My first time in Berlin, I left thinking, “it’s alright, but it’s not Germany.” My second time, knowing a bit more of what to expect, I liked it more, but still didn’t love it, maybe because I visited in the depth of winter and during a cold streak. The third time though, during the marathon in the fall, I absolutely loved it. It may be different than the more traditional towns and villages around the country, but when it isn’t snowing, Berlin has some great biergardens too. The food is even better than parts of the country because not only is there German, but as a truly international city, there’s amazing food from around the rest of the world too. We also saw much more of the city during the marathon – not just the 26.2 miles of it – and found some great areas to visit and see.
Berlin is quickly becoming a major destination with its own unique character. It’s an avant-garde city that brings youth and optimism not otherwise seen across much of the country. There are government and financial districts of course, but there are countless hipster neighborhoods where little coffee shops and beirgardens abound. It’s also one of the most vegan friendly cities in the world so there are tons of excellent restaurants. Best of all, as a city with a huge number of immigrants, the cuisine is as varied and delicious as anywhere else in the world.
After these visits and trekking a full marathon around the city beyond the actual marathon, I’ve found some great spots around the city. While the center of town has some great spots, especially beer gardens and more than a few slices of Bavarian brews, it’s only by getting a bit further outside the center that the neighborhoods really shine. The s-bahn subway system makes getting around the city easy, so even spots that look far away are accessible when staying downtown. While a weekend in Berlin certainly isn’t enough to see everything, it’s enough to see a good part of the city and get a feel for what it offers.
A can’t miss sight, that I somehow managed to miss the first two times I visited Berlin, Tempelhof is something you won’t find anywhere else. Formerly the East Berlin airport, rather than renovate or tear it down, it’s been largely converted to public and park space. It hosted the marathon expo, and is the perfect space for events. The main arrival hall is still there as are baggage claims, passport control, and of course the runways. The hangars host massive event space and the grounds are perfect for exploring green spaces and maybe even taking a picnic.
Mutafa’s Gemuse Kebap has to be one of the best, if not the best kebap spot in town. With massive kebap sandwihces and a massive line to match it, it’s well worth the wait for these delicious meals made with tons of veggies and shaved roasted meat. Berlin has a kebap shop on almost every street corner, so it takes something special to stand out. Mustafa’s definitely stands out.
Also on the southern part of Berlin, Chutnify exemplifies the huge breadth of incredible food in Berlin. There are not only a ton of great Indian restaurants around the city, there are excellent varieties from different regions like this South Indian escalated street food. For some spice and bombs of flavor, it’s definitely worth taking the train out to this quiet but funky neighborhood. Paired with some of the excellent cocktails made with Indian flavor profiles, the food is just fantastic.
Not far away is the exact type of place that makes Berlin wonderful. Klunkerkranich defies explanation, but I’ll do my best. Head inside a shopping mall, find two elevators up to the parking deck, walk around up to the roof level, and you’ll find what is maybe best described as a mini golf course but if it was a bar. From this height, the view over the city’s downtown is incredible and it’s even better while enjoying some beer. The space is strange and psychedelic with some strange décor and tons of space to spread out. Get in early to grab a good table before all the twenty year old hipsters grab all the good tables.
Another great expansive beer garden, this one in the far reaches of the Tiergarten, Schleusenkrag is super popular with locals on nice days. The big space right along the water is great for a group get together with some nice German brews. There’s something special about sitting with a German brew out in the sun on a nice weekend day. At this beer garden, further out from the city, it’s possible to do so without the huge crowds closer in.
Café am Neuen See is another great, possibly the greatest beer garden in Berlin. In the middle of the Tiergarten, it really embraces the locale, sitting under the trees right on the water. There aren’t many beer gardens where you could theoretically hop on a rowboat, or at least watch other people do so. The space is absolutely massive and there’s not only German beer including some local brews, but also great food available too. There’s no better place in the city to cool down in the shade with a cool beer on a sunny day.
While in the area, you can’t miss the Tiergarten itself. This massive park is Berlin’s biggest and includes a zoo, numerous cafes, and tons of green space to explore. IT’s great for a walk, run, or picnic.
Also in the park is the impossible to miss Victory Column Standing above the park with all the main paths radiating out from it, it dominates views of much of the park. It’s also a good place to see a ton of the park if you’re willing to head up to the top. If not, it is still cool to take in from across the park.
Part of Berlin’s incredible vegan restaurant scene, Kanaan pairs top cuisine from Palestine and Israel with a funky space and manages to stay entirely vegan. It’s much easier I suppose with dishes that pack enormous flavor from spices and aren’t afraid to pack a punch. The space has a nice inside, but the real fun is on the sandy beach-like spot in the back, sort of like a mini beer garden. The food is exquisite and hard to believe it’s vegan. For something truly different and taste of cuisine you’ll probably not find elsewhere, it’s the best spot in town.
One of Berlin’s greatest contributions to the world culinary scene is the strange beer garden in an unexpected place. Prater Beer Garden occupies an expansive space in what feels like it could be the grounds of a carnival. There’s even a stage for performances. There’s a large beer garden area that primarily focusses on beer of course, though also has stands for food, and an actual restaurant with some fantastic German classics. With plenty of outdoor seating, it was a great place to soak up the sunset with some craft German beer and classic meat forward dishes.
