Berlin Rocks! Every time I return, I feel the city gets better and better. In fact I rate Berlin the second best city in the world.
Established as a cultural capital of a united Germany, Berlin became home to artists, intellectuals and hedonists who enjoyed its freedom before becoming the centre of Naziism in the 1930s. Hitler hated Berlin and longed to see it completely rebuilt architecturally -and socially. He almost got his wish as the city was 80% bombed in World War Two. For most of the rest of the twentieth century, Berlin operated as two separate cities split by walls and fear. Reunification has brought new life (and new problems).
Why is Berlin so cool?
Aesthetically – I give Berlin a score of 96%
Berlin has an interesting collection of buildings including the Berliner Dom (Cathedral), the glass topped Reichstag, the iconic Brandenburg Gate, the 368 metre tall Berlin TV tower, KaDeWe (Europe’s second largest department store), the new main Railway Station and Karl-Marx-Allee, designed to be a Socialist showcase with apartments, cinema, shops and hotel. Add to that the River Spree, more canals than Venice and amazing parks and fountains. In fact, one third of the city is dedicated to open space. Berlin also has the incredible ugly Potsdam Platz. Once Europe’s busiest junction (Europe’s first traffic light was installed here), it was abandoned in a No Mans land it is now a completely rebuilt collection of tall buildings and grey concrete. I don’t like the place- preferring Alexanderplatz.
According to The Mercer Quality of Living Survey, Berlin is the 17th most liveable place for expatriates to move to. I actually rank it higher. It is very affordable. The life of a Berliner can be very full and very interesting. Berlin has a continental climate, with cold winters and often quite hot summers. The coldest months are December to February, with average temperatures of −0.4 to 1.2°C (31.3 to 34.2°F) June, to August, have average temperatures of 17 to 18°C (62 to 64°F). During particularly hot periods temperatures can exceed 30°C. I score Berlin at 91% for liveability.
The city has a thriving art, theatre and cinema scene, great restaurants and some amazing nightlife. There are over 700 art galleries and more than 1000 film and television production companies. The city has 270 cinemas and 153 museums! In other words if you went to two movies, 15 art galleries and four museums a month, it would take you three years to get through them all. There are seven symphony orchestras in Berlin. Berlin invented the currywurst (steamed and fried pork sausage served in a warm curry/ketchup mix. To my taste, it is gross but Germans eat 800 million serves a year. The modern Doner Kebab was also invented in Berlin. That is a welcome invention! Apart from Currywurst, Berlin food impresses. Lots of fresh food, organic food and vegetarian through which are sprinkled good quality restaurants from every part of the world. American chains exist too. Starbucks offers free wifi which is a great boon.
Berlin is the third most dangerous city for crime in Germany. In other words, it is safer than 99% of US cities as Germany has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Crime rates for Berlin are similar to Vancouver, Canada or Portland, Oregon. Emergency phone number is 110. I had little fear of walking around.
I could not fault the transport system. There are five modes of transport operating together:
- S bahn (Stadtbahn”, “City Train”) Red and Yellow Trains run from suburban locations via 15 lines which all feed into three key lines in the city centre. It is a little confusing initially but easily worked out.
- U bahn ( “Untergrundbahn”, or “underground railway”) is an 80 per cent underground system with ten lines (numbered 1 to 9 and 55) and 173 stations. Yellow trains of varying age run every two to five minutes in the day and every ten minutes in the evening over 147km (90 miles of track). Trains and stations are a little run down in places but are well used and feel safe most of the time. Over 1.3 million riders are on the system each day.
- Berlin Trams (Streetcars) are one of the oldest and largest networks in the world with 22 tram lines covering 192km. Nine of the lines run 24 hours per day! Trams are only in the eastern areas of the city as West Berlin closed their system during the division
- Buses in Berlin are amazing. They even have 17 buses running on a 24 hour frequency and 45 night routes.
- Bikes can be hired all over the city and cycling on the flat surfaces with fixed bike lanes and wide streets. Helmet use does not seem prevalent. Do not stand in a bike lane. It is considered very rude and you will be belled at, yelled at or mown down.
Public transport is a little pricey. A single ticket in the inner area is 2.30 euros. An all day will set you back 6.30 for use until 3.00 a.m. on the following day. Consider buying a Berlin Welcome card which gets you public transport and discounted Museum access. Well worth it. The Berlin hop on hop off tour can be done as efficiently and much more cheaply buy regular public transport rather than shelling out 22 Euro.
The Verdict: 96.8%
I have already told you that Berlin in my opinion is the second best city in the world, marginally behind Paris (98.2%) and ahead of San Francisco (93%)
Twenty must dos (not in any order)
- Do a walking tour. I highly recommend Original Berlin Walks who start near Zoo Station in West Berlin. I have done their walks three times and they are amazing. Knowledgable, passionate fun guides*
- Walk, run, picnic, flirt in the Tiergarten, 210 hectares (520 acres) of path, trees, fountains and gardens*
- Ride a boat on the Spree River
- Explore Tempelhof, former airport turned park
- Go shopping on Kurfürstendamm (Ku’damm), Berlin’s longest and busiest shopping strip – don’t go on a Saturday!*
- Eat a Sunday Brunch at a table outside to watch the world go past – topped off with an amazing German hot chocolate
- Visit Brandenburger Tor (Gate) at night and the square behind it: Pariser Platz*
- Ride up the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) – Buy your tickets online to reduce the wait*
- Berliner Dom – climb to the top
- Reichstag, Federal Chancellery, and the Victory Column*
- Do something at night–party, exhibition, dance rave to see interesting people in strange locations e.g. power station, U bahn station*
- Museum Island – choose one of the Museums either Pergamon Museum or Museum of German History
- Berlin’s Jewish Museum (Jüdisches Museum)
- Topography of Terror – A museum of Nazi atrocities located on the ruins of the former Nazi and SS Headquarters adjacent to the Berlin Wall*
- Holocaust Museum- sobering
- Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp where 50 000 people died -just a short train ride from the city centre
- Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe* -and the museum underneath – sobering for children
- Stasi Museum- the chief spy agency of East Germany had 91,015 employees and 173,081 informants by 1989. The Stasi maintained greater surveillance over its own people than any secret police force in history. A museum dedicated to informing about the Stasi operates in the actual headquarters of the agency.
- DDR Museum– life in one of the weirdest countries on the planet
- Olympia Stadium- the Olympic stadium used in the infamous 1936 Games
A week is needed to properly get the feel of this city. If you are there for 24 hours, do the things marked with an asterix *