Berlin is a pretty dreamy place in the summer. The sun rises around 4:45am and it doesn’t get dark until 10:30 or 11pm. This means you have all day to explore the city - seriously, time feels pretty endless right now. Eating on vacation can be pretty delicious and fun, but sometimes between meals you want to do something else and you’re not totally sure what that could be. Admittedly, one of my favorite activities while on vacation is to go where people do their grocery shopping, so some of these activities involve food, but the activity around it can easily be done solo while spending hours reading, or in good company with friends.
1. Grab a beer at the Späti and stroll along the Spree at sunset
Talk to any Berliner and this will be one of the first recommendations you get. Späti, short for Spätkauf, means buy late. Ultimately what this means is that these stores are open late and also open on Sundays (a rarity in Berlin). They can range from tiny tiny shops, to more robust shops with fresh veggies included. I’ve yet to find a Späti that didn’t have beer in it. Beers usually range from 1-4 euros so there’s something for all budgets. Too many options? Some of my go-to beers are Rothaus Pils and Berliner Kindl. The Culture Trip has some great suggestions. Not sure what part of the Spree you’d like to walk along? The part around Museum Island near the Hackescher Markt subway station is a great place to start.
2. Step inside the “perfect” German kitchen
One of my friends showed me this gem of a museum called Werkbundarchiv - Museum der Dinge. It’s full of everyday objects from Germany - from the classic DDR plastic objects to a full-size replica of an ideal kitchen. It’s like stepping into your grandparents home if your grandparents were German and were really quirky people…go and see for yourself. What’s particularly nice is the museum is quite small so you can just drop in, have a look, learn a little, and then continue on your day. Even if you can’t make it, their “Thing of the month” is an awesome way to explore objects from our everyday lives.
3. Eat some fish at a West Berlin fishmonger
Visit Rogacki to get a great fish and chips lunch with some history on the side. They opened their doors in the 1920s. All the way in the back there’s a more cafeteria-style area where you pick what you’d like and pay by weight - think of something between an IKEA and a salad bar. You can pick from different kinds of classic German salads and grab a big piece of deliciously fried fish. If you’re looking for a more refined experience, you can sit at one of the other stall’s counters and sip on a glass of Riesling while enjoying some oysters and house-smoked fish.
4. Have an impromptu BBQ at Tempelhof
I used to live just next door to the park so I must admit that I have a soft spot for Tempelhof. It’s an old airport which has been transformed into a magical park (no planes or cars allowed). The park has all kinds of activities from a circus school, to a community garden, to a Jugger team, to baseball diamonds and everything in between. There are several entrances to the park and a few designated areas for BBQ activites. Drop by a Decathlon and pick up a cheap water-resistant park blanket for a few euros and then head off to a supermarket to pick up some stuff to grill. Although not the most environmentally friendly option, in a pinch, supermarkets sell single-use grills (typically by the entrance or cash registers). Invite some friends or grab a book and enjoy the sun! Here’s a group of us on the 4th of July watching the fireworks.
5. Visit a former radio station from the GDR
Funkhaus is a former GDR radio broadcast center built in 1951 (East Berlin). Today it acts as a concert hall, event space, and recording studio. The space sits right on the edge of the Spree and has a wonderful pizza restaurant within the complex. Walking into Funkhaus feels like taking a step back in time. The studios and concert area are notorious for having exceptional acoustics and recording techniques that have been nearly impossible to find elsewhere. There are scheduled tours on Saturdays at 11am.
6. Swim in a lake
Berlin has seen some pretty hot days creep into the summer months. If you happen to be in the city during one of them, a great way to escape is to jump into the Weisensee lake. It’s a natural lake that has a beach where you pay a small entry, but it’s also possible to just creep in between the trees for a more rustic experience (although I think you’re then swimming at your own risk). It’s just a bit north from Mitte (the center of the city) and can be reached via bike or public transit quite easily. All you need is a towel, a bathing suit, and some sunscreen. If you forgot all these at home, Decathlon is always a quick and cheap place to pick up sporting goods.
7. Hear the philharmonic for free
City life can be hectic. The Berlin Philharmonic has a little treat for us every Tuesday at 1pm. They open their doors up to the public for the free Lunchkonzerte – Lunchtime Concerts. It’s a 40-50 minute program which features members of the Berlin Philharmonic, scholars from the Karajan Academy, instrumentalists from the Deutshes Symphonie-Orchester and Staatskapelle Berlin, and students from Berlin’s music conservatories. This building is also one of the strangest buildings I’ve been in. The myth is that the designs were so geometrically challenging, that in the middle of construction, they couldn’t figure out where in the plans they were and had to start over.
8. Visit the “City of Tomorrow” today
Admittedly, papa Feld tipped me off to this place. It is a proposal for what urban and residential planning could be during the 1950s in Berlin. Currently, Hansviertel is just like any other neighborhood in Berlin so you won’t find much to guide you as you walk through. I highly recommend reading this article from the New York Times before wandering in as it gives some great context to the site.
9. Experience an emerging artist space
ZK/U is a hard space to define. On the one hand, it’s a sculpture park, on the other, it’s a community center, on the other, it’s a space for socio-political discourse through events and art. They have many different exhibits, events, workshops, and fleamarkets. They have a small café where you can sit in the shade or in the park while enjoying a cold drink.
10. Learn about the refugee experience in Berlin
This tour, led by a Syrian refugee, gives you the chance to understand, first-hand, the situation in Syria and why it became too dangerous for many people to stay. By using places of historical significance in Berlin, the walking tour seeks to draw parallels between what has happened in the history of Berlin and what is currently happening in Syria.