We traveled to Berlin for 10 days last summer - and boy do we need to clue you in if you haven't been there before. We wanted to stay there for 10 days to really get a feel of how it is to live in the city.
Having said that, this is for those of you who want to try and do Berlin like a local - going to the places that locals would go, or staying in neighborhoods they would live in.
We thought of everything we could pass on to Berlin first-timers who also want to do it as local as possible, so here are 20 things that we think you have to know before you go.
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1. Seriously Consider Booking an AirBnB Flat
We did both over the 10 days we were there and we would absolutely recommend to just book a flat via Airbnb. You'll be able to find some pretty cool options for very decent rates. Our flat was so damn perfect it was so hard to leave. The hotel we stayed at is called Michelberger, it's really cool too but the rooms are quite tiny. The lobby is always action-filled at night with a DJ or live music - it gets really packed.
2. Stay in a Hip Local Neighborhood
As in stay away from Mitte. That would be the same as going to New York City and staying at Times Square. No, no, no. Do it right and stay where the locals like to stay. We actually moved around 3 different neighborhoods when we were there. Kreuzberg is our number one recommendation - it's super hipster and grunge - try to stay there for sure (we'd compare it to the Mar Mikhael of Beirut). We also stayed in Prenzlauer Berg, which is a much more residential area with families and stuff. However, the flats there are super gorgeous and you'll get a real neighborhood feel (we'd compare it to Saifi Village in terms of calmness and pretty flats). Last but not least, Neukölln. Honestly it's a super up-and-coming area so it's still a bit raw, and you may feel some areas are dodgy. We probably wouldn't recommend it if you're an all-girls group - just so psychologically you're never worried.
3. It's Pretty Cheap
To give you an idea, this was the most fancy meal we ordered at Michelberger's restaurant (sea bass and steak with a side of mashed potatoes and green salad). It was around $25 per person - in Beirut you wouldn't even be able to get a good steak for that amount. The average price we paid in general for meals was between $10-$20, and they were very good meals.
4. Connect with Local Friends of Friends Before You Go
As in any city, it's always the best way to get to know the city the way a local does. This calls for a Facebook status, emails, and re-connecting with old friends. Get connected before you travel and if you're as lucky as we were, you'll have someone to take you out or invite you over. We met Marie who is a friend of our good friends. She invited us over to her gorgeous flat and then took us to Watergate - at 5am. You know, when in Berlin.
5. It Still Gets Cold in Summer, Like Most European Cities
Much to our dismay, Berlin's weather was as unpredictable in summer as London's (we went in June). It did get cold during the day and at night unfortunately. Pack good sweaters and leather jackets. When the sun is out it's nice of course, but it's not full-blown summer.
6. The Vibe is Completely Unpretentious
So much so that it's almost pretentious. Berliners exude the epitome of careless cool. They absolutely don't care about looks, brands, money or status. Just because you are two hot girls or two guys with money, does NOT mean you will get into a club. Berliners are all about laid back cool vibes. Yes you can find some pretentious vibes at some places but again, at the truly local underground places, you will not by any means see anyone popping champagne bottles, nor girls wearing stilettos. #sexyisnotgivingafuckinberlin
7. Pack To Dress Like a Berliner
Right, if you really want to go to local parties and events, take this point seriously. We thought we packed right for Berlin: cool cut-open leggings, printed day dresses, and boots with heels. Ya, we were really wrong. If you want to blend it with the locals, you are going to have to forget everything you think makes your personal style cool. We'd recommend you pack and lot of black and gray colors, Converse sneakers, leather jackets, and some scarves. This applies for the men too - we just so happened to be ladies, but it's the same for men.
Here's a story for you. On the left is how we dressed at the beginning of the trip to go party at known local clubs. We got rejected from every single one, primarily because we looked like we cared too much, which is a blatant giveaway that we were tourists. The last place we went to was Sisyphos and I think the bouncer just plain felt sorry for us and let us in. It was a club filled with locals. At one point a guy came and screamed a question at Serene in German, so seemingly bothered. After she said she didn't speak German, he translated the question: "How many hours did you spend at the hairdresser today?!?!". Point taken?
After we got the gist of things, on the right is how we dressed - and by God, we even got into Berghain (more about that below). We basically got ready without looking in the mirror. Notice the 'we don't give a crap attitude' that comes along with it.
It's beautifully ridiculous but we promise you, that's how it works!
8. Berlin is Sneaker Nation
Berliners wear sneakers like all the time. You'll see the coolest pairs everywhere. If you want to buy some, go to Overkill Shop. It's sneaker heaven, as you can see below. And that's only one wall.
9. Use Resident Advisor for the Best Party Listings
Resident Advisor was the absolute best source for all listings for events going on in Berlin every day.
10. Be Open To Everything. Everything.
Berlin is pretty much a city open to anything and everything in terms of freedom of expression, art, music, drugs, sex and lifestyle. Go with an open mind, soak it all in and you might ever discover aspects about yourself you didn't come across before.
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11. Do You Know What Kind of Party This Is?
When you walk into a club and the guys at the door ask you this question it's a good sign because that means they are letting you in. They usually ask this to tourists as a gentle warning that you may see things that you're not accustomed to seeing. At KitKatClub for example, everyone inside is practically naked (no joke).
They also ask because they don't want people going in the club and making the people already inside feel uncomfortable. Again, the vibe is really important for them, they care a lot about having everyone on the same wavelength.
If you do get asked this question, simply smile and say yes, we do.
12. Sunday is reserved for locals
A general rule in Berlin on Sunday, is that the clubs are reserved for locals. Apparently it's the only day that Berliners can get 'a break from tourists'. We kid you not. We see where they are coming from though - it's probably those rowdy beer-drinking teens that can just be obnoxious. Now on the other hand, we did end up at very local clubs on Sunday, after adopting the Berlin look and attitude of course.
We proudly present our Berghain Sunday afternoon stamps.
13. The Deal with Berghain.
Wow, where do we start. For starters, if you don't know, Berghain is known as the world capital of techno, it's the motherland of good music and an even more astounding sound system. 3 to 4 hour cues are a norm at Berghain but boy will it be worth the wait. The party goes on non-stop the entire weekend at Berghain, Friday to Sunday straight.
The first time we went, it was a Sunday afternoon and there was absolutely no cue, so basically the bouncers could see us walk up the long intimating path and made a decision before we even reached the door. We had previously read that they don't like groups so we split into pairs. We walked towards the door arm in arm with big smiles. The bouncer took one look at us and said: 'No.' and motioned for us to keep walking. We couldn't believe it of course and said 'But why??'. A simple: 'Because we don't want you, go'. The next Sunday we walked to the door with disheveled hair, all black attire, no smiles, no words, no arm-clinging, and most importantly no looking like we gave a crap if they let us in or not. In we went.
Berghain's reputation is built on the fact that they don't care who you are or how you look. If they don't like you for one reason or the other, they won't let you in. Berliners also go through that, they can't count on getting in. We recommend you read online about tips to get into Berghain and then try your luck.
14. Get Ready For Some of the Best Electronic Music You've Ever Heard
If you're not into that music, go home, seriously. Go home.
15. Tipping is Not Very Welcome
Firstly, don't ever tip a bouncer to try and get in the club. He will make you feel ridiculous, and you'll probably never get in. They just don't do that. Also when ordering a drink, leave a tiny tip if any but if you don't it's actually more normal. Not exactly sure why, but that was our experience there.
16. Try Curry Mitte's Curry Wurst
We tried many curry wursts in Berlin and hands down Curry Mitte's is the most succulently perfect one. You have to try it, and when you do, think of us.
17. Try Brunch, Lunch & Schnitzels at Cafe Anna Blume
Cafe Anna Blume is a pretty known spot by locals and tourists. It's a terribly cute setting coupled with delicious food. This resto is next day hangover meal material, or a nice afternoon coffee and dessert.
18. Looking to Get a Tattoo? Book at Blut&Eisen BEFORE You Travel
We wanted to get tattoos in Berlin and asked some friends before we traveled, and it's a good thing we did that because we had to get the appointment a few weeks in advance. Blut&Eisen is one of the best know tattoo parlors in Berlin. IF we are not mistaken, it is owned by the infamous Sven Marquardt, the toughest bouncer at Berghain.
19. Mauerpark Sundays
Every Sunday there is a flea market at Mauerpark where tourists and locals both flock. It's super chilled, you can shop cool finds there as well as eat. We also came across this which is the biggest karaoke stage we've ever seen. One person (in this case a little boy) gets up in front of all these people and they just clap and cheer them on. It's so freakin' cute.
20. Photoautomats are Everywhere
Definitely take advantage of these photobooths! You'll see them all around the city.
Enjoy your trip, we are green with jealousy.
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