January 18, 2013 11:29 AM   Subscribe

My friends went to Germany on a whim and now they are cold and miserable until their flight back in early February. I don't want them to give up hope. What are some truly awesome things that they can do in Berlin and the surrounding areas in the coming weeks?

Museums, concerts, sights, hidden nooks and crannies of Berlin, people to meet, oddities, murals, etc. They aren't big on bars, and they don't have a lot of money but they are huge on culture. I know there's tons of cool stuff in Berlin, so divulge if you know it!

posted by cloeburner to Travel & Transportation around Berlin, Germany (38 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Abandoned sites and just wacky stuff that typical tourists don't search for would be awesome too.
posted by cloeburner at 11:30 AM on January 18, 2013

Why don't they grab a train south to the Med and warm up?
posted by zadcat at 11:35 AM on January 18, 2013 [9 favorites]

Wikivoyage has a decent Berlin page.
posted by rhizome at 11:36 AM on January 18, 2013

If it were me, I'd use the excuse to buy better winter gear -- Berlin is a very stylish city.

Also, what I'd do would be to find a neighborhood with lots of cafes and bars and galleries and such, and just hunker (in fact this is exactly what I did last year when I went to Istanbul for a whim in midwinter). I had my regular cafe where I'd go to drink tea and read. I also saw damn near every art gallery in town, and (possibly not relevant to Berlin, as I don't know if there's a culture of public saunas or baths or anything) went to the Turkish Baths twice.

I also recommend having them go through their guidebook and marking out every free or cheap site that is indoors. Do all of them, no matter how small and off the beaten path.
posted by Sara C. at 11:40 AM on January 18, 2013

the Pergamon Museum is a must!!
posted by supermedusa at 11:43 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

There are a billion cool museums in Berlin as well (Pergamon, Checkpoint Charlie, Charlottenburg castle, the Egyptian museum, Potsdam is right outside Berlin etc.) but if they get bored there it's also pretty easy to get around Germany. If they have the money, you can take an overnight train from Berlin to Munich - Munich has tons of medieval art museums. Frankfurt also has a very cool modern art museum.
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:49 AM on January 18, 2013

They're in central western Europe. Within a few hours of train travel there's over a dozen countries. Or they can pop onto one of the budget airlines and get to somewhere even quicker.

Personal recommendation: Stockholm, the "Venice of the North". Not cheap, but one of the world's most beautiful capital cities. Bonus: good chance of seeing the northern lights.
posted by Wordshore at 11:55 AM on January 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

If they wrap up warm, bring a torch and are very careful I can imagine Teufelsberg would be spectacular in winter.

The Turkish Market on the Maybachufer is on Tuesdays and Fridays and is bustling even in winter.

There's also Sunday brunch, fleamarkets, the museums, Soviet War Memorial. I'd love to have a few free weeks in Berlin right now. Berlin in the winter is definitely cold but it should be anything but miserable!
posted by neilb449 at 12:02 PM on January 18, 2013

Nth'ing "get on a train." DeutscheBahn used to have a cheap "slow rail" weekend ticket that you could use for the whole weekend. I found more great out-of-the-way places doing that than I did from all of my guidebooks put together.
posted by Etrigan at 12:05 PM on January 18, 2013

The German History Museum is all kinds of awesome.

As an alternative to Checkpoint Charlie, there's the Berlin Wall Memorial.

They can go to a soccer game--the Bundesliga is just restarting after the winter break. I don't know how long a break the lower leagues have. The stadium of 1. FC Union was constructed by the fans, which is novel. Not exactly warm, though.

There are a number of other cities within easy daytrip distance: Dresden, Cottbus (though I've been told it's not very nice), Magdeburg (which has a semi-well-known cathedral), Weimar, Wolfsburg (the VW museum is there, though I haven't been). The Poland is day trip distance as well.

The museum under the Denkmal für den ermordeten Juden Europas is good, if affecting.
posted by hoyland at 12:08 PM on January 18, 2013

If they are bored in Berlin, a city with cool on every corner, I nth the suggestion to go elsewhere. Slow train across Europe to Istanbul?
posted by wingless_angel at 12:39 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Alternative Berlin Tours are free, and could give them a nice "in" into underground/alternative Berlin, but you need a warm coat to enjoy them in the current weather.
posted by ye#ara at 12:46 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I just missed my flight to Berlin. I have tickets for 2 people for an 8pm performance tomorrow (Saturday) at the Konzerthaus. It's the Vogler Quartet. My rescheduled flight arrives late Saturday so we won't make it.

