The foundation of Berlin was very multicultural. The surrounding area was populated by Germanic Swabian and Burgundian tribes, and by Slavic Wends in pre-Christian times, and the Wends have stuck around. Their modern descendants are the Sorbian Slavic-language minority, who live in villages southeast of Berlin near the Spree River.
At the beginning of the 13th century, two towns (Berlin and Cölln) developed on each side of the river Spree (today the Nikolaiviertel and the quarter next to it beyond the river). As the population grew, the towns merged and Berlin became a center for commerce and agriculture. This area stayed small (about 10,000 inhabitants) up to the late 17th century, because of the Thirty Years' War at the beginning of the 17th century, which led to the death of about half of the population.
Since the late 17th century, when large numbers of French Huguenots fled religious persecution, Berlin has welcomed religious, economic and other asylum seekers. In 1701, Berlin became the capital of Prussia, and in 1710, Berlin and surrounding former autonomous cities were merged into a bigger Berlin.
In 1871, Berlin became the capital of the newly united Germany, and a few years later, it became a city with more than one million inhabitants because of the immensely growing industry.
Shortly after the First World War, in 1920, the last of the annexations of surrounding cities of Berlin led to the foundation of the Berlin as we know it now.
World War II led to the destruction of most of central Berlin. Thus, many of the buildings which we see nowadays were reconstructed or planned and built after the war, leading to a very fragmented cityscape in most parts of the inner town. Berlin was divided into four military administration sectors. The French, American and British sectors were combined into 'West Berlin,' while East Berlin was administered by the USSR. In 1949 the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany) was founded with East Berlin as its capital. West Berlin belonged to West Germany (whose capital was Bonn) and was an exclave (political island) in East Germany. Because of the growing tensions between West Germany and the GDR, the latter built a wall between the countries and around West Berlin, so the division was complete.
In 1989 the German revolution took place – subsequently leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall – and in 1990 West and East Germany were merged. Berlin became the capital of reunified Germany.
After World War II and the building of the wall, many immigrants from Turkey were invited to West Berlin to work in the growing industry sector; in East Berlin, the jobs were done mostly by Vietnamese immigrants. Also, people from other communist countries, including from the former Yugoslavia and Soviet soldiers who refused to return home, have helped to make Berlin more multicultural than ever.
Berlin is also a youth-oriented city. Before German unification, West Berliners were exempt from the West German civil/military service requirement. Social activists, pacifists, and anarchists of all stripes moved to Berlin for that reason alone. Musicians and artists were given state subsidies. It was easy to stay out all night thanks to liberal bar licensing laws, and staying at university for years without ever getting a degree was a great way to kill time. In contrast with most of Germany, Prenzlauer Berg is said to have the highest per-capita birth rate in Europe (though in fact it just seems so because of the high percentage of young women in the district).
After the fall of the wall, Berlin - especially the former East - has evolved into a cultural mecca. Artists and other creative souls flocked to the city in swarms after reunification, primarily due to the extremely low cost of living in the East. Despite the increased prices and gentrification that has resulted, Berlin has become a center for art, design, multimedia, electronic music, and fashion among other things. The particularly high number of students and young people in the city has only helped this cause. Just stroll down a street in Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, or Mitte to get a glimpse of the new East Berlin.
Some famous artists of the region and their best-known works include Lucas Cranach the Elder, Lucas Cranach the Younger, Johann Gottfried Schadow, Marlene Dietrich (The Blue Angel), Leni Riefenstahl (Triumph of the Will), Bertolt Brecht (Threepenny Opera), Käthe Kollwitz, Kurt Tucholsky, Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Walter Gropius, Paul Klee, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (Nosferatu), Fritz Lang (Metropolis), Volker Schlöndorff, Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire (German: Der Himmel über Berlin)), Blixa Bargeld/Einstürzende Neubauten, Christopher Isherwood, Gunter Grass (The Tin Drum), and members of the Bauhaus architectural movement.
