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Hidden gems of Germany: Rügen Island

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In my new series on hidden gems in Germany I am highlighting some of the destinations that most visitors don’t include in their itineraries, even though they are remarkable places of great beauty. They are all places I recommend people visit on a trip through Germany – so if you are planning to travel in my home country, I suggest including these places, which are all easy to get to on public transportation and can be combined with other famous tourist destinations in Germany.

Read on to find out more about my first recommendation: Rügen Island.

I am pretty sure that most of you have never heard of this little island, located in the Baltic Sea on Germany’s northern coast, connected to the mainland with a bridge. So why don’t we let the island introduce itself in a little video?

Rügen Island beauty was made immortal in 1818, when painter Caspar David Friedrich painted the island’s magnificent white chalk cliffs and spread the word (or, to be precise: picture). In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Rügen used to be a popular vacation spot with Germany’s writers, artists, politicians and industrial tycoons, and much of the grand splendor of that time can still be seen in the pompous seaside resorts that still exist from that era, such as as the palatial Kurhaus near Binz which dates back to 1908.

Seebruecke in Sellin on Ruegen Island

With the division of Germany into East and West Germany after World War II, Rügen belonged to the GDR for 40 years and was barely visited by anyone who wasn’t living in East Germany. The upkeep of its grand historical buildings was pretty much neglected during that time, due to the lack of funding for such things. It remained a popular vacation destination during that time though – in fact, it was among the absolute favorite vacation spots along the Baltic Sea coast which belonged almost entirely to East Germany.

Rocks at the surf, Baltic Sea (Rügen, Germany)

After Germany was reunited in 1989, the island became increasingly popular with visitors from former West Germany and beyond. During the past 25 years since the fall of the wall, a lot of effort has been put into preserving, rebuilding and renovating those areas and buildings that had been neglected by the GDR regime. The eastern parts of Germany, which still don’t receive as many visitors as the well-trotten paths of former West Germany, now have some of the best hidden gems in the whole country to offer – places like the Mecklenburg Lake District, Dresden with the Elbe Sandstone Mountains and Saxon Switzerland National Park, Weimar with its Bauhaus architecture, the hanseatic city of Rostock or the stunning Spree Forest near Berlin. Have a look at these videos for some more inspiration on places in Germany that are worth a visit. The country is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the reunification with a big #germany25reunified campaign this year, highlighting regions and cities that have been remarkably reconstructed since 1989 and are not as well known outside of Germany – Rügen Island being one of them.

eiland Rügen - island Rügen - (2)

In addition to serene white-sand beaches, the island is home to Jasmund National Park which makes for great day hikes and was even declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, thanks to its outstanding natural beauty. The National Park includes the massive 120 meters/390 feet steep and truly breathtaking King’s Chair White Cliffs – a place you can’t miss on a visit to the island. The 45 meter/148 feet high Cape Arkona marks the northernmost part of former East Germany and features two lighthouses, and makes for a splendid hiking destination.

Rügen

Another must is the beach promenade of Binz, a gorgeous seaside town, best explored on a long walk or bike ride. Putbus is the oldest holiday resort on the island, these days an impeccable little village, beautifully restored and lined with white villas that give the town its nickname ‘White City’. Beyond Putbus on the far south eastern coast of the island is the Jagdschloss Granitz, a hunting lodge that looks more like a fairytale castle and offers splendid views over the Baltic Sea shore from its tower. You can walk the 12.5 kilometers from Putbus to the Jagdschloss – it takes about 2.5 hours to get there on foot. If you prefer cycling, there are around 200km of cycling paths on the island, and pedaling across the island is a great way to explore Rügen. There are bike rental places in all of the bigger towns and hostels.

Jagdschloss Granitz bei Binz auf Rügen (01)

If you don’t feel all that active, jump on the Rushing Roland (Rasender Roland), a rustic narrow-gauge steam train that runs from Göhren to Lauterbach Mole, a 24km ride that passes lush forests, poppy seed fields and deserted beaches.

Rügen - Rasender Roland / Rushing Roland

A visit to Rügen is not complete without a visit to one of its gorgeous beaches. A particularly picturesque beach with the typical German canopied sunchairs (Strandkörbe) can be found north of the town of Göhren, so if you decide to hop on the train, you can combine the ride with a beach visit before or afterwards.

Strandkörbe

Image credit: (1) Seebruecke in Sellin by Werner Kunz, (2) Rocks at the surf, Baltic Sea (Rügen, Germany) by Merton Wilton, (3) Rügen by Dietmut Teijgeman-Hansen, (4) Rügen by Pixel-World, (5) Jagdschloss Granitz bei Binz auf Rügen by Pixelteufel, (6) Rügen – Rasender Roland / Rushing Roland by Dietmut Teijgeman-Hansen, (7) Strandkörbe by freeskier
All images used under the Creative Commons License.
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Polaroid of the week: A German breakfast in Berlin

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week germany berlin breakfastMy last few days in Germany were, as usual, pretty hectic – from Munich I went to visit some friends and family in my hometown and in Leipzig, unpacked the summer clothes from my Israel trip and repacked my bag for a slightly colder destination.

My last stop on this rushed visit to Germany was Berlin, where I reunited with Rikka before I left Europe once again (my surprise trip did happen after all – stay tuned to find out where I am!). After our Oktoberfest shenanigans, it was time for her to see our beautiful capital and even though my time was limited, I managed to introduce her some of the best things Berlin has to offer: Street art in Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, my favorite neighborhood Neukölln with a glorious sunset at Tempelhof Airfield, and a delicious dinner at Mustafa’s, where my favorite food in Berlin, a veggie kebap, sets you back at a whopping 2.80 ($3.57). The best and cheapest dinner in Berlin in my opinion, but you’ll have to put up with standing in line for it for about half an hour. The word about this little food stand is definitely out.

Knowing that I won’t be able to have a German breakfast again for a few months, I took advantage of the fact that we were staying a one-minute walk from one of the best breakfast places in the city, Morgenland, before I made my way to the airport. Another much too short visit to the capital, but another ‘See you soon, Berlin!’.

