Berlin, the perfect weekend escape

My 3 personal highlights in Berlin:

  • Dive into history on a themed walking tour, e.g. Third Reich Tour or Red Berlin Tour (done on an earlier visit to Berlin)
  • Discover the Prenzlauer Berg locality with its markets, indie boutiques, cafés and the Kulturbrauerei complex
  • Visit the Reichstag building and enjoy the views from the glass dome

People say the Berlin rudeness is a charming local curiosity. I got a first taste of it when I wanted to buy a bus ticket from Tegel airport to Bahnhof Zoo. When I handed the man behind the counter my credit card issued by a well-known Swiss bank whose name consists of three letters, he said: “I don’t think the card will fit into the slot because the bank always gives itself airs.” (The wordplay was actually quite good in the German original: “Ich weiss nicht, ob die Karte rein passt… die Bank macht sich immer so dick.”)

From Charlottenburg/Ku’damm…

My stay in Berlin last week was a combined business and leisure trip. As it was my second trip to the German capital, I skipped most of the classic sights. The conference venue – the history-steeped Savoy Hotel in Charlottenburg – was a bit too old-fashioned, too abundant in wall-to-wall carpeting for my taste. Next time I will stay at the nearby cool 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin. The Monkey Bar on its 10th floor delivers fabulous views of the neighborhood, the Berlin Zoo and the Tiergarten. Another great nearby rooftop bar is the newly opened (July 2016) Grace Rooftop Bar – Hotel Zoo directly on Kurfürstendamm. A relatively new ‘sight’ in the area is the Bikini Berlin concept mall that opened in 2014: fashion, accessories and design boutiques and pop-up boxes in a 1950’s architectural icon. My personal highlight is the huge panorama window facing the monkeys at the zoo. Something that you shouldn’t miss either, when you are in the area around Ku’damm, is the legendary gourmet food hall of the KaWeDe department store. You will find 35,000 different delicatessen products in this gourmet heaven.

…via Mitte/Alexanderplatz…

When my wife Corina joined me in Berlin after the business conference on Friday afternoon, we changed to Berlin-Mitte and stayed at the Lux 11 Hotel just north of Alexanderplatz. That evening I caught up the one classic sight that I missed during my first visit to Berlin a few years ago: a visit to the Reichstag Building. The free guided tour explaining the history and architecture of the building as well as the workings of the Bundestag was ideal for a history and politics aficionado like me. The tour ended with spectacular views from the dome. That night, we had dinner at Prince, a nice modern restaurant with south-east Asian crossover specialties next to our hotel. For the nightcaps and some more stunning views we stopped at the rooftop terrace of House of Weekend (dance floor from 11pm) near Alexanderplatz.

…to Prenzlauer Berg

We started our Saturday with coffee and breakfast at Type Hype which is at the same time a café associated to the Lux 11 Hotel and a beautiful concept store with old industrial lights and a humming printing press. A very fashionable way to start your day – if you don’t mind the mediocre service of the hipster staff. The Lonely Planet description of the Prenzlauer Berg location is apt: “There are no must-sees, just ample local charms that reveal themselves on a leisurely meander.” We spent the entire day strolling around Kollowitzplatz and its side streets, popped into indie boutiques for fashion, furnishings and design articles, had a coffee at Meierei (famous for their ‘alpine specialities’) and joined the locals at the organic farmers and craft market (Thu noon-7pm, Sat 9am-4pm). We had a delicious bratwurst with sauerkraut for €3,50 at the market before we headed to the Kulturbrauerei. The red and yellow brick buildings of an old brewery were transformed into a mix of shops, restaurants, nightclubs, concert and theater venues. And there’s a museum worth visiting about everyday life in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). If you are interested in design and visit Berlin before March 2017, don’t miss the temporary exhibition ‘According to Plan? Industrial Design in the GDR‘.

One of my personal highlights of our Berlin trip was dinner at the fleischerei berlin near Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz. The former butcher’s shop is the perfect setting in order to taste some ‘high-quality classics of German meat culture (…) served with one of the largest selections of great Austrian wines in Berlin’ (restaurant website). My black pudding with apple and mashed potatoes as a starter, the entrecôte with sweet potato fries, roasted mushrooms and salad as well as the glass of Blaufränkisch were all delicious.

We liked the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood so much that we spent the remaining hours before our flight home on Sunday there as well. The Mauerpark Flea Market (10am-5pm Sun) is the biggest that I have ever been to. We ended our great weekend with some more history at the Berlin Wall Memorial.

All in all, Berlin is a fantastic city – both for those who are into classic sightseeing and history as for those who are looking for a relaxing weekend with great food, cafés, shops and markets. I’ll be back!

Additional tips:

  • EUREF Campus: forward-thinking location development project in the Schöneberg locality. Even though the area is developed by a profit-oriented real estate development company, they only accept tenants that are active in the fields of climate, energy or mobility. Guided tours are available for groups. The gourmet chef Thomas Kammeier is responsible for gastronomy on the campus.

Date of visit: September 15-18, 2016 (blog post includes elements of an earlier trip in 2009).
We stayed at the Savoy Hotel (not recommended) and at the Lux 11 Hotel (recommended).

Read next: On a speed date with Oslo

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