Berlin has a temperate oceanic climate, meaning warm summers and cold winters. Nighttime temperatures typically fall below freezing in the winter, and snowfall is a regular occurrence, though the snow rarely accumulates for more than a few days. Summers are typically pleasant, with daytime temperatures typically in the low 20's, and nighttime temperatures staying above 10°C. Berlin is a rather windy city compared to much of Southern Germany, though by no means as windy as coastal cities like Hamburg or Lübeck. A wind-stopping jacket comes highly recommended, especially during the shoulder seasons.
Berlin is a relatively young city by European standards, dating to the thirteenth century, and it has always had a reputation as a place filled with people from elsewhere. It may seem tough to find someone born and raised here! This is part of Berlin's charm: it never gets stuck in a rut.
A certain uneasy détente exists between some former residents of East and West Berlin (and Germany). Wessi evolved as a derogatory nickname for a West German; its corollary is Ossi. The implication here is that after reunification, the West Germans automatically assumed the way they do things is the right way and the way the Easterners should start doing it, too. Westerners got a reputation for being arrogant. They saw the Easterners as stubborn Communist holdouts interested only in a handout from the "rich West." Consider a shirt for sale in a shop inside the Alexanderplatz Deutsche Bahn station: Gott, schütze mich vor Sturm und Wind/und Wessies die im Osten sind ("God, protect me from the storm and wind, and Wessies who are in the East"). Another such stereotype is reflected by the short poem: Der Ossi ist schlau und stellt sich dumm, beim Wessi ist es andersrum ("The Ossi is sly and pretends to be simple-minded, and with the Wessi, it's the other way around"). However, most of the younger generation do not share such biases. Nowadays the conflicts between Easterners and Westerners are often replaced by jokes about Swabians, who has a reputation for thriftiness, uptightness and an audible dialect. In recent years many Swabians have flocked to neighborhoods like Prenzlauer Berg, and the welcome hasn't always been warm.
Berlin is — at least in many parts — a beautiful city, so allow enough time to get to see the sights. A good map is highly recommended. While the public transport system is superb, it can be confusing to visitors, due to a lack of directional signs in some of the larger stations, so a good transit map is also essential. Be sure to note the final station/stop of the S-bahn or U-bahn, since that is usually the way direction of travel is indicated. Roads into Berlin can also be confusing, so study your route and drive carefully. Signs point to city boroughs or districts rather than indicating compass directions, so it's a good idea to get to know where the various boroughs or districts lie about each other. This also applies to cyclists.
Berlin's Tourist Information Office is an excellent resource for finding out more about Berlin, providing a wealth of practical information and useful hyperlinks.
Berlin is a huge city. You can make use of the excellent bus, tram, train and underground services to get around. Taxi services are also easy to use and a bit less expensive than in many other big Central European cities. You can hail a cab (the yellow light on the top shows the cab is available), or find a taxi rank (Taxistand). Taxi drivers are in general able to speak English. If you ask for a short trip (Kurzstrecke), as long as it's under 2 km and before the taxi driver starts the meter running, the trip normally is cheaper. This only applies if you flag the taxi down on the street, not if you get in at a taxi rank. Consult the on-line Berlin route planner (in English) to get excellent maps and schedules for the U-Bahn, buses, S-Bahn, and trams, or to print your journey planner. The route planner can also calculate the fastest door-to-door connection for your destination for any given day and hour. The Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) have a detailed fare list on their web site.
If you don't know how to get somewhere, or how to get home at night, call ☎ +49 30 19449, the Customer Service of the BVG. There are also facilities in most U-Bahn and some S-Bahn stations to contact Customer Service directly. The BVG has Metro lines (buses and tram) that run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All lines are marked with a big orange plate and a white M.
House numbers do not necessarily run in one direction (up or down). On a lot of streets, the numbers ascend on one side and descend on the other. Especially on long streets, check the numbering scheme first: you can find the name of the street and the numbers on that block at nearly every street corner.
