Quirky Berlin

Quirky Berlin

Quirky Berlin

Quirky Berlin is a city with a gritty exterior and a heart of history and culture. It’s easy to tick off the top sights of which there are many – but look deeper and you’ll find hidden gems and things to taste, drink and try. Here’s a guide to some top Berlin quirks that you might not otherwise find or know about!

Berlin Wall - quirky berlin

Look Down

So often our eyes are drawn to a city skyline – but some of Berlin’s history is literally at your feet.  Across Berlin, you might notice a double line of cobbles with an occasional brass plaque. This immortalises where the Berlin Wall once stood and starkly reminds us of how the city was literally split overnight.  Another quirk of Berlin is the vast amount of cobbled footpaths. These cobbled paths are amazingly simple and traditional for a city full of concrete. Built with only 3 ingredients – cobblestones, sand and a hammer.  Watch out for the tell tale signs of recent repair by noticing any small remaining piles of sand on the pathways.

Touch the wall - quirky berlin

Touch the wall

Remember when you were young and visited somewhere like a museum, castle or historic site?  I was always being told ‘Don’t touch anything’.  For once you don’t have to worry, for as historic as the Berlin Wall is – you can touch it! There are plenty of places to see and touch the wall, to look up and imagine the powerful restriction on your life that the Berlin wall was for so many.  If you visit the East Side Gallery (a must in my opinion), then look out for the ‘Touch the Wall’ mural.  It’s an incredible place to feel part of living history.

Cross the road in Quirky Berlin

Travel like locals

At pedestrian road crossings in Berlin you’ll find a push button to stop the traffic safely for you – except, as I found out – the buttons don’t push! You simply wave your hand over the sensor and that is enough!

Bikes are very popular in Belin too – and there are certainly many bike tours and bike hire venues.  The public transport system is also excellent – plus it’s a flat city so walking is a popular mode of transport.

Graffiti

Graffiti

Graffiti is everywhere in Berlin, but ask a Berliner about it, and they will probably say they don’t notice it.  Unlike in other cities, graffiti isn’t just for underpasses or derelict buildings.  In fact, you’ll find it on the building walls of high end housing blocks and public park structures.  You can take graffiti tours in Berlin, and I even learnt a little about tags, throw ups and murals on my Eating Tour!

Quirky Berlin

The famous Trabi

The Trabant car (meaning companion) is one of the most iconic symbols of Berlin. This small, inexpensive vehicle was manufactured from the GDR since 1949. It was loud, slow, run by a 2-stroke engine and with wings and doors made of plastic. With wait lists of up to 10 years, some citizens signed up their newborn children to the waitlist.  The Trabi’s are a long way from what we drive today, but it’s amazing to think that a car can be such an icon for a city.  If you are looking for something fun, different and traditional to do in Berlin – why not take a self-drive Trabi tour around Berlin.  You can find out more on the Trabi-safari website.

Pipework in Berlin

Pipework

Another quirk of Berlin is the pink overground pipework – 60km of them to be exact! As Berlin is built on swampy land, these pipes pump ground water away from building and construction sites to the River Spree and other canals. Why pink? The pipes supplier Pollem wanted to make a statement with the pipes. After discussions with psychologists, pink was chosen as the most popular colour choice of children and because it seems a fun and youthful colour to adults.

Food in Berlin

Eating around the city

Two of my passions are travel and food – so an eating tour of Berlin was a must for me!  Focussing on the East of Berlin, I wandered streets filled with Turkish and Syrian influence.  My guide Clara, taught me the difference between a Shawarma and a Donna and I tried a delicious hummus-style dish called Mutabal.  There were some Berlin classics too like a Flammkuchen and a Currywurst. We sampled beers, a Fritz Cola and a Berliner Weiss Cocktail (I think I prefer a cosmopolitan more!).  Scattered with history and explanations of modern-day life in Berlin, the tour was a great way to spend an afternoon eating and learning on the go! I booked a tour with Eating Europe.
Beer in Quirky Berlin

Drink like locals

Set amongst most small rows of shops in Berlin, you will find a Späti.  They are small shops filled with chillers of beer and soft drinks, a few snacks and the obligatory bottle opener on the side of the cash till.  This is where you stop as a local, anytime of day, to pick up a cold beer.  There’s often a few chairs outside or a small bench seat.  Or of course, you can carry on your way drinking your beer en route, because unlike in other cities, it’s not forbidden to drink alcohol while walking around the city.  Spätis are cheap, practical and a really local quirk of Berlin.

