I promised to devote a blog post to my trip to Berlin, so here I go. Berlin is, first of all, a surprisingly lovely – albeit slightly bombastic- city, filled with the nicest people ever (despite reports to the contrary). That being said, it was a bit of an adventure for me, as I got lost (on several occasions), was nearly robbed and had blisters on my feet the size of ping pong balls… So here is my list of what to do in Berlin if you’re blessed with the same chaotic mind as I am:
- Check your wallet/handbag/backpack at least every 20 seconds!
Since the Berlin police department itself warns about the dangers of pick-pockets, I have no reason to be discreet about this. A friend of mine was robbed at the airport. Exactly 3 minutes after getting some money at the machine, 500 euro was stolen from her bank account. The only thing she had noticed, was a beggar standing right next to the machine…I was nearly robbed at the Gendarmenmarkt (despite its name, I didn’t see any police officers there ;-)). Now, first of all, this is a wonderful square, so go and visit it. But beware! I was there early in the morning, at about 9 a.m. There were hardly any tourists there. I was there for about a minute when I noticed a guy walking towards me. He started encircling me, but stopped and turned away when I looked right at him (who knew I could stare like that!). Just a bit later, at the other corner of the Gendarmenmarkt another guy intentionally walked in front of my camera while I was taking a picture. I immediately put my camera away, grabbed my things a bit tighter and walked away. At this, the second guy re-joined the group of tourists on the square and starting circling around them. Now, this was actually quite creepy. So, in short, hold on to your belongings as if your life depended on it!
- Check your camera batteries before visiting anything.
If you take pictures with your smartphone, see that it is charged. Why I am stating the obvious? I had a camera with me, the batteries were even full, but I took the worst photographs ever. Turns out my camera is broken, so I really need to buy a new one. Now, I don’t have to explain the frustration of being in a city you haven’t visited before and then noticing all the photographs you took, look like there was an eternal mist hanging over Berlin. The only remotely decent photo I have, is one that I took from the Humboldt University at Unter den Linden.
- For heaven’s sake, let your high heels at home!
(Stop rolling your eyes for a second) Don’t think for a minute you can trot around on your nicest pair of preppy pumps without developing blisters that will have you in excruciating pain for the duration of your trip. I should know. I didn’t trot around on pumps or high heeled ‘I-look-like-a-shoe-but-I’m-only-there-to-look-nice-not-to-actually-support-your-feet’-things. I wore my red boots, with a – usually quite comfortable but nonetheless elegant – heel, and since I flew ‘check&go’ I couldn’t take another pair with me. Pain people. P.A.I.N. Berlin is a large city – as European cities go that is – and the many, many maps I took with me and subsequently bought in Berlin always gave me the impression every place I needed to be at, was at a 5 minute walk from my hotel. Not so. Even when you take the U-bahn and the many other choices in public transportation, you will have to walk.
- The police is your best friend.
I got lost. More than once. I was there for the annual Renaissance Society of America Conference and as usual the organisers did a fantastic job of printing maps of the surroundings of the Humboldt University etcera. But seriously, I’m usually good with maps – I have to be, as I’m married to a man obsessed with geography who draws his own maps and has been reading atlases ‘for fun’ since he was about 7 years old – but in Berlin I was completely and utterly unable to find my way. There’s something about 19th century bombastic architecture that does that to people I think. My advice? The police is your friend. German police officers are über-nice and will do anything they can to explain where you have to go, even to the point of estimating how long it will take you to get there. Considering my blistered feet I was especially happy about that point.
- Eat German food.
Gosh, every foody in Berlin – or the world for that matter – might gasp in horror at what I’m suggesting. I’m not saying you should never go out for a pizza or sushi (especially sushi, “eat sushi as much as you can” is my personal food motto) or something a bit more fancy. But honestly, despite a certain prejudice you might have, there is nothing as delicious as a good schnitzel (and yes, I do know a schnitzel is actually Austrian. I only wonder whether the Prussians know that) or sauerkraut. We had dinner at a German restaurant near Humboldt and it was a truly lovely evening. Ok, so 80% of that loveliness was probably due to excellent company, but still, I wish I could cook a schnitzel like that…
Now, these tips might not be what you are looking for. So if you are in need of more information on the ‘hipper’ side of Berlin, check out these sites:
- At the Travelettes site I found these two posts:
- There is also a blog devoted to the city:
- There is of course the official tourist site:
- And our trusted friends at the Lonely Planet always have the best tips:
- But if you’re a hipster and you just cannot follow the more mainstream tourist sites, here is something especially for you: