people moved to and from East and West Berlin, passing through border guards and often subject to interrogation. The Stasi Museum, too, is an incredible place to understand more about the mindset of East Germany (and on that note, Australian author Anna Funder’s book, Stasiland, is essential reading for the plane ride.)
Eating and drinking
You don’t really come to Berlin for fine dining. Having said that, both the beer and the bread are world-class, so be sure to enjoy both (and there are very good alcohol-free beers available, too.)
For street food, you can’t go past a Currywurst mit Pommes – a legacy of the British occupation of Berlin, when a stallholder in the west first sprinkled curry powder on a Bratwurst. Doner kebab stalls are everywhere and generally of a high quality.
German bakeries are your best bet for easy, cheap and delicious lunches, and street markets are also a great place to enjoy some local produce – look out for roast salmon stalls, and old-fashioned charcuterie. Food halls are another good option; Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg offers an amazing selection of food, from pizza to delicious ice cream.
For an atmospheric old-school Berlin experience, Clarchens Ballhaus in Mitte is lovely – great food and good beer in an old dance hall; there’s also a beautiful beer garden in summer. For proper Berlin dining there’s also Lebensmittel in Mitte, which has some classy shopping nearby, and if you are in need of a decent coffee, Father Carpenter is just around the corner. In west Berlin, the Kantstrasse has some great Asian restaurants, including Madame Ngo for high-end Vietnamese cuisine.
In the winter months, Berlin offers cosy bars, Christmas markets and theatre. But if you come any time between May and October, you’ll see a different city, one that is incredibly beautiful and green.
To make the most of summer here, be sure to visit a lake or two for swimming – in the west, the Schlachtensee is stunning, while the Grunewald hides the Teufelssee, or Devil’s Lake, where bathing costumes are very much optional. The Grunewald is also wonderful for a long hike with hidden restaurants and pubs. In the centre, you have the Tiergarten with its English tea house, and in the east there’s the charming Volkspark. For kids or grandkids, the Tierpark is a huge zoo with lots of outdoor space, a fantastic cafe and pink flamingos.
Where else to go?
From Berlin’s impressive Hauptbahnhof, a new night train now travels to Paris, while you can also journey east to Krakow (around seven hours) and to Prague in four hours. Enjoy!
Want to learn more about making the most of your next 30 years?
We’re committed to making life better for the over 55s. Check out downsizing.com.au for more insights and great advice on living life to the fullest.