After 2 French women's'take on Toulouse a week ago with Lunch at Au Nez Rouge, Visit to Black Virgin of La Daurade, an ex-Londoner gives us his take on Berlin after 2 years spent in the city. We only spent a few hours in the German capital last Wednesday morning between flights from New York and to Toulouse.
10 Berlin do's and dont's with @unionberlinman
Mark Wilson came to Berlin with his girlfriend for a weekend and 6 months later he had quit his job in London and realised his dream of leaving Glastonbury festival in a camper van and not going back to a 9-5 job. He's been in Berlin 2 years and blogs about the local cult football team, 1. FC Union Berlin, works as a political consultant and runs a networking event for the Berlin tech startup community called Uberthirst.
1. Do take a tour that looks at an alternative side to Berlin. Check out Gidsy and you'll find an activity to suit your taste whether it be taking a 60 minutes sightseeing flight over the city, discovering Berlin’s hidden secrets to hunting for antiques.
2. Do check out Maybachufer market on a Tuesday or Friday. There are numerous food stalls and it's always a laid back atmosphere in the summer with musicians and locals hanging out at the end of the market overlooking the canal. Try a Gözleme – Turkish pastry filled with spinach and cheese.
3. Make sure you go to Mauerpark on a Sunday and check out the flea market. Karaoke is the main attraction though and is situated just outside the flea market in an old amphitheatre. Arrive about 5pm, get yourself a cold beer and a seat and watch until it finishes at around 7pm. The mad and crazy of Berlin congregate here and you may see 'Bubble Man' blowing his bubbles or a woman trying to streak ushered off the stage by the police - and that's just my last two visits.
4. If you like your history and you like your monuments big then take the time to head out east to Treptow Park and check out the Soviet War Memorial. It's well worth the trek and seems to always be devoid of huge swathes of tourists.
5. Do Google 'Berlin blogs' and check out the Slow Travel Berlin guide to the top 25 and see what takes your fancy. If you want a hip website to check out then look no further than Mogli Oak Berlin for insider tips. You could end up part of a Berlin flashmob running amok in Ostbahnhof Station or at one of the more off-the-beaten-track clubs Berlin has to offer.
6. Berlin has a number of beach bars. Yaam is probably my favourite. The relaxed atmosphere, strong cocktails and river side views make for an excellent summer's evening. If you don't want to pay the €3 entrance fee then just along from Yaam is Oststrand. It's touristy, but if you get a deck chair over-looking the river Spree, you hardly notice the crowds and the chilled out music creates a nice vibe.
7. Do get involved in Späti drinking culture. This is essentially getting a group of mates together and drinking outside a ‘late’ shop that sells alcohol. Berliners love a späti party and if you stumble upon one - GET INVOLVED. You can go to as many bars and clubs as you like but until you have whiled away a Berlin evening outside a Spätkauf then you have not sampled the real Berlin life.
8. The drink of choice on a Sunday morning, which will help keep you awake, is Club Mate and vodka. Club Mate is served in 330ml or 500ml glass bottles. You'll be asked to take a swig (make it a big one) and you'll be rewarded with the bottle being topped up with vodka. The caffeine content is impressive so an ideal 'mate' on a big night out.
9. Do try and come to Berlin in May. To counter the Mayday riots you now have Maifest - a great day out full of drinking, music and great Turkish food. The last weekend in May sees the Kreuzberg district play host to The Carnival of Cultures. A weekend celebrating the diversity of the city. The pinnacle of the weekend is the Sunday parade. It finishes around 10pm and numerous after parties ensure you’ll still be dancing on Monday morning.
10. Attend an FC Union Berlin match. Union are in the German second tier and you can still stand on the terraces – unlike at neighbours Hertha Berlin where it is all seated. Union have cult status and are an association with a proud history whose fans stood up against the Stassi. The atmosphere at Union is revered throughout footballing circles. Check out my blog I'm an FC Union Berlin Man for more info.
1. Don't worry about not speaking any German. You can live here for years, try and learn the language and most Germans will insist on speaking English to you - even if you are not English as an Estonian friend of mine testified. Bonkers.
2. Don't go to Berghain. There. I've said it. The unmentionable. Yes, it's a cool venue and yes of course it's worth checking out, but Berlin has so many more weird and wonderful clubs. Seek and you shall find. My favourite club is Sisyphos - the club, situated in an abandoned dog biscuit factory - has to be seen to be believed. Arrive about 5am when it starts to get going. It's often open all weekend until Sunday night.
3. Don't leave without trying a Dönner Kebab. Bagdad in Kreuzberg is one of the best and close to all the action in terms of clubs and bars in Schlesisches Tor.
4. Live in the city and don't work for a while. It almost feels the norm when you meet so many like-minded souls doing the same and enjoying the laid back Berlin life style.
5. Don't listen to people about how cold the winter is. Yes it's a tad cold but you're still in Berlin. Wrap up warm, sup some glühwein and seek out a cosy Kneipe.
6. Never go out hungry. The service is Berlin is exceptionally slow. Enjoy it, soak up the atmosphere and have a drink while you wait.
7. Don't have a currywurst - they usually consist of a low quality sausage and ketchup with a sprinkling of curry powder. If you are a fan though you should check out the Currywurst Museum.
8. Don't be surprised if you see a protest. Berliners are always protesting - often about the raising rents.
9. Don't put your glass bottles in the bin, especially during the summer. They are worth a few cents and someone will be collecting them to make an extra few euros.
10. In the words of Basil Fawlty, "Don't mention the war!"
Danke Schon, Mark!