Thursday, July 7, 2016

Berlin Guide

Endlich!

Here's an annotated map of Berlin that I made. Scroll through if you like--I'll cover the main points in writing below.


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Basic logistic stuff:

Berlin has a top-notch public transportation system. You can get the Berlin Welcome Card or the City Tour Card which include free transportation and discounts on some attractions. Depending on how long you're staying and what you want to see, either one of those or the regular day passes could be a good option. Look at ticket prices here. For either, I'd recommend getting Berlin AB. C has some sites worth seeing but you only need AB to get around all of Berlin, and if you have a pass valid in AB then you can get an extension ticket (Anschlussfahrausweis--yes, really, Anschluss) to C for 1,60.

Download the BVG app to be able to look up routes between things. Very useful. Link to a PDF of the system map here.

Many places, particularly small food places, only take cash. But food in Berlin is cheap so you can eat out every meal and still stay under 20 euro a day (caveat: I have cheap taste in food and don't eat mammals). (See food section, below.)

English levels tend to be high. I'm trying to speak in German as much as possible because I want to improve my language skills, but it would not cause too much hardship if you use English.

Keep an eye on your wallet. Mine was stolen in my second-to-last week, probably at the U-Bahn station.

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Okay, onto the fun stuff. What to do?

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I've shown two people around Berlin (Lieutenant Sarcasm and my sister) and for both, we did one very busy Mitte day and one chiller day in the west of the city, which I think worked out well (although you'd have to ask them)

Because Berlin is so decentralized geographically from its history as a bunch of villages that grew together, it really requires a lot of time to see--I lived there for eleven weeks and still feel as though there are huge swathes of the city I don't know at all. But Mitte is the have-to-see stuff, and you can pick and choose from more peripheral parts of the city based on your interests.

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MITTE: city center must-sees

There is a lot of famous and worthwhile stuff in the city center, so for this section I will prescribe a recommended itinerary.

From wherever you are staying, get yourself somehow to either the Potsdamer Platz or Brandenburger Tor station. If you're in Potsdamer Platz, head north to Brandenburger Tor.

Spend some time at the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. The famous one with the stone blocks. My personal policy for such monuments is to be alone, even if I arrive with someone, because with tragedies it's common to feel the need to conform to some societal expectation of grief/mourning/processing and that performance can impede actual reflection about what happened, why, and where to go from here.

Brandenburger Tor is a big gate. Look at it. Appreciate it.

Brandenburger Tor

My sister and I went on a lecture/tour of the Reichstag Building. You can register for free here. It was very interesting and informative, and the views from the dome are spectacular. Takes about an hour.

Walk along Unter den Linden, look at the shops &c. Turn right on Charlottenstraße and go to Fassbender und Rausch, the chocolate store. They have a cafe on the first floor (er, second floor). The hot chocolate is expensive but extremely good.

Gendarmemarkt is supposedly one of the nicest squares in Berlin. Nice buildings. Go north to the Humboldt University campus. Notice the rather inconspicuous memorial to the Nazi book burnings in front of the law building.

The Deutsches Historisches Museum is huge and interesting, and if you are into history definitely worth taking a look. But if you are short on time and want to go ahead to Museuminsel, that is also understandable.

The most important thing on Museum Island is this statue of Livia Drusilla (wife of Augustus).
Museuminsel: go early enough in the day that you can go to at least three museums, because then the day pass is worth it. The five museums on the island are: the Altes Museum (GrecoRoman), Neues Museum (prehistoric and Egyptian), Pergamon (Middle East), Alte Nationalgalerie (paintings mostly from 1700-1800s), and Bode (medieval and Renaissance). If you have to pick three I would recommend Altes, Neues, and Alte Nationalgalerie because Pergamon is mostly under construction and Bode has mostly religious art and that is not my personal preference.

When the museums close at 1800, cross the river on the other side and get dinner at Hackescher Markt, the corridor by the AquaDom, or Alexanderplatz. Depending on what season you visit, you may still have a few hours of sunlight left. Do with them what you will!

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For the rest of the city, I'll just list some interesting things to do by region/neighborhood.

More MITTE

If you have more time, there are a lot of other things to do and see in the city center.

Kulturforum is a short walk from Potsdamer Platz and has the Gemäldegalerie and the Philharmonie and such. The Technikmuseum is huge and quite cool. The Jewish Museum is also excellent and their permanent exhibit, which takes you through the history of Jews in Germany starting from the middle ages, blew my mind. The official monument to the Berlin Wall is informative although not particularly exciting. On Sundays there is a huge flea market in Mauerpark nearby, usually with various musicians performing scattered around the park; good for picking up souvenirs.

I am fond of Hauptbahnhof.

Just walking along the Spree and then through Tiergarten can also be fun. If you go through the whole thing, make sure to get a closer look at the Siegessäule (victory column), ft. war damage.

EAST

The side of the city I know the least well. Alexanderplatz is historically important and has the TV tower. The Stasi prison museum is a bit out of the way but very interesting and tours are sometimes led by people who were imprisoned there. East Side Gallery has cool art.

ESG: Whoever wants the world to stay as it is, doesn't want it to remain.


Honestly, I did not spend much time in the Kreuzberg or Neukölln, so I have less to say about them. A trendier actual travel blogger can cover you for what to do there.

