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!
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
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
Eating around the city
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.
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.