Been there, haven’t done that – 5 things you shouldn’t miss in Berlin

by in Europe, Features, Germany, Places, We likey.

In our mission to inspire and inform Grown-up Travellers we continue our series of articles containing ideas for alternative things to do and see in well-known destinations. So far we’ve been shared tips on London, Stockholm and Copenhagen and upcoming articles will cover Amsterdam, Oslo, Chicago and New York.

All good stuff. But today it’s the turn of the German capital, right?

You got it. What to do in Berlin? Well there’s so much to see and do, both sides of the former wall. Regular readers will know I lived there for a couple of years, and have taken some pictures to show how much the city has changed since 1990. You should also have a look at this article on Ostalgie and how to cure it before you go and get hung up on all that Trabi love. But if you also want to do something a little less off the tourist trail, read on…

5 things in Berlin your friends won’t have heard about *

* er, I’d be fairly confident betting that they haven’t, anyway.

Katteschmaus

Image (c) Suddeutsche Zeitung

Located right on the banks of the River Spree on the outskirts of Mitte you’ll find the former soap factory, squat and now ubercool entertainment sport KaterHolzig. The compound contains a club, rooftop café and a gem of a restaurant in Katerschmaus. If you arrive at night finding the latter can be an adventure, but don’t give up. You’ll find clues in the graffiti-covered industrial ruins that lead you through an ‘adults-only playground’ past art installations, wooden shacks, a ship in the middle of a dance floor, beds, couches, beach huts, huge leather sofas, homemade furniture and old vending machines until you climb the stairs and open the door to the restaurant itself.

Image (c) Berlin.Unlike

You’ll be greeted by the sound of happy guests enjoying themselves and a visual as well as gastronomic feast. The grungy appearance of both the locale and staff (tattoos and piercings are clearly obligatory) contrast with both the excellent food and attentive service.

The seasonally-inspired menu changes on a weekly basis and usually features provincial specialities as starters and main courses. The desserts are worth the journey alone and the wines are well-chosen to accompany the food. This “cat’s feast” is ver popular; I was lucky to grab the last table and reservations are definitely advised.

Image (c) Angelikabooks.com

Make sure you give this place a try for an unusually successful combination of Berlin alternative and gourmet food in a highly unique setting. Rumours are that the building will close for renovations in a couple of years so don’t hang about either.

Katerschmaus – KaterHolzig, Michaelkirchstr. 23, 10179 Berlin. Reservations 030 51 05 21 34. Open Tuesdays-Saturdays from 1900.

U and S Bahn Jannowitzbrucke. Check website for details: http://www.katerholzig.de/restaurant/

 

Schlangenbader Strasse

The motorway disappearing under the apartment complex – image (c) Andy Higgs, Grown-up Travel Guide

Berlin’s mayor at the time famously said that “if the devil wants to do harm to this city, he will make sure that another Schlange is built”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for this slightly nuts architectural experiment, but it certainly remains a revolutionary slice of town planning. It is the only example of its kind in the world – an apartment complex built on top of a motorway in the 1970s. Others were planned, but perhaps due to the reaction to “the snake” and its huge budget overrun never got off the drawing board.

Yes, the autobahn is in that tunnel there, halfway through the complex – image (c) Andy Higgs, Grown-up Travel Guide

The scale of the project becomes clear when you visit this part of Wilmersdorf in western Berlin. 1064 apartments sit on top of 600 meters of motorway. The sound and vibration proofing are so efficient – well this is Germany – that even when standing directly underneath the motorway all that can be heard is a low drumming sound – and for the residents above there is only silence.

And out it comes the other side, after some 600 meters under the 1046 apartments – image (c) Andy Higgs, Grown-up Travel Guide

The Schlangenbader Straße property remains the largest connected residential complex in Europe and is well worth a visit. Berlin offers many architectural curiosities and another, more central one can be found at Pallasstrasse – see the photo and brief description here.

Schlangenbader Strasse, Wilmersdorf, Berlin. U-Bahn Breitenbachplatz

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autobahn%C3%BCberbauung_Schlangenbader_Stra%C3%9Fe

 

Breakfast on top of the Reichstag

Image obtained from Flickr.com under Creative Commons (c) SIRDS

Okay, it’s time to share one of my top tips for Berlin. I’m sure you are planning to visit the Reichstag and climb its impressive glass dome walkway when you visit the German capital. After all, it’s an amazing sight and free too. The only problem is that you now have to register in advance online and on the few occasions they allow visitors in without doing so the queues are horrendous. But if you know how, you can skip them and enjoy an extremely hearty breakfast on top of the building at the same time!