CHARLOTTENBURG

Schloss Charlottenburg

If you walk through all of Tiergarten this is where you'll emerge. The big draw is of course Schloss Charlottenburg--walking through the grounds/gardens is free. Lots of good Asian food nearby. The Technische Universität is also here. Overall, one of the ritzier neighborhoods in Berlin.

STEGLITZ-ZEHLENDORF

The southwest side of the city. I lived and went to school here. A quiet neighborhood, some would say boring, but I liked it a lot. If you look at the map I made you will find many food suggestions. As for things to do, the Botanical Gardens are quite nice although nothing compared to, say, Berkeley's.

The Freie Universität is in Dahlem and has neat architecture, including the Philological Library which has been called "the Brain." The Dahlem Museums are affiliated with the FU, and include the Ethnological Museum and the Museum for European Art. Domäne Dahlem, a former manor house which is now a working farm, is right across the street from the Dahlem-Dorf station and was part of my commute when I got up early enough to walk to school. Writing this section is making me miss Berlin :(

GRUNEWALD

Big forest to the west of the city. Get to the Grunewald station and, before running off into the woods, look at Gleis 17. This is where deportation trains left.

Teufelsberg

Teufelsberg ("devil mountain") is the site of a former NSA watch tower built on top of rubble built on top of what was intended to be a Nazi university. Probably the creepiest/eeriest place in Berlin that I went to. You can pay to get into the actual summit but just walking around gives a good sense of what it was all about.

Walking through Grunewald is fun because walking through forests is generally fun.

Along Clayallee you can find quite a few museums, of which my favorite was the Allied Museum. For one, it is free (unless you go on a Sunday and pay one Euro to get into a plane used during the Berlin Luftbrücke). For another, the exhibits are interesting. When I went there was a special exhibit on Denazification.

WANNSEE

Go to the Wannsee station. The two main things at Wannsee are the Max Liebermann Villa and the Haus der Wannsee Konferenz. The Liebermann Villa has lovely art (he was a German-Jewish Impressionist painter) but the House is...I hesitate to say that it is a must-see because it is mentally and emotionally demanding, but I think that it is one of the most important places I went to while in Berlin. This is where the Holocaust was planned. Nazi officials sat in this house and looked at these beautiful gardens and this beautiful lake and planned a genocide. Think about that.

SONSTIGES (et cetera)

Tempelhof is an old air field which was used during the Luftbrücke. The hangar is currently housing refugees.

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Two places to go to with the C extension, in opposite directions:

POTSDAM

Schloss Sanssouci

You can get to Potsdam by S7 from Wannsee or, if they are still working on construction along the line, using regional trains from Grunewald or Zoologischer Garten. I went to Potsdam three times and each time did pretty much the same thing: look at the Alter Markt square, go along the main street, walk around Sanssouci for a long time. Friedrich the Great was a very interesting person with a tragic backstory (that is, when he was a young man he and his lover were planning to escape to England, his father found out, Friedrich watched his lover get beheaded and was forever traumatized by this event). Even if you are not particularly interested in Old Fritz, the gardens are beautiful.

ORANIENBURG

I am sure the town is nice, but when I went it was with a class to go to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. You really cannot get away from this stuff in Berlin, and I have no idea how neo-Nazis exist when the evidence of the horror perpetuated under such ideologies is everywhere. You can reach the Oranienburg station along the S1 line.

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Food. The most important part.

There are various restaurants listed in the map, but most of the time I just ended up eating wherever. There is typically some sort of food to be had in any given station. Some suggestions for food:

Snacks: Get a bar or two of Ritter Sport chocolate for snacking upon as you go on your adventures. The tagline is "Quadratisch. Praktisch. Gut." which may be the most German way to advertise anything (translation: Square. Practical. Good). Eis means ice cream/gelato. Since I am lactose intolerant I always got the Zitrone-Eis (lemon flavor), about which I am not complaining in the least. Paprika chips (pepper-flavored chips) are really, really good and can be found in any grocery store.

Cheap food: Imbiss means a small food stand. Food is usually very good and cheap--on-the-go lunches recommended. There are Asian fusion restaurants everywhere--some combination of "Viet" "Thai" and "Sushi." Sushi in Berlin is good and cheap. Noodle boxes are good also. I never had currywurst because I have a no-mammals policy but it sure smells good. Döner. A Turkish street food which is hugely popular in Berlin for good reason. People have gotten sick from eating too much döner so do not go for the bottom-of-the-barrel stuff. You should probably be paying at least 3,50. Bakeries are everywhere and usually very cheap. Cake. Cake is good. My personal favorite: Bienenstich (beesting). Pretzels are also good.

German food: If you go in the spring, Spargelzeit! The typical white asparagus is very good. Places with legit German food tend to be more expensive, or at least there are not as many cheap German fast-food places, but I could see splurging on a last meal.

To drink: this is not a real Berlin guide because I do not drink alcohol so I have nothing to say about Berlin beer. I will say, however, that Apfelschorle is fantastic (apple juice and sparkling water).

A few notes on restaurant etiquette: dinner is meant to take hours and hours, so you need to ask for the check. "Getrennt" means separate, "zusammen" together. Tipping is customary. If it is under about 15 Euro, round up; otherwise, 10-15 percent is a good ballpark. A lot of places will refuse to give you tap water.

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This is a bit of a scattershot introduction to Berlin. It is a city with major scars and an international perspective. It is also my favorite city in the world, and I hope that things work out in my life such that I end up living there again at some point.

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