RAW nightclub

The smallest nightclub in the world

The RAW Tempel in Berlin is definately a quirky venue. It’s a sprawl of abandoned hangars full of graffiti and huge murals, mixed with a contemporary art exhibition, restored furniture shops and biergardens. You can climb an old bunker transformed into a climbing wall or skate at an indoor skate park that is enjoyed by famous skaters. My favourite suprise? – the Teledisko, the smallest nightclub in the world built inside a telephone booth complete with disco ball and fog machine. It’s an edgy part of town and I’m not sure I’d venture there on my own after dark! but it’s fun and certainly quirky.

Make the most of Berlin

Make the most of Berlin

Make the most of Berlin

History, Culture, Graffiti and more – here are some ideas of how to make the most of Berlin.

Berlin is a gritty city that is bursting with history, education and reflection.  The numerous memorials make this a city that honours those affected by Berlin’s past.  But it also allows the new habitants to express their views and celebrate their culture and passions. It might not be a top choice for a romantic getaway, but Berlin has a passionate heart that will touch any visitor.

Berlin’s Geography

The city of Berlin stands in a low and marshy area of Northeastern Germany. With the river Spree running through the city, you’ll find canal networks, parks and a wide low-rise feel to the city. 

Berlin Facts 

Berlin, North Eastern Germany, Europe

Germany's capital city is perfect for history and culture lovers

Spring and Autumn are perfect to visit Berlin. The summer can be very hot and the winters very cold - so dress accordingly

A very large, walkable, flat city with great U Bahn, S Bahn and Tram systems

There is no real city centre but lots of Kieze (communities)

The River Spree runs through the city - boat tours are available

Museum Island

Yes, in Berlin there is a whole island dedicated to museums.  Five large museums sit proudly on Spree Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Berlin’s historic Mitte district.  The Pergamon, Bode, Neues, Alte Nationalgalerie and Altes Museums offer you art, and antiquities on a grand scale.  If you are a museum lover – then you might want to invest in a Museum Pass Berlin. Even if time doesn’t permit museum meanderings, the Museum Island area is one of the most attractive areas to visit in Berlin and definitely worth a walk around.  (The Pergamon Museum is closing for extensive renovation on 23rd October 2023 so check before you visit).

Make the most of Berlin at Museum Island
Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie

There’s debate about whether Checkpoint Charlie should be on your to-see list because it’s now considered a tourist trap.  I understand as the site is – well, small and a little underwhelming. Plus you have to dodge traffic to get a good photo.  But this Berlin wall Crossing point symbolises the Cold War and was the scene of the brief but potentially future-changing face-off between Soviet and American tanks. So go and visit and get the photo!

Brandenburg Gate 

This much loved German landmark is built on the site of a former city gate that started the route to Brandenburg an der Havel.  A symbol of Geman division during the Cold War, it now offers a national symbol of unity and peace. It’s located in a pedestrianized area often used for large public shows and events.  There are some fabulous photo opportunities here before moving on to the Reichstag.

Make the most of Berlin at Brandenburg Gate
Jewish Memorial - Berlin
Memorials

If you are heading from the Brandenburg Gate to the Reichstag, do take a short detour to take in the sombre but beautiful holocaust memorial / Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  In 19000 square metres, the 2711 concrete stelae wave abstractly through the space  – a very unique place of remembrance.  

The Reichstag

The Reichstag is a short walk away and is the current home of the German parliament.  You can sit outside on the grass for a picnic – or make a reservation in the rooftop restaurant.  You can even enjoy panoramic city views from the glass dome.

Reichstag
Berlin Wall - make the most of Berlin
The Wall – or Walls!