Unlike some English-speaking countries, Germans usually add the word for "street," "square," "park," etc., when they mention the name of a locality. Thus, they would not simply refer to "Kurfürsten" when talking about Kurfürstenstraße (Kurfürsten Street), as this could also mean "Kurfürstendamm," which is a different road at a different place. "Schloss", which simply means "palace", could refer to any of the palaces in Berlin, to one of the two roads called "Schloßstraße" in Charlottenburg (Charlottenburger Schloss) and Steglitz, to a shopping centre called "Das Schloss", or to the "Schloßplatz" in the Mitte district.
Berlin uses a zone system, but you are unlikely to need to go beyond zone A and B, except on trips to Potsdam or the Schönefeld Airport (SXF). This is a very large area. The public transport system (U-, S-Bahn, bus, tram, regional rail) uses a common ticket.
Standard tickets are valid for any travel within two hours of validation, in a single direction, within the appropriate fare zones. There is no limit to transfers. For a single journey, you can buy a cheap Kurzstrecke, but this is only valid for 3 stops on the U-Bahn or S-Bahn (transfers permitted) or 6 stops on buses or trams (no transfers). Reduced fares apply for children 6 to 14. Under 6 y/o ride free. The border between zones A and B is the S-Bahn Ring (see below).
Several options are available for unlimited travel. Prices listed here are only for zones A and B: prices for A, B, and C cost marginally more.
You need to validate your ticket using the machines on the U- and S-bahn platforms or on the bus. The machines are yellow/white in the U-Bahn and the bus, and red on S-Bahn platforms. Validation simply means the machine prints a time stamp onto the ticket. Once validated, a ticket which is still valid will not have to be re-validated before every single trip. Whilst it might be tempting to try to avoid buying a ticket, be advised that plain-clothed inspectors do patrol the trains. Fare inspections are rather common and arguably more common than in other cities. The inspectors are very no-nonsense and will catch you if you try to outrun them.
If you need to get around the city quickly, take the S-Bahn.
The Ringbahn that goes all around Berlin in a circle lets you get to other parts of the city fast. If you're looking for the way, use BVG.de, that site includes Buses, U-Bahn, S-Bahn, Tram and even ferries. You can simply enter departure address and arrival address to see the optimum connection; it's an excellent service. An option to reach Schönefeld airport is to use U-Bahn line U7 until the terminal station Rudow and then take the bus.
In the center, most S-Bahn lines S5, S7, S75 run on an east-west route between Ostkreuz and Westkreuz via the stops Warschauer Straße, Ostbahnhof, Jannowitzbrücke, Alexanderplatz, Hackescher Markt, Friedrichstraße, Hauptbahnhof, Bellevue, Tiergarten, Zoologischer Garten, Savignyplatz, and Charlottenburg. Other lines run along a circle track around the city, most notably the S8 and the S41, S42, S45, S46 lines, and there's also a north-south connection S1, S2, S25 from Gesundbrunnen through Friedrichstraße and Potsdamer Platz to Südkreuz or Schöneberg.
Regional trains (RB, RE) run along the same central east-west connection, but stopping only at Lichtenberg or Karlshorst, Ostbahnhof, Alexanderplatz, Friedrichstraße, Hauptbahnhof, Zoologischer Garten, Charlottenburg and Spandau or Wannsee, as well as other lines connecting north-south from Jungfernheide or Gesundbrunnen through Hauptbahnhof, Potsdamer Platz and Südkreuz to Lichterfelde-Ost. Long-distance trains mostly run to Hauptbahnhof, often with one or two extra stops at other stations.