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A Beerlicious Weekend at Oktoberfest in Munich

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A festival dedicated to beer? That’s something I can get behind! Even though I am not the biggest fan of Munich, when it’s Oktoberfest time, I can’t get to Munich fast enough.dani with beer oktoberfestOktoberfest has always been my favorite German festival, and when I still lived in Germany I went to Munich almost every year to celebrate Bavarian beer culture.oktoberfest hearts munichHowever, I’ve only made it there a couple of times since I left Germany in 2006, and my last visit was half a decade ago, which is why I was stoked to find out that my friend Rikka, who recently started her own round-the-world-trip (and blogs about it on Deviatingthenorm.com) would be in Munich during Oktoberfest.

We had made plans to meet up in Germany anyway, and I knew that there was no way that she could leave Munich without experiencing the world’s largest beer fest. So I altered my travel plans and planned to fly straight into Munich from Israel for a couple of days of Oktoberfest fun.oktoberfest with rikkaWe even managed to get a couple of dirndls to celebrate in traditional Oktoberfest-style – definitely a first for both of us!!
Oktoberfest fun 2014Most of the non-Germans I meet assume that Oktoberfest is only an assembly of beer tents in which people consume beer after beer (and admittedly, there are quite a few people for whom Oktoberfest is exactly that), but the festival is so much more than that. First and foremost, it is a big funfair with loads of amusement rides, haunted houses, and other attractions that you would typically find at county fairs in the US.
oktoberfest slideThe most common misconception of Oktoberfest is that is held in October, when it actually takes place in September. It usually ends on the first weekend in October, but the big chunk of it takes place during the last two weeks of September. oktoberfest ridesThe other common misconception is that Oktoberfest is just for tourists, and while it attracts tourists from all over the world, locals also go to Oktoberfest. Most of my Munich friends visit the Wiesn, as the locals call it, at least once – and they all wear the appropriate attire, dirndl or lederhosn!oktoberfest dressesOktoberfest started as a big celebration in 1810 when King Ludwig I married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on 12 October, and the citizens of Munich were invited to join the festivities surrounding the wedding. It was held in the same location it is in today: the Theresienwiese. The location of the festival is what gives it its nickname ‘Wiesn’.oktoberfest 2014 rides and crowdsThe next year, the celebrations were repeated, horse races were added, and after running the festival for a few years it was decided that this would be an annual event.
oktoberfest horsesOktoberfest would have been celebrated for the 214th time this year, but it had to be cancelled several times due to war and cholera epidemics, which is why it is only at the 181st festival.oktoberfest crowds munichI am not sure when the beer tents were added to the festivities, but nowadays, there are fourteen massive tents on the grounds, each of which belongs to one of the famous Munich breweries. There are the super famous ones like Augustiner, Hofbräu, Paulaner and Löwenbräu, and some of the bigger tents hold 10,000 people (see below for more information on the tents and how to reserve a table in one of them). Only beers from Munich-based breweries are served at the festival.Oktoberfest Brewery towersAnd when I say tent, don’t take it too literally – they are proper constructions and their setup begins in early summer, around three months before Oktoberfest starts.oktoberfest braeurosl tent6.5 million liters of beer (or 13.736.947 pints!) are consumed in only 16 days. That might sound like a crazy number, but considering that 6.3 million people visit the beer festival and that beers are served in 1 liter steins, this number no longer seems so outrageous. That’s just a little over one stein per person, and I definitely contributed to this number (maybe even above the average, ahem).dani with empty glassesAnother big part of the event is the food! Half a million roast chickens are consumed every year, plus hundreds of thousands of grilled ham hocks, sausages (especially the Bavarian white sausages called weisswurst) steckerlfisch (fish grilled on a stick), piglings and other meat dishes – Oktoberfest is a meat lover’s heaven. There is an even entire tent dedicated to grilled oxen. 2013 was the first year that some tents offered entirely vegan options on their menu, and this year, every tent offered one vegan dish.oktoberfest spanferkelFor me as a vegetarian, Oktoberfest is where I get my Käsespätzle fix, and I am a sucker for the sweet treats: gingerbread hearts, sugar roasted almonds, chocolate covered fruits on sticks… I try to stuff my belly with as many of them as possible.oktoberfest kaesespaetzleAnother favorite of mine: Lángos, a Hungarian fried dough specialty. Similar to a donut (but not sweet), the dough is fried in hot oil and then topped with several toppings. Traditionally that means a spicy red chili and garlic sauce and cheese, but nowadays you also get Lángos with an Italian twist, topped with tomato and mozzarella for example.oktoberfest langosThe first day I spent at the festival this year was the perfect day to walk the grounds: sunshine, blue skies and warm weather. That’s not the norm for Oktoberfest – I have been several times when it was pouring down.oktoberfest old-fashioned carouselAfter grabbing some hot and tasty sugar-roasted almonds, we made our way straight to the Olympic Rings roller coaster that had caught Rikka’s attention. It took us an hour to cross the Theresienwiese to get from the entrance to that roller coaster, to give you an idea of how big the festival grounds are. The actual size of the grounds is 42 hectares, that’s 420,000 square meters, or the size of 20 football fields.oktoberfest olympic roller coasterFor some reason I thought it might be fun to go on that roller coaster, but once the car started moving I realized that it was not a good idea at all. Let’s just say that I’d rather not share the photos of my facial expression before the ride, and the pictures from after the ride I would definitely not want anyone to see. I was terrified and my tummy turned and twisted with every loop. Luckily we hadn’t had any beer before the ride.oktoberfest olympic rings roller coasterFrom there, we headed to the old-fashioned Ferris Wheel which has been an Oktoberfest institution for decades and is the best way to get an overview of the entire fun fair and all fourteen tents.oktoberfest ferris wheel munichI love the old-fashioned cars of the Ferris Wheel (and I felt much more comfortable just going round and round at a leisurely pace, instead of being turned upside down at an insane speed!)
oktoberfest ferris wheelLooking down from the Ferris wheel, we also noticed that we were not the only ones who had the idea to take advantage of the brilliant weather and to enjoy Oktoberfest. The Theresienwiese was PACKED:oktoberfest crowds and tentsOn our second day at the festival, we didn’t spend much time outside but went straight to the tent for which we had reservations. Having a reservation for a table is A HUGE DEAL. It is almost impossible for individuals to reserve a table, most reservations are made through companies, at least six months in advance.oktoberfest tent munich 2014We were lucky enough to get two tickets from two girls who had dropped out of the reservation made by my friend’s friend, otherwise we wouldn’t have had the slightest chance to get into a tent on the closing day of Oktoberfest.oktoberfest tent munichThanks to the reservation though, we got the full Wiesn experience: dancing on the benches, singing along to German schlager and pop music, and of course enjoying some Oktoberfest beer.oktoberfest fun munichThe beer at Oktoberfest is served in a Maß, which is a one liter stein (2.2 pints). You can’t get a smaller beer than that. Adding to that the fact that Oktoberfest beer is stronger than normal beer, with 6 – 7 % alcohol, you can imagine how crazy things get after a while.
oktoberfest beersForeign visitors in particular are usually not used to beer that strong and steins that big and only realize how drunk they are when they get up from their bench.
oktoberfest tentI have to admit that I had my fair share of drunken escapades at Oktoberfest as well, but let’s not get into those. Let’s just say that this year, I survived Oktoberfest without any incidents 😉oktoberfest ride at nightEach tent has a live band that sings a mix of cover songs ranging from international classics like Tina Turner or Rod Steward to German pop singers like Helene Fischer.
oktoberfest bandFrom time to time, you see this happen:

