Überblick Overview

Muschi

Berlin is big. It is situated between the Spree and Havel Rivers surrounded by lakes and forests of Brandenburg, about 80 miles west of the Polish border. Berlin’s footprint (345 sq. mi) is expansive, much like its sister-city of Los Angeles. Keep this in mind when you decide on your accommodations because even though the city is well served by public transportation, the late night U-bahn schlepp is not a lot of fun. That said, the city is probably best approached at the neighborhood (Nachbarschaften or Kiez) level, with the following containing most of the important sights clustered in and around the city’s core: Mitte, Tiergarten, Charlottenburg, Schöneberg, Neukölln, Prenzlauerberg and Friedrichshain. Set aside a couple days for excursions to Potsdam to see Frederick the Great’s Sanssouci

Nachbarschaften Tiergarten

The Tiergarten is Berlin’s Central Park. It’s the city’s lungs and at one time feed a good number of residents who planted sugar beets and other vegetables there during the war. The Tiergarten has miles of walking paths, large open fields where Germans like to sunbathe nude, as well as areas of active use, which in a German context means biergarten [see Biergarten Schleusenkrug]: Berliners don’t seem to have a problem with commercial activity in public open spaces like San Franciscans do and the biergarten is a ubiquitous feature in many public open spaces.

tiergarten

If you are taking transit to the Tiergarten, get off conveniently at the Tiergarten S-Bahn station and walk east toward the park. Once you divert away from the Strasse des 17. June, continue to follow path in the park toward the Brandenburg Gate. After about 10 min you will come across the Lion’s Bridge. If you arrive at the right time (during day and at night), you’ll likely notice a lot of cruising. If you linger you may discover vegetated nooks and crannies around the Lion’s Bridge, possibly with a new-found friend.

Of course the Tiergarten boasts official and less lascivious tourist attractions, such as the Victory Column and the Bismarck memorial, but these are well documented aren’t really worth mentioning here. If you are taking a cab through the park toward the Brandenburg Gate, you will notice a number of embassies along the park’s edge. The Italian embassy and the Embassies of the Nordic Nations are worth checking out for their architecture if you happen to already be in the middle of the Tiergarten, but don’t otherwise warrant a special trip. The Italian embassy has recently been rehabbed and restored, down to its fascist flourishes. In contrast, the Nordic Nations complex is quite a nice piece of modern architecture, done in a gorgeous green that patinas with age. The building’s louvers remind me of Stanley Saitowitz’s 8 Octavia project — I wouldn’t be surprised if this building served as inspiration. (The Mexican embassy is also quite nice. The British embassy is what post-modern Tetris would look like in built form, its architecture relishing in late post-modern geometric whimsy. And could you imagine that the American’s embassy has been controversial? It is located adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate, its design a functional precursor to the post911 bunker mentality and security state: it necessitates street closures, GI checkpoints and a whole lot of bombastic security detail that fusterclucks the German capitol.

transitS-Bahn Tiergarten; U9 Hansaplatz; U2 Potsdammerplatz

Charlottenburg

The Charlottenburg district takes its name from the rococo Charlottenburg Palace located on the western edge of the city. It is one of Berlin’s largest cultural attractions and is worth a visit, especially if you’re into regal bling — or I guess glitz auf gut Deutsch. From a more practical perspective, Charlottenburg (and neighboring Wilmersdorff) function as the city’s (western) downtown. Close to 50 years of division has left its mark on the city. Although the Berlin Wall (1963-1989) was not located in or near Charlottenburg, its construction happened during a time when the city was still clearing away the rubble from the war. Its division created West Berlin, an urban outpost of West Germany surrounded on all sides by the German Democratic Republic.

Charlottenburg became West Berlin’s downtown, with the Kurfürstendamm (“Coo-dam”) acting as the area’s main shopping street with the main shops and attractions between the Zoo Station to approximately Wittenberg Platz.

The area is as good as any in the western world in terms of its infrastructure and selection of shops and services. There is something that I feel is a bit generic about the place — it is not particularly beautiful, though some of the individual stores are housed in handsome, reconstructed buildings. Aside from shopping, there are relatively few sights, the exception being the symbol of West Berlin and the devastation of the Second World War– the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Aside from that however, you’ll probably find yourself shopping here or transiting through it Berlin’s more interesting neighborhoods.

tipIf you feel the urge to drop some Euros, I’ve always found the basement of Peek & Cloppenburg to have a good selection of Euro-fashions (read: well fitting clothing) and the “Department Store of the West” KaDeWe is worth a visit for its gastronomic offerings — the entire top floor is a gourmet food department outfitted with a number of stations where you can dine on fresh seafood, enjoy sausages or even find odd American products, such as peanut butter or Dr. Pepper.

The neighborhood appears to be an ongoing work in progress. In the 1970s, the Zoo Station and surroundings was overrun with prostitutes and addicts, many working the streets behind the station to support their habit. Christina F was a young addict made famous in a film about the hardscapple youth and their lives in West Berlin where they would live as heroes, if just for one day.

readHäussermann and Colomb, Marketing the City of Dreams about the challenges and opportunities the city’s historic division pose to the marketers who seek to redefine certain aspects of neighborhood history to make it more attractive and viable for their specific economic ends.

transitS-Bahn Zoologischer Garten; U1U2U3 Wittenbergplatz

Schöneberg

Nullendorfplatz Martin Luther Strasse Fuggerstrasse

Hafen Connection Toms

transitU3 Kurfürstendamm; U1U3 Wittenbergplatz

Neukölln

Hermanplatz Ficken 3000

Kreuzberg 36 and 61

Kreuzberg Sechsunddreissig

Kottbusser Tor Schlesisches Tor Oranienstrasse

Roses Bier Himmel SO36

Mehringdamm

Victoriapark and the Kreuzberg Chamissoplatz

Schwuz Anderes Ufer

Checkpoint Charlie

Mitte

Oranienburgerstraße

Torstraße/Rosenthalerplatz Jewish Quarter

Sophienstadt Pariserplatz

Brandenburg Gate Reichstag Friedrichstrasse

Gendarmenmarkt Museumsinsel Dom Unter den Linden Humboldt Universität Bibliothek Stadtschloss Nikolai

Hackescher Markt

Prenzlauerberg

Kollwitzplatz Wasserturm Husemannstraße, Knackstraße Sredzkistraße

Eberswalderstraße

Cafe November

Friedrichshain

Straussberger Platz

 

Transport Transportation

Berlin’s transport system incorporates suburban rail (S-Bahn), metro (U-Bahn), a tram network (Tram, primarily in the City East) and double-decker buses into an extensive system serving the city with linkages to intercity and regional rail (from Hauptbahnhof and to a lesser extent Zoo and Friedrichstrasse) with service primarily focused on locations in Brandenburg. Service is divided into three zones: A, B and C. If you are there for more than a couple days it makes sense to purchase a multi-day pass for Zones A+C. If you decide to visit Potsdam, purchase a supplement to access Zone C — otherwise it’s not worth paying for the extra service because most of your destinations will be accessible in Zones A and B. A 7-day pass is currently Euro 30.

mapClick on this Service Map to see where you can go by Bus und Bahn in Berlin.

tipWhen you have an opportunity, optimize your trip by first selecting a route that has the most direct service via S-Bahn, then connect with U-Bahn if necessary. S-Bahn trains travel greater distances between stops and although they have slightly longer headways per line than the U-Bahn, that is really only an issue if you are taking the train to the terminals — most stops are serviced by the numerous lines on the route, but do pay attention to announcements for service interruptions.

Max Maulwulf

The S-Bahn, which is about as old as Chicago’s El (and in much better condition, despite being operated by the Commies for 40 years) has endless maintenance and construction work scheduled, necessitating “Schienenersatzverkehr” that’s basically a headache and a bus bridge or one-track operations between certain station pairs. Just look and listen for Max Maulwulf (if the work is on S-Bahn tracks) or generally signage noting ACHTUNG BAUARBEIT! or something to that effect. Otherwise you may have the pleasure of being berated by a deafening stream of staccato commands over loud speaker causing any good German to double click their heals and stand at attention, jawohl! If you find yourself in such a situation, just ask someone what’s going on — if our age or younger, chances are getting basic info in English won’t be a problem.

tipDistances in Berlin are great — with its LA sister city status apparent in this regard. Plan your excursions so as to focus on a neighborhood to minimize trips from your hotel and back. I was last there in 2012 before Uber and Lyft. I can’t say to what extent if any these ridesharing services have had on mobility in the city, but in the main, taxis are pricey, but if you do take them, you’ll be traveling in style in a Mercedes (Hallo, Deutschland!) and ask your driver about “Kurzstrecken Tarifs” which are fixed fares for set distances — usually 5 Euros for trips less than 5kM.

Sehenswürdigkeiten Sights

9101151059_e37b23af24_oMuseums

Pergamon Museum

Neues Museum

Hamburger Bahnhof

Neue National Gallerie

Jewish Museum

Topography of Terror

The Wall

Cultural Sites and Venues

Unter den Linden

Bebelplatz

Alexanderplatz

Nicolai Quarter

Holocaust Memorial

Television Tower

Olympic Stadium

Reichstag

Eastside Gallery

Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park

Städtebau Architecture

berlin skyscraper

 

AEG

Renter Barracks (Mietskaserne)

Socialist Housing Blocks (Plattenbauten)

the Hansa Quarter

Neue National Gallery

Habitation Berlin

Onkel Tom’s Hütte

Bauhaus (day trip to Dessau)

Sanssouci (day trip to Potsdam)

Partymachen Going Out

Gay Berlin Brandenburg Gate

And then they would watch her closely as the dark, coagulated masses took form before her eyes, became flesh and bone, became gradually human. For all their show of reluctance, she had a sense that they enjoyed introducing her to these horrors, as seducers took pleasure in the corruption of innocence. Philip Sington, the Einstein Girl

The Berghain has been the big shit in nightclubs for years. But my favorite destination is the Watergate, bar none. Music downloads here, to get you in the mood.