Discover extraordinary museums, restaurants and attractions
Anyone interested in spending an absolutely normal day shouldn‘t spend it in Berlin. That’s because Berlin is home to special treats like, for instance, a horror bunker. Discerning visitors can sign up for a gourmet rally and sightseeing fans can immerse themselves in the city’s underworlds. Pigs wallowing and chickens pecking away, gardening and agriculture as well as a small farm shop: the open-air museum at Domäne Dahlem is a fairly normal farm, except that it’s accessible by subway and visitors here are able to experience farm work for themselves. The museum boasts an agricultural history collection, as well.
Discover Berlin from Above…
If you’re looking for an unusual way to see the city from above, but don’t want to lose your connection to the ground completely, try the Berlin Hi-Flyer at Checkpoint Charlie. In this helium-filled balloon that is tethered to the ground, you can experience a panorama of Berlin’s architectural highlights and urban layout from 150 meters up in the air. If you look closely, you’ll discover that Berlin’s subway isn’t all underground. Berlin’s subway line U1 – in spite of its name – crosses the Kreuzberg district as an elevated railway.
If you really want to take off for a bird’s eye view, Air Service Berlin offers other attractions and special offers: for example, take an excursion with a hydroplane that is the only one of its kind in Germany – it takes off and lands directly on the Spree River. A Berlin panorama flight or a romantic Candle Flight Dinner on a helicopter is also on the agenda.
Bunkers, Vaults, Tunnels, and Rails
The street is above, and below are the city’s commuter rail and subway tracks. And in between? Entire worlds are hidden here in the German capital: bunkers and tunnels, shafts, mountains of rubble, and vaults from long ago make underground Berlin a destination for exciting adventure tours. Trace the buried history of the city, discover the frightening and the bizarre. The organization Berliner Unterwelten e.V. not only offers underground tours with various themes, it also allows you to experience the oppressive tightness of World War II air raid shelters in the Museum of the Berlin Underworld at Gesundbrunnen.
The above-ground bunker at Anhalter Bahnhof is also from the period of the Second World War. The cellar has been left in its original condition and has walls over two meters thick. It displays historical exhibits, and the upper floor contains reenacted medical scenes as well as the “Berlin Chamber of Horrors”.
The BorosBunker in the Berlin district, Mitte, is a private exhibition venue for Christian Boros‘ collection of contemporary art. Changing presentations of the collection are shown on some 3,000 square metres. Visitors can make advance appointments to view the show.
The fallout shelter on Kurfürstendamm, which was completed in the 1970s, is more recent. In case of emergency, even today it is able to shelter over 3,500 people. It is possible to tour this fallout shelter, which is the only one open to the public, as a part of the exhibit “The Story of Berlin”.
Unter-berlin e.V. is another guide into the historical depths of the city: haunted tunnels, walled-up cross vaulting, and old reservoirs reflect the metamorphosis of the city over the past hundred years. For example, the cellar of the Königstadt Brewery in Prenzlauer Berg was originally used to brew and store beer. During the war, its rooms were used as air raid shelters and for arms production. During East German times, mushrooms were grown there. In recent years, these subterranean halls have even played host to an art exhibit.
Berlin’s public transit authority, BVG, also offers unusual impressions and a subterranean breeze: explore on foot during special evening tunnel walks in the subway tunnels or in open cars, the one-of-a-kind “subway convertibles” for a two-hour tour. Tour guests are shown trackswitches, emergency exits, and loop lines in which the trains turn around and wait for a new assignment. The tour also includes different types of tunnel structures and the history of the Berlin subway system.
Fields of Green: The Pastoral Side of the Metropolis
Berlin is known the world over for its long and wide boulevards such as Unter den Linden or the Kurfürstendamm as well as for its urban centers such as the Potsdamer Platz. However, far removed from the rat race of the city, this metropolis of 3.4 million souls shows another side – a pastoral idyll.
An old village green with a church, a small schoolhouse and firehouse, single-story farmers’ houses, and barns, surrounded by wide fields, meadows, and paddocks – this is the view to be found to the northeast in Lübars, the last village of Berlin, which has been preserved to a large extent and retains its rural charm to this day.
Visiting the museum village of Düppel in the southwest part of the city is like a trip to the Middle Ages. Everything in this reconstruction of a village from the thirteenth century is true to the original historical example. Plants that have become rare in the modern age grow in the gardens that surround the thatched-roof homes, volunteers demonstrate handicrafts such as pottery throwing or blacksmithing, and the specially reverse-bred Düppel pigs wander through the outdoor enclosure.