I was just wondering who to give them away to. And then I saw this question. If your friends want them, its my treat.
posted by vacapinta at 12:54 PM on January 18, 2013 [29 favorites]

If their German is good, a tour of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf's home. The website claims they offer tours in English, but this was not the case in 2005.
posted by brujita at 12:55 PM on January 18, 2013

Easy. Just go to Dr Pong every single day.
posted by ZipRibbons at 1:28 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

One trick with moving to a cold climate, even temporarily, is to overcompensate when it comes to dressing up. Long underwear/merino boxers, heavy gloves or mittens, thin balaclava + scarf + hat, layers.

Going somewhere cold for vacation and not buying this stuff is a false economy.

This is assuming they're not going to do a night train to southern europe instead.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:44 PM on January 18, 2013

The Berliner Philharmoniker host a free, one hour concert (usually chamber music of some kind, sometimes an individual performer or a small choir) EVERY TUESDAY at 1 pm in the foyer of the Philharmonie. They're totally amazing. Make sure to get there at least 15 minutes early, because only a certain number of people are allowed in even though it's free.

Berlin also has an entire island full of museums, all of which are amazing (not just the Pergammon). On Thursdays, I think, all state museums, i.e. all of the ones on the island, are open until late: I think maybe 10? And they're much less crowded then. Das Deutsche Geschichte Museum (the German history museum) is amazing: it starts with the Romans trying to conquer Germany and goes on from there, in both English and German.

And there are lot of relatively cheap, good restaurants. A lot of good Turkish/Middle Eastern food. There are also lots of really good Vietnamese restaurants in Berlin because of the East Berlin - Communist connection. Try "Good Morning, Vietnam" in Mitte, "Dada Falafel" by Oranienburger Tor, or "Habba Habba" in Prenzlauerberg.

Also, there are a lot of free photo exhibits if you nose around a bit. Tell them to go check out the Willy-Brandt-Haus for starters: Wilhelmstr. 140, 10963 Berlin. There's supposed to be an interesting exhibit there, a retrospective, of the photos an American took in Berlin after the war and in other places. And the Akademie der Kunst has an entire Wagner thing going on at the moment. On the 24th-27th they're putting on an interesting sounding production of The Ring. It sounds like a new interpretation/tour of Wagner. The Akademie is also pretty cheap. That's at Hanseatenweg 10, 10557 Berlin.

If they like sphinxes, there's a real, honest-to-goodness Egyptian sphinx in Dussman's, which is a gigantic bookstore on Friederichstr. Just go in and go all of the way back. It's on loan from one of the museums while the museum is being restored.
posted by colfax at 1:51 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Once they have the proper Berlin expedition gear they can go to, an artist+architect's supply store, and pick up a paper map or book of the local contemporary architecture, or use a smart phone with a map of it.

Berlin has great bakeries and cafes.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:52 PM on January 18, 2013

Also, if they both happen to be female, they should go to the Turkish bath in Kreuzberg called Hamam. If not, they should go to one of the public saunas (a lot of the public pools have saunas attached). That should warm them up a bit.
posted by colfax at 1:55 PM on January 18, 2013

In 2005, there was an excellent (owned and run by)Mexican place in Mitte.
posted by brujita at 2:17 PM on January 18, 2013

The Soviet war memorial in Treptower Park is impressive, if you are into that sort of thing.
posted by carter at 2:23 PM on January 18, 2013

Seconding Museum Island (particularly the Neues Museum) and the German History Museum. I loved just walking around Berlin; like really, really loved it, beyond anything I expected. Prenzlaurberg was my favourite, but anywhere in the former East Berlin is good to just walk and see what adventures you can stumble upon. There's also tons of a lovely cafes and restaurants around there, and you can walk into and through Mitte if you don't mind a good hike.

I was in Dresden this past summer and hated it, I have to say -- it feels very artificial, like something that is presented to you to show how beautiful it once was, but it's full of tourists and just weird. (The modern part of the city might be wonderful for all I know. The train ride there was pretty nice, though.) I liked Potsdam much better, though I don't know how lovely it would be in winter.

As someone who works in an unheated warehouse, they will be vastly happier if they pick up good winter gear. Long underwear, wool socks (I am probably personally funding a summer home for whoever owns Smartwool socks, and frankly they deserve it and everything good in the world), a good sweater, and lots of light layers count for a lot, and go so far in making one less utterly miserable.
posted by kalimac at 2:28 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

This question is a setup. Stuck in Berlin until early Feb?

