A local’s guide to Berlin
After 10 years offering personalised tours in Paris – with a focus on food and dining – German-born Australian Ute Biefang moved to Berlin this year.
Her tours of eclectic culinary, architectural, cultural and quirky treasures draw on her understanding of Berlin and its people.
Here, she shares some local knowledge of what to see and do in Berlin beyond the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag.
Quintessential only-in-Berlin experiences
Strandbar Mitte is a fun summer Berlin activity with beach chairs on the banks of the Spree River and a view of Museum Island for dancing and drinking.
Visit Teufelsberg, the abandoned CIA Cold War listening station in a forest in Berlin.
Take a drink at Absinth Depot, which offers a huge selection of the once-notorious spirit.
Pull up a deckchair on Strandbar Mitte. Photo: Getty
Are there areas of the city you recommend visitors stay in?
The area around the Scheunenviertel in Mitte (central Berlin), part of the old Jewish quarter, is walking distance to most major sights and great dining and bars.
What would be your top five Berlin experiences?
- Don’t miss the UNESCO World Heritage-classified Museum Island. If you have only time for one museum, make sure to visit the Neues Museum. The David Chipperfield-restored building is an architectural showcase and houses the stunning ancient Egyptian bust of Nefertiti.
- Head to the sixth floor of the iconic West Berliner department store KaDeWe for a real Berlin lunch experience. Mix and mingle with the world sitting at counters indulging in some of the most exquisite food in Berlin.
- The Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer – the Berlin Wall Memorial – at the Bernauer Strasse for anyone wanting to get a better understanding of the divided city.
- In summertime, make sure to bring your bathers for a dip in the beautiful lakes such Schlachtensee, Krumme Lanke and Wannsee.
Ride the public transport
Ute Biefang at Teufelsberg.
Get on the S-Bahn between Ostkreuz and Westkreuz for a visually interesting glimpse of Berlin while passing through Alexanderplatz, Hackescher Markt, and the Parliamentary District to Charlottenburg.
Or take the bus Linie 100 and/or 200 from Alexanderplatz to Zoo via most major landmarks. All at the price of a simple public transport ticket
Your favourite jazz bar or other music experience?
Beyond world class opera and orchestras, Germany’s capital offers live music venues covering every conceivable genre. A selection of three:
- Free Tuesday lunchtime concerts in the foyer of the world famous Berliner Philharmonie;
- The Piano Salon Christophori in Wedding for quirky and unusual classical or jazz musical experiences;
- One of the best known jazz clubs is the A Trane in Charlottenburg.
The Café Einstein Stammhaus would be my top choice. A historic Berlin Institution, originally opened in 1878, it has an outdoor terrace to enjoy in summer.
A fabulous buffet with sustainable and regional products can be experienced at the Hotel Oderberger. And why not go for a swim before breakfast in the beautifully restored historic hotel pool?
Finish this sentence: “Don’t leave Berlin without …”
Strolling along the Planufer and Paul Linke Ufer at the Canal in Kreuzberg for a beautiful walk through charming parts of Berlin and enjoy a sunset drink along the way.
Or, tasting a real Berliner Currywurst, a baffling-for-tourists German phenomenon invented by a Berliner woman in 1946. Head to Curry 36 on Mehringdamm in Kreuzberg, a true Berliner Institution, for an authentic taste of this popular street snack: a snag with tomato sauce, curry, and fries or a bun.
Where would you eat like a local?
Rogacki is a historic deli dating back to 1928. It is celebrated for its in-house fish smoking and the food is freshly cooked in front of you at the counters.
Eat for a splurge?
Cookies Cream, a one-Michelin star, fun and innovative vegetarian restaurant. Even non-vegetarians will not miss the meat.
Horváth, a two-Michelin star, refined fine dining neo-Austrian style on the banks of the canal in Kreuzberg.
Dine well on the cheap?
For variety, head to the many markets that offer great food on budgets. Try the Maybachufer market for its Turkish flair on Tuesday and Friday. The Markthalle 9 and the Marheineke Markthalle, both in Kreuzberg, offer indoor seating and stalls.
The signature dish at Curry 36. Photo: Ute Biefang
Best day trips?
Schlachtensee to experience a beautiful Berliner lake and then on to Potsdam for its historic Sanssouci Palace and the Dutch Quarter.
Lake Stechlin for its pristine natural beauty in the heart of the countryside surrounding Berlin.
Got any hotel recommendations?
Soho House is in a historic landmark building with a colourful past.
It’s popular with creatives, and the tech and media crowds.
It has a club feeling, but you can book into the hotel without being a member and enjoy all member privileges. That includes the amazing open-air rooftop pool with a spectacular view towards Alexanderplatz.
Hotel Oderberger is newly renovated hotel and has an amazing historic indoor pool. It also has an excellent location in the heart of trendy Prenzlauer Berg.
What Berlin treasures do tourists rarely find on their own?
The notion of ‘Kiezdenken’ (local neighbourhood thinking and living) and getting to know the treasures of those local neighbourhoods, the ‘Kiez’.
Real understanding of how the local Berliner ticks. For instance, the choice of museums and historic places to visit can be quite overwhelming so smaller experiences sometimes remain undiscovered.
What is the hardest thing for travellers to unravel, understand or find out in Berlin?
To really comprehend the Berliners’ notion of the sense of the old West and old East, even 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
There is a complexity in the layers of history that can be quite puzzling for visitors.