What should we do in Berlin over New Year's?
November 12, 2017 11:11 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I are looking for recommendations for our trip to Berlin in late Dec./early Jan.

We're interested in:

--Art & museums (I'm particularly interested in the history of the DDR/cold war era Berlin)
--Interesting neighborhoods to walk around in - cafes, bookstores, cool architecture, etc.
--Live music
--Bath houses
--Night life

We've been in Germany (not Berlin) for NYE before, so I expect there to be a lot of fireworks. Are there any particular events/venues you'd recommend (or recommend avoiding) for NYE?

I've also heard that Berlin is pretty bike-friendly, although I'm wondering if that would be an undertaking in the middle of winter - do the roads get icy/impassable?
posted by stonetongue to Travel & Transportation around Berlin, Germany (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I like the Forum Hotel, not too high priced, with an awesome breakfast brunch that comes with the room, take a discrete baggie, to save a snack or so, so you can have awesome breakfast, snacky day, and awesome dinner in one of the great restaurants there. The Asiatic Museum, Schleeman's collections are absolutely worthy of a half day. The Pergammon Altar and temple is there, all kinds of tile patterns, Roman floors, lions from every culture, torsos, baths, all kinds of stuff. The Egyptian Museum is there, with great stuff, and the Dahlem has a lot of great art. The Kurfurstendam is a nice walk in the evening.
posted by Oyéah at 11:35 AM on November 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

The Stasi Museum is pretty great (for certain values of great that include incredibly depressing).
Kreuzberg is a fun neighborhood to walk around - there's a super popular street food market on Thursdays.
posted by snaw at 11:54 AM on November 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Visit the Gedenkstätte Hohenschönhausen. It used to be a Stasi prison and is now a memorial/museum. They offer daily guided tours in English. They do offer tours by former inmates (contemporary witnesses), but I'm not sure if any of them are in English.

The biggest bookshop I know of in Berlin is Kulturkaufhaus Dussmann just off Unter den Linden. They have a huge selection of English-language books as well.

If you're interested in a guided bike tour, try Berlin on Bike. I've done their Berlin Wall tour and liked it, but they also offer a winter tour. Riding a bike in winter depends on the weather, which can be dry and cold or wet and icy or snowy, so I wouldn't decide in advance, but see how the weather is like once you're there.

Last but not least, if you'd like to treat yourself to some hot chocolate and/or a chocolate torte, don't miss the chocolate café above the Rausch Schokoladenhaus on Gendarmenmarkt. (Prepare to wait for a table if you arrive around 3pm or make a reservation.) The chocolate shop has huge chocolate models of the Brandenburg gate etc, and you can buy fancy chocolate as gift for family and friends at home.
posted by amf at 12:11 PM on November 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Bath houses: Liquidrom Berlin is one of my favourite places in the world. Short walk (under 5 minutes) from Anhalter Bahnhof.
posted by Seeba at 2:15 PM on November 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh Hiiiiiiiiiii. I just got back from Berlin last week.

The Museum they had by Checkpoint Charlie kind of blew my mind, actually. Much of it is devoted to the various means people used to try to escape to the West.

I think Kreuzberg is where the Berlinische Gallerie is - I went a little too close to closing time to see the whole thing, but did a deep dive into a retrospective on the life and work of a Berlin artist I'd never heard of.

The museum of Film and TV near Pottsdamer Platz is pretty thorough, and still makes for a quick trip. They do a lot about Marlene Dietrich, but also cover a lot of the post-war differences between East and West German film, and also address the artists who fled to the US during World War II and who were then targeted by the House Unamerican Activities committee.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:08 PM on November 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, speaking of film - the Cafe Einstein Stammhaus was an elegant, yet affordable, place for coffee and a snack - and there's a side room where they filmed the apple strudel scene from Inglorious Basterds.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:11 PM on November 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ah yes - also for live music, Clärchens Ballhaus is a great venue for live music, dancing, etc in a beautiful venue.
posted by Seeba at 3:18 PM on November 12, 2017

The museum at Checkpoint Charlie was pretty interesting.

Visit Treptower Park to see an amazing Soviet War Memorial.

The Jewish Museum of Berlin was one of the most interesting museums I've ever seen in my life ( I spent about 10 hours there in total), and the architecture is amazing.

I highly recommend doing a walking tour with Alternative Berlin .