It feels surreal to me that in my lifetime, there was a wall that kept a whole population in.  The 27-mile-long wall was 2 walls, with a ‘Death Strip’ in between.   For some, removing the wall after its demise, was essential to remove the painful reminder of a sad past.  Others argued that parts of the wall be left intact in remembrance of the historic events and perhaps as a stark reminder to us all of how fragile peace can be.  The Berlin Wall is still very visible in parts of the city – as too is the double cobbled strip with brass Berliner Mauer markers that you will find if you keep looking down to the ground across Berlin.  Experience the Wall for yourself at Berlin Wall Memorial, Mauerpark, a small section near Checkpoint Charlie and most prominently at the East Side Gallery.

East Side Gallery

One of my favourite sites in Berlin is the East Side Gallery.  If like me you are walking around Berlin, you might find its location a bit of a trek from the famous Checkpoint Charlie, Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate.  Despite the walk, it is SO worth a visit.  On one side of this 1.3m long stretch of wall, you will find the familiar graffiti that really is everywhere in Berlin. But the other side of the Wall is remarkable. 118 artists from 21 countries were commissioned to paint murals that would become the longest open-air gallery in the world.

East Side Gallery
Tunnel 29
Underground Berlin

Between 1961 and 1989 thousands of East Germans risked crossing the border to get to the West.    Before August 1961, up to 1700 people daily, were leaving through Berlin.  The German Democratic Republic officials decided to close the border to stop the drain.  Escapes became a focus of those determined to seek out a life in the West.  Tunnels were popular between 1962- 1964, with serious planning involved to consider reinforcements, lighting and ventilation.  Berliner Unterwelten offers a unique underground tour where you will learn more about the tunnels, underground Berlin and experience both first-hand.

Eating around Berlin

There are some absolute classic dishes to try in Berlin.  A Currywurst from Curry 36 is a must – although maybe once will be enough. Flammekueche with its toppings of creme fraiche, onions and lardons is a delicious lunch.  Then there are the popular Turkish and Syrian dishes which you will find all over the city, including a Shwarma or the hummus/baba ganoush style Mutabal dish.  For drinks try a Fritz Cola, Berliner Weisse Cocktail or a Radler for a refreshing lemony beer drink.  Authentic German cuisine is served at the Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt. It’s got a great atmosphere and a delicious menu from Wiener Schnitzel to the crispy knuckle of pork (be warned that it’s big enough for 2!).  

Flammekeuche

Book ahead for a bonus glass dome tour

Unlike the roughly €25 trip up the Berlin TV Tower,  you can enjoy panoramic views from the Reichstag glass dome for FREE.  Go online well in advance of your trip (bookings were being taken for 2 weeks time when I checked).  Alternatively, you can visit the ticket booth situated to the side of the Reichstag, and make a reservation if spaces are available, for the same day or later in your trip.  PLEASE remember to take ID for all of your party as you cannot book in person without it. Book in advance here  – Reichstag Building and Dome Tour

A great way to make the most of Berlin is to understand some of its history before you visit.  My favourite way to research a city is by listening to podcasts. With a podcast, I can search for episodes, download them and then listen when I’m driving. If I’ve got time I’ll try and get my hands on a few books before I go too.  I have to admit that I didn’t finish the Checkpoint Charlie book before my visit.  But honestly – it felt pretty great to be sitting in a cafe directly opposite the actual border crossing that I was reading about!

Research Berlin to make the most of Berlin

My top tips to read and listen to before you go:

  • Book – Tunnel 29 – Helena Merriman
  • Book – Checkpoint Charlie – Iain MacGregor
  • Podcast – BBC – Tunnel 29 (10 episodes)
  • Podcast – The Rest Is History – No. 83 The Berlin Wall
  • Podcast – Short History – Season 2, E29 – The Berlin Wall
  • Podcast – History HIT – Escaping the Berlin Wall
Touch the wall

One of the most culturally diverse European cities, you’ll notice and appreciate German and international influences on what you see, taste and enjoy.  Berlin will educate you and make you reflect on the past. What it lacks in romance, it makes up for in history, diversity and culture.  Enjoy making the most of Berlin.

Pin It on Pinterest