The Berlin U-Bahn (short for Untergrundbahn - "underground railway") is a network of ten light rail lines across the city. They are numbered from 1 to 9 with the prefix "U," with the additional line U55 in operation until its route gets connected to the U5 sometime before 2020. You may find the U-Bahn network slightly less logical and convenient to use than in other European capitals, as Berlin's troubled history made its mark on it and many key locations remain unconnected, which is why using buses, trams, and S-Bahn to complement the U-Bahn is probably necessary for efficient travel throughout Berlin. However as those systems are fully integrated (see above), you can do so with only one ticket or type of ticket. Generally speaking in the east trams are more widespread while the west relies more heavily on U-Bahn, but both of that has been slowly changing since 1990.
Do also note that the "underground" is only a nominal designator, as the trains normally run underground. Some of the networks are overground stretches running over the characteristic viaducts that can be found throughout the city and add a certain flavor to Berlin's cityscape (this arrangement is similar to light rail systems existing in some North American cities or the M6 line in Paris).
Detailed maps can be found in every U-Bahn station and on the trains. U-Bahn stations can be seen from far by their big, friendly blue U signs. Together with the S-Bahn (which is administered by Deutsche Bahn and mostly runs aboveground), the U-Bahn provides a transportation network throughout greater Berlin that is extremely efficient and fast. On weekends (Friday to Sunday), and during the Christmas and New Year holidays, all U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines (except line U4) run all night, so returning from late night outings is easy, especially given the average start time of most 'parties' in Berlin (23:00 to 01:00). During the week there is no U-Bahn or S-Bahn service from c. 01:00-04:30, but metro trams/buses and special Night Buses (parallel to the U-Bahn line) run every half an hour 12:30-04:30.
The trams (Straßenbahn) are mostly found in East Berlin, as the West Berlin tram network was shut down in the 1960s to make the city more car-friendly. If you don't have a ticket already, you can buy one inside the tram. Since reunification, there has been a gradual "reconquista" of areas once served by trams in West-Berlin, and in some parts of downtown, it is hard to tell from trams alone where the wall used to be. That said in outlying districts of West Berlin trams are still nowhere to be found - in stark contrast to the East, where they provide much-needed access to planned bedroom communities from GDR times.
There are two types of tram. Metrotrams usually have a 24/7 schedule as well as higher frequencies during daytimes. Metrotrams are marked by an "M" in front of their line number (e.g., M10) "Regular" trams stop more frequently and may even include picturesque single-track rides through forested areas far east of the Mitte district.
Berlin's buses are a very important form of public transportation, as they complement the light rail systems wherever they were removed (trams in the West) or remain incomplete. Due to the heavy loads and demands of narrow streets, Berlin is one of the few cities in Europe to use double-decker buses extensively - over 400 of the 1400 buses in operation in Berlin are double-deckers. A ride in a Berlin double-decker should be on the to-do list of every first-time visitor to Berlin. Note that in contrast to other world cities, you should not flag down buses at stops in Berlin, even if there are multiple routes serving the stop. Some drivers may consider it an insult to their professionalism.
Berlin has no steep hills and offers many bicycle paths (Radwege) throughout the city (although not all are very smooth). These include "860 km of completely separate bike paths, 60 km of bike lanes on streets, 50 km of bike lanes on pavements or sidewalks, 100 km of mixed-use pedestrian-bike paths, and 70 km of combined bus-bike lanes on streets. Bicycles are a very popular method of transportation among Berlin residents, and there is almost always a certain level of bicycle traffic. Seeing Berlin by bicycle is unquestionably a great way to acquaint the traveler with the big tourist sites, and the little sprees and side streets as well. Although it's good to carry your map, you can also always check your location at any U-Bahn station and many bus stations. You can create your bicycling maps online, optimized by less busy routes or fewer traffic lights or your favorite paving. If you are not familiar with searching your way through the city or you want more explanation of the sights you visit, you can get guided bike tours (with bike included) on Baja Bikes or Berlin Bike.
Traditional rental places are widespread, especially in areas frequented by tourists.
If you won't be biking much or if you're planning to stay longer than a few days, you may consider Berlin's bike-sharing program, Call a Bike. Rental stations are scattered throughout the city and are easily spotted by the bright-red and silver bikes and terminals. Bikes are usually in good condition, just check the brakes. After you've registered at one of the self-service kiosks (English available), you can take out a bike by following the on-screen instructions or using your phone (either through an app or by calling the number printed on each bike). Lift the metal flap on the device to the left of the back wheel, tap the display and follow the instructions to unlock the bike. To return, lock the bike at one of the stations and wait for the display to confirm your return.
Berlin has a vast array of museums. By far most of them are covered in the Mitte district guide, which, among others, covers the Museumsinsel (an island on the Spree covered with historic museums) and the Kulturforum (a collection of contemporary cultural institutions). You will also find a good deal of museums in the West and South of the city, but there are larger or smaller museums in almost every district. There are museums covering everything, from art through Berlin's and Germany's history to various branches of technology and science.
Most museums charge admission for people 18 years of age or older. Discounts (usually 50%) are available for students and disabled people with identification. Children and young people can often come in free but do check the age restrictions in particular museums. A nice offer for museum addicts is the three-day Museums Pass, which grants entrance to all the regular exhibitions of the approximately 55 state-run museums and public foundations.
Most museums are closed on Mondays - notable exceptions include the Pergamon Museum, the Neues Museum, and the Deutsches Historisches Museum, which are open daily. Museumsportal Berlin, a collective web initiative, offers easy access to information on all museums, memorials, castles, and collections and on current and upcoming exhibitions.
While the Berlin Wall has long been dismantled and much of the grounds it occupied completely redeveloped, you can still find parts of the wall preserved around Berlin. This does not refer to very small pieces of the Wall sold by the East German government immediately after its dismantling, which can be found in various cafes, restaurants, and hotels not only in Berlin but to preserved fragments of the Wall still standing in their original locations.
The most often visited is the Checkpoint Charlie - at the southern border of Mitte and Kreuzberg, which is a recreated legendary border crossing within the Friedrichstraße. You cannot see the actual wall there, but this iconic (and extremely touristy) point is on almost every visitor's list. Further east from there, you can find a piece of the wall lining up the Niederkirchnerstraße next to the Topography of Terror - museum in Mitte. Another popular site is the East Side Gallery - along with the Spree in Friedrichshain, a very long stretch of preserved Wall with colorful graffiti. All of the aforementioned fragments were altered and are now tourist attractions rather than actual historic monuments - if you want a truly preserved section of the Wall, head over to the northern border of Mitte and Gesundbrunnen in the street Bernauer Straße and visit the Berlin Wall Memorial, with a complete section of the wall in all its gloom.
As Berlin is a city of art, it is quite easy to find an art gallery on your way. They provide a nice opportunity to have a look at modern artists' work in a not-so-crowded environment for free. Some gallery streets with more than about a dozen galleries are Auguststraße, Linienstraße, Torstraße, Brunnenstraße (all Mitte, north of S-Bahn station Oranienburger Straße), Zimmerstraße (Kreuzberg, U-Bahn station Kochstraße) and Fasanenstraße (Charlottenburg). You can find a list of all the exhibitions and gallery openings as well as a map on Berlin Art Grid. A directory listing of all Berlin's art galleries can be found on The Art of Berlin: Complete Berlin Art Gallery Directory.
Berlin has its fair share of tall buildings and, as the city is quite expansive and does not have one single center where all tall buildings are located, you can enjoy a nice view from most of them, even ones that are not tall by global standards.
Below is an overview of some of the most popular openly-accessible observation decks.
Berlin has two zoos and an aquarium. The Berlin Zoo in the west is the historic zoo that has been a listed company since its foundation. It's an oasis in the city and very popular with families and schools.
Go on a Tour of Berlin - the Mitte and surrounding districts are sufficiently compact to allow some excellent walking tours through its history-filled streets. You'll see amazing things you would otherwise miss. Details are usually available from the reception desks of hostels and hotels.