Somebody, usually a guy, climbs on top of a table, cheered on by the applause of his mates, and downs a liter of beer in less than thirty seconds. When leaving the grounds, you’ll see drunk people sleeping on the sidewalks, and sometimes also in the middle of the street – my guess is that those are the same guys that drink the beer in one go!oktoberfest tent in munichThat’s not the only crazy thing you’ll see: the higher the level of alcohol, the crazier people get. There are these guys with the slingshots for example, who offer to shoot chili powder up people’s noses – for money, of course. What might seem a good idea initially, is regretted by most once its done.oktoberfest chili powderI had a blast without any chili or other dubious powders, and this will definitely not be my last Oktoberfest – and now that I have a dirndl, I will have to make sure that it gets used a lot 😉

dani rotzleffe
Rikka couldn’t have chosen a more fitting gingerbread heart for me – it says Rotzleffe, Bavarian for Snotty Brat 😉

My Recommendations for Visiting Oktoberfest:

If you’re planning to visit Oktoberfest, book your accommodation early – in May at the very latest! Hostels and hotels fill up quickly, and prices go up like crazy. The earlier you book, the less you’ll pay (and the more likely you are to get a room in the first place). oktoberfest ride munichDon’t expect to couchsurf during Oktoberfest. Almost nobody is willing to put up with drunk Oktoberfest visitors. The earlier you book your accommodation, the better. I usually use Booking.com to find the best rates for hostels and hotels.

Airfares to Munich go up during Oktoberfest as well. Consider flying to nearby airports such as Salzburg, Frankfurt or Stuttgart. You can get to Munich from these airports in 2 to 3 hours on the train and if booked in advance, train tickets are 29 Euros. Buses take a bit longer, but can be booked for as little as 10 Euros (sometimes even less). Check GoEuro.com to see the cheapest option for your trip – this website compares trains, planes and buses within Europe and gives you the cheapest and fastest ways to get there.Oktoberfest MunichEven though Couchsurfing is not an option during the festival, you should check out Munich Couchsurfing events, groups and forums – there are always meet-ups at Oktoberfest, with people arriving in the morning to hold a table for Couchsurfers. That way, you know you’ll be enjoying a few beers with like-minded travelers.

When you get into one of the tents, just ask people if you can join their table. One of the best things about Oktoberfest is the people you get to meet!oktoberfest dancing girlsGet to the festival grounds early – ideally 10am, if you are looking to get a seat in one of the tents. On weekdays you’re much more likely to get a seat than on weekends.

If you see a sign at the tent of your choice that looks like this:wegen ueberfuellung geschlossenDon’t even bother waiting there. That means the tent is already closed due to overcrowding. I’ve seen quite a few foreigners waiting in front of those overcrowded tents because they didn’t know what was going on, but as soon as this sign is hung, the doors won’t open again.

If you are looking to reserve a table, you’ll have to do that about six months in advance. You’ll have to reserve for 10 people, even if your group is smaller. Each reservation includes two beer vouchers and two food vouchers, adding up to about 40 Euros per person, which means you’ll pay about 400 Euros for the table reservation (but you’ll get the food and beer vouchers in return which is a good deal – so the reservation itself is basically free). Find out more about how to reserve a table at Oktoberfest here.oktoberfest tent2Check out several tents while you’re there. They all have different decor, cater to a different clientele and have a different atmosphere. Some of my favorite tents are the Hacker Tent, the Bräurosl and the Schottenhamel. You can find a full listing of all 14 tents with a short description of each one here.oktoberfest tent and crowdsExpect to pay around 10 Euros for one Maß. That might seem a lot, but I paid US$16 for a Maß in a German beer hall in New York. In addition to the beer, you’ll have to tip the waitress 1 Euro each time you order a beer.oktoberfest beer glassesThere is no entrance fee to get on the grounds. Admission to the rides range from 6 to 9 Euros, and snack foods start at 3 Euros. A full meal in one of the tents will set you back around 15 – 20 Euros.

Don’t try to get anywhere near the festival grounds with a car – take public transportation instead. My advice would be to find a Park & Ride parking lot on the outskirts of Munich and take the S-Bahn train into the city. You can walk to Theresienwisese from Hauptbahnhof (Central Station) and Hackerbruecke S-Bahn station.oktoberfest fun with rikkaLGBT Travelers: The second Sunday of Oktoberfest is Gay Sunday, celebrated in the Bräurosl Tent. Gaywelcome.com has the exact dates and detailed information. The second Monday of Oktoberfest is known as Prosecco Monday at the Fischer-Vroni Tent.oktoberfest beer glasses munich

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Polaroid of the week: Oktoberfest Fun in Munich, Germany

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polaroid of the week germany munich oktoberfestUpon returning to Germany, I went straight to Oktoberfest in Munich – my first Oktoberfest in five years (which you might already know if you’ve read my last travel update). I am a big fan of Oktoberfest and this was my seventh time at the beer festival, and I was excited to introduce a friend from New York to Bavarian beer culture – basically massive steins of strong wheat beers, best enjoyed with a pretzel on the side – and to meet up with one of my closest friends from high school who invited us to join her and some of her girlfriends at a table they had reserved. If you’re not familiar with the festival: snatching a table reservation is almost like winning the lottery, which is why we decided to celebrate in style and to dress up in the traditional gear that you can see everywhere throughout Munich during Oktoberfest: lederhosn for the guys and dirndl dresses for the girls.

Most people think that Oktoberfest is just one big celebration of beer, consisting of beer tents, but it is in fact a big funfair with amusement rides and food stalls – the biggest of its kind in the world. The festival attracts over 6 million people in the span of only 16 days, and around 1 liter per person are consumed – that’s over 6 million liters of beer in just over two weeks! I spent two days at Oktoberfest this year – one to enjoy the rides and take in the atmosphere on the massive 42-hectare grounds, and one to celebrate inside one of the beer tents (which hold up to 10,000 people!), singing and dancing to German oompah music. I had so much fun at the festival – going to Munich to celebrate Oktoberfest was one of the best travel decisions I’ve made this year! Next week, I will share more photos of Oktoberfest (including the crazy roller coaster I went on) and some tips for visiting the festival.

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Four unusual places in Munich that you should include in your itinerary

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Munich is one of the most popular cities for travelers who are on a European vacation and visit Germany – almost everyone who I talk to tells me that Munich is on their itinerary. I can’t blame them, the city is popular for a reason: beautiful architecture, world-class museums, the well-known Bavarian beer culture, and the proximity to some of Germany’s most spectacular scenery: the mountains of the Alps, stunning lakes such as Lake Starnberg, Chiemsee or Lake Wolfgang.

Lake Starnberg dock
Lake Starnberg

While the traditional must-see spots in Munich, such as Viktualien Market, the New Town Hall, St Peter’s Church, English Garden, Hofbräuhaus, the Cathedral Church of our Lady and Nymphenburg Castle, to name just a few, shouldn’t be missed on a trip to Bavaria’s capital, there are a few quirkier and lesser known spots that are well a visit and show you a different side of Munich, each in its own way.

English garden in Munich1
English Garden

If you are planning a trip to Munich and are still looking for a place to stay, Booking.com for example has a comprehensive listing of hotels at very competitive prices.

Here are my suggestions for some more unusual places to check out while you’re in Munich – all personally chosen by me:

The Potato Museum

Potatoes are one of Germany’s main stables, so it only makes sense to honor the ubiquitous potato with an entire museum. Quite different from an ordinary museum, teaches you everything you ever needed to know about this delicious crop. Here you find potato art (yes, that’s a thing!), details on the different kinds of potatoes and other potato trivia that will come in handy at your next dinner party. The best thing about this museum? It’s free, and it’s usually fairly empty!

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Kartoffelmuseum by Mathew F on Flickr.com

Location: Grafinger Strasse 2, 81671 Munich

Note: The museum is only open on Fridays 9am – 6pm and Saturdays 11am – 5pm but guided tours on other days can be arranged upon request.

Surfers in English Garden

You will visit the English Garden (Englischer Garten) anyway (did you know it is larger than New York’s Central Park?), so why not head to the Eisbach while you’re there, the birthplace of river surfing. The crazy waves make a certain spot of the little river an attractive river surfing spot, and you’ll see quite a few daredevils surfing in an extremely narrow stream filled with rocks – a heartstopping experience! Munich actually attracts surfers from all around the globe with the Eisbach, including world-famous competition winners! People surf here year round, but the best time to visit is during the summer months. Afterwards, cool down with a cold Hefeweizen at the gorgeous Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower) beer garden, which is the second biggest beer garden in the city with 7,000 (!) seats.

Location: English Garden, just beyond the Himmelreich Bridge (behind the Haus der Kunst art museum)

Surfin' Munich
Surfin’ Munich by Spanaut on Flickr.com

The Michael Jackson Memorial

This is definitely Munich’s quirkiest sight – a memorial dedicated to the King Of Pop. The memorial was set up after Michael Jackson died in 2009 when fans rushed to the Bayrischer Hof hotel where he usually stayed when he was in town, lit candles and left little messages. The fans put all their notes, photos and poems on the base of the statue of composer Orlande de Lassus that just so happens to sit opposite the hotel. The memorial has been maintained by loving fans ever since. Nobody expected this to happen, but it has become a must-see attraction not only for devoted Michael fans who pass through Munich, but also other tourists who admire the dedication and care his fans put into keeping his spirit alive.

Location: Promenadeplatz, 80333 Munich

Michael Jackson Memorial
Michael Jackson Memorial by Adam Lederer on Flickr.com

Westpark

The Westpark in the southwest of the city was created for the International Garden Show in 1983 and is one of the most beautiful green spaces in Munich. The park is home to a large Asian section, complete with a Japanese and a Chinese Garden, a Thai Sala and a pagoda that was constructed by 200 Nepalese craftsmen that were flown in specifically for this project. Other spots worth visiting are the lake with the amphitheater and the rose garden. During the summer months, movies are shown on a large outdoor screen and concerts are held here regularly. Pack a picnic and spend a warm summer afternoon here!

Location: Pressburger Strasse 35, 81377 Munich

Thai-Salah
Thai Salah by Michael on Flickr.com
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Polaroid of the week: Sunset over Tempelhof Airfield, Berlin

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week germany berlin tempelhof sunsetFirst of all I’d like everyone who left a comment on my last post, who emailed me, sent me a message on Facebook or another social media channel to know that I was deeply moved by all the support I received after writing the hardest piece I ever had to write (and never thought I would have to!). Thank you so much for all the encouraging words, support and giving me hope by sharing your own stories of how you overcame horrible break-ups. You all helped me tremendously!

Before catching my flight to New York last week, I was able to spend a couple of days in Berlin again and as usual, I loved every minute of it. There are only very few places in the world where, when I arrive, I feel immediately at home, but Berlin is definitely one of them. Even though my visit was way too short, I managed to explore some new places (who knew that Berlin had an open air gas lantern museum?!), splurge on a divine 3-course meal at the fabulous VOX Restaurant at Potsdamer Platz and catch up with good friends. Of course no visit to Berlin would be complete without at least a short visit to Tempelhof, the airport-turned-park that is among my favorite green spaces in the world. I am already looking forward to returning this summer for some sunset picnics, running sessions and maybe I’ll even overcome my fear and give kite land-boarding a try!

