Why travel to Berlin?
Friends often ask “how do you cope, with your children living sooo far away?”
Well one of the main benefits is that you have free accommodation in Europe and an excellent excuse to travel to Berlin semi-regularly,
Another, is that you get to hang out with their friends and experience some of the amazing things Berlin has to offer that only a local will take you to.
Today I’ve put together some of the Berlin attractions and hidden gems they have introduced us to during our travels to Berlin.
Garten de Welt – “Gardens of the World”
A tram ride into the Eastern suburbs brings you to Marzan, where we spent an enjoyable afternoon discovering Garten de Welt and the International Garden Exhibition
Set on some 43 acres, the gardens were first opened in 1987 by the East Berlin city government.
We enjoyed strolling through many themed garden rooms, taking inspiration for our own garden.
We found traditional Japanese gardens and teahouses, Balinese water gardens and simplistic modern courtyard garden. The highlight for us was the most diverse and magnificent rose garden we have seen.
We found ourselves lost in the hedged garden maze and a cable car ride from one end of the park to the other provided a birds eye view of the entire parkland.
At Eu9.90 including the cable car ride, this was fabulous value for an afternoons entertainment.
Enjoying the extensive rose gardens
Teufelsberg “Devil’s Mountain”
When we visit Berlin, our family are wary of our lack of German, and tend to have a roster where someone is with us at all times when negotiating our way around the city.
As an added precaution, they use modern technology and Facebook message group chat set up, enabling us to share everyone’s whereabouts, plans etc on our trusty Iphones
However one day, we decided to leave early, mastering the skill of purchasing train tickets in German and navigating to the city to meet David.
The comments from the children on Facebook messenger until we were “found safely” eating a Bakeri cake outside David’s cafe were priceless and provided an apt precursor to that day’s adventure. A five kilometre return hike though the forest to an abandoned US spy station.
Hidden in Grunewald forest
Teufelsberg (“Devils mountain), in the middle of the Grunewald forest was previously the site of a Nazi training camp.
After the war, all the debris from WWII bombing was piled into rubble mountains around the city. During the 1950’s the site became became the centre of the US Cold War operations.
A number of attempts to redevelop the site in recent years have failed, however the Spystation remains an “unofficial” local tourist attraction.
Hiking along a track through the forest, pine trees seemed to extend forever on all sides around us. Suddenly five large radar domes remaining on top of the eerily abandoned buildings seemed to emerge from nowhere. How on earth did they hide this?
The derelict buildings have become a mecca for local graffiti artists and the set for a number of art films and photo shoots. Climbing the long silent stairwells to the top provides a magnificent view over the forest and across the city.
Hiking out of the forest towards Grunewald station, we came across a German Biergarten for a well earned refreshment and schnitzel. The German speaking waitress found great amusement at Dave’s Australian accent while speaking German, but at least we had an amazing meal of schnitzel and fried potato strips.
Gleis 17 Grunewald Station
Our route home took us to Gleis 17 of Grunewald station, now a memorial to the many thousands of Jews who were deported from this station during the holocaust.
The memorial at Gleis 17 consists of large iron sheets laid next to each other, each stating the date of a transport, the number of deportees and the final destination.
Trees and vegetation have been planted on the tracks around the memorial as a reminder that no train will ever depart from these platforms again.
You can almost feel the desolation of the site, as if the trees themselves absorbed the horror.
In summer, Berliners head outdoors to enjoy every single ray of sunshine they can, so one Sunday we were loaded into the car and headed off on a family picnic.
Heading towards Potsdam our first destination was Pfaueninsel, or Peacock Island on the River Havel.
A short ferry ride took us across to the Unesco World Heritage site, where in 1794, Freiderich Wilhelm II built a fairytale castle as his summer palace.
We spent several hours browsing through the landscaped gardens, where true to the name, peacocks still wander freely.
Visitors enjoy their picnics and barbecues in the extensive parklands, or enjoy refreshments at the kiosks and restaurant on the island.
Gross Glienicker See
Sunday in summer in Berlin means a trip to the lake for a swim and a picnic and Gross Glienicker See was the chosen spot for our afternoon’s picnic.
Originally a ‘divided” lake, prior to 1990 buoys divided East and West Berlin, with warning signs remaining today.
We joined the many families spread out on picnic blankets to enjoy our lunch of German meats and cheeses, German bread and salad.
Swimmers frolicked in the waters well into the evening as we chose to hire a paddle boat and take in the sights of the lake for an hour or so.
Mauerpark Fleamarkets and Karaoke
It was to Mauerpark we headed one sunny Sunday to experience some local Berlin culture.
Located in Prenlaur Berg, the name translates to “Wall Park.” Previously part of the “death strip” dividing east and west Berlin, a remaining strip of the former wall is a popular spot for graffitti artists.
The “Flohmarkt” (flea markets) are bustling hive of activity. An eclectic mix of stallholders sell everything from nicknacks and clothing, aniques and furniture, to vinyl records and retro goods. They are also open to haggling, though the children were reluctantly called in to negotiate our bargains in German for us.
We enjoyed a lazy Sunday morning browsing through the stalls and sampling the street food available from the numerous vendors.
In the adjacent park, hundreds of picnickers fire up the disposable barbecues to cook their sausages on foil trays with heat beads in the bottom. Simply cook your meal then throw the mess in the bin.
Games of volleyball, basketball, badminton and boules are hotly contested, with anyone welcome to join in.
Visitors throw their picnic blankets on the hill to laze away the afternoon. Musicians, jugglers, mime artists and comedians provide free entertainment.
The highlight of the day comes at 3pm with Bearpit Karaoke. Up to two thousand spectators cram the stone steps of the amphitheatre to take advantage of what has become a local cultural icon.
Anyone can take part. From 11 year old kids to the elderly gent whose rendiition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” sung in German has become a weekly act.
Berlin is reknowned for its bars and nightlife, but our “inside information” took us to a number of unique spots frequented by the locals which are really worth a visit on your next trip to Berlin
Located on top of the Park Inn Hotel in Alexanderplatz, Panorama 360 is one of the best vantage points in Berlin for a glass of bubbly.
Really just a narrow balcony, you are so close to the iconic Alexanderplatz TV tower you could almost touch it as you relax in a deck chair and enjoy the view.
A small entry fee is charged, as the number of patrons the bar can hold at one time is strictly limited
By 8 o’clock Berlin was still wide awake enjoying the sunshine as we headed back down and browsed through the market stalls in Alexanderplatz below.
One of Nuekollin’s best kept secrets sits innoccuously on top of the local shopping centre.
So few people in Berlin actually own cars that the car park of the local shopping centre became somewhat of a white elephant. What do you do with an empty carpark? Turn it into a bar, of course!
The top level of the car park has been transformed into an amazing rooftop bar. Taking the lift to the highest level of the carpark, we then walked up the final ramp, decorated with vertical gardens to find a unique bar totally decked out in up-purposed furnishings.
Amid the upcycled furniture, you will find gardens, birdhouses, sculptures and numerous quirky additions to add to the atmosphere.
Despite the lack of any signage the rooftop is absolutely full of patrons taking in the views and enjoying a few cooling beverages on a hot day.
After visiting the nearby museum, we called in for a visit at a not-so-small bar and brewery located under the Gleisdreieck U-bahn station.
The old slavic spelling of Berlin, BRLO has been constructed completely out of shipping containers.
Here you will find a large variety of craft beers on tap, many of which come from their own brewery and Ian greatly enjoyed their “tasting plate” of five beers.
The restaurant is obviously popular with locals. We were fortunate to get a table to enjoy their “sharing menu”, of fresh local produce. Vegetables are the star of their menu, cooked in an amazing number of different ways and a platter of regional meats. We certainly didn’t go away hungry!
Visiting in summer, when their biergarten is in operation, there was buzz of activity outside as we enjoyed our local beers.
Returning the last night of our visit, we found the place was even busier than before as they were hosting a “beer and food” festival.
Berlin craft brewers seem to work together, and many of their friends had set up marquees in the beer garden. For the purchase of a token you received a souvenir BRLO glass and the opportunity to sample a number of craft beers.
Personally I enjoyed sampling the best raclette I tasted during my time in Europe.
I’m not much of a beer drinker myself, so was delighted to find this little gem in the heart of Mitte.
Obviously a favourite of ex-pat locals, Kaschk offers not only craft beers on tap and a tasting board of four beers to keep Ian happy. It also serves a selection of barista made coffee by day to satisfy my need for a good coffee.
It certainly became a regular venue for us for a great morning coffee before heading off on our day’s adventure. Or a meeting place for few ‘quiet ales’ before heading off in the evening.
Locals lounge around in the Nordic interior. Many are busy working on their laptops while they enjoyed a morning coffee or a quiet ale while taking advantage of the free WiFi.
Hidden downstairs we were introduced to the sport of shuffleboard, where pucks are pushed down a long wooden table, scoring at the other end.
Kaschk apparently holds semi-regular shuffleboard competitions, which we hope to catch up on during a future trip.
Read also: Berlin, 20 things to know before you visit
Berlin, a one day walking tour
A view from the top of Berlin
An afternoon on Berlin’s Spree River
Berlins Soviet War Memorial
Five museums on one Berlin Island