The German Bundestag is in fact the only parliament building in the world to house a public restaurant, situated right next to the glass dome with superb views over the city.

Image (c) Andy Higgs, Grown-up Travel Guide

The restaurant Kafer serves quality modern German cuisine accompanied by German wines – but perhaps the best bet is breafast. Simply email them before visiting to book a table between 0900 and 1015 and turn up at the main entrance. If the weather is good sit outside on the terrace and try to make it through the full breakfast with Sekt (sparkling wine) while admiring the panoramic view over the city.

Image (c) Andy Higgs, Grown-up Travel Guide

Note that you will have to provide your full name and date of birth when booking and that you should bring ID for security clearance purposes. You will have to go through an airport-style body and baggage check before being escorted into the building, where you can pick up a headset and audio tour for the dome. It’s a wonderful experience and you’ll then be free to visit the dome afterwards and walk off a few calories…

Restaurant Kafer, Reichstag Building. Reservations email: kaeferreservierung.berlin@feinkost-kaefer.de  Breakfast 0900-1015 Lunch 1200-1430 Tea 1530-1630 Dinner 1830-0000.

U Bahn Bundestag. Check website for details: http://www.feinkost-kaefer.de/dt_bundestag10/


Badeschiff

Image obtained from Flickr.com under Creative Commons (c) Maurizio Mucciola

The “bathing ship” – a floating pool, sauna and bar on the River Spree in Treptow is a massive hit in the summer – but what many visitors don’t realize is that there is a winter version open in the colder months. Enclosed in a cosy membrane out on the water you’ll find two saunas (95 °C & 70 °C), a swimming pool, rest area, massage rooms, lounge with a bar and a great view of the skyline of Berlin. A selection of healthy snacks and drinks are also available for purchase. Visit at night for the ultimate way to recharge your batteries before partaking of the Berlin club and bar scene. Turn up at the main onshore building, buy your ticket and rent towels, robes and slippers as required.

Image obtained from Flickr.com under Creative Commons (c) Maurizio Mucciola

Given that this is Germany most people go fully naked under their robes and let it all hang out in the sauna and pool – but thankfully you’ll not be kicked out for keeping your shorts or bikini on either. Its location makes it ideal for relaxing before or after visiting Katerschmaus too – a combination I can recommend. Note that no cards are accepted – cash only.

Image obtained from Flickr.com under Creative Commons (c) Maurizio Mucciola

Badeschiff, Eichenstraße 4, 12435 Berlin-Treptow. Opening times vary daily – see website for details

http://arena-berlin.de/badeschiff_winter_2011-2012.aspx

 

Spreepark

Image (c) Andy Higgs, Grown-up Travel Guide

This abandoned amusement park began life in East Berlin in 1969 as Kulturpark Plänterwald, the only one in the DDR. After the wall fell it was privatized and continued to operate before a series of almost comical events involving bankruptcy, drug smuggling and imprisonment led to its closure in 2001. It then became beloved by urban explorers and those after surreal photo opportunities of  decaying dinosaurs and overgrown roller coasters. Even more exciting, the only way to get in was to climb over the fence. It seems that the family that owns the park realized it was a case of “if you can’t beat them, make some money out of them” and began to offer tours on Saturdays which became extremely popular – they even opened a cafe in the park. You will have to register on the website in advance as places are limited.

Image (c) Andy Higgs, Grown-up Travel Guide

The park was once a landmark of communist East Berlin and can be seen in many photographs from that time – including this one taken by Stasi agents spying on punks and on show at the Stasi Museum.

Image obtained from Flickr.com under Creative Commons (c) jc_82

Many of the attractions remain but are overgrown and rusting. Yet this is the attraction, and the silence of the place creates an eerie atmosphere – which is why most people prefer to break in and avoid the crowds of the official tours. To gain entry to Spreepark you’ll have to find one of the many holes in the fence to squeeze through or a low part to jump over. Signs state that the park is patrolled by guards 24/7 but I saw nobody and this is believed to be no more than a deterrent. Of course it’s up to you but the risks are worth it for the  graveyard of beheaded dinosaurs and swans, an large abandoned ferris wheel that creaks in the wind and a neglected lake.

