Berlin is the capital city of Germany and one of the 16 states in the country. It is also the largest city in Germany with a population of 4.3 million. Apart from the Berlin Wall, which became the symbol of Germany’s unification, the city is best known for its lively nightlife with its many cafes, clubs, and bars.
It is also famous for numerous museums, palaces, and other sites of historical interests. If you are planning to travel to Berlin, here are some useful tips that you need to follow:
You need to roam a lot
Unlike many European cities, much of Berlin’s tourist sites are not centralized. Although you can reach various spots on foot, it is best to utilize its public transport system.
Berlin is one big party place
The city has over 200 different bars and clubs, mostly playing techno and electro music. It has also played host to the "Love Parade," an outdoor rave that attracts millions from around the world dancing to rhythmic electronic music that lasts until the evening.
Berlin is a great place for "people watching"
Sometimes the best things about the city has nothing to do with the landmarks and clubs. All you need to do is to stroll along Berlin’s charming streets, breezing through cafes, or sip some "Berlinerweiser mit suss grun" at a beach bar along one of the city’s many rivers. You would see and meet Berliners who are often friendly and extremely helpful, although you may also encounter some "Berliner Schnauze," who have a certain brusqueness that you may find rude.
Each district has something for everybody
Berlin is such a huge city that it has more than one downtown, each one accommodating a different set of people. Berlin’s districts have their own unique style that travelers could notice the difference. For instance, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg is associated with the left-wing youth culture, while Prenzlauer Berg is popular with students, artists, and media professionals, and Schöneberg is a cosy area for the gay community and aging hippies.
Go on a walking tour
Berlin has several tour companies that offer walking tours, where you get to explore many of the city’s historical establishments. Some companies would require you to file a reservation, while others run on a "tips only" basis (you only get to pay the tour guide). Some tours also offer pub crawling, although a lot of prominent clubs reject the obvious tourist. Take note that there are also more expensive private tours operators that you can opt.
Go around Berlin by yourself
If you would rather tour the city on your own, you can go around the sights that you want to go using your mobile phone. Type in http://www.bbno.info/ on your moblie Internet browser and you get to view a lists of locations that would interest you, as well as how to access it using the railways. This service is in English, although you can also choose German.
Beware of fake ticket sellers
Some places in Berlin have several people persuading you to buy used transport tickets claiming they are day passes. If you encounter this, simply refuse, as the ticket might be a mere single journey fare (meaning it’s unusable after all) and it could also be a pickpocket trick.
The tension between West and East
Even after the unification of Germany, you may encounter this certain uneasiness between residents from West Berlin and those in the former Communist East side. The implication is that some West Germans automatically assumed that the way they do things is the right way, and that the Easterners should start doing it as well. The "Wessies" look at the "Ossies" (notice the derogatory terms) as stubborn Communist holdouts only interest in handouts. Good thing, however, is that the younger generation do not share the same biases.
It is okay to get stared at
In other countries, it is unethical to stare at other people. However in Berlin, or Germany in general, people tend to look at something or someone that would catch their curiosity. If, for instance, you have darker skin than average, you would gather stares from many people and it’s not a bad thing. They are merely curious.
Don’t bring up the Nazi
If there is one taboo in Germany that you should not do at all is to talk anything about World War II, the Holocaust, and most especially the Nazi Movement. Germans would "clam up" on this issue, not because they feel guilty about it, but rather they feel deeply uneasy. They have probably heard that so many times and they are sick of it. Although the country still has some pocket Neo-Nazi groups, which most Germans detest, remember that every country has their own problems of prejudice and injustice.
Getting around can be confusing
Although the public transport system in the city is superb, it can be confusing to foreigners because of lack of signs in some larger stations. You need a good rail map to navigate yourself in Berlin’s subways and railways. Also, street signs usually point to city districts rather than indicating compass directions.
Visit the city’s many museums
You would never get tired of entering Berlin’s museums, as each offers something different to what our cultural and historical appetite. Most big museums would charge people aged 16 or older between 6 to 8 euros, while state-run museums offer a day ticket that is also valid on other government museums except for special exhibits. Discounts are also offered for students and disabled persons with proper identification. State-run museums also grant free entrance four hours before closing every Thursday. Do note that most museums are closed on Mondays.
You may find the churches interesting
Although there aren’t really great churches in Berlin that can be compared to the likes of Notre Dame and Sagrada Familia, you could find the city’s churches with historical interest and architectural marvel. Most of Berlin’s churches have free entrances.
There are many ways to view Berlin from the top
While Berlin has relatively few high-rise building, there are several establishments in the city that have observation decks. Probably the most famous among these observation venues is the Berliner Fernsehturm near Alexanderplatz, which is the tallest in Germany at 368 meters. It has a rotating cafe at the top spinning 360 degrees in just 30 minutes. You could also try visiting Reichstag, the German parliament building with a large glass construction on top giving you a great view of Berlin (although you have to be prepared for long lines and extensive security checks).
Remember the tragedies of World War II
Although most Germans would rather forget about what happened during World War II, they do not hide that part of history as you can visit several interesting locations that have to do with the Nazi years such as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe located near Brandenburg Gate. You could also check out the remnants of the Cold War such as what remains of the Berlin Wall.
Paying for your dinner is not what you’re used to
It is customary in Berlin to tell the waiter how much you are paying when you receive your dinner bill, instead of leaving the money on the table like most Westerners do.
Tipping in Berlin range from 5% to 10% of the total bill amount, or you could round it off to the nearest Euro. However,do remember that waiters in Berlin-and even the whole of Europe-are not dependent on tips to make a living. If the service has been very good, feel free to tip more, especially when they help you with the language.
Prostitution is legal
The oldest trade is legal business in Germany, but Berlin does not have what we can consider a red-light district. Brothels are spread throughout the city, with the Oranienburgerstrasse in Mitte getting a reputation for its prostitutes.
Berlin is relatively safer compared to other European cities, but it has its share of problems as well. Aside from the usual pickpocket problem, the city is also prone to rioting especially on days leading to Labor Day (May 1), although it has mellowed down in recent years. In case of emergency, Germany’s nationwide emergency phone number is 112 for health-related crisis and fires, while the police emergency number is 110.
Don’t travel too far to the East
Especially if you are non-Caucasian. Although racially-motivated violence is rare, the risk is higher on the outskirts of East Berlin such as Lichtenberg, Hellersdorf, Marzahn, Treptow, and Köpenick, most especially at night. Always remember the rule of thumb when traveling to eastern Berlin: Stay inside the S-Bahn Ring.