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Polaroid of the week: Picturesque Erfurt, Germany

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polaroid of the week germany erfurtEven though visitors usually fall in love with my hometown, I was never a big fan of Erfurt, the city I grew up in. Sure, the town is pretty, with a magnificent cathedral, lots of historic churches and buildings that date back to medieval times and the famous Krämerbrücke, a bridge covered with inhabited half-timbered houses unique in northern Europe (and one of only three such bridges in the world) but growing up there made all these things seem rather normal and not special anymore. I also have to admit that I am just not a small town girl (even though others might not see 200,000 people as particularly small) and need a grittier environment than a picture-perfect city, which is why I never considered actually living here. After a month in Berlin and my quick getaway in Malta, I came here to visit family and friends before leaving Germany again, but hadn’t even gotten my camera out once since my arrival.

Having an out-of-town visitor in Erfurt last week finally gave me an excuse to do some ‘backyard touristing’ and the chance to explore my hometown through the eyes of a stranger and I re-discovered what a beautiful place it actually is. The sunny and warm spring weather added to the charming atmosphere and I found myself wishing I had more time to tour the city before I leave again in a couple of days. I still couldn’t picture myself living here, but I’d proudly show you around my town any time 🙂

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Goodbye 2013: Our year of travel in pictures

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I remember leaving for the airport in London like it was yesterday. Dani kept looking at me with my big, funny backpack, and I at hers (and the extra bag she had filled with magazines she just had to finish before we left the U.S.) as we walked to catch the bus to the airport. We were filled with exhilaration that we were actually free – like high school seniors on the last day of school.

2010 brought us from Europe, through the US and Mexico to Central America, it was an unforgettable 2011 through Central America, Europe, Canada, the US and then Thailand. In 2012 we spent time in South East Asia, India and finally to South America.

Now here we are, this is the FOURTH time that we’re looking back at our year of travel. 2013 was as much a year of city-hopping as it was spent in some of the least populated areas of natural beauty on Earth. Our travel style was mostly on four wheels overland and technically slow, visiting only seven countries, but we covered a huge portion of this planet this year across Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, the US, Germany, Bolivia and Peru.

Follow along as we look back at what we are still able pack in, nearly four years after setting off on this nomadic adventure. Click through on the dozens of links to read in more detail about each of these stops along the way.

The year began in Santiago, where we housesat for two months. We still think often about our two adorable Scottie dogs there.

1 january santiago de chileWe were practically becoming locals, so we had to rip ourselves away at the start of February to start our travels through Chile. We began in Valparaiso, and fell in love with this colorful city on the Pacific.

colorful houses in valparaisoFrom there we headed to the Lake District and the island of Chiloe, before returning to the Argentine side of the Andes to explore Bariloche and Nahuel Huapi National Park with its famous black glacier. Then it was time to hit Patagonia.

2 bariloche cathedralAfter that infamously long 27 hour bus ride, we landed in El Chalten, where Dani set off on some solo hikes, and continued to El Calafate, where we visited the impressive Perito Moreno Glacier.

2 argentina perito moreno glacierThen it was back over the border to Chile to see Torres Del Paine. We opted for a full day tour of the National Park, and it became one of our favorite places in all of Patagonia.

3 chile torres del paineAfter a few days in Puerto Natales, the base town for Torres del Paine, we continued our journey south and traveled to Tierra Del Fuego via the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas before finally reaching Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, after hitchhiking from Chile back into Argentina.

UshuaiaOur next stop was Uruguay, a quick flight from Ushuaia, where we visited Montevideo (and almost got robbed!) and the dreamy colonial town Colonia del Sacramento.

3 uruguay colonia del sacramentoOf course we couldn’t leave without visiting some of Uruguay’s famous beaches!

3 march uruguay punta del este3 uruguay beach dayAt the end of March, we went from Uruguay to the north of Argentina and spent a lovely week in Rosario, before we made a 48-hour bus detour to the Iguazu Falls – a detour that was well worth it!

4 argentina dani and jess iguazu fallsWe continued our journey through Northern Argentina to Salta, a city we didn’t love as much as we thought we would, but we fell for the small wine town of Cafayate four hours south of there.

4 cafayate streetThe road took us back north through Salta to Jujuy, where we rented a car to road trip through the Quebrada de Humahuaca for two days.

4 purmamarca street and seven color hillHere we also stopped at the first of three sets of salt flats we’d see this year. 4 argentina salinas grandes salt flats salt rainAfter returning the car, we took a bus to San Pedro De Atacama in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

4 san pedro de atacama streetIt turns out that we seriously love this town and the surrounding scenery on this first of two visits to San Pedro in 2013, and were actually excited to know we’d be making our way back up here again later in the year to continue our travels to Bolivia from here.

4 april northern chile atacama desertDuring this first visit, we took a tour that showed us some of the breathtaking landscapes around San Pedro…

4 april chile atacama desert… including salt flats #2.

4 salt flats chile atacama desertBut instead of heading north to Bolivia from here, we broke our South America journey to fly to New York City for a two-month housesitting gig that made our dream of living in New York come true (at least temporarily!). We landed in New York just in time for our third anniversary as nomads and loved ‘our’ two cats and ‘our’ apartment, just a five-minute walk from the Brooklyn Bridge.

6 brooklyn bridge new yorkIn June, we flew straight to Germany to test out five weeks living in Berlin, which is now one of our favorite cities in the world.

7 alexanderplatz at nightWe couldn’t have asked for a more perfect summer in Germany, where we were featured in the Suddeutsche Zeitung, one of the national newspapers and interviewed by a major radio station about our housesitting book before flying back to the US in August.

sueddeutscheIt felt great to jet set in the summer as we flew from Berlin to New York to spend the weekend. We were mainly on a quest to find the best pizza in NYC, but also had time to revisit some of our favorite places off the beaten path and cycle through Manhattan on the Citibikes.

8 best pizza in williamsburg brooklyn new york city white pizza5 dani roosevelt islandOur next stop was Tucson, to a housesit we’ve done three times now for homeowners and a dog, Miss Millie, who we just love! We enjoyed some quality time by the pool and the desertscape that we love so much.

8 Jess and Millie in TucsonIn September, we took off on one of the best adventures of this year: a road trip through New Mexico, which would finally bring us all the way back to Chicago via Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa.

