James Maskell

A few days in Berlin

28 October 2012

I just got back from a short break in Berlin, a city I have not visited before. Here are some of my thoughts on the city and summary of what I got up to:

Food

Berlin has some good places to eat, and some not so good places. We didn't eat anywhere awful but did have some great meals.

Of particular note:

The Bird

An American style burger and steak place in Prenzlauer Berg. This restaurant is very popular and reviews online often say that it serves the best burgers in town. I can't vouch for this as I only had one burger during my time in Berlin and it was here. The portions are huge and look like a big mess on your plate. There is a message at the front of the menu explaining that these burgers should not be eaten with knives and forks. They taste great and I can easily say that it was one of the best burgers I've ever had. I was incredibly satisfied after eating. Just try not to think about what it might do to your insides.

Monsieur Vuong

A Vietnamese restaurant in Mitte. We took the queue to be a good sign and waited for approximately 20-30 minutes in the cold to get a seat (this was around 8PM on a Saturday night). There are only a few options on the regular menu but several daily specials to choose from. The food was filling, portions were generous, vibrant and it felt quite fresh and healthy. I'd quite like them to open a branch in London.

Oderquelle

A small restaurant serving German cuisine, located near the Mauerpark. The meals are hearty and very filling. A bit stodgy but in a good way. I had rolled deer, with pickled red cabbage and potato dumplings. They don't have a menu online so I assume this changes regularly.

Ruben & Carla

A new restaurant that I would recommend for lunch. While they serve a range of burgers they are known for their pastrami sandwiches. The one I had was great - a generous portion of meat, served with lettuce, onion, sauerkraut, horseradish, mustard and thousand island dressing.

Konnopke’s Imbiß

A currywürst food shack under Eberswalder Straße station. Supposedly a Berlin institution that has been there since the 1930s (quite an achievement considering the city's history). Food is fast and you shouldn't expect great quality but it's fun. Be prepared to eat outside.

Drinks

We had drinks a few places (there are bars and pubs everywhere) and the following two stood out:

Beckett's Kopf

A small cocktail bar that you could easily walk past and think nothing of. Curtains are drawn and you can only see a picture of Samuel Beckett hanging in the window. You have to ring the bell to enter. Menus are presented within a Samuel Beckett book but the staff will happily make something specific for you.

Metzer Eck

A tiny and what I imagine to be a typically German pub. Staff are friendly, don't speak much English but will be patient with you if your German is poor and you're not making much sense. The food is decent (Schnitzel, Currywürst) and very cheap.

Cultural

Berlin has a rich history and there are a lot of museums and political things to see. Including:

The Reichstag

A historic building that houses main chamber of the German Parliament (the Bundestag). The Reichstag spent much of the 20th century in ruins but was restored in the 1990s following the reunification of Germany. It is an impressive building - the historic facade preserved but with a very modern interior and large glass dome on top. You can visit the building and explore the dome, which has excellent views of Berlin, by booking in advance.

You can also book a tour of the entire building when the Bundestag is not sitting. We did this and got to see parts of the building that are not otherwise open to the public.

Stasimuseum

Located further out in the east of Berlin, the Stasimuseum in housed the former headquarters of the GDR's Ministry for State Security. The complex is a little hard to find but somewhat daunting, somewhat post apocalyptic and very 1984. The exhibitions give a good history of the GDR and summarises the activities of the Stasi. Definitely worth a visit.

Pergamon Museum

Located on Museum Island near Alexanderplatz in central Berlin. This museum houses huge and extremely impressive exhibitions - such as the reconstructed Pergamon Altar and Ishtar Gate. While most museums have artefacts and relatively small items, the Pergamon has entire buildings. At one point we half expected to walk in to another room and find a reconstructed Pyramid of Giza.

East Side Gallery

The longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall that has been decorated with paintings by 106 different artists. Worth a visit.

Accommodation

I used Airbnb to find a place to stay. There are a lot of apartments listed available in Berlin. Many are located in old well built apartment blocks that have been refurbished to a high standard since reunification. The weather was cold while we were there, but the apartment was warm and high spec. Prices are cheap - less than €100 a night.

We stayed in Prenzlauer Berg - a quiet but fairly central area just in the North East of the city. Staying in someone's apartment gives you a much better feel for what it is actually like to live in Berlin.

Language

The main language spoken in Berlin is obviously German, however many people speak English at a conversational level. While you could probably get by without any knowledge of German at all, it's worth (and definitely polite) to have a grasp of the basics and at least give it a go.

I feel that my language skills improved slightly throughout the trip (I noticed myself being able to understand more German by the end) and I'm keen to keep this up.

Foursquare

I used Foursquare a lot to help find places to eat and things to see. The recommendations and tips that people leave are often helpful. I have created a list that features most of the places mentioned in this post.