Pick up a copy of Exberliner, the monthly English-language paper for Berlin to find out what's on, when and where. It provides high-quality journalism and up-to-date listings. If you understand German, the activity planners for the city, zitty and tip, are available at every kiosk. Be prepared to choose among a huge amount of options.
Berlin has a lot of theatres, cinemas, concerts and other cultural events going on all the time. The most important ones are listed here.
Musicals and Shows
Lovers of street food rejoice! Berlin has an incredibly wide variety of different styles and tastes at very affordable prices (for European wallets, that is). You can find superb food in a small stall tucked away under the tracks of elevated U-Bahn stretches.
A staple in Berlin is currywurst. It's a bratwurst covered in ketchup and curry powder. You can find them all over Berlin by street vendors. It's a must-try when in Berlin. Two renowned Currywurst stands are "Konnopke's Imbiss" below Eberswalder Strasse U-Bahn station on line 2 and "Curry 36" opposite the Mehringdamm U-Bahn station in Kreuzberg (only two stops south of Checkpoint Charlie). Both of these offer far friendlier service than many of Berlin's more upmarket eateries.
Another famous thing to eat in Berlin is Döner, a flat bread filled with lamb or chicken meat and vegetables, available at many Turkish stands.
Eating out in Berlin is incredibly inexpensive compared to any other Western European capital or other German cities. The city is multicultural, and many cultures' cuisine is represented here somewhere, although it is often modified to suit German tastes.
Berlin may seem like carnivore Heaven, but vegetarians and vegans can eat quite well. Berliners are environmentally conscious, and that extends to their food; most of the inner neighborhoods have a handful of good healthy vegetarian or vegan restaurants using local ingredients, though they tend to be more expensive than the ubiquitous kebab and sausage stands. If you're a vegetarian on a limited budget, many kebab restaurants have a good selection of roasted vegetables and salads, and you can usually get falafels (fried chickpea balls, suitable for vegans) and halloumi (a type of dense cheese) in place of meat.
All prices must include VAT by law. Only upmarket restaurants may ask for further service surcharge. Note that it is best to ask if credit cards are accepted before you sit down—it's not that common to accept credit cards, and cash is preferred. Most likely to be accepted are Visa and MasterCard; all other cards will only be accepted in some upmarket restaurants. Please note that lately European debit cards are not always accepted because due to debit card fraud, some processing companies stopped intra-European cards from specific countries. This does not apply to debit cards that are from German banks. Better have cash or ask the restaurant staff.
One of the main tourist areas for eating out is Hackescher Markt/Oranienburger Straße. This area has dramatically changed over the years: once full of squats and not-entirely-legal bars and restaurants, it had some real character. It is rapidly being developed and corporatized, and even the most famous squat - the former Jewish-owned proto-shopping mall "Tacheles" - has had a bit of a facelift. There are still some gems in the side streets, though, The "Assel" (Woodlouse) on Oranienburger Straße, furnished with DDR-era furniture, is still relatively authentic and worth a visit, especially on a warm summer night. Oranienburger Straße is also an area where prostitutes line up at night but don't be put off by this. The area is very safe since several administrative and religious buildings are located here.
For cheap and good food (especially from Turkey and the Middle East) you should try Kreuzberg and Neukölln with their abundance of Indian, pizza and Döner Kebap restaurants. If you are looking for a quick meal you could try getting off at Görlitzer Bahnhof or Schlesisches Tor on the U1 line - the area is filled with inexpensive, quality restaurants.
Kastanienallee is a good choice too - but again not what it used to be since the developers moved in (much less exploited than Hackescher Markt, though). It's a popular area for artists and students and has a certain Bohemian charm. Try Imbiss W, at the corner of Zionskirchstraße and Kastanienallee, where they serve superb Indian fusion food, mostly vegetarian, at the hands of artist-chef Gordon W. Further. Up the street are the Prater Garten, Berlin's oldest beer garden and an excellent place in the summer.