We started at the amazing yet little-visited Gila Cliff Dwellings, followed by the otherworldly White Sands…

9 white sands jess & daniThen we spent Jess’ birthday at Carlsbad Caverns before moving on to the aliens of Roswell, Las Vegas (the small New Mexican town) and Albuquerque…

9 carlsbad cavernsThen we hit Santa Fe, explored Georgia O’Keeffe country, the Bandelier Cliff Dwellings, various Pueblos and then finally spent time in magical little Taos, our last stop in New Mexico. Here we got to trek down into the Rio Grande gorge with llamas and our wonderful guide Stuart of Wild Earth Llama Trekking.

9 bandelier monument new mexicoAfter 19 incredible days on the road, we reached Chicago, where we visited friends and family, hit plenty of our favorite sightseeing spots and ate our way across the city.

10 bean reflections at night chicagoChicago is where Dani got to experience her first ‘real’ Halloween in the U.S.! Look at what we did to her face! 🙂

10 globetrottergirls halloweenIn what now, looking back, seems like our year of New York City, we spent another long weekend in Manhattan before hopping onto the return leg of our flight back down to Santiago, Chile – but not without eating more pizza, spending time in Williamsburg, meeting up with quite a few good friends and watching the New York Marathon.

11 New York sunsetFinally we flew down to enjoy all the things we love about Santiago – and just in time for the perfect spring weather (and escaping the freezing cold New York weather that hit the day after we left!)

11 santiago lastarria churchInstead of pushing through on the 24 hour bus ride to San Pedro De Atacama, we visited three new places on the way: La Serena, a quiet though sizable colonial town with a wide beach seven hours from Santiago by bus. This is the jumping-off point for the beautiful Elqui Valley, which became one of our five favorite places in all of Chile.

11 la serena street with churchThen we traveled 19 hours through the narrow piece of land between the Andes and the Pacific to Iquique, a beach city in the north of Chile. The town grew on us slowly, and we ended up enjoying our fourth visit to the Pacific in 2013. This was our last beach visit of the year, too.

11 sea lions in iquiqueThen we went on to San Pedro and made sure to visit the Tatio geyser fields – an incredible piece of desert nearly 5,000m high where geysers explode, gurgle and spurt. It was well worth the 4am wake-up call to see the geyser field at sunrise.

11 geyser de tatio chileAfter a few days of an obsessive amount of research on good tour companies, we finally jumped on our three day off-roading tour through Bolivia’s South West, otherwise known as the Salar de Uyuni salt flats tour. Our first ever border crossing in a jeep, on a tour and in the middle of absolutely nowhere, there was so much more than the salt flats. We saw more otherworldly landscapes, volcanoes, flamingos, lagoons and rock formations of just about every shape and color imaginable.

11 Bolivia laguna verde11 laguna hedionda flamingos bolivia11 arbol de piedra and mountain boliviaOn the last day of the tour we spent sunrise out on our third set of salt flats for the year, which also just so happen to be the largest salt flats in the world, the Salar De Uyuni.

11 Bolivia salt flatsThen we started our travels through Bolivia, with our first stop in the 4000m-high colonial town of Potosi. For those of you who think in feet, this is 13,500 ft high, or almost three ‘mile-high’ Denver cities stacked on top of one another. This is officially the highest city in the world, and we enjoyed the beautifully maintained historic town center which was a great introduction to the country – although just walking its hilly streets was a massive challenge at that altitude.

12 potosi viewsNext were three weeks in both of Bolivia’s capitals: first in Sucre, the official capital (and a city we spent two weeks battling a massive stomach bug that practically laid us flat for half the time)…

12 sucre street bolivia…and then La Paz, the de facto seat of the government. It was from here that we signed up (read: Dani signed US up!) for the mountain bike trip down the world’s most dangerous road – and survived (barely 🙂 ).

12 death road boliviaOur final stop in 2014 was Lake Titicaca, first on the Bolivian side in Copacabana, where we spent Christmas, then followed by a couple of days on the Isla del Sol and then crossing the border into our first stop in Peru – Puno – where we are celebrating New Year’s Eve.

lake titicaca with boats copacabana bolivia

This was a big year for us as The GlobetrotterGirls as well!

We released a second and much, much sexier version of our book, The Ultimate Guide to Housesitting – check that out here if you want to start housesitting in 2014.

We started the Break Free podcast, where I interview globetrotting women who have created the incredible life balance of running successful businesses while traveling the world. You can listen on the website or subscribe in iTunes.

Then there was the launch of our Escape Route travel planning and consulting service. We seriously love helping people make the most of the travels, and we’ve loved being able to help readers and clients plan their perfectly customized holidays.

Perhaps most exciting for us is the launch of our GlobetrotterGirls Getaways – starting with our seriously epic overland trip from San Francisco to Seattle in May 2014. If you’re interested in joining us on a seriously unique trip (in a custom-converted American school bus!) read more about the Getaways here. Early-Bird pricing ends today, December 31st, so if you’re interested, save $150 and put down your deposit today!

Dani and Jess in Argentina

Thanks so much for following along on our journey in 2013. Stick with us in 2014 for even more epic adventures through Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, the US, Europe and who knows where we’ll end 2014!!

Happy New Year!

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GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: An overview of the German capital

<Digimax S500 / Kenox S500 / Digimax Cyber 530>

This comprehensive guide includes our personal favorites in Berlin. These are our top choices to soak up the culture and feel of the German capital.

It is by no means final. 

One of our favorite cities, we will be back in Berlin again and again and will continue to add to the list. Have something to add? If you have suggestions and recommendations to be included in this guide – not-to-miss attractions, outstanding restaurants, walking tours or anything else – please leave your suggestions in the comments and we will add them to this ever-growing guide to Berlin.

