Berlin, Germany’s capital city, rightly attracts a large number of tourists. Drawn by its world-class museums, quirky neighbourhoods and poignant recent history, visitors are spoilt for choice for things to see and do.
To some extent, Berlin is an exception to our usual travel advice. Visitors should visit Berlin and should visit its most popular attractions. The Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Wall Memorial, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and Checkpoint Charlie are all essential attractions. Berlin and, more widely, Germany’s history is too important not to revisit and think about.
Berlin though is a city of unique communities and there’s plenty to see and experience besides the big name stuff. In this post, we’ve picked out a few of our favourite quirky and off the beaten path things to see and do for you to enjoy on your next visit.
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7 quirky & off the beaten path things to see & do in Berlin
Berlin almost certainly has an endless list of quirky and off the beaten path things to see & do, thanks largely to its size and diverse population. Here’s a selection of the things we discovered during our weekend city break.
Experience life in East Germany at the DDR Museum
Up until 1989, Berlin was split into two parts by the Berlin Wall. Whilst residents in West Berlin enjoyed the rights, freedoms and trappings of a “westernised” democracy, those in East Berlin lived under the rule of, what some have described as, a paranoid and repressive dictatorship.
The DDR Museum, located on the opposite bank to so-called Museum Island, paints a compelling picture of what life was like in East Germany (known in German as the Deutsche Demokratische Republik or DDR). Using actual items from the era, realistic rooms have been created so that visitors can get a tangible feel for what life was like. A residential flat, accessible via a ‘broken’ lift, was our favourite exhibit. The entire place was fully kitted out – even the TV was showing programmes from the time.
Obsess over the iconic ‘little traffic light man’
One thing you might notice when wandering the streets of eastern Berlin is how cute the little guy on the traffic lights is. Known in German as Ampelmann, the ‘little traffic light man’ in his fancy hat quickly became a beloved symbol when he was introduced to East Germany’s pedestrian crossings in 1961.
Seen almost as a mascot for East German nostalgia, the Ampelmann Shop, which is a short walk from the Brandenburg Gate, celebrates the little dude’s continued presence with gusto. There’s seemingly no limit to what the owners will stamp Ampelmann onto. If you’re someone who needs a souvenir from every city you visit, this is a great place to pick one up whilst you’re in Berlin.
Go analogue with photos from a Photoautomat
Address: Multiple locations (see website)
Dotted all over Berlin are up to 35 ageing analogue photo booths, each lovingly restored back to working order. For €2 a pop, you can get a strip of four black and white photos, each taken a few seconds apart and dispensed after a few minutes of charming clunking noises. During our visit, we manage to track one down and our photos have taken pride of place stuck to our fridge door ever since.
Gorge on the ‘best vegan donuts in town’
Self-described as ‘the best donuts in town’, Brammibal’s ever-changing seasonal range of tasty doughnuts are all vegan and made with honesty, sustainability and environmental impact at the forefront. The company’s conscientious values extend even to the type of energy they use in their six venues and to power their delivery vans. With portions of their profits also going to charitable causes, it’s no wonder that their cafes are always so very busy.
Please note: the Google Maps link above is for the venue we visited, but you should check out the website to find out where their other cafes are located.
Experience a poignant reminder of the past
Part of the Berlin Wall Memorial (which itself is something you absolutely must visit), the Chapel of Reconciliation is a strikingly modern symbol of remembrance for those who lost their lives during Berlin’s division.
The chapel is small, but holds tremendous symbolic poignancy. The chapel is built on the site of a church (the Church of Reconciliation) which ended up on the DDR side of the Berlin Wall and eventually destroyed for ‘security’ reasons. The outline of the former church has been marked into the surrounding square and the rubble from its destruction was incorporated into the building material of the new chapel.
Savour a pot of Japanese Tea at BIKINI Berlin
Not content with being just another shopping mall, BIKINI spurns the chain stores in favour of pop-up shops where start-ups and independent traders can set themselves up. In amongst the curiosity and high-fashion shops is Chaya, a store specialising in Japanese kitchenware, crafts and clothing. A large window looking out onto Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and a small square is the setting for some seating where you can enjoy a pot of loose leaf Japanese tea, served in the tradition way.
Escape to city centre to Tropical Islands
Berlin has more than enough to fill weeks of non-stop sightseeing. While we’d certainly encourage you to make the most of your time in this wonderful city, it’s difficult for us not to suggest you also set aside a day to leave the city centre entirely.
That’s all because of Tropical Islands, an enormous tropical water park housed inside a gargantuan former airship hanger around 50km to the south of Berlin. Inside, you’ll find a beach and wave pool, multiple water slides, a small tropical garden where birds reside, restaurants and cafes and an adults-only spa area. The place is so enormous, that you can even stay for the night on the beach inside a cabin or the hotel. There’s truly nothing else like it on the planet, which is why we heartily recommend that you go.
Getting there: Catch a train from Berlin Ostkreuz Station to Brand Tropical Islands station. From there, a free shuttle bus will take you to the front doors of the resort.
Top tip: Head to Tropical Islands on your birthday and, provided you can prove it’s your special day, you’ll get in completely free! They’ll even give you a card.
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