We all have these places we could keep coming back to over and over again. Places we could never tire of because there’s always something new to discover, or because they somehow resonate with us. Marlene Dietrich once famously sang: “I still keep a suitcase in Berlin”. Her sentiment to keep returning to Berlin whenever she fancied definitely rings true for me. My first two visits in the city were solo day trips that I booked impulsively during FlixBus sales. I barely got to scratch the surface, but it was enough to make me fall in love with Berlin’s vibe, atmosphere, and culture.
In 2020, I finally got to explore this city in more detail. It was the final destination of our only foreign trip of the year that also included Wrocław and Dresden. A result of this is this mini guide to Berlin, in which I want to share my newly discovered favourites, as well as some ideas to fill your spare time. Sit back and enjoy!
Missed my posts about the previous legs of our trip? Check out my 15 favourite things to do in Wrocław (including where to spot a giant cat!), a post showing how to plan a day trip to Książ Castle and why it should be on anyone’s itinerary, and my Dresden guide featuring the most Instagrammable dairy shop!
Where we stayed in Berlin
After Dresden, Berlin was the next place where we managed to score an amazing hotel deal due to COVID-19. Four nights in a 4-star hotel set us back €335 – a really reasonable price, especially if you consider the extremely convenient location. Angleterre Hotel is only a stone’s throw away from the Kochstrasse U-bahn station, and literally down the street from one of the city’s most famous landmarks – Checkpoint Charlie! As a self-confessed Anglophile, I was utterly obsessed with the hotel’s Britain-inspired interior. Yet another selling point was the vintage-looking bar area. We’d envisioned ourselves sipping on a cocktail after a long day of sightseeing, but it didn’t quite work out…
The bar was closed whenever we passed by. When we asked the receptionist about it one day, her answer was straightforward: “To be honest, you would be the only guests in there!” Too bad we had no idea when we were checking in, as we could have kindly asked for a room upgrade! Knowing that we had almost the entire hotel to ourselves was a strangely satisfying feeling, and a definite perk of travelling in 2020.
On our last evening, we took advantage of it and booked the whole sauna area for a mere €15. There was no time limit, which made this even more of a bargain. The bathroom in our room was also perfect for a pamper night before a long journey back home. Not only did they have a huge bathtub (I came armed with my Lush bath bombs), but there was also a heated floor. It was honestly such a luxury and I spent waaay too long in there trying to get all warm and toasty. I genuinely couldn’t recommend Angleterre Hotel enough – not sure how I can go back to skimping on accommodation now!
Exploring the city with a WelcomeBerlin card
I’ll admit that up until our trip to Berlin, I’d never really considered buying a City Pass. I’d seen various bloggers recommend those, but whenever I did the quick math, it always seemed like I wouldn’t be getting my money’s worth. After a while, I completely wrote them off. It wasn’t until we started working on our Berlin itinerary that the topic came up again. We were planning a day trip to Potsdam and my boyfriend suggested we look into getting a WelcomeCard.
The public transportation system in Berlin is quite possibly the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. It’s cheap, efficient, and provides easy connection between virtually anywhere in the capital and its neighbouring areas. I heavily rely on public transportation whenever I’m in the city, so I would always just get a daily ticket. The current price is €8.80 for Berlin AB (City Centre) and €10 for Berlin ABC (including Potsdam). The Berlin WelcomeCard valid for 72 hours was €38 each (it’s currently €39), so we decided to go for it. If you’re a total culture vulture with a jam-packed itinerary, it might be worth looking into getting the more pricey all-inclusive WelcomeCard. Even the basic version saved us some money, and I think I might just be a City Pass convert… Watch this space!
What we saw in Berlin
Why, thank you, never would’ve thought of this place without your guide… All jokes aside, this symbol of Berlin’s turbulent history is a great place to start your Berlin journey. I still remember the excitement when it gradually unravelled right in front of my eyes for the first time as I was leaving the underground station. I arrived in Berlin at 6 AM that day and decided to head to the Brandenburg Gate as soon as the sun came up. It was a frosty January morning and apart from one couple, I was the only person there. I’m usually not the kind of person to get up with the chickens in order to get the best photo, so I wanted to savour that moment!
During the last trip, we went in the middle of the day… let me warn you, this was a huge mistake. There were people swarming everywhere, which took away all the magic of this place for me. Thankfully, I still had my old memories to cherish, or else I’d be sorely disappointed. I know it’s such an obvious thing to say, but picking the right time frame can genuinely make or break your experience.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Once you’re in the area, it is worth stopping by this unconventional memorial site for a moment of contemplation and remembrance. It consists of over 2,700 slabs of concrete of different heights placed on a slope. The site resembles a labyrinth that visitors can access from all sides. Walking around these columns on an uneven surface is supposed to cause disorientation and therefore inspire some reflection. Beneath the memorial, there’s an information centre where people can learn more about the Holocaust victims as well as the wartime atrocities. However, there was a long queue when we arrived, and we decided to avoid crowds this time around.