A can’t miss sight in Berlin is the Berlin Wall Memorial park. Though traces of the wall still dot places throughout the city, this is the best place to see a full stretch of the wall and read up on the history. Though a sobering sight, it’s an important part of history to learn from, and the park manages to combine solemnity and hope for the future in a powerful way.
Early in the morning, Berlin matches it’s strength in beer gardens with some excellent coffee shops. At Oslo Kaffebar, the brewed beverages are top notch and match anything from Brooklyn or Oslo. The baristas know their stuff and craft intensely flavored drinks with ease so even with a line, the wait is never too long.
At Maxway Coffee, there’s a bunch of room t sit and enjoy a finely crafted drink or even take a swing in basket chairs that hang from the ceiling. The drinks are also excellent and there is a wide choice of flavors to add to drinks. Though its size makes it feel more like a chain than a small specialty shop, the coffee does taste fantastic, so it works well.
At The Castle, you can find a atmospheric combination of awesome local craft beer and warmth in what feels like your long lost relatives’ family room. With low slung leather couches and a fireplace, the inside is where to hang out when in need of some warmth. Outside is great too and there is a calming water feature that will either calm you or send you rushing to the restroom.
Not every meal in Berlin needs to be at a restaurant. Some of the best cuisine in the city is found at the plethora or snack stands and kiosks. At Kebap 63 – which makes you wonder which central authority designates the snack stand numbers – you’ll find a selection of shredded seasoned meat sandwiches and the famous Berlin treat, currywurst. Both are good enough to make you just decide to get both, so grab them and some napkins. There’s no better lack night snack.
If in the mood for something more substantial, Boulevard Fredrichstrasse provides the opportunity for a relaxed paced sit down meal more like a traditional German restaurant. There is ample beer and wine on the menu, and the dishes cover the big traditional German favorites like wurst sausages and schnitzel. Though it’s in a somewhat toursity location in a touristy area, the food is actually quite good.
For more traditional German cuisine and drink, there’s Gaffel Haus. As the outpost in Berlin for the giant brewery most know for it’s kolsch, you know the beer is going to be excellent. The food is strong too. I had a great currywurst that provided spice and paired well with the light beer quite well. There are a ton of great German breweries with restaurant outposts around Berlin, and this is one of the best.
When in Berlin, you can’t miss the massive store of Ritter Sport. One of the largest chocolate companies in Germany, Ritter Sport makes some incredible flavors of chocolate. In this flagship store all are on display and of course available for purchase. There’s also a coffee bar, pastries, and a brief area for exploring the history and process of the company. It feels a bit like the German version of Hershey Chocolate, minus the rides.
Another great spot for coffee and a pastry for breakfast or between meals is Einstein Kaffee. There are numerous tables to sit in front and sip a latte or cappuccino while people watching, just like being in Paris. Drinks are as excellent as expected in this cathedral to the bean, and the cups and mugs to stay add to the coziness. The central location sloe to shopping makes it great for a pick me up before hitting the stores.
Without a doubt one of the best Munich breweries also has a restaurant in central Berlin. Augustiner has been making beer for centuries and though simple, has perfected the art of the German lager. Going beyond just their main beer, there are a solid half dozen beers on the menu with some rotating seasonals included. The food is awesome too. The plates are massive and packed with traditional German flavors.
Located in one of my favorite spots in Berlin, the Hackeschen Markt market square, Weihenstephaner is another huge brewery with a restaurant in the city. The market square is perfect for sitting and watching the people. While we sat and enjoyed a dark wheat lager, numerous performers plied the square and provided entertainment.
Near the market square, though a bit tricky to find without maps, is Brauhaus Lemke. This brewery isn’t one you’ve seen at home, but it still makes some truly excellent beer across a wider range of styles than the typical German brewery. The space inside is a cozy feeling industrial vibe with big comfy seats in the back in what was probably the loading dock for the warehouse. Service got a little slow once it got more crowded, but the staff was largely able to keep up.
An experience that cannot be missed in Berlin is sitting on the bank of the river while drinking a giant bottle of beer on a reclining sun chair. At Ampelmann all this is possible, and more. Though definitely a touristy spot, after all it’s named for the character on the walk traffic lights found around the city, but the view and vibe can’t be beat. Grab a bottle at the stand in back and find a set of chairs with great views of the cathedral, bridges, and of course all the tourist boats cruising up and down the river.
Berlin can be overwhelming with so much to see and do. Just taking in all of the landmarks is daunting enough, but throwing in coffee bars, beer gardens, and restaurants really makes it challenging. The good news is that it’s hard to go wrong. With an incredible foodie culture and food from around the world, there’s something great and wildly different around every corner. Though harder to find in the winter, Berlin does excel at providing top notch and unique atmospheres at Beer Gardens, and on nice das there’s nothing better. It’s time to visit this unique city and see why it’s like German, but definitely not like majority of the rest of Germany thanks to its own culture.