Hub of Europe. a country that alone could provide at least a few months of hostel hopping between cities and areas. Bonus - Berlin is a sprawling area, between everything is a much more organised London!


Is it not plausible to at least hit up Time Out Berlin if under 34 for cheap/free/fun and use a bit of googling for the rest?
posted by Funmonkey1 at 2:30 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

In addition to the alternative Berlin tours mentioned above, there are the Sandeman tours which are also free. They could compare the companies and guides.

I'd grab a camera and start taking tons of pictures of graffiti, as well as architectural juxtapositions.
posted by knile at 2:56 PM on January 18, 2013

The German name of the German history museum is the Deutsches Historisches Museum. There's a slim chance it's abbreviated DHM somewhere other than the museum's own materials, so they may want to know that.

There's also the Schwules Museum (gay museum), which is apparently not bad. The website is only in German, though, so there's a good chance it requires reading German. Near the Denkmal für den ermordeten Juden Europas is the Denkmal für die im Nationalsozialismus verfolgten Homosexuellen, but it's slightly hard to find because there's no line of sight--if you cross the street from the Holocaust memorial and walk along the top of Tiergarten, away from the Brandenburg gate, it's within 100 yards. (We found it by walking through the Tiergarten, but had we not known what it looked like, we probably wouldn't have found it--it looks a lot like a random park building from a distance. I'd been to the Holocaust memorial before and failed to see it.)

Volkspark Friedrichshain is probably in the guidebooks on account of the Märchenbrunnen (fairy tale fountain), which is turned off with the statues enclosed in boxes in the winter (there are pictures on the boxes, fwiw). However, there are some random monuments if your friends wanted to go on a monument hunt.

I like subways more than the average person, but they could use this site to find the coolest U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations and visit them. They could try and find something interesting at every stop on the Ringbahn, though I suspect some parts are pretty dull. (If they haven't bought a weekly ticket yet, they almost certainly should.)
posted by hoyland at 3:10 PM on January 18, 2013

Until next week, there's a photography exhibition in the Willy-Brant-Haus, which houses the headquarters of the SPD. It seems like such a random place to hold exhibitions, but it's kind of cool. Plus, how often do you go to a political party's headquarters? They'll need to show their passports to get in.

No one's mentioned the Bundestag and the Reichstag dome yet. You now need to book in advance to go up the dome (or at least book two hours in advance), but if you do that, you can go to a lecture on the German parliament too (Tuesdays at 12.00 in English and here's the English leaflet). The exhibit at the base of the dome is quite good too.
posted by hoyland at 3:25 PM on January 18, 2013

If they're into underground art as well as museums, the Friedrichshain neighborhood is full of neat art-squats. But that does mean a lot of strolling around looking for murals, so warm clothes and extra socks are a requirement!
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:17 PM on January 18, 2013

Berlin is fantastic in the winter! Good cafes, cheap food, museums... Frühstück*!

Stuff I didn't see above:

The Stasi Museum (helpful to have someone who speaks
German, but still cool without), the Bauhaus Archive, Unterwelten Tours, Cafe Ostfee in Prenzlauerberg has great *German breakfast for two, Prater Garten for schnitzel and beer even if it's cold, the Bird for American burgers and coke with ice, Mustafas for late-night, freeze your ass off, wait a long time, then eat excellent kebap on a dingy Berlin street.

Go to Mitte and browse all the funky shops.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:52 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I went to the gay museum they had guides in English.
posted by brujita at 12:33 AM on January 19, 2013

Like everybody else here I am a bit confused - they are miserable and need to kill time in Berlin? Cold I totally get though.

There is a lot of stuff to do for free every day in Berlin! Given your parameters: cold, broke, culturally curious I propose:

Sunday, 20th: check out the events on the last day of Fashion Week
Monday, 21st: 7pm Classical Indian Dance performance at the Indian Embassy
Tuesday, 22nd: 7pm Quiz night at Another Country bookshop (page not updated, might cost 1 Euro)
Wednesday, 23rd: 7pm film screening at the Brazilian Embassy (please register by e-mail)

In case they really totally hate Berlin, have them check out carpooling (people also offer shared train tickets, the so called Wochenendticket which runs 40 Euro for up to 5 people, only on slow trains though) - with a bit of luck and flexible dates your friends can find rides to many other German cities starting at 5 Euro (like Dresden or Leipzig), for 10-15 Euro they can visit Hamburg. There are also some international options.
posted by travelwithcats at 2:16 AM on January 19, 2013

They could also try to meet up with Berlin CouchSurfing groups, e.g. Back Door Berlin, to meet people & learn of events.
posted by knile at 3:00 AM on January 19, 2013

Tell them to buy a big wool overcoat. Then they can do all of that other stuff.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:52 AM on January 19, 2013

cloeburner: I noticed you marked me as best answer but you haven't replied to my mefi mail. Please let me know if you can use them or not so I can forward you info on how to pick them up. Thanks!
posted by vacapinta at 7:02 AM on January 19, 2013

If they don't speak German, tell them to go and buy the expat magazine Exberliner from a corner shop. It's available everywhere. INDEX is a free exhibition guide that they can pick up in just about any museum or gallery.