In the vicinity of the memorial you can also find the site of Adolf Hitler’s bunker. It has since been levelled and might now be world’s most frequently visited parking lot. I grew up a short drive away from Hitler’s former headquarters where the failed assassination attempt took place. A lot of abandoned bunkers still remain in the area, and my dad would take me and my boyfriend to explore even the lesser known ones. The one in Berlin is where Hitler spent the last moments of his life and died of a self-inflicted wound. If, like me, you enjoy expanding your history knowledge, you may want to consider adding it to your list.
During the Cold War period, Checkpoint Charlie was the most famous crossing point between East and West Berlin. A bit of a fun fact is that only foreigners could cross through it – ordinary tourists, as well as allied diplomats and military personnel. The Western allies did not check everyone leaving for East Berlin. Interestingly enough, members of their armed forces reported it in their own interest, in case they got arrested or disappeared. On the other side, a thorough check of everyone who attempted to cross the border took place.
Nowadays, it’s a popular tourist attraction where you can see a copy of the original guard house. You could once take a photo with actors dressed as allied military policemen until this practice was banned by the city’s authorities in November 2019. As we had Checkpoint Charlie practically on our doorstep, we decided to head there in the evening when fewer tourists were around. I would highly recommend it, as we could walk around and take our photographs in peace. If, however, you decide to go during the day, you can also visit the nearby Checkpoint Charlie Museum.
East Side Gallery
I believe the next place on my list doesn’t really need an introduction. Did you know, however, that it’s the largest open-air gallery in the world? On this 1.3-kilometre long stretch of the Berlin Wall, there are more than 100 mural paintings by artists from all around the globe. Yet another interesting fact is that the wall facing the East German side was initially painted white so that the guards could easily spot anyone trying to escape. Sadly, some sections of the East Side Gallery have since been torn down in order to make way for high-rise luxury apartment complexes.
When I first visited Berlin back in 2017, a huge section was fenced off due to what I suppose were restoration works. It wasn’t until last September that I finally got to see this landmark in its full glory, including my favourite Trabant mural by Birgit Kinder. As you walk around admiring the artworks, it can be hard to believe the wall was once used to divide humanity.
And now on to the set piece of each of my travel guides… A place to admire the panorama! In Berlin, it was a no-brainer as we chose a defining feature of the city’s skyline – the TV Tower where you can enjoy a breathtaking 360° view from a height of 203 meters. 4 meters above the observation deck, there’s also a restaurant that rotates every 30 minutes! The time limit is 45 minutes for the observation platform and 1.5 hours for the restaurant.
As we wanted to use our WelcomeCard discount, we chose to purchase tickets directly from the box office. It gave us 25% off, bringing the ticket price down to only €13.85 each! We went shortly before sunset, and surprisingly enough, there were no crowds. Due to COVID-19, we just had to fill in a short form where we provided our names and contact details, and we were good to go!
I’ve been to numerous observation decks around the world, and one of my biggest pain points is the fact that I often don’t know what I’m looking at. Even if I’d already explored the city before coming there, it looks totally different from a bird’s-eye view. The Berlin Television Tower provides the perfect solution to this problem. By each window, there’s a short overview of what you can see from it, including tips on where to look. It was genuinely one of the best observation platforms I’ve visited to date, both in terms of views and organisation!
Museum of Photography
From the moment I launched my first fashion blog in high school, photography has been one of my biggest passions. When my boyfriend, who had been to this museum a few years prior, highly recommended the permanent exhibition, it went straight to my list. Normal tickets cost €10, reduced €5. Alternatively, you can get a free entry with an all-inclusive Berlin WelcomeCard.
The two lower floors of the museum are home to the Helmut Newton Foundation. The permanent exhibition, called Helmut Newton’s Private Property, explores the life and work of this legendary photographer. It features various memorabilia, including personal correspondence, parts of his camera equipment, and photo collection. I’ll admit I wasn’t particularly familiar with Newton’s career, and while his photography style stands in total opposition to mine, I found the exhibition extremely interesting. I also may or may not have been wondering what those stunning Louboutin stilettos used for one of his photoshoots would look like in my closet…
Museum for European Cultures
When searching for the best things to do in a given city, I often check if there are any fashion exhibitions currently on display. I did the same for Berlin and The Dark Sides of Fashion exhibition at the Museum of European Cultures came up. I initially wasn’t sure whether or not I should go. Sustainable fashion is gaining lots of traction at the moment, and I didn’t know if the museum would be able to add anything new to the conversation. I eventually decided to give it a try, and as a result of a little miscommunication, I got in for free… How, you may be wondering? Well, here goes the story…
Adults get 25% off with a valid WelcomeCard, so I presented mine at the box office. The man selling tickets got visibly happy and animated, and much to my confusion, soon handed me a free ticket. I know some German, so I checked to see what it said. Turns out people under 18 are eligible for free admission, both with and without the WelcomeCard. All this time I was unhappy with the fact that I don’t look my age, but it can have some amazing perks too! If you want to read more about my museum visit, here’s my post about The Dark Sides of Fashion!