Berliner Weisse, a top-fermented, slightly tangy beer, usually mixed with raspberry or woodruff syrup, is one of the most well-known and typical Berlin specialties. However, wine is produced along the Spree River, as well. Although it is not readily apparent from the geographic location of the city, Berlin is located on the same latitude as London. Because Berlin wine cannot be bought in stores and is not served in any restaurants, it is particularly exclusive – it is served only by the Berlin District Offices at jubilees or for honored guests and only occasionally, in years with a particularly good harvest, is it sold for a donation. Since 1968, the Kreuz-Neroberger grape has been grown on the slopes of the Kreuzberg, and the Wilmersdorfer Rheingauperle grape, adapted completely to its urban atmosphere, even grows on the tiers of the northern curve of the Wilmersdorf Station on Hohenzollerndamm. According to the label, the vines for the capital’s own sparkling wine are found “three kilometers north of the Office of the Federal Chancellor,” namely in Humboldthain. Even though the vintner’s art does have its history along the Spree River, as witnessed by street names such as Weinbergsweg (Vineyard Way – Mitte), Weingartenweg (Wine Garden Way – Spandau), and Weinstrasse (Wine Street – Friedrichshain), today the capital’s grapes are pressed in the southern region of Germany.
Tiny Treasure Chests: Whimsical Jewels of Berlin’s Museum Landscape
The German capital has over 180 museums and collections – significantly more than its number of rainy days per year. In addition to cultural treasures at the international level, some curiosities may be found there as well – for example, in the Museum of Unheard-Of Things: the skin of a Bonsai deer, the impact of a brainwave, or screws that were involved in a plane crash in Peru in 1939 are among the artifacts. These accounts are always engaging and exciting, even if they are not always based on fact.
In contrast, the Museum of the Charité is full of cold, hard scientific fact. A three-dimensional medical textbook of the somewhat gruesome kind, this museum shows anatomically and pathologically preserved human organs, disease patterns, and deformities.
Other museums place emphasis on the day-to-day rather than the abnormal. For example, the Museum of the Gründerzeit reconstructs Berlin life around 1890. Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a transvestite and local original, assembled an upper-class residence there, complete with original pieces. Another highlight is the completely preserved installation of the barge pub “Mulackritze” from the barn quarter (Scheunenviertel), including the bar, signs with advertisements and prohibitions, and an amusing harlots’ parlor.
Another voice from the past, albeit this time from the socialist culture of East Germany in 1986, speaks from the museum apartment WBS 70 – think Good Bye Lenin.In a renovated concrete slab building in Hellersdorf, a 61 square meter two-bedroom apartment with historic furniture and accessories of daily life, from the particleboard wardrobe to the wallpaper with the grass motif to the portable typewriter
The entire twentieth century and its day-to-day culture, typified by industrially mass-produced goods or handcrafted practical items, is shown in the Werkbundarchiv Museum of Things – be it the spherical washing machine, inflation money from 1923, or a dental x-ray machine from 1907.
Even an ordinary product that you may stir into your coffee every morning has its own house in Berlin: the Sugar Museum in Wedding has a one-of-a-kind collection that documents the exciting cultural history from sugar cane to sugar beet.
The Open-Air Gaslight Museum on the Strasse des 17. Juni in the Tiergarten district is the only museum of its kind in Europe. The museum displays interesting gaslights from the last two centuries, from the five-armed candelabra in the stately Wilhelmine style to the modern hanging light from Dublin.
The whimsical Hemp Museum in the Nicolaiviertel provides interesting information about the use of hemp throughout the world (www.hanfmuseum.de). Although art is on display in the Silent Museum, it primarily invites its visitors to contemplation and challenges them to engage with their inner self.
On the Go and Out of Doors: Swimming (Almost) in the Spree River, and a Breath of the Far East
From far away, it may seem as though you are swimming in the Spree, but this popular bathing ship is actually an old renovated barge that is anchored as a swimming pool across from the Osthafen. In the summer, this swimming pool, possibly the most unusual one in all of Europe, invites visitors with its fantastic panoramic views of the skyline to swim, sunbathe, and relax in the outdoors. In the winter, with the aid of a partially transparent membrane, it is transformed into a futuristic sauna landscape on the water.
- In relation to the city, Marzahn does seem somewhat far to the east. However, calling it the “Far East “would be a bit of an exaggeration, even if this feeling is somewhat justified when strolling through the gardens of the world in the Marzahn Recreational Park. The Chinese Garden is radiant with its authentic presentation of the millennia-old Chinese art of gardening: rocks, bridges, bamboo, and chrysanthemums as well as a tea house on a lake, where the traditional art of tea from the Middle Kingdom is celebrated. Other highlights include the Christian Garden and a hedge maze.
Cuisine as Varied as the City: Dinner Club and Medieval Feast
Of course, Berlin’s variety is mirrored in its kitchens and restaurants: delicacies from all over the world are prepared here and served in completely different surroundings. Guests at the hip dinner club Spindler und Klatt, located directly on the Spree River, lounge in oversized white beds while munching on light fusion food – quite the twenty-first century locale.