The Stasi Museum (Topography of Terror) is very fascinating but warning, you will be very depressed and disturbed afterwards. If you're on holiday and just looking to enjoy the city, I would actually avoid it, and instead spend your time learning about what makes Berlin amazing.

Also,, you'll have to check if it's open over the holidays, but the Mauerpark Flea market on Sundays was absolutely the funnest thing ever.
posted by winterportage at 4:11 PM on November 12, 2017

Also, for nightlife, Berghain is legendary (although I've never been because it's not my thing)
posted by winterportage at 4:53 PM on November 12, 2017

I just got back from five weeks from Berlin and sort of have too much info to answer your question. So let me focus on a couple of things.

Neighborhoods: definitely recommend dining one evening in Prenzlauerberg near Kollwitzplatz. Can specifically recommend Pasternak for Russian, or Nürnberger Wirtshaus for good (albeit not amazing) traditional German. I lived a few blocks away and loved the neighborhood for walking around a 1920s area and lots of neighborhood cafes, etc. It's kinda bougie but very livable and pleasant.

You mentioned bath houses; do you mean gay ones? There's an active gay bar and sex club scene in Berlin, quite famous really. Schöneberg is the traditional gay bar area and still has a lot of stuff going on, but like everything else a lot of gay social activity has moved towards the east, particularly Kreuzberg. If you just meant a place to swim, Berlin has a lot of public pools. The restored Stadtbad in Prenzlauer Berg looked really cool to me but I didn't go in.

For DDR history, I specifically recommend the Stasi Museum. It's a bit out of the way but it is the actual Stasi office and has a great permanent exhibit. If the weather is nice pair it with a short U-bahn ride / long walk along Karl Marx Allee for the architecture. That also puts you near Fredrichshain, another nice old neighborhood, with lots of restaurants and life along Simon-Dach-Strasse.

The DDR Museum is also worth a visit because it's very well done and popular. But it's this weirdly positive / nostalgic take on the history and gets a lot of criticism for it. For more honest history there are two small museums in Berlin run by a foundation that are free and worth a short visit. The Tränenpalast (Palace of Tears) is specifically about the border crossing at the train station in the middle of town and is very well done. The Museum in the Kulturbrauerei is more about everyday DDR life and is also OK. That's near Kollwitzplatz and well-paired with a Sunday afternoon visit to the food truck happening at the Kulturbrauerei and the flea market at the Mauerpark. Or just with a snack at Konnopke.

It's not on your list but if you want Nazi history, make time for the Topography of Terror museum. Be warned: this is very detailed and very heavy. But it's a remarkable historical museum about the Nazi era.
posted by Nelson at 5:21 PM on November 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've also heard that Berlin is pretty bike-friendly
Berlin is pretty bike-friendly, even in winter. 😀 ❄️ Bike lanes (either separated or on the street) are all over town. People driving generally respect people cycling. A significant minority of Berliners cycle through the winter.
I'm wondering if that would be an undertaking in the middle of winter - do the roads get icy/impassable?
The roads and bike lanes are generally clear and passable unless it just precipitated, and even then it's usually fine. Only once last winter did I feel it was somewhat unsafe to cycle, and that was because at the tail end of our heaviest snowfall I rode through Volkspark Hasenheide (which is a hilly park I use as a shortcut, not a bike path per se). I lost traction and fishtailed a few times but it worked out fine for me and the handful of people (including small children and very old folks) I saw also cycling through the icy slush.

The real limiting factors to winter cycling in Berlin are:
  1. ...your cold-weather gear and your hardiness. I cycle through the winter but guests often find it too much. The items I recommend—because they are often overlooked—are long underwear, warm socks or shoes, and warm windproof gloves. The choices I see folks regret when out for a ride are wearing thin gloves, thin socks, or only a single layer on the lower body.
  2. ...your bike lights. On many Berlin winter days it never really gets light out, and it turns to true darkness quite early. I recommend double-checking the bike lights at time of rental, or bringing your own lights, or wearing a high-vis vest. People in cars give people on bikes plenty of room on shared roads, and Berlin drivers are attentive to bikes, but that still only works if they see you. Visibility is safety.

posted by daveliepmann at 11:12 PM on November 12, 2017

Seconding the DDR Museum and the Jewish Museum. We also went to the Holocaust Museum which was interesting.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 9:16 AM on November 15, 2017

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