You should start with this overview over the main things to do and where to stay in Berlin, and then read our other Berlin Quick Guides, in which we share our favorite places to eat and drink, neighborhoods you shouldn’t miss and the cities best parks, flea markets and other outdoor attractions:

GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Parks, lakes and outdoor Berlin

GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Our favorite restaurants, cafes and bars

GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Neighborhoods of Berlin

berlin tv tower and church

An overview of Berlin

Berlin is a sprawling city and before you start exploring all the details and hidden quirks that make it truly unique, start with the main attractions – Brandenburg Gate, Alexanderplatz, Checkpoint Charlie, Gendarmenmarkt, the Reichstag, Tiergarten. No matter your budget, the cheapest way to cover Berlin’s famous sights is taking a free walking tour. The two-and-a-half hour Sandemans New Europe Berlin Tour covers ALL of the sights you need to see, including the ones mentioned above plus the Memorial for the Jews, TV Tower, the site of Hitler’s bunker and a full overview of Berlin’s history and the divide between East and West Germany. The tour runs twice a day, every day and guides are only paid in tips, so don’t forget to tip your guide.

berlin reichstag dem deutschen volkeThere are also big bus tour companies if you prefer not to walk, but we’d recommend picking up a Berlin transit day ticket and hopping on a local bus to take a tour of your own. Two bus lines (the 100 and 200) pass by the main sights and drivers used to having tourists on board even do a bit of commentary. It’s almost like a hop-on hop-off bus, but at a fraction of the price. A single ticket is €2.60 paid right to the driver, or a day ticket costs €6.70. You can read more about this bus line here.

Alternative Berlin

Once you understand the gist of the city’s history, lay out and the overall vibe, now it is time for the excellent – and free – ‘Alternative Berlin’ walking tour, which covers exactly zero of the main tourist attractions. Instead, you discover the subcultures of Berlin, the places that you won’t find on your own but make up so much of the fabric of the city like street art and workshops, ethnic and creative neighborhoods of the city. Copycat tours have popped up, but Alternative Berlin Tours are the originals. They run twice a day and all you have to pay is the subway (get a day pass) and tip the guide.

Alternative Berlin Street Art

Bike it!

To get the most out of your time in Berlin, we recommend renting or buying bikes, depending on the length of your stay.

The city is spread out and can feel overwhelming, but the bike paths are excellent and in some places it feels like the whole city moves by bike. You can get anywhere in 30 minutes without having to figure out the U-bahns, S-Bahns, buses and where to change trains, and you can take your own detours to get to know different parts of the city.

Almost every hostel in the city is renting bikes these days, and you don’t have to stay there to rent one.

Cycling in Berlin

Berlin from above

Berlin doesn’t have a traditional skyline like many cities of the same size, so the best way to take in the eclectic mix of old and new, the remarkable amount of green space and its sheer sprawling size is to see it from above.

Panorama viewpoints

There are several ways to see Berlin from above, the most popular and priciest option is the TV Tower. It is €12.50 to go up and enjoy the 360° views of Berlin. Ironically, however, when you are atop one of the more iconic landmarks of the city, your views do not include the TV tower. Head up to the Panorama Terrace on 37th floor in the Park Inn Hotel right across from the TV tower instead for only €3 (open from 2-6pm on weekdays, from 12pm on weekends) for the best views of it. We opted for the Panoramapunkt on top of the Kollhoff-Building at Potsdamer Platz where, for €5.50 (open 10am – 8pm), you also get close-up views of Berlin’s biggest park, the Tiergarten, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe.

Berlin ViewsReichstag Dome

For views from the heart of the German government, visit the new glass dome on top of the Reichstag. Visits here are free, but you have to register online first and show up with a photo ID on the day. You can even register on the same day, as long as there are time slots still available – choose up to three. When you get the confirmation with your time, you can just skip the line and walk right up to the entrance.

Berlin ReichstagOnce you are through security, you are led up into the building to the bottom of the dome, where you get a free audio guide that uses GPS to narrate the exact views based on your location within the dome. Standing inside such a futuristic dome (designed by Sir Norman Foster) on top of this historic building is worth the visit alone.

Welt Hot Air Balloon

Probably the most unusual way to enjoy the views over Berlin is the Welt Hot Air Balloon. The 20-min ride shoots straight into the air for €19. Just across the street is the impossible-to-miss Trabi World. The Trabbant car, lovingly known in the former East Germany as the Trabi, is a symbol of the GDR and Trabi World allows you to learn about them on site at the museum or take a Trabi Safari, cruising through the streets of Berlin packed into the most popular car before the wall came down. You are also right at the Topography of Terror (see below) and in walking distance from Checkpoint Charlie, the legendary border crossing that once separated the Soviet from the American sector.

Berlin from above TV Tower Welt Hot Air BalloonVictory Column

If you don’t mind climbing 285 steps, enjoy the views from the Victory Column in Tiergarten park (take the U-Bahn to Hansaplatz). Entry is only €3 and you will find yourself immersed in the miles and miles of green space that make up Tiergarten Park. You can combine it with a visit of Tiergarten, Berlin’s biggest park (see GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin:Parks, lakes and outdoor Berlin).

Art and History in Berlin

If you have time to go beyond the main historic attractions, dig a bit deeper to understand Berlin’s role in world history. The Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe deserves at least a couple of hours of proper exploration (the memorial includes an underground museum), and there are several spots where you can learn more about divided Berlin, including the Wall Museum (also known as Checkpoint Charlie Museum) and the Topography of Terror near by. This free open-air museum is located at one of the remaining parts of the wall with an interesting outdoor exhibition about the history of the site on which the headquarters of the Gestapo were located from 1933 to 1945 and SS High Command and the Reich Security Main Office during WWII.

Berlin HistoryWalk along Bernauer Strasse, a street where the wall divided east and west to be able to really visualize what life must have been like in a divided city. There are several bronze circles on the ground that point out both successful and failed escape attempts on the sidewalk, as well as information on how suddenly the wall was erected, how families it split dealt with it and and where escape tunnels were built. There is also one small point where the wall is still up and in its original form (no pithy intellectual street art decorating it, for example) and a small museum that helps bring much of this to reality. A good way to experience this with some additional information is via this self-guided walking tour along the wall.

The East Side Gallery is the largest still intact section of the Berlin Wall, stretching for a length of 1.3km (0.8miles). The wall is home to 105 murals painted by 118 international artists after Germany’s reunification and many of the murals are thought-provoking and an important reminder of recent history. Not just for street art fans!

berlin wall berlin graffitiMuseumsinsel (Museum Island) This is where you find some of Berlin’s best museums, congregated on one little island in the river. Museum Island itself has been awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO. The museums you find there are Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), Neues Museum (New Museum), Altes Museum (Old Museum), Bode Art Museum and Pergamon Museum.

Museums worth visiting to get a better understanding for the East-West division are the Stasi Museum where you can learn more about the political system of the former East Germany and the small, but fun interactive GDR Museum, where you can get a feel for what life in the GDR was like.

