16 Sep Travelling to Berlin – the AA Roadwatch guide
Germany’s capital is one of the absolute must-visit cities of Europe. It may not be the easiest on the eye and it certainly doesn’t wrap itself up in a neat little package for tourists, but once you scratch the graffiti-daubed surface, you may never want to leave. Berlin has some of the world’s best nightclubs, food from all corners of the world and a fascinating, turbulent history with buckets of political intrigue – after all, it spent decades of the 20th century divided between the Americans, British, French and Russians.
AA Roadwatch’s Chris Jones is on hand with a few tips…
This bit shouldn’t give you too much trouble – Ryanair and Aer Lingus each operate two flights per day from Dublin, while Ryanair also flies three times a week from Belfast and twice a week from Shannon. Whichever route you use, flight time is well under three hours, so you should be fresh and raring to go when you arrive.
Berlin is a huge city by area, and walking from A to B isn’t always practical – not least because its divided history has left it with multiple focal points. East Berlin’s main square Alexanderplatz, for example, is nearly three kilometres from the iconic Brandenburg Gate and neighbouring Reichstag (the German parliament building) – and both are relatively central.
Fortunately, you can rely on that famous German efficiency when it comes to the city’s comprehensive public transport network, with plentiful trains (the mostly underground U-Bahn or the suburban S-Bahn), buses, trams and even ferries. Tickets are transferable across all the modes of transport, and there are multi-day and group discounts available – perfect for a family or group of friends on holiday.
If you plan to take the car, you can find lots of advice on driving in Germany at our blog.
Due to Berlin’s sprawling size it can be hard to get your bearings, so I recommend starting your visit with a walking tour. Over two to three hours, your guide will take you all over the city on both sides of the Berlin Wall (some of which is still standing) and give you a potted history of this fascinating place. Remember to take notes of the places you want to come back to!
For many people, Berlin’s Cold War history is the main reason to visit, and you could easily spend your entire trip soaking it all up. Squeezed into a Tardis-like riverside location is the excellent DDR Museum, which tells the often chilling story of communist East Germany in the decades after the Second World War. Look out for the lovingly recreated and brilliantly kitsch East German living room, or the little Trabant car that came to symbolise the oppressive system.
No less sombre, the Holocaust Memorial beside the Brandenburg Gate is an essential reminder of Germany’s part in the Second World War. Don’t leave without wandering through its abstract, maze-like columns.
Get a sense of Berlin’s sheer sense of scale by taking in the view from the restaurant at the top of the Fernsehturm, or TV Tower. Built by the East German state as a way of flexing its Cold War muscles, it stands at a whopping 368 metres tall. Nearly 50 years after completion, it remains the tallest structure in Germany, and in a city with few skyscrapers, it looks cool from the ground too.
Finally, if you are planning a trip in late November or December, don’t miss the wide array of Christmas markets, or Weihnachtsmärkte, in the city. Check out our guide to these and the best Christmas markets around Europe here.
There are no two ways about it – Berlin is the clubbing capital of Europe. Lovers of dance music, especially that particularly Teutonic brand of dark, pounding techno, will be in hog heaven – and you could easily spend an entire weekend wandering from club to club. Think you’ll get kicked out at 3am, Irish-style? Think again – most people are only turning up at that time, and the best clubs stay open until lunchtime the next day, at least.
The infamous Berghain is top of many people’s list, with good reason. Set in an imposing former power plant, the door policy is strict – very strict – but if you manage to make it inside you’ll find a club unlike any other, all hard stone and metal surfaces, punishingly loud music and a permissive but respectful vibe. If you have an open mind, give it a go.
It’s not all tough electronic beats in Berlin, though. Having once been home to David Bowie and Iggy Pop, the city retains some of its rock and roll glamour and you won’t be short of options that’s your thing. Indie clubs and venues like The Astra, Lido and Bang Bang Club should be top of your list – once you’ve made the pilgrimage to Bowie’s former home.
Like many large cities, the coolest parts of Berlin keep changing along with the demographics – a shabby area becomes hip, makes a name for itself and then gets smartened up as the chain cafés and stores move in, so the artists and hippies move on. These days, the southern districts of Kreuzberg and Neukölln are the places to be – you’ll be spoilt for choice with cool bars, shops restaurants and cafés.
On my last visit I loved Zum Böhmischen Dorf, a buzzing, Czech-themed bar serving authentic, unpasteurised beer. Or for something a little edgier, try Barbie Deinhoff’s a little further north – an amazing dive bar with great cocktails and fantastic music. It’s the kind of place you’d want as your local.
As for food, where to start? Like any cosmopolitan city worth its salt, Berlin is big on street food, and with a large Turkish and Middle Eastern population that means excellent kebabs and falafel. If you fancy a sit-down meal, I can recommend a fantastic – and incredibly cheap – Vietnamese restaurant called Hamy Café near the Hermannplatz U-Bahn stop. Quick, fresh and very tasty! Or at the other end of the scale, you can literally dine in the dark at one of the city’s two ‘dunkelrestaurants’ (dark restaurants) – with only your nose and taste buds to guide you, it’s a sensory experience unlike any other.
Berlin isn’t the kind of city where all the good stuff is restricted to one small location, however. Wander around these areas and many others, and there’s a good chance you’ll stumble into your new favourite hangout by sheer fluke. And although it’s not the prettiest city in the world – Paris it ain’t – the German capital is hard to top for atmosphere, nightlife and things to do. It’s the kind of place you will want to keep returning to – if you let it get under your skin.
If you’re planning your next city break, why not consider a trip to Edinburgh? Check out our guide and learn more about what to expect when visiting the city. Before going on holiday, we advise all travellers to take out AA Travel Insurance. It oﬀers a wide range of travel insurance beneﬁts like ﬂight cancellations, lost or stolen luggage and medical expenses.