Spreepark, Kiehnwerdeallee 1-3, 12437, Berlin. S-Bahn Treptower Park. Tours on Saturdays only.

http://www.berliner-spreepark.de/events_fuehrung.php

 

Do you have anything you’d like to add to this list – something out of the ordinary in Berlin? Please add your tips in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!

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51 Responses to “Been there, haven’t done that – 5 things you shouldn’t miss in Berlin”

  1. NeilMarch 23, 2012 at 15:14 #

    These look incredible. Missed all 5 on my first visit, luckily I might be visiting again later this year. Post bookmarked.

    Cheers,
    Neil.

    • Andy HiggsMarch 23, 2012 at 15:17 #

      Thanks Neil – yes you should give them a go. In the summertime Badeschiff is outdoors and a bit overrun but can be better in the evenings. It was really surreal when I was there as it was 18 degrees below zero outside!

  2. AndreaMarch 25, 2012 at 11:21 #

    Fantastic ideas! I’m going back to Berlin in July so I’ll check some of these out then.

    • Andy HiggsMarch 25, 2012 at 12:12 #

      Thanks Andrea, there’s certainly plenty to see in the German capital. Enjoy your trip – should be a lot warmer than when I was there in February when it was 20 below at the worst!

  3. ZoricaMarch 25, 2012 at 11:24 #

    Good list!

  4. Holiday Baker ManMarch 25, 2012 at 17:57 #

    I have been to Berlin many times. Can’t wait to check out a couple of these places next time.

    • Andy HiggsMarch 26, 2012 at 08:13 #

      One of the best things about Berlin is there’s always something new to see!

  5. Andrew @ Blogging GuideMarch 27, 2012 at 09:25 #

    Andy

    I’ve never been to Berlin but your post makes me want to go NOW!

    I’m off to Amsterdam first, though.

    Andrew

    • Andy HiggsMarch 27, 2012 at 10:44 #

      You really should, but Amsterdam is great too of course. Look out for a hotel review later today of a great – and green – hotel in Amsterdam…
      Andy

      • Andrew @ Blogging GuideMarch 27, 2012 at 14:36 #

        Will do – I am about to book something within the next few days.

        Andrew

  6. owenMarch 27, 2012 at 23:59 #

    Great post. I have share this in Facebook. I will be going to Berlin next year and will check these out

  7. DaphneApril 20, 2012 at 19:46 #

    I’m actually headed to Berlin this June. We just wrapped up planning this segment of our trip but I am sure we will add some of these attractions. I had already heard wonders about Arena Pool. However, the Katteschmaus looks like my type of place! Just wondering, what is the cost of breakfast atop the Reichstag?

    Thanks,
    Daphne

    • Andy HiggsApril 25, 2012 at 14:29 #

      Hi Daphne,
      You’ll love Badeschiff – the summer version will be amazing on a fine day. Don’t miss Katteschmaus either, it’s quite a place! As for the breakfast, you can check the latest prices on the website here: http://www.feinkost-kaefer.de/fileadmin/speisekarten/Fr-374hst-374ckskarte_Oktober_2011_engl.pdf but right now the huge ‘Feel Good Breakfast’ with sparkling wine and the one which I challenge anyone to actually finish is EUR 27. It’s a lot, but it’s something else. They have a full range of set breakfasts and you can put your own together too so there should be something for everyone.
      Enjoy your trip!

  8. AndrewSeptember 26, 2012 at 21:28 #

    Aloha Andy!

    I wanted to say thanks again for submitting this article to the Byteful Travel Blog Carnival, and also congratulations! This article has been highlighted in the 14th BT Blog Carnival, which was published today. I loved the photography in this one, and I had no idea that the autobahn went under an apartment complex. (In addition to being well-written, learning about that is one of the reasons I highlighted your post.)

    If you could retweet, stumble, or “Like” the blog carnival, I would really appreciate it. It would also help people discover your article, too; especially since your article is one of only 3 that I highlighted.

    Thanks! Looking forward to your submissions next time! :)

    • Andy HiggsSeptember 27, 2012 at 08:13 #

      Thanks Andrew!
      Glad you liked the post and that it was included in the carnival – I’m off now to do a little social media promotion for it. Yes that apartment complex is really something; although there are several examples of ‘extreme architecture’ in Berlin! I’ll rustle up something for next month too, keep up the good work!

  9. michael pietschmannOctober 10, 2012 at 09:20 #

    Hei.
    Nice list. If you got the time, rent a bike. Berlin is (nearly) made for cykling and you will see things much far from the main tourist roads.
    By the way: it’s Schlangenbader Strasse, not Schlangenberger.

    Michael

    • Andy HiggsOctober 10, 2012 at 09:42 #

      Hi Michael,
      You’re right there. I always rent a bike and indeed when I was at these places in February I was on a City Bike – unfortunately it was one of the coldest days of the winter so I was riding around while it was -18…otherwise it’s the best way to get around. I only wish the City Bikes were easier to use for foreigners (luckily I understand German) but they say they will relaunch their service in English. And I will change the typo – I got it right in the rest of the article and everywhere else on the site (http://grownuptravelguide.com/grown-up-travel-guide-daily-photo-apartments-built-atop-the-autobahn-berlin-germany etc.) so glad you spotted that this one slipped through in the title!
      Thanks again for your comments and have a great day,
      Andy

  10. Cathy SweeneyJanuary 2, 2013 at 21:27 #

    Hope I get to Katerschmaus before the building closes. Love these fun and unusual ideas for Berlin.

  11. AndreaMarch 6, 2013 at 10:42 #

    Wow – we missed all of these on our trip to Berlin. I was really focused on all the wartime history. Definitely have to go back and explore more…

    • Andy HiggsMarch 6, 2013 at 11:43 #

      Hehe, to be fair, there is enough in Berlin (for example wartime and Cold War history) to keep you occupied for several visits. This post should perhaps be called “Five things to do the fifth time you visit Berlin” :-) I like the obscure stuff, because I lived there for 2 years and saw most of the main sights. Having said that there’s always something new to see there too. As I write this I am actually on the plane to Berlin from Trondheim for the ITB and hope to have a few hours spare to find a few new gems..

  12. SarahMarch 7, 2013 at 17:19 #

    Wow! very nice photos! i already visited the badeschiff! it was great! a very good advice!

  13. RuthMarch 10, 2013 at 03:30 #

    I have always been excited about visiting Berlin (I guess the place gets tons of hype because of something). I have never heard of the places you describe in here and I like that. It is always nice to visit places recommended by experts in a city (not only the popular places).

  14. Quality Inn Maingate davenport FloridaMarch 19, 2013 at 08:00 #

    Thank you Andrew for sharing story…
    I never go to Berlin,but after see your post I must go to Berlin….
    Really i like it so much…

  15. MintaMarch 20, 2013 at 12:14 #

    Just to let you know. Kater Holzig is not in Köpenick. Thats a completely different area in Berlin.

    • Andy HiggsMarch 20, 2013 at 12:20 #

      You are quite right. Not sure how I let that get through. I was referring of course referring to its location in the Berlin borough of Treptow-Köpenick, not the village of Köpenick. Thanks for spotting this, I will change it now :-)

      • MintaMarch 20, 2013 at 12:26 #

        yea, but its not in Treptow-Köpenick. Its in Mitte. There is a whole other borough (Kreuzberg) between Mitte and Köpenick ;-)

        • Andy HiggsMarch 21, 2013 at 05:54 #

          Argh, you got me again – I really must stop reading and editing my blog comments at 5 a.m :-) Of course it’s in Mitte, I am confusing it with Badeschiff, which is right on the edge of Treptow-Köpenick. I was looking at my Google Map of Berlin and the star I have marked was Badeschiff, not Kater Holzig. Doh! Thanks again for the heads-up, corrected once more :-)

          • MintaMarch 21, 2013 at 08:54 #

            ;-) happens. Berlin can be confusing at times.

          • Andy HiggsMarch 21, 2013 at 09:19 #

            That’s true. It was SO much easier back in 1991, you had 9 u-bahn lines and easy postcodes/city areas. Kreuzberg was about as complicated as it got, with both 1062 and 1036 but apart from that, easy as pie. I’m struggling with the changes, I mean what’s with that huge eastern part? Where did that come from?! Just kidding :-)

  16. MintaMarch 21, 2013 at 09:47 #

    lol, yes. I was 3 in 91 and 61 was all I knew :-) much easier, indeed.
    :-D

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