Transmediale starts on the 29th and should be mostly indoors. neugerriemschneider will have a Noa Eshkol show on at the same time. I would go and see that if I was in Berlin just now.

There is a Turkish food and fabric market on the Maybachufer on Tuesdays and Fridays from 11am. It won't be as full as in the Summer, but there should still be some good eats if they wrap up warm before they head over.

Somehow visitors always seem to overlook that Berlin has very cold, grey winters. Most residents leave for warmer climes during this time so lots of things are closed for the winter season. When I lived there we once had 15 minutes of direct sunlight in the whole of January. Best to go after February, and before October!
posted by veids at 11:45 AM on January 19, 2013

Berlin Unlike is also a useful English language guide to shops, restaurants, galleries, etc and has some event listings.
posted by veids at 11:47 AM on January 19, 2013

An email I've sent to a few friends visiting Berlin:

Walking Tour: I think this is the one we did. Really good.
Cycling Tour: I haven’t done this, but have a friend who did a Fat Tire tour and said it was excellent.

Particularly around Mitte, look out for all the bullet holes on the buildings.

Pergamon Museum: Of course. Go and see the Islamic art section after the big four exhibitions – is stunning.
German Historical Museum: German history chronologically. I have spent hours in here each time I’ve been. Go after lunch, because otherwise you’ll want to stop for a snack at lunch and the café is pretty ordinary. If you go after lunch you’ll have to leave when it closes.
Hamburger Bahnhof: Excellent contemporary/modern art.
Berlinische Gallerie: More modern art. Some pretty cool stuff. Quite close to the Jewish museum which everyone will tell you to see. Including me.
Jewish Museum: Has the whole history of Judaism in Europe, not just the holocaust.
Treptower Park: Communist sculpture at its best.
East Side Gallery: Has recently been touched up, so all the original art is no longer covered in graffiti.
Kreuzberg: The place to buy really good Doner Kebabs and play in the artsy stationary and gift shops. Be careful. Fortunes can be spent.
Potsdam: Worth a trip to see the Kaiser’s summer playgrounds.

Getting around: The subway system is of course great, but it can actually take awhile to get anywhere as there are so many lines and you may have to change trains a lot. I hired a bike, which was brilliant. There are a couple of buses, 100 and 200, that go past many of the highlights, and as it’s above ground you get to see more.
posted by kjs4 at 6:14 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nth'ing the cheap weekend ticket. We would spend all weekend travelling on those things, and the trains are generally heated. Dusseldorf would be an easy trip.

As for being cold - alcohol is crazy cheap.
posted by kjs4 at 6:15 PM on January 20, 2013

Having been here a few days now. I do have some info to add as well.

-Berlin is really cold right now, its true. The temp doesn't go above -6C right now, going down to -10C on Friday. But the converse side of that is that most places are heated and so its easy to take breaks to re-warm yourself. We walked down Unter den Linden, for example, and stopped at a couple cafes and museums along the way. Definitely recommend the Willy Brandt museum. As a dumb American, I didn't know much about him and came away extremely impressed. Admission is free.

-We went up to the Bundestag dome on the last trip of the day. Its a really nice walk up the double-spiral ramp of the dome. The visit is mostly about what you see. So its a sight-seeing tour more than anything else. Admission is free.

-Cheap eats are all over Kreuzberg. But one of the most amazing finds for me was Tandur Lasan. Wow! The flatbread is fresh and warm and delicious. And you can also have them roll it up for you and fill it with fresh cheese. It is so filling and tasty. How much does this delicacy cost (with the cheese)? 1 euro.

-Among the museums, do not miss the current Amarna exhibition at the Neues. It sets the context for the Nefertiti sculpture which is in the museum's collections. Honestly, the Nefertiti bust is one of the most beautiful and dramatic things I have ever seen and something that benefits from seeing in person, as, I now realize, images do not do it justice.

It is a huge city. There's a lot to explore and discover.
posted by vacapinta at 7:43 AM on January 22, 2013

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