Berlin trabi

Where to stay in Berlin

Hotels

Our favorite hotel booking website, Booking.com, has over 1,000 hotels listed in Berlin, many of which are under $50 per double room per night and have excellent ratings & reviews. If you are, like me, a fan of small, unique and hip hotels, make sure to check out this excellent list of boutique hotels in Berlin.

Hostels

I stayed at the Cat’s Pajamas Hostel in Kreuzkölln, which is the cross-point between Neukölln and Kreuzberg and absolutely loved it. This is my favorite area of Berlin (if you book yourself into the Cat’s Pajamas hostel feel free to email me for a list of my favorite eateries, cafes and things to do there) and the subway is only a couple of minutes away, so it is easy to get around. This was one of the cleanest hostels I’ve ever stayed at, even the bathrooms were always spotless. There’s a kitchen, breakfast is available, the communal areas are designed in a super trendy look, there is an outdoor area. The rooms are spacious and my twin room even had a desk! The hostel had an 8.9 out of 10 rating on Booking.com when I booked it and I hope they can keep up the high quality. Rooms start at $17 for an 8-bed dorm, $19 in a 4-bed dorm, a twin room starts at $24 per person, a single room at $56.

I also heard great things about Plus Hostel (in Friedrichshain, Warschauer Platz 6, great location near the Badeschiff and East Side Gallery) and the Circus Hostel (Weinbergsweg 1a, right in Mitte at Rosenthaler Platz).Cats Pajama Hostel BerlinApartments

If you are planning to stay longer, it might be worth subletting an apartment. Many longer-term visitors opt for an AirBnB rental – which will be a nice place usually in a great neighborhood. However, they and other international vacation apartment rental companies tend to be three times as high as actual Berlin rents, which are surprisingly inexpensive for a European capital. Try to find a sublet, for example from students who leave for the summer or people going traveling for a while. We found a cozy little apartment on Wg-Gesucht.de and paid exactly the monthly rent that the tenants pay. Navigating the website can be hard without any knowledge of German, but the ad we responded to was actually in English, as are many others as well.

berlin kreuzberg houses
Beautiful Berlin Apartment Buildings
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GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Parks, lakes and outdoor Berlin

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This comprehensive guide includes our personal favorites in Berlin. These are our top choices to soak up the culture and feel of the German capital.

It is by no means final. 

In this part of our 4-part Berlin Quick Guides, we are sharing our favorite parks, flea markets, lakes and other outdoor activities. While some of these things (markets, parks) can be visited year-round, it is mainly a summer guide. We have to admit that we think that Berlin is best visited in the summer, when you can enjoy all the outdoor things that make this city so amazing.

Check out our other Quick Guides for Berlin:

GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: An overview of the German capital
GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Neighborhoods of Berlin
GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Our favorite restaurants, cafes and bars

Berlin

Berlin in the summer

We have to say that Berlin is most enjoyable in the summer when it is hot and the whole city is outside. During the warmer months, cafes and restaurants put tables out on the sidewalks, the parks are filled with picnicking friends, beach bars pop up along the River Spree, the Badeschiff is open, karaoke takes place in the Mauerpark, it is more enjoyable to stroll through flea markets and markets. Thus, we recommend to visit Berlin anytime between May and September, to get the full experience of what Berlin has to offer. All the following are things that you shouldn’t miss in Berlin in the summer:

Beach Bars

There are a number of beach bars that open up for the summer months every year along the river, complete with sun chairs and lovely river views.

  • berlin beach barStrandbar Mitte (Monbijoustraße 3) is small, but the most central beach bar with a nice vibe with sand, sun chairs and even some palm trees. On some nights, there are free tango classes here.
  • Capital Beach near the Reichstag is a bit more expensive, but has great views over the new parliament buildings.
  • Yaam (Stralauer Platz 35) near the Osthafen attracts a more alternative crowd, and is probably the cheapest beach bar
  • Ku’damm Beach is one of the fancier beach bars in Charlottenburg (Koenigsallee 5b)

Flea Markets

The biggest flea market is on Straße des 17. Juni, (between Ernst-Reuter-Haus and S-Bahn: Tiergarten). Another cool one is on Sundays at Mauerpark (next to Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn Sportpark in Prenzlauer Berg (Subway: Eberswalder Straße). Mauerpark has the typical flea market goodies like furniture, antiques, books and vintage clothes, but also a number of good and inexpensive food stalls, so come hungry. Nearby is the flea market at Arkonaplatz, a smaller flea market, held also on Sundays – you can actually combine a visit to both.

mauerpark flea market berlin

Mauerpark Karaoke

Something that you shouldn’t miss if you happen to be in Berlin in the summer is the free karaoke at Mauerpark on Sunday afternoons. Weather permitting, up to 10,000 people show up for it! No worries – you don’t have to sing if you don’t want to, but it is great fun to watch it, and you can combine it with a visit to the Mauerpark flea market.

mauerpark bearpit karaoke

Badeschiff

The Badeschiff (Eichenstraße 4) is a unique outdoor swimming pool in the Spree River. It is basically a boat that has been transformed into a swimming pool, with a small beach area attached. The Badeschiff is super popular on hot summer days though, but avoid weekends when you’ll have to stand in line for hours just to get in the pool. We went on a weekday around noon and there was already a huge line, but it was worth the wait.  Admission is €5 for the day and food and drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, are available for purchase inside but they are way overpriced. Unfortunately, cameras and food/drinks can‘t be brought inside.

Badeschiff Berlin

Parks

Tiergarten Park

Berlin’s largest park offers more than 23km (14 miles) of pathways, lakes and different, more specific, sections, such as a popular nudist area. The walk from Brandenburg Gate to Victory Column (see above) alone is tiring, which is why Tiergarten Park is definitely easiest to explore by bike. You could just pick up some picnic food at a Kaiser’s supermarket and enjoy a sunny afternoon in the park. The Café am Neuen See is a great beer garden, there’s a rose garden, an English Garden with Tea House, and you can visit Bellevue Palace.

berlin tiergarten from above
Berlin Tiergarten from above

Volkspark Friedrichshain

Berlin’s oldest park is popular with the hipster crowd of Friedrichshain as well as big Turkish families who spend their Sundays barbequing at the Kleiner Bunