Berlin Travel Guide
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You might not be able to fly into Berlin's new Brandenburg Airport terminal anytime soon, but if you want, you can take a bus ride down what will some day be its runway.
For those who haven't been following this story, the idea of the tour is a little humorous. This airport project, afterall, started all the way back in 2006 and has been an absolute nightmare for Berlin, with constant delays that have seen construction drag on for almost a decade. And it's not just about simple work delays. Political issues, including bribes, have come up, as well as an ever-curious case of the hiring a fake engineer.
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When it comes to historical travel, Germany attracts people from more nations than perhaps any other in the world. Not only did its actions during World War II affect the lives of those in a variety of countries, but the Holocaust is also arguably the most talked-about, war-related tragedy ever, piquing the curiosity of even those who had no connection to the actual events.
Yet, despite this opportunity to turn this world interest in its past into mass tourism and profits, visitors to Germany will see that it has been very good about not exploiting or glorifying its historical sites. In this travel writer’s opinion, there’s a simplicity to the presentation, a very admirable aspect of respect to the approach of preservation. The last thing the country wants is to appear as if it is proud of what took place in the years leading up to World War II.
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Berlin's Berghain nightclub, set in an old power plant
Berlin is known for its hedonistic nightclubs, but along with that reputation comes a no-mercy admittance policy. The bouncers run the show as they do in North America, but they aren't shy about turning you away if they don't like the looks of you in Berlin. The Internet is filled with frustrating tales of people who have waited hours to get in, only to be turned away at the door for no apparent reason.
Local advice in hand, we got into a line at Ritter Butzke at 1 a.m. on a Sunday morning, gained entrance at 4 a.m., and didn't leave until 10:30 a.m. As the stories of others (both locals and tourists) will tell you, there's not much you can do to guarantee you get in, but you can certainly help your chances. Below, we dish our advice for passing the eye test at the door:
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One of the first things this writer noticed upon landing in Berlin was the incredible amount of green space found within the city limits. From pockets of trees on street corners to sprawling parks, the Germans sure know how to keep their cities fresh, as visits to Munich, Dusseldorf, and Frankfurt would also confirm.
Berlin benefits from the fact that it was built over marshland, reaping the rewards of an extremely high water table. The joke is that Berliners have a conservation conflict - that is, the less water they use as a city, the more money they have to spend to pump out the excess. When walking or driving through the city, keep your eye out for the purple and blue pipes that run above the streets, and don't feel too bad about taking your time in the shower.
The Tempelhofer Park is the most notable of the few dozen found in Berlin, and certainly the most unique. It is the protected remains of the Berlin Tempelhof Airport that closed its doors in 2008 after nearly ninety years of operation.
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In this addition of Street Food Friday, we head to Berlin to see what's cooking. While it does have some very strong traditions, it's important to note that Berlin is a huge international city where locals eat everything from burgers to Asian barbecue. Try the following local dishes along the way, but if you really want to live the local life, be sure to explore the Berlin's vast multicultural food scene.
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From the RAW complex in Friedrichshain
Yesterday, we explained why visiting Berlin sooner than later is an absolute must: The receding counter-culture of the 90s out of plain sight and into the depths of the city. But you can still find strong pockets of it in certain areas, and you'll want to pencil them in as part of your visit.
When one of our contributors visited Berlin for the first time a few years ago, he made a comment about the large number of construction sites he saw throughout the city. On my visit this past weekend, I witnessed a similar scene, cranes towering high above the buildings in almost every direction. A casual observation on the surface, for sure, yet it provides deep insight into the state of the city when investigated further.
After the fall of the Wall in November of 1989, visitors to the former East Berlin would experience what I like to refer to as nothing short of a beautiful disaster. Communism was over, and no one was really sure what that meant in terms of property ownership, government jurisdiction, and social outlook. What transpired was a heavy counter-cultural scene, one filled with squatters, street art, and modern-day speakeasies. It became known as the party capital of Europe, where everyone would go to let their hair down. You can see glimpses of the scene in the photos that follow.
If you typically keep your passport locked up in the hotel safe while exploring a city, you're going to want to take it out on the town when you visit Berlin. You'll get the official stamp when you land at the airport, but you can get additional vintage and historical stamps for 1 Euro each at a small tourist shop in East Berlin (and occasionally near Brandenburg Gate).
What kind of stamps are we talking? They all come from a time when the Wall still stood and the city was separated into East and West Berlin. Think Checkpoint Charlie East and West, the Police of East Berlin, and the Wall House.
Drinking beer in Germany is an obvious must when traveling through the country, and it certainly doesn't take much convincing. Its brewing reputation and history speaks for itself, and because the production and ingredients are regulated by the government, the quality of beer being brewed is as good as it gets these days.
The Germans love it so much, they even offer ways ways to enjoy beer if you don't like beer, such as a Radler (beer mixed with lemonade) or an Alster (beer with soda) that takes some of the edge off the flavor. This weekend in Berlin, we discovered another variation on the traditional pint in the form of the Berliner Weisse, a sour wheat beer that is served with a drop of flavoring to help the medicine go down.
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In November of 1989, residents of East and West Germany celebrated as the government announced the "fall" of the Berlin Wall, a breaking of the barrier between the two sides and a signal that the country was ready to reconcile.
A massive celebration ensued, and this year, as the country recognizes the 25 year anniversary of its reunion, we've come to Germany's capital to get a fresh perspective on not only the commemorative events to come, but the state of Berlin as one of Europe's top cities to visit.
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Last December we did a post about Berlin's Brandenburg Airport, headlined "Berlin's giant new airport will open (maybe possibly hopefully)." In that post we outlined the history of woes that the airport has suffered, going back to the October 2011 date when its doors were originally supposed to open. Then, last July we gave you another update, expressing our hope that "someday, somehow" the airport would debut.
Fast forward to yesterday, when Germany's English-language The Local published details of a report describingand this is not a typomore than 66,000 problems still requiring attention. The story began with the line, "Berlin's new international airport took another step towards never being finished on Tuesday..." and then kind of went downhill from there. Oof.
Sure, we love all the speed and comfort of modern travel, but it didn't that way overnight. Every Thursday, we're going to take a look back at travel the way it used to be, whether that's decades or centuries ago. This is Throwback Thursday, travel edition.
Someday, somehow, Berlin's Brandenburg Airport will open. Until then, the city relies on the current major international airports, Tegel and Schönefeld, which are woefully stretched to capacity. Even before these two however, Berlin made a name for itself in aviation history with Tempelhof.
Tempelhof wasn't always the name of the airport, but of forest and field in a neighborhood of Berlin named Tempelhof-Schöneberg. We recently came across a map of Berlin from 1913, which shows the original layout of the area.