Except at very high-end restaurants, nobody will seat you. If you see an open table, just sit down. You may need to get a menu yourself from another table or a pile near the cash register. If you sit outside, expect slightly slower service.
As in most European countries, you need to tell the waiter when you want to pay and leave. The waiter will come to you usually with a money purse, and the custom in Germany is to tell the waiter how much you’re paying (including the tip) when you receive the bill — don’t leave the money on the table. If there is confusion with the tip, remember to ask for your change, Wechselgeld (money back).
Add a 5-10% tip (or round up to the next Euro) to the bill if you are satisfied with the service.
All restaurant information is in the corresponding borough articles of
It is very common to go out for breakfast or brunch (long breakfast and lunch, all you can eat buffet, usually from 10:00-16:00.
Berliners love to drink cocktails, and it's a main socializing point for young people. Many people like to meet their friends at a cocktail bar before clubbing. Prenzlauer Berg (Around U-Bahnhof Eberswalder Str., Helmholtzplatz, Oderberger Straße & Kastanienallee), Kreuzberg (Bergmannstraße, Oranienstraße and the area around Görlitzer Park and U-Bahnhof Schlesisches Tor), Schöneberg (Goltzstraße, Nollendorfplatz, Motzstraße for gays), and Friedrichshain (Simon-Dach-Straße and around Boxhagener Platz) are the main areas. There aren't as many illegal bars as there were in the '90s but bars open and close faster than you can keep up - check out the bar and cocktail guides in the bi-weekly magazine's Tip or Zitty. For recommended bars, have a look at the district pages.
Due to federal liberalization, shopping hours are theoretically unlimited on weekdays. Nevertheless, many of the smaller shops still close at 20:00. Most of the bigger stores and nearly all of the malls are open additionally until 21:00 or 22:00 from Thursday to Saturday. Sunday opening is still limited to about a dozen weekends per year, although some supermarkets located at train stations (Hauptbahnhof, Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten (under the S-Bahn bridge), Friedrichstraße, Innsbrucker Platz (U4 in the underground) and Ostbahnhof) are open also on Sundays. Many bakeries and small food stores (called Spätkauf or colloquially "Späti") are open late at night and on Sundays in more gentrified neighborhoods (especially Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg, and Friedrichshain). Stores inside the Hauptbahnhof (central station) have long working hours (usually until about 22:00-23:00), also on Sundays.
The main shopping areas are:
You can find dozens of flea markets with different themes in Berlin (mostly on weekends), but worth checking out is the big one at Straße des 17. Juni:
Credit cards are becoming more common, but Germans still largely prefer cash, as well as EC/Maestro cards. Most places in tourist zones will accept credit cards, but it is still a good idea to ask in advance if you intend to pay with one. Many restaurants require a minimum check amount.
For Americans, Germany uses the chip-and-pin system so you may have trouble at places like unattended gas stations and automated ticket machines. Often, a cashier will be able to swipe the magnetic strip, but don't be surprised if someone refuses your credit card because it doesn't have a chip.
Berlin is a safe place, but it has some not-so-well maintained areas, too. No specific rules apply with the exception of public transportation and tourist areas where pickpockets are a problem. Watch your bags during rush hours and at larger train stations.
The police in Berlin are competent, not corrupt; therefore, if you try to bribe them, you are likely to spend at least a night behind bars to check your background. They are helpful to tourists. Most of the officers can speak English, so don't hesitate to approach them if you are frightened or lost. The nationwide emergency number is ☎ 112 for medical emergencies and fires, while the police emergency number is ☎ 110.
Since the 1980s, there have been localized riots on Labour Day (May 1). In general, they take place in Kreuzberg around Oranienstraße/Mariannenplatz. Nowadays they usually start the night before May 1, especially in the Mauerpark (Prenzlauer Berg), at Boxhagener Platz and in Rigaer Str. (Friedrichshain) and start again on the evening of May 1 in Kreuzberg and the mentioned areas. The violent riots have become rather small since 2005 due to the engagement of the citizens who celebrate the Labour Day with a nice "manifest" in Kreuzberg and well-planned police efforts. It is still better to stay out of these areas from 20:00 until sunrise. Vehicles should not be parked in this area as this is asking for damage!
Racially-motivated violence is rare, but the risk is higher on the outskirts of East Berlin. It is recommended for non-Caucasian tourists to be attentive in areas such as Lichtenberg, Hellersdorf, Marzahn, Treptow, and Köpenick in the evening/night especially if alone.
In the bordering neighborhood of the districts Neukölln and Kreuzberg (between Hermannplatz, Schönleinstrasse to Kottbusser Tor) and Wedding (Moabit and Gesundbrunnen) the risk of falling victim to robberies and assaults is slightly higher. Tourists should visit these areas with some caution during the night as a mixture of drunken party people, and poor neighborhoods might lead to trouble.
Although harmless, panhandlers have recently started to beg at local tourist spots such as Pariser Platz next to the Brandenburg Gate, Alexanderplatz, and the Museuminsel. They are usually women accompanied by their daughters who ask if you speak English and say that they are from the new EU countries and trying to raise money to fly home. The story is false, so don't give them money, which would encourage further exploitation of the women and their kids. They also have a new tactic where they hand you a card telling their "story" and asking for money; beware that the children that they carry in their arms will search through your bags while you are reading the card. The best way to avoid this is simply to ignore them and not to respond when they ask you "Speak English?" If you feel scared, don't hesitate to contact the police, as they will help.
Prostitution is a legal business in Germany. Berlin has no major red-light district though some big brothels were built. Berlin has no "Sperrbezirk" (restricted areas for prostitutes), so the "apartments" or brothels are spread throughout the whole city. The Oranienburger Straße in Mitte is infamous for its prostitutes at night. These women are a tourist attraction, and the ladies focus only on tourists to request exorbitant prices.
The proximity to Eastern Europe, relaxed visa rules, and the illegal migrant community increases the number of prostitutes. Advertisements are in the tabloids and online. Human trafficking and illegal immigration is a problem; therefore, police raids do take place and close down illegal places. Brothels and prostitutes must register like normal businesses, or they will be prosecuted for tax evasion. In general, the police officers are not interested in the clients (especially if you stay calm and don't try to argue), but you must have a photo ID (passport copy is fine) with you. Otherwise, you might spend a night at the police station while your background gets checked.
German is the main language in Berlin, but you can easily find tourist information in English and sometimes in French. For the football World Cup in 2006, all public transportation staff got language training and, at least in theory, should be able to help you in English (although possibly with a strong German accent). If you seem to be lost or hesitating in a public transport station a member of staff could come to your assistance but don't count on that. You can easily approach a group of (preferably young) bystanders and ask for advice in English.
Most people under 40 in Berlin can speak English with varying degrees of fluency, but it might not be as widely spoken as you might expect, so a few key German phrases are worth having, especially in the suburbs and less touristy places. Basic French and Russian are also spoken by some Berliners because French in West Berlin and Russian in East Berlin were taught in schools.
There are also 400,000 people of Turkish origin living in Berlin, mainly in the Western districts. Many of them arrived in the early 1960s from remote villages in Anatolia as guest workers but stayed on.
Since the early, to mid-2000s Berlin has attracted foreign students from all over Europe. Due to the economic crisis in Southern Europe, there are a lot of Spanish Greek and Italian students in Berlin. As many students in Berlin are either Erasmus students or have been abroad elsewhere, you can reasonably expect students to speak at least passable English and often another European language.
There are some words in Berlin that differ from regular German, especially in the former East Berlin. Here, the language has preserved a certain level of dialect.
Some words used in the Berlin dialect:
July 31, 2021
My brother, younger daughter and I went to Berlin quite recently. A visit to the legendary Treptower Park was one of the most important moments of our trip. This place is not just the largest military memorial site, but also a mass grave for the 7,000 soldiers from the Red Army,...
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