In the beginning of June I took a two-week long vacation to Europe as a last journey before starting my first full-time job in July. While I was there I spent most of my time in London, but took a weekend getaway to Berlin, Germany. Germany is a country I’ve always wanted to visit since German makes up 50% of my ethnicity. I figured Berlin would be the perfect city to tackle in a weekend.
Here are my recommendations on what to do while in the city for either a weekend, a week, or maybe even a month.
When I think of Berlin the first monument that comes to mind is the Brandenburg Gate. It sits high above the main street of Museum Island, making its presence known. This is where most walking tours start, something I’ll mention in the “To See…” section. I learned that the structure on top is called a quadriga and is a symbol of peace. It was built atop the gate to protect the German city. However, soon after the structure went up, Germany entered into WWII.
The East Side Gallery is a must for those artsy Berlin Instagrams that you know you need to post when you visit. I mean, do you see these bright colors!? All jokes aside, while it is a very eye-catching spot, it also tells a lot of very important political messages. I enjoyed looking at each piece of art and interpreting what it meant in the context of Germany and its history.
This mural seemed to be a pretty popular one among tourists. I’m pretty proud of this shot I was able to capture of this random couple posing in front of the image. However, it is pretty mind-blowing how ignorant some tourists are to the meaning behind murals like this and other monuments over the city. People don’t quite realize the pain people all across Europe were put through in the 1900s.
As many of you probably already know, food is my ABSOLUTE favorite part of traveling. I love trying new restaurants and cuisines in each city I visit. Honestly, I was a bit nervous for the German food. However, Germany might have had one of the best selections of all the countries I’ve ever been to.
Berlin is known for having amazing falafel, so this is a food I couldn’t wait to try. Luckily, we happened to stumble upon one of the best falafel shops in Berlin. Fatoush is a simple little cafe with outdoor seating on a beautiful tree-lined street in the East of Berlin. Not only was the falafel itself some of the best I’ve ever had, but the vegetables in my wrap were fresh and delicious.
My friend tried the haloumi salad which looked so yummy… if only I ate cheese! While I would recommend the falafel since the city is known for it, definitely try the haloumi if you’ve never had it before. For some reason it’s extremely popular in the UK but not in the US. Us Americans are missing out!
My friends and I also couldn’t resist trying the local German drink, Club-Mate. Club-Mate is a carbonated maté tea beverage. It is extremely high in caffeine and got me super wired for the rest of the day, which was actually a good thing since I took a 5am flight there from London.
If you didn’t already know, Berlin has a HUGE vegan population. I’m pretty sure there were more vegan restaurants there than restaurants that served meat. We typically think of bratwursts and currywursts when thinking of the country but Berlin natives are actually very progressive in their environmental views.
This being said, I was extremely excited to try all of the yummy vegan food the city had to offer me. When I first decided I was going on this trip I researched a bunch of restaurants and cafés to try. One that instantly caught my eye was Brammibal’s Donuts. They serve coffee and matcha but most importantly all different kinds of vegan donuts. I had such a hard time deciding which one to get but ended up trying the peanut butter and jelly one. Their flavors change everyday and they always have a charity donut where the proceeds are donated to that month’s charity.
Germany is most well-known for their currywurst, or pork sausage covered in curry ketchup. Since I don’t eat meat I couldn’t try the original version of this popular dish, but I did try a vegan version. This I found at a stand in Mauerpark flea market, a huge market that happens every Sunday in the summertime. Overall, the sauce was really good. I mean, who doesn’t like curry and ketchup!? However, the “meat” was nothing special- a typical spongy tofu meat replacement. If you don’t eat meat though, give it a go!
One of my favorite vegan restaurants in the city was a Vietnamese place called 1990 Vegan Living. Not only did they have a delicious blood orange cocktail, but each dish was to die for. They had a bunch of small tapas to split between the table as well as entrees. I got a soup that reminded me of pho and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Last but not least is my favorite little cafe that I found in Berlin. Father Carpenter Coffee Brewers is nestled away in a little courtyard off a main shopping road. It is truly a hidden gem. There is an elaborate fountain surrounded by bushes and a stone patio. The buildings surrounding it are stunning and reminded me of Parisian architecture. Not only is the ambiance the perfect aesthetic, but the coffee and food cannot be beat.
It was extremely hard for me to find a coffee place that I enjoyed in Berlin, but thank god I found this one. They have it all! Even iced coffee… which cannot be found anywhere else in the city. I ate their poached eggs with salmon while sipping my latte and reading my book. And let me tell you, it could not have made for a better last few hours in Berlin.
One last thing, most of these restaurants ONLY accept cash, so be sure to bring lots of euros with you to Berlin. I unfortunately didn’t do my research and found myself running to the ATM many times too often to withdraw cash. This is something you don’t want to do; all of those fees quickly add up!
While most of my time in Berlin consisted of eating and hanging out in the local parks, I did go on a few tours which I highly recommend. I am usually super against guided tours and prefer to see things on my own time, but I really enjoyed the Sandeman Walking Tour (which also happens to be free). I learned a lot of cool facts about Berlin, most related to WWII. My favorite part of the tour was standing in a car parking lot overtop Hitler’s underground war bunker where he committed suicide. It fascinated me how the Germans chose to not highlight it in any way. I wouldn’t have thought twice about the spot unless I had taken this tour.
The tour walked us to through various historical squares of Berlin and through the Holocaust Memorial. After seeing this memorial on the tour and feeling the emotions it brought out I decided that it was a must to visit the nearby concentration camp.
The tour was of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, a work camp where they brought prisoners who were prominent figures in the community. This was a longer, half-day tour but something every person needs to see. Nothing can describe what you feel when you are placed in an environment where such terrible things happened.
I was particularly moved by this cartoon drawn by one of the prisoners in the kitchen of the camp. It shows how frightened the prisoners always were and how they were constantly being judged on whether or not they deserved to live.
This was the main entrance to the camp. You can see a clock on the top of the tower which supposedly still reads the time the camp was liberated.
If you want to experience Berlin’s nightlife, I recommend going on a pub crawl. They are relatively cheap and will take you to a bunch of different bars and clubs in the city. The tour I went on took us to a ping-pong bar, absinthe bar, and techno club. While I am not much of a partier, these bars were more relaxed and allowed us to socialize with the locals as well as others in our group. And let me tell you, I DOMINATED in ping-pong. Shout-out to high school gym class for teaching me my skills.
Overall, Berlin was far from what I expected. The architecture and streets reminded me a lot of Paris. I did not expect the city to be as progressive as it was. Most restaurants are vegan, nobody uses plastic straws, and people clean bottles off of the streets in order to earn some extra money. Berlin is definitely steps ahead of any other large city in the world and it was pretty amazing to experience. While I would probably only go back for the delicious vegan food, I am happy it is a city I can say I’ve experienced.
Let me know if you’ve been to Berlin before and what you enjoyed most about the city.
If you want to check out some more of my travel guides be sure to read The Ultimate Guide to Dubrovnik- What to See, Eat, Do, The Ultimate Guide to Iceland- What to See, Eat, Do, and The Ultimate Guide to Amsterdam- What to See, Eat, Do.