Travel: Berlin for Cheapskates
While recently covering the Berlin Festival for Something You Said, Carol Bowditch set aside a few days to take in the German capital. Follow her comprehensive list of grand things to do and you’ll still have money left to spend on a streetside Berliner Pilsner.
What to eat and drink
Every second shop is a bakery/supermarket/doner kebab shop/cafe. So you’re never going to be short of eats or dranks. I ate my weight in delicious breads and thought that sampling one of every pastry was a good way to find out what food things were great in Germany (they all are). But to be more specific:
Try a mix fleisch (meat), or vegetarier (…you can guess) teller, (pictured, below left). It is a mixed selection of dips, salads, and meats, or the vegie version with loads of grilled vegetables and falafel. I’d recommend the cheap and friendly serviced Nano Falafel, just by the East Side Gallery.
Falafel everything – grab a salad with a big dollop of garlic sauce, or simply have a few glorious fried balls wrapped up in a pitta to nibble on.
Pommes (chips) are best smothered in mayo and tomato sauce, or eaten with traditional currywurst. I didn’t have this because it was a bit too gooey/meaty/carby for me but it’s the thing to be eaten, apparently.
Berlin is awesome for vegetarians, I came across incredible tofu steak sandwiches, marinaded in ‘crack sauce’. They will have you licking your lips and fingers like a fool in order to get every last glorious spicy, saucy morsel.
Pizzerias are surprisingly everywhere. There’s a good joint south of central Kreuzberg called Ron Telesky which has some pretty delectable flavour combinations, Canadian style.
There is beer everywhere. Berliner Pilsner is yummy and a naughty steal at €1.50 at most vendors.
Where to go for history
There’s way more history than you’re likely have time for, but wander up to Checkpoint Charlie (a crossing point of the wall between East to West Berlin during the Cold War), or pass by Hitler’s Bunker (now a carpark). If you’ve got more time to spare, walk along the collection of photographs outside the Topography of Terror building before visiting the main exhibition. The Jewish Museum may take hours of your time but it is worth it (especially if it is bucketing down outside).
The Berliner Unterwelten takes you underground to bunkers used by German civilians during WWII. Sandwiched between ground level and the busy train station below, it’s quite frightening being in the space while you are being told of epic bombings as noisy trains speed past in the claustrophobic rooms that are decorated with gas masks and war-time propaganda.
Where to go for secondhand goods
There are many charity stores littered around the city. The best that I came across were Garage (pictured right): a pay by the kilo shop run by rockabilly babes, that has a great collection of stylish dresses and boots, and a great selection of shirts and tees for guys. Humana is a large charity shop chain with several stores around the city, the best is a five-storey wonder north of the city centre (by the Frankfurter Tor) with quality goods collected in decades (the 80’s floor was a treat).
The most famous being the Tiergarten, which acts as a leafy interlude as you navigate from monument to monument, located right within the city centre. Be aware though, I did cop an eyeful of men sunning themselves in the nud one particularly hot Friday.
On Sundays, not a lot is open for business, so your best use of time is at the weekly Mauerpark Flea Market. As markets go, it is really weak, with people selling their expensive tat to tourists. There is some vintage clothing in there, but all of the crowds and tacky tourist shit made me cross so I dodged the crowds and sat in the park adjacent. It’s a good spot for people-watching, Mauerpark is like a grungy hipster zoo.
If you have a free half-day I’d recommend journeying south-west of the city to the Pfaueninsel Park, also known as Peacock Island. It’s a cheap day-trip to a nature reserve island that, as the name suggests, has peacocks, as well as amazing dilapidated castles and palaces that were once occupied by kings, glass-blowers and dairy farmers.
I missed out on Spreepark, but apparently wandering around the grounds of the abandoned theme park is an eerie treat. It may be familiar scenery to you if you have seen the excellent Hanna, as it was filmed on site.
Quality galleries are plentiful in Berlin, although most charge entry (which, from experience, was pretty expensive). Martin Gropius Bau boasted an impressive lineup including exhibitions by Meret Oppenheim and Anish Kapoor, among others, when I visited. Unfortunately, I was less impressed by the interior of the Bauhaus Archiv, the building in the iconic German architecture style was worth a visit, but not worth the entry fee. The East Side Gallery – a still-standing section of the Berlin Wall, is perhaps one of Berlin’s most visited landmarks. The mass-mural spans over a kilometre; it’s covered in incredible paintings, some reflect Berlin’s past, show beauty, some harrowing or controversial, but the sections that most caught my eye were funny messages from passers by. It’s an absolute must see.
Words by Carol Bowditch.