If you have limited time in Berlin, this guide is here to inform you of the best areas to see and explore based on your interest. The sprawl of Berlin is so large that sometimes it takes 30-40 minutes just to reach the other side of town (or the wall) on the U-bahn or S-bahn. Strategy is necessary if limited on time.
Mitte translates to "middle," and this is the prime location for much of historic Berlin. Central Mitte was once the heart of East Berlin and still holds that traditional feel as its free from gawky skyscrapers. There are plenty of tourist shops along Unten Den Linden.
Discover more to do on my other blog post: A Walking Tour of Unter den Linden: Berlin's Most Prominent & Historical Street.
Alexanderplatz is Berlin's largest square and home to the famous TV tower. This tower marks the spot of where Berlin Old Town once stood, which ws destroyed in the war. Settlers first put roots in this area in the 13th Century, and built cottages, which are now replaced by post war buildings.
The square earned it's title from Tsar Alexander I, who visited the Prussian capital in 1805. Visitors will find plenty of corporate shops, cafes and cinemas, and although modern, the square is home to many historical events such as the March Revolution of 1848, which also happened in November 1989. Hollywood appearances have also been here like quick shots being filmed in the Bourne movies.
Discover more on my In Search of Communism in Berlin – Best Historical Sites.
Some claim this neighborhood has an identity crisis. A former wasteland, today Potsdamerplatz is littered with glass high rises and modern shops and restaurants. Enjoy a birds eye view of the city from Panoramapunkt in the Kollhof Tower. Here visitors will notice metal plaques and bricks on the ground, indicating where the former Berlin Wall once stood. Plenty of excellent museums reside here, some of the better ones outside of Unter den Linden.
If you don't have much time in Berlin, this is one area to skip.
This upscale shopping neighborhood is home to the popular Checkpoint Charlie, a border crossing between east and west Germany during the Communist era. Nearby is a DDR museum, Gendarmenmarkt and the Topography of Terror, which are all famous historical sites and museums. Also nearby is Anhalter Bahnhof, is a former railway terminal station turned bunker in WW2. Opened in 1880, it was considered the most-grand train station in the world.
Discover more area sites and museums on my 10 Significant WW2 Sites to Visit in Berlin, Germany.
In the early 2000's, this was once the grunge and hip neighborhood. Thanks to gentrification, the yuppies moved in, upsetting the neighborhood's vibe. Like an identity crisis, remains of the graffiti landscape still exist amidst a prim and proper neighborhood. Part hipster, part cultured, this is one area to discover many independent bars, shops and cafes. It certainly is "geil," or cool.
Friedrichshain + Kreuzberg
Located in the former West Berlin these two neighborhoods are split by the River Spree, but connected with the Oberbaumbrücke. My first memory of Friedrichshain was watching local hipsters and punks "make a party" underneath the bridge and a girl who looked exactly like the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo exit the U-bahn station. It didn't matter if it was 3pm or 11pm, partying was a part of this neighborhood. The neighborhood was a ghost town at 8am with the exception of late night parties still dancing to techno from the local warehouse party.
This is definitely the place to find plenty of exotic and vegan cuisine. The East Side Gallery, or the former Berlin Wall, still exists today with plenty of graffiti.
Kreuzberg is another neighborhood filled with cheap eats, squatters and buildings tagged with graffiti. Many Turks live here so finding a doner stand is relatively easy. This certainly is the "multikulti" (multi-cultural) neighborhood where Bohemian artists live in their dream "shithole" apartment for a couple hundred euros.
Tiergarten - Zoo Area
During the Prussian era, Tiergarten used to the be the hunting grounds for the local kings. Informally known today as the "green heart" of Berlin, the zoo region is bordered by Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag on the east, the zoo on the west, Potsdamer Platz and the Memorial of the Murdered Jews on the southeast and the Bellevue Castle (the residency of the German President) on the northern tip. It is not uncommon to find unclothed Germans in some of the area's parks, which allows for FKK (nude) sunbathing. The 600 acres of greenspace is one of the largest parks and spaces in the city. On Sundays look for the antique / flea market, Berliner Trödelmarkt.
What's your favorite neighborhood in Berlin?