48 Hours in Berlin
Learn how to spend two days in the capital city of Germany.
Berlin, the сapital city of Germany, is built around the River Spree. It’s a city we all know from the movie Cabaret, the Cold War days and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Berlin has undergone massive changes since those days, and has emerged as a very modern and thriving city. The new construction and the old architecture stand side by side – a beautiful representation of what we now know as Berlin. See how we explored some of Berlin’s most famous sites and sampled favorite local food in just 48 hours.
We stayed in the area of Mitte (formerly East Berlin) across the street from one of the most beautiful squares in Berlin, Gendarmenmarkt, at the Hilton. The rooms were spacious, clean and quite upscale for the price we paid. We realized the moment we checked in that we were in the right area of Mitte. The Gendarmenmarkt is one of Berlin’s most interesting squares and was first built in 1688. The architectural ensemble on the plaza includes the Konzerthaus (concert hall) and the French and German churches. Towards the second half of the 17th century, the Gendarmenmarkt square was built as a home to the Linden Markt. Today, it’s mostly known for its architectural beauty. The square is a wonderful place to sit back, relax and enjoy the beautiful architecture of Berlin.
One of our favorite things to do when visiting a new city is to check out their coffee scene. We found an interesting corner café located in Gendarmenmarkt called Einstein Kaffee.
The view from the café window and outside on the veranda creates the perfect setting for people watching and absorbing the beauty of Berlin with your fresh-brewed coffee in hand. We ordered cappuccinos, but they also have fresh-squeezed orange juice and whole beans that you can purchase, pack in your suitcase and take home.
When we travel we always make sure to indulge in fine chocolate, especially in Europe. We found a very decadent store close to Gendarmenmarkt called Rausch. The chocolates and pralines are carefully crafted and artistically designed. There’s a café upstairs that serves coffee, tea and, of course, hot chocolate. The café is also a great place to taste the handmade mini tortes, pralines and truffles made fresh daily.
Brandenburg Gate (pictured above) is an 18th-century neoclassical monument and one of Berlin’s most-visited attractions. The gate served as the main entrance to the city of Berlin during tumultuous times such as the Cold War and World War II, but now represents unity and peace within Berlin.
If you’re looking to stay at a hotel with fabulous views of the legendary Brandenburg Gate, consider Hotel Adlon Kempinski, located next door to the French and US Embassies. It offers luxury with a bird’s-eye view of one of Berlin’s most famous landmarks.
Checkpoint Charlie was the name given to the main border crossing for diplomats, journalists and non-German visitors to enter Soviet-controlled East Berlin from West Berlin during the Cold War days. Now, the space is a private museum. It’s small and a bit touristy, but it was very interesting to learn the history and see how people tried to escape through hot air balloons, escape cars, chair lifts and even a mini-submarine! The museum is open every day of the year from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Fernsehturm, Berlin’s television tower, is the tallest structure in Germany at 1,198 feet and can be seen from virtually every part of the city. Today, tourists can take an elevator from the base to the top of the tower to see the sites. The large sphere located at the top has a viewing platform that gives you a 360-degree view of Berlin. On a clear day, you may be able to see as far as 25 miles away from the platform. Be sure to check out the revolving restaurant called Telecafe. It takes about one hour to complete its rotation, allowing visitors to enjoy their meal while taking in a panoramic view of the city.
Lutter & Wegner is a Berliner institution with local cuisine and an excellent wine cellar. We were actually on our way to another restaurant when we spotted Lutter & Wegner on the corner across from Gendarmenmarkt. When we peeked in the window, we saw gorgeous silver candelabras gently flickering from every table in this cozy restaurant. The candles and atmosphere, coupled with the soft hint of laughter, drew us in. The restaurant is housed in the building that was once the home of E. T. A. Hoffmann, who wrote a novella called The Nutcracker and the Mouse King that inspired The Nutcracker ballet. And, it was here that the German name for sparkling wine (‘sekt’) was first coined.
A successful, long-running Berlin restaurant, Lutter & Wegner enjoys a special place in local cultural history, featuring German cuisine with an Austrian accent. In more recent times, the restaurant has found fame with its award-winning sauerbraten, a traditional dish of beef marinated in vinegar. The wiener schnitzel is an excellent choice and local favorite, as well. Those serious about their food should opt for the restaurant, while the less expensive menu in the bistro next door is excellent for something quick and easy.
After eating breakfast at the hotel, we started our day at The Berlin Zoological Garden, the oldest and best-known zoo in Germany. Opened in 1844, it covers 86.5 acres and is located in Berlin's Tiergarten. With about 1,380 different species and more than 20,200 animals, the zoo presents one of the most comprehensive collections of species in the world.
We were told that we must try the currywurst in Berlin from a few locals we met along the way, so we ate lunch at Curry 36, located at the Bahnhof Zoo stop. We ordered the currywurst with fries. The dish is basically sausage with ketchup, but it tasted great. We even met a few Berliners at the stand-up tables, and enjoyed talking with them and practicing our German. Curry 36 is a great option for late-night too. It’s good food at cheap prices, and you can even order a German beer to enjoy with your currywurst.
The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is a Protestant church built in the 1890s. It was badly damaged in a bombing raid in 1943 and completely destroyed in air raids in April 1945. The new church was created the late 1950s and early 1960s, while the damaged spire from the old church serves as a war memorial and is nicknamed by Berliners as “der hohle Zahn,” meaning hollow tooth. It's open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays 12 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Berlin offers a multitude of international styles of food, from Indian, Asian and Turkіѕh to the more traditional Bavarian styles. We opted for Vietnamese dining at Monsieur Vuong, located on an interesting street with great shops to pop into while shopping in Mitte. The laid-back restaurant features orange walls, open banquet seating and daily chalkboard specials. We ordered the beef pho, a fragrant noodle soup and spring rolls, paired with a sparkling white wine. It was one of the best meals we had in Berlin. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so come later in the afternoon or early evening to avoid long lines. We had dinner around 8:30 p.m. and were seated right away.
Visiting the Pan Am Lounge is like walking back in time right into an Austin Powers movie. This 1960s-inspired hot spot is located on the 10th-floor penthouse of The Eden Haus overlooking the Berlin Zoological Gardens. The lounge once served as a private gathering spot for flight attendants and pilots who worked for Pan Am Airways. It’s super groovy and will make you feel like you have just been upgraded to Pan Am’s business class from the 1960s.
Berlin is a huge city and public transportation is very important. Once you buy a ticket, you’ll have access to all public transport in Berlin, including the S-Bahn, U-Bahn, buses, trams and ferries. The fare depends on the tariff zone and the ticket’s period of validity. Many visitors chose the Berlin Welcome Card, which also offers discounts on countless tourist attractions. Tip: Be sure you have your ticket with you at all times; Berlin has random ticket checks on the train and relies mainly on the honor system of its riders. If you get checked without a ticket it can cost you up to 60 Euros in fines. So, do the right thing and buy your tickets in advance.