On the other hand, Zitadellen Schänke in Spandau deals in the charms of the Middle Ages. Hearty roasts are served below the old, eight-meter high vaulting. The place settings consist of a tin plate and a knife. No forks, but bibs are provided.
Thick oriental rugs and cozy armchairs around low tables, bulky samovars, and the traditional Russian tea ceremony with rum raisins, marmalade, and the occasional sip of vodka provide the special flair of the Tadjik Teahouse on the Festungsgraben (Am Festungsgraben 1 in the Mitte district, right next to the Museumsinsel).
Chocolate! As an appetizer, the main course, and for dessert as well! Such an unusual menu awaits you at Fassbender und Rausch, the first chocolate restaurant in Europe, located on the Gendarmenmarkt. In order to keep the food from getting monotonous, cooks from all over the world have put together a creative menu centered on all things cocoa, where fish and meat, salad and soup are combined with chocolate elements. On Saturdays, these specialties are served in the course of an exciting chocolate dinner show.
An enlightening experience – in which there is guaranteed to be nothing to see – is offered by the two darkness restaurants in Berlin, where diners eat without any illumination at all. The sense of sight falls out of the picture, so hearing, smell, taste, and touch gain new significance throughout the meal. The surprise menu offers a particularly exciting adventure! The waiters are all severely or completely visually impaired, so the service goes off without a hitch in spite of the darkness. At Nocti Vagus, which has a unique dark stage, the evenings are often supplemented by musical, theatrical, or literary shows.
Here’s a tip for everyone who is having trouble making a decision in the face of the vast variety along the Spree River: gastro-rallies. These unusual tours, a mixture of a city tour and a five-course menu, stop in several restaurants in trendy neighborhoods, and only one course is eaten at each stop. Even if it’s your first time in Berlin, you’ll have no problem eating spicy Indian bread, Basque tapas, and Italian tagliatelle in popular restaurants
In Berlin’s bars and clubs, current trends appear at first glance to be whimsical remnants of older times: karaoke, bingo, flirting by table telephone. The monthly local bingo games at SO 36 moderated by two “dressed-to-the-nines transvestites,” have a loyal fan base, just like table tennis bars such as Serene Bar in Kreuzberg or Dr. Pong (www.drpong.net), where sometimes more than twenty people are playing round robin table tennis at one table – paddle in the right hand, beer in the left. You can sing karaoke any evening in Berlin, for example, at Kim’s Karaoke Bar (www.kim-karaoke.de) or at Monster Ronson’s Sing Inn (www.karaokemonster.de), where guests can sit in their small booths and choose from an enormous song selection.
On Alexanderplatz and at Berlin’s main station, Hauptbahnhof, there are Wii-PLAY lounges, in which guests can amuse themselves with the latest motion-sensing games on the well-known home console by Nintendo. The central area in the PLAY on Alexanderplatz, with its numerous Wii consoles and large LCD screens, has enough space for as many as 150 visitors to let their hair down. In addition, there are five separate lounges for up to 12 participants, a bar area and a terrace – all done out in a modern lounge atmosphere.
Symbiosis of Café and Shop: Kaufbar, Anna Blume, Curry & Kunst
A café is a café and a shop is a shop? Sounds logical enough, but it’s not always the case in Berlin – many small business owners here have had success with unusual mixtures of concepts. For example, Kauf dich glücklich (“Shop Yourself Happy”) provides fragrant waffles and homemade ice cream in many flavors – but also bright plastic toys and kitschy accessories of all kinds. The special attraction? Almost all of the café furnishings, such as the stools, lamps, and even the pictures on the wall are for sale, like in a second-hand store.
Kaufbar in Friedrichshain shows a similar symbiosis of furniture store, café, and bar. Visitors can walk away with any of the interior decorations – be it solid wood from the 1940s or plastic disco style from the 1970s – for a price.
Anna Blume provides a two-in-one shop as well: the café-restaurant serves delicious breakfast creations, homemade cakes and tortes, and seasonal dishes. The adjacent flower shop makes its presence known in the sage blossoms decorating the room or the rose croutons on the plates.
Admire old-style handiwork at the Bonbonmacherei (Candy Factory) where, in a cellar redolent of sugar, sweet delicacies such as green May leaves or sour drops are cooked directly over a fire according to recipes both new and old before being sold.
Fine chocolate from its own line awaits visitors at the In’t Veld factory. In the Bötzow neighbourhood / Prenzlauer Berg creations with mountain mint, blood orange or chilli are on sale that are sure to make the hearts of gourmets and people with a sweet tooth beat faster.
Tradition can also be felt at Harry Lehmann, where open perfumes have been sold by weight since 1926. Customers can either mix the scents from fifty different bottles themselves or trust the house recipes of the parfumeur.