Berlin is a dynamic city, but without a travel guide for how to visit the German capital, you could waste a lot of money. Berlin offers a host of ways to pay top dollar for things that won't really enhance your experience.
When to Visit
Summer temperatures are comfortable--extreme heat and thunderstorms here are a rarity. Spring and Fall can be cool, especially for North Americans. Pack warm clothes for winter. Berlin is like many European cities in that they don't use salt on roads or sidewalks for environmental reasons. Plan your steps accordingly.
Where to Eat
Berlin is home to more Turkish people than any other city outside the borders of Turkey itself. There are thousands of food stands beneath the sign "Imbiss" where you can get a delicious gyro-like sandwich for very reasonable prices. It makes for a filling, economical lunch-on-the-go. For dinner, try the Nikolaiviertel (St. Nicholas Quarter), a restored area around the church of the same name. Not all the eateries are budget-conscious, but many provide solid values and reasonable prices.
In Berlin's lively Ku'damm section, you'll find restaurants that serve a roasted chicken dish called hendl. It's usually quite good and relatively inexpensive. Ku'damm is local shorthand for Kurfürstendamm, which became the main street of the former West Berlin during Iron Curtain days. It's still a fun place to stroll.
Where to Stay
Hotel choices abound in Berlin. Few cities offer a wider array of cheap rooms than Berlin. Hostels.com provides a variety of options for those who don't mind the inconvenience of hostel life. For slightly more money, check out small hotels like Hotel Arco (U-bahn: Wittenbergplatz) near the KaDeWe department store. Places like this offer modest but comfortable room and breakfast for $80-$120 USD/night. Priceline.com can be of great benefit in Berlin if you desire upscale, business-class rooms.
Airbnb.com shows about 300 places for rent for less than $150 USD/night. Some of these options are in excellent sections of the city, and most offer kitchen privileges that can save significantly on restaurant costs.
Bus Number 100 makes takes a large circular route that hits most of the city's major tourist sites, but beware of pickpockets. Berlin's U-bahn/S-bahn lines are among the most economical and efficient in the world. Familiarize yourself with their routes and consider a City Tour Card that pays for 48 hours of urban train trips starting at about €17. Bike rentals are popular here, and you'll find riders have their own marked lanes on many streets. Rent a car and drive the Autobahn for a truly German travel experience.
There is Berlin nightlife for virtually any taste, from classical entertainment to the latest in Techno. If you'll be out late, remember that many trains cease service or cut back on runs after midnight. Many nightspots don't even begin to get busy until after 10 p.m., so if you're going to see or be seen, plan for a late start. Be advised: you might stumble upon places that cater to what many would consider very bizarre tastes.
Few city parks in the world can rival the expansive Tiergarten that spreads across the center of the city. This is a great place to spend a quiet and economical afternoon with a picnic lunch. If you love to see splendid landscaping, don't miss out on a trip to Potsdam, where the castles are surrounded with some of the greatest gardens this side of Versailles.
More Berlin Tips
This is museum paradise. You could visit a different Berlin museum each day for six months and not repeat yourself here. Among those that should not be missed: the Pergamon on Museum Island, where you'll find a fully reconstructed Greek altar, the Jewish Museum (U-bahn: Hallisches Tor), where two thousand years of German Jewish history is carefully preserved, and the Checkpoint Charlie Museum (U-bahn: Kochstrasse), which houses a fascinating series of displays related to escape attempts from East Berlin pre-1989.
Stores close on Sundays. Even Berlin's major department stores will close late Saturday afternoon and not reopen until Monday. Railway station stores generally remain open Saturdays and Sundays, but you won't always like their prices. There are eight Sunday exceptions during the year, and none of them occurs June-August.
Learn a few words of German. It's not necessary to book a crash course in German over a period of weeks prior to your trip. But it's an excellent idea to learn a few keywords such as "Sprechen Sie Englisch?" or "Vielen dank!" These phrases send a signal that you're polite and diplomatic if not fluent. Beware: unlike most of western Europe, many Berliners learned Russian rather than English as their second language. But there are quite a few English, French, and Spanish speakers, especially in areas where tourists tend to congregate. Germans usually appreciate attempts to respect their language, no matter how poorly you butcher it! There are places where the German-language menu items are cheaper than the English version, so it doesn't hurt to learn the names of some food items.
Consider spending a day or two in Poland. Berlin is only an hour by train from the Polish frontier. Prices are generally cheap and there are many fascinating discoveries to be made. Warsaw is about six hours by train, but cities such as Szczecin or Poznań are closer to Berlin and make interesting day trips.
Best free site not to miss: Eastside Gallery. Almost all of the former Berlin Wall has been demolished, but there is a place you can go for an idea of what life was like in the divided city. Here you'll find 1.3 kilometers of undisturbed Berlin Wall. More than 100 paintings depicting man's quest for freedom cover this stretch. This is probably the world's longest open-air art gallery! It's a short walk from the Ostbahnhof station, which served as East Berlin's main railroad facility.