Berlin is one of those cities where time seems to play tricks on you, even more than it usually does. It speeds up all of a sudden and the 48 hours disappear down the rabbit hole faster than the Berliner S-Bahn; or it stays still, a feeling one gets at times, when gazing at the many Berliners filling cafés during afternoons, every day of the week.
Berlin is definitely a bike city, but the sleepless-spider web of the public transport network is crucial in keeping the eclectic and vast city together. Take the U-Bahn 8 from Osloer Straße down to Hermann Platz and look at the people getting on and off the train – you will get a strange feeling of being all of a sudden in a whole different city, not just a different neighbourhood.
In a city where many rush to climb the TV tower or take a ship tour on the Spree, I say – take the Berliner Ring Bahn for a complete circle instead. You will learn this way more about the city and Berliners in 48 hours. Oh, and if you do go to the TV tower, make sure to watch out closely how the wind literally slowly moves the building from one side to the other, while enjoying the view from above. But for now, let us zoom in.
Day 1: 09:00 – 14:00
Despite me gladly recommending spots from districts off the beaten track, in order to experience Berlin’s diversity – like the ship restaurant, as old as the Titanic, or the industrial Kaos Berlin by the Spree, in Schöneweide – I dare you to begin this tour right in the middle of Berlin, on land, at Hans Scharoun’s Berlin State Library.
The spaciousness of the place and the bull’s-eyes-windows still remind one of being on water, since the architect made use of many ship elements. It is a guided tour about art and architecture, history and local politics, and you can already take a peak at the Prusians at the library. Besides, the house itself is in good company – from the library’s lobby one can have a peak across the street at the other Scharoun’s master piece, the Philharmonic, as well as at Mies van der Rohe’s National Gallery.
Now stroll down the Potsdamer Straße. Across the bridge you will arrive at an area packed with art galleries. By the river you can already find Esther Schipper’s Gallery, which represents Tomás Saraceno and his spiders. Be curious and enter yards – this is how you will get to Blain Southern, a gallery representing Chiharu Shiota; many threads here, too. During the yearly Berlin Gallery Weekend, this street becomes a bee hive, so just see what comes across your way. You will find both established galleries and project spaces.
Right in time for lunch you will get to P103. But as many Berliner places, they serve breakfast here until 3pm, so you can choose to go for a (vegetarian) brunch instead. Do not eat too much, there is a spot with tapas coming right up. It is the (retro) atmosphere of P103 that keeps people coming back. It might also well be, that some of your neighbours come here every day. A big piano welcomes you at the entrance. They are known for jazz, and also their tasty Hugo.
Day 1: 14:00 – 19:00
After lunch, continue down the Potsdamer Straße. In Schöneberg, stop by the second hand store Garage. Bring some patience and some luck with you. What is special about this place is that they offer a wide variety of (vintage) clothes, accessories and garments for a kilogram price. They also have a happy hour, but for that you need to be there on a Wednesday and before 1pm.
Jump on the U-Bahn 2 and head to Alexanderplatz. Take a break at the station Stadtmitte, to see if you catch anyone in the music corner, but only to take the same subway further, after that. Once at Alexanderplatz, leave the TV tower behind you and head to Vineria Carvalho. This tapas and wine place has been around since 1998 and it is very homey. Expect a friendly service – with a Spanish accent – and tapas plates. You can buy some Spanish wines and Cava to take away.
Day 1: 19:00 – ???
Take U-Bahn 8 and go to Kreuzberg. The Oranienstraße is full of small shops, bars and international cuisines. Keep an eye for the small yogis on the street signs, made out of cork: an art in public space project by Josef Foos. Also all over the city, one can see red and blue stripes of texts on tall buildings; the Berlin Kidz paint the city and literally surf the Berliner Bahn, on top of it. Berliners are spiders.
Stop by for a drink by the river at Anker Klause, at the border between Kreuzberg and Neukölln. This place still has a Juke Box. Return to Kottbusser Tor after that, for drinks and music at Monarch. You get a great view over the passing by U-Bahn from the large windows over Kotti. The door policy is relaxed. Everyone is here – various ages, professions, nationalities or conflicting senses of humour make no difference.
Day 2: 09:00 – 14:00
Begin the second day with breakfast at the local Kranoldplatz Market. You can try different cheeses and olives at the sellers around. Among the busy vegetable stands, fish, meat and fruits, you can also go for a quick lunch. Try the bread dipped in cream cheese at the Turkish. Whatever you choose, you’re guaranteed to expect fresh ingredients.
If it is weekend, go to the flea market in Tiergarten in the Straße des 17. Juni. The date of 17th June is connected to the People’s Uprising in the East back in 1953. This is one of the oldest flea markets of the city. Here you find plenty of stands with antiques, clothing and accessories, arts and crafts.
The market finishes by the Charlottenburg Gate, the less known counter part of the Brandenburg Gate. Right next to it you will find Capt’n Schillow, anchored by the shore. On Norbert’s ship restaurant you can have lunch. There is a wide variety of dishes, besides the famous fish soup. And if you do not quite want to be on water, you can choose the Schleusen Krug instead, also a place with tradition, at the watergate. Their grill is on, if the weather allows.
Day 2: 14:00 – 19:00
To space out after lunch, jump on the Berliner S-Bahn and have a look at the city on rails. Less known than the former Tempelhof airport is the natural park Südgelände, close to Südkreuz S-Bahn station. It is an area where industry and nature merried each other. Train tracks of the former train depot are now covered by vegetation and lifted walking platforms for the visitors allow this to further thrive. Massive works of metal art and rare species of birds live here together. You can also book a tour. In the summer, there is an open stage theatre.
If the natural park seems too far away, you can keep to Gleisdreieck Park, here you will also see trees taking over former train tracks, but at a much smaller scale. While Südgelände is a place to get lost and listen to how time passes by, Gleisdreieck Park is much smaller, and you will probably listen only to the skaters around.
Day 2: 19:00 – ???
Check the programme of the Hebbel am Ufer. This is a theatre with three houses, not afraid to experiment; the third house is the most daring. Rimini Protokoll and Gob Squad are recurrent theatre groups you can see here. But at HAU – the borders between theatre and other disciplines often melt away, same as the theatre’s walls, given that there are often cooperations with other places in the city. Their restaurant – WAU – is where you can meet the theatre makers after the show.
More or less around the corner, you find Yorkschlösschen. This “little palace of York” – the translation of the name – has been around for more than a century. Olaf, the owner, who wanted to become a stage designer, prides himself nowadays with the setting of the place, with tones of “old Paris and New Orleans”. The kitchen could still be open late. Here, tables have names, not numbers. Live jazz concerts and Kreuzberg beer can make you lose count of the 48 hours. This typical Eckkneipe – local bars around the corner, which slowly vanish in Berlin, given rents rocketing – is the perfect place to forget how time passes by, and this is what Berlin is good at.