Day trip to Potsdam
As I’ve already mentioned, one of the many perks of Berlin is how well-connected it is to its neighbouring cities. One day is nowhere near enough to explore everything the German capital has to offer, let alone venture outside of it. I always said that when I finally do come for longer, I will have to include Potsdam in my itinerary. It just so happened that not visiting Potsdam was my boyfriend’s one regret too, so we decided to plan a visit together. If you’ve been thinking about it as well, a post about our day trip from Berlin to Potsdam is coming up next, so stay tuned!
Where we ate in Berlin
Tous les Jours
On our first morning in Berlin, we decided to apply the same approach we did in Dresden and just play it by ear. Sadly, it didn’t work so well this time – we kept on walking around the Alexanderplatz area, but literally nothing caught our attention. As I was getting more and more hangry, I decided to leave it up to my boyfriend to find somewhere to eat. Well, I have to say the boy did really good!
He found a lovely restaurant tucked away in a quaint street in Prenzlauer Berg. The name Tous les Jours was very well-fitting, as the neighbourhood had a certain Parisian vibe to it. The restaurant seemed very popular with the locals too, as we managed to snag one of the last tables available. When I sifted through the menu, I found it really hard to narrow down my choices. I thought ‘Why not have both?’ and chose to have scrambled eggs with bacon and pancakes with vanilla sauce. My boyfriend got their Fromage set with a basket of fresh rolls and a variety of cheeses, and we had a total feast. They also have plenty of healthy options with bio ingredients on the menu, so everyone can certainly find the perfect delicacy for themselves!
Zeit für Brot
We visited Zeit für Brot following a glowing recommendation from our local barista who explicitly told us to try the cinnamon rolls. The choice of typical breakfast items was rather limited, so we got a grossly overpriced egg burger each. Although really tasty, it was around €6 when it shouldn’t have cost more than half that amount considering the portion size.
The barista, however, couldn’t be more right. If you’re lucky enough to come when there are still some cinnamon rolls left (seriously, these go ridiculously fast!), it would be a crime to leave empty-handed. If someone told me I could only have one of the food items we tried in Berlin again, I would be on my way to Zeit für Brot before you could say bon appetit! Honestly, I dare you to find a better cinnamon roll than that one.
I came back the following afternoon to get some to go. They didn’t have any, but told me they would be fresh out of the oven in around 15 minutes. When I returned 20 minutes later, they were nowhere to be seen. It’s absolute madness, but I promise it’s for good reason – go see for yourself and thank me later!
The third breakfast place was yet another barista recommendation. When we checked the menu online, we admittedly weren’t too keen on it and were going to skip this place. Still, curiosity got the best of us. His Wrocław coffee recommendation was amazing, as was the cinnamon roll one – could third time be the charm here?
The menu is very limited – I could count all items on the fingers of two hands. My boyfriend chose roasted courgette with chopped egg, sunflower seeds, and shrimp powder. I went for their breakfast pancake sandwich with sausage patty, fried egg, cheese, and maple aioli. First thing I want to point out is that with most items costing around €12-€13, it’s closer to what I’d expect to pay for lunch.
When it comes to the food itself, I genuinely can’t fault a thing. It wouldn’t be my first choice, as I prefer more conventional breakfast options, but I really enjoyed it. Would I recommend this place overall? If the thought of dishing out €15+ for breakfast doesn’t scare you, then yes.
No Into the Bloom travel guide would be complete without at least one place to get your caffeine fix. If you’re a fellow coffee enthusiast, you may be familiar with Five Elephant, a legendary Berlin-based coffee roastery. The owners are known for sourcing high quality beans – I’ve heard nothing but great things about their famous cheesecake too, which sounded like a match made in heaven. We visited their Mitte branch one afternoon, ready for a top-notch experience.
Whenever we visit third wave cafés, we always ask for blend recommendations – we love when specialists in their profession share their passion with us, as we can always pick up some great tips. Unfortunately, the barista at Five Elephant had a rather limited command of English. He quickly showed us one blend without getting into detail, and proceeded to take our order. We wanted to try their specialty coffee, but from what we could understand, there was only one batch brew in their espresso bar.
Thankfully, the coffee defends itself – it was exactly what you’d expect from a globally recognised place like Five Elephant. The cheesecake was sublime too, although I was surprised it was served in the form of a small, round dessert rather than a regular pie. I also found the sleek, minimalistic interior with stunning marble countertops very aesthetically pleasing.
However, I couldn’t help but notice it was designed with the idea of serving as many customers as possible in mind. The seating area was very limited and rather uninviting. I don’t know about you, but I much prefer the Viennese coffee culture to Italian espresso bars with a high rotation of customers. Still, if you’re a coffee lover, Five Elephant is one of the classics you simply cannot miss when in Berlin!
Another coffee roastery that has been an inherent part of the capital’s coffee scene is The Barn. We visited their Mitte branch the next day, curious about how it would compare to our Five Elephant experience. For starters, the interior design was slightly too raw for my liking, although I love how all the roastery equipment was on display. I may have excitedly taken a sneak peek or two into the back…
Our customer experience was as seamless as can be! Both baristas spoke exceptionally good English – one of them talked us through each of the brew bar options, describing the main tasting notes. Thanks to her recommendation, we decided on the Dambi Uddo and Geisha blends, with the latter probably being the most expensive coffee I’ve had the pleasure of tasting! It was worth every single penny though, as it may have well been the best we’ve both tried. The funniest part was when the other barista confessed he can’t stomach one of the blends when he’s hungover, as it brings out strong whisky notes to him.
If you still haven’t developed your personal coffee preference, fear not! You can also purchase a sample box with coffee from their current range, which includes a tote bag and brewing guides. You can also pick up coffee info cards from the counter so you can learn more about each of the blends. I genuinely couldn’t recommend The Barn enough. The atmosphere was second to none – it makes a world of difference when you’re around people who are experts at what they do and willing to share that knowledge!
After coffee, another thing my boyfriend and I love taste testing are burgers. Naturally, when Burgermeister was mentioned in most of the guides I read as the best burger in Berlin, I knew we had to try this culinary sensation. Over the years, they have expanded into several locations around the city, but we chose to visit the original joint on Schlesisches Tor. An old public toilet under a bridge transformed into a burger place is admittedly not something you hear of every day, but the never-ending queues speak to its fame.
Thankfully, due to COVID-19, we managed to avoid the madness we’d seen in various photos circulating online. It took us no longer than 15 minutes from the moment we arrived until the moment we sat down ready to consume our food. Our verdict? Frankly speaking, we didn’t really get the hype around these burgers. Yes, they get extra points for the extraordinary location and extremely affordable price range. Yes, we appreciated the simplicity of classic fail-safe options and savoured our picks. Would I go so far as to call these the best burgers? Not really. My personal revelation, however, were the chips doused with melted cheese – it’s worth coming for these alone!
Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap
Another Berlin-based food joint that took the Internet by storm is Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap. You may have seen photos of this rather unassuming stall located directly by the entrance to the U-Bahn Mehringdamm station. You may have read stories of people queuing for 2 hours, come rain or shine, just to get a taste of Mustafa’s famous kebab. It’s no secret I can go to great lengths for access to the most Instagrammable places, but was I crazy for wanting to do the same for the type of food I hardly ever eat? Quite possibly, but I can’t just resist trying out trends and places that break the Internet.
Much to my surprise, even Mustafa’s joint wasn’t immune to the ongoing pandemic. If we were talking about any other place, a dozen people waiting in line on a weekday afternoon would be a resounding success. In this case, however, it’s safe to say the crowd was decimated. Well, one man’s loss is another man’s gain! It took us no more than 25 minutes to get our food – just enough for me to get some drinks from the nearby Rewe supermarket as my boyfriend stayed in the line.
If you’re one of the people that have been laughing about these ridiculous queues, I have some bad news – Mustafa’s is definitely worth the wait. I may be no expert, but I loved their twist on a traditional kebab. A perfectly crispy bun filled with well-seasoned, juicy meat, grilled vegetables, three aromatic sauces, all sprinkled with feta cheese provides just the right balance of flavours and textures. The best part is that despite their cult status, the prices are comparable to your average döner stall – we only paid €4.30 each!
So, there you have it…
If you made it until the end of this guide, thank you very much for sticking around! I’m sure as I keep returning to the city, this blog will fill up with even more Berlin recommendations, but for now, I hope it gave you enough ideas to cover your bases. However, before I let you get back to crafting your perfect itinerary, I wanted to leave you with one last question:
What city could you keep returning to over and over again, and why?