At Berlin’s annual International Tourism Fair ITB hundreds of countries from around the world showcase their beaches, mountains and cities in an attempt to draw new travelers. But in our hearts, Berlin remains No. 1.
While Berliners scout out the latest paradise at the world's leading tourism fair, more and more vacationers, and above all else, fun-seekers are heading to the German capital. I'm probably not telling you any news here, no matter where you might live. You must have already heard of this deranged place with the best club scene in the world, with people who live in former bunkers and businessmen who replicate communist hotels, after having fought against the regime for decades.
You might as well be one of those who already ventured into the Berlin experience. With about 25 million overnight stays in 2013, Berlin remains the number three destination in Europe after London and Paris. Besides, Lonely Planet included it among the best-value destinations in Europe, taking into consideration its comparably cheap accommodation, food and of course, cocktails. And, may I add, the best-time-of-your-life destination whatsoever.
Living like a local
Berlin is not all about architectural rarities and breathtaking landscapes. Berlin is about seeing the unbelievable and doing the undoable. Should you spend some time in this city, I advise you to reserve two or three days for the must-see attractions, the classical touristy program. Go to the Brandenburg Gate, stroll along the Prussian boulevard Unter den Linden, visit the Berlin Cathedral (you'll have a remarkable view of the city from the top), see Museum Island and all these places you'd be embarrassed to admit you had missed.
Then, get ready for authentic Berlin, for living like a local. First of all, should you fancy such experiences, you might want to book one of these apartments people rent out on a daily or a weekly basis. There are several such online platforms, where you can find a cosy place, with homemade coffee and a washing machine, for a very reasonable amount of money. If you go for a home-exchange platform, you might even get it for free, provided you're willing to reciprocate back home.
If you are into underground culture, booking an alternative tour through the city is not a bad idea. With alternativeberlin.com you'll get to see artist squats in different districts, all kinds of run-down entertainment locations, abandoned sites and urban farms. The tours are tip-based, so you'll pay according to your satisfaction.
Let the summer begin
Speaking of run-down buildings, shabby chic rules in Berlin. In a city with never-ending reconstruction projects, the infrastructure is perfect for a fashion show in a former factory or for dinner in some forgotten warehouse. Don't miss, Pret-a-Diner, a pop-up restaurant you'll only find if you check their website. Because it pops up where and when you expect it less. But it always combines the shabbiest locations with Michelin star cooks and art exhibitions. An event that screams Berlin.
Eat like a local and get to know Berlin's neighborhoods with a walking food tour organised by Eat the World, a bunch of young people who will not only guide you through Berlin's culinary scene, but will also offer a behind-the-scenes look at the city.
From mid-May on, you can enjoy a good movie in one of the city's many open-air cinemas. Take a beer and a blanket (provided on-spot, as summer nights can sometimes be quite chilly in Berlin), take your dog along if you want, lie down a chaise longue and let the story begin. Freiluftkino Kreuzberg is a good choice, since they show all movies in original with German subtitles. The whole fun will cost you an unbelievable amount of 6,50 Euro per person.
Another thing to do on a summer evening is take a stroll on Museum Island. You'll discover something completely unexpected in the center of a metropolis - people dancing tango and waltz, almost in the middle of the street. Members of a dancing school are practicing there, but anyone who dares to compete with the professionals is welcome to join. Regardless of your talents, I can hardly think of a more peaceful evening than listening to that pleasantly low-toned tango Argentino and watching the dancers over a glass of white wine.
Home, sweet bunker
If you think you've seen it all, walk a few steps farther to Reinhardstrasse. You'll discover a former Nazi bunker, built by Hitler's chief architect, Albert Speer, currently converted by a Berliner into his home and private art gallery. Christian Boros purchased the bunker in 2003 and built his 2,000-square meter apartment on top of it. The bunker can be visited in groups of up to 12 people from Thursdays to Sundays and the entrance fee is 12 Euro per person. The gallery attracts thousands of people, so make sure to book your ticket for the Boros Collection online, at least three weeks in advance.
Or just be spontaneous and rent a bike for the same price (you'll find bike rentals at every corner) and ride wherever your inspiration takes you. Berlin is one of the greenest metropolises in Europe, so there'll be enough parks for you to get lost in. But don't blush if you encounter naked people having a picnic in the city's central park. While it might be a strange thing to do in other places, it's common for nudists here to chill out in Berlin's biggest green area, Tiergarten.
Once in Berlin, you should definitely try something that many locals haven't managed, namely go to Berghain, considered to be the best dance club in the world. The club's door policy is almost as famous as the place itself, and legend has it that not even Britney Spears made it into the huge industrial building. But it's still worth a try.
Don't miss a thing
Everything is worth a try in Berlin, where not a day passes by, without something spectacular happening. According to statistics, there are about 1,500 events taking place every day and it doesn't matter much if it's on a weekend or not. You might spontaneously find yourself in the middle of a fashion show organised in a church or dancing (like everyone around you) in a metro station. You can have a lazy afternoon in a cafe, hop between art galleries or swim in a pool built inside the river, at Badeschiff. There are more than 50 theaters and 5,000 restaurants to choose from. We Berliners like to say that with 175 museums, there are more museums in the city than rainy days.
I guarantee you won't get bored here. In the meantime, at the International Tourism Fair, we'll check out those other fabulous places we can escape to, on rainy days. The ITB runs from March 5- 9 in Berlin and it has turned into one of the city's favorite events. It's a mini-trip around the world, a preview of marvellous places one hasn't seen yet, which makes us leave our quirky metropolis once in a while. But we always come back.
The ITB might also be a good opportunity for you to scout for sandy beaches. But don't spend too much time at the venue dreaming of your next holiday. You'll miss something fabulous happening in a beach bar just around the corner.