The guidebooks are full of the must-dos. Top museums, favored restaurants and desirable
shopping streets. But which of these traditional attractions aren't worth the time and energy? The city is full of the wonderfully unusual, there is no to need to bother with the top 10 things NOT to do when you visit Berlin.
If you missed the first 5, go to part 1 of 10 things NOT to do when you visit Berlin.
Pieces of the Berlin Wall
Just a track of mud during the time of the Berlin Wall, Potsdamer Platz has grown into a half-failed business center à la Times Square. Neon lights, a megaplex, wild architecture, and - yes - pieces of the wall. Dragged here for the tourists, you will always see groups making peace signs and taking pictures against these concrete slabs of history.
However, this is not the place to observe authentic Berlin Wall history. Right after the fall of the wall there was a push to remove this symbol of division. The wall was being ripped down by individuals before a realization that an example of the wall should be kept for posterity. A few large sections are preserved, with little bits showing up around the city. You really can't appreciate the scale and history of the wall with these stand-alone pieces.
Alternative: Two sites offer a far better idea of the reality of the wall than these scattered pieces.
- Bernauer Strasse Wall Memorial is an expanding open-air museum that shows a full-scale replica of the guard towers, two walls and various defenses employed with the wall, as well as an excellent walking tour and museum.
- East Side Gallery is the longest remaining section of the wall which was reinvented shortly after reunification to be a gallery for peace.
Let me add another "not to do" here. While you may see people scrawling their name on East Side Gallery or even chipping off pieces, this behavior is not acceptable. Don't be that guy - please.
People scour the streets around Gertrud-Kolmar-Strasse - guide book in hand - looking for signs of the infamous Führer. His death in a bunker beneath the city only scored an information board in an attempt to prevent it becoming a pilgrimage point for neo-nazis. It is almost always a disappointment, perhaps rightfully so.
Alternative: Spend less time thinking about Hitler and more time considering his 6 million victims. The nearby Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is the best place to start, with the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism and Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe within walking distance.
Berlin is legendary for its club scene. Several clubs top the list as the most desirable in the world. Berghain is one of them. With its capricious door policies, no camera rule and infamous “dark room” - this is the big leagues.
Loads of visitors line up in front of the club every day with only a select few making it through during peak times (midnight to 4:00 Thursday through Sunday, or when a big DJ is in town). If you know your electronic music scene, can speak a bit of German and can blend in with the locals you might just make it in.
Alternative: ...for the rest of us, we should set our sights a little lower. Visitors can engage in Berlin's famed nightlife on off-nights or in clubs like Stattbad, Sisyphos and Chalet. Plus, nightlife can pick up at any random bar depending on the night.
Spend all your time in the West & Mitte
After getting to know the city, I was dismayed to read guidebooks that centered completely on Mitte (central neighborhood) with a few forays into the former West. Berlin is a huge city and each Kiez (neighborhood) has a personalty all of its own.
Alternative: Try neighborhoods like Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg for a totally different feel.
Think you can conquor the city in a weekend
As I mentioned, the city is enormous. And amazing. It is astounding how many people you talk to that visited for a weekend and never went home. There is simply too much to explore, too many experiences to have.
Alternative: While there isn't a wrong amount of time you can visit the city, know the longer you stay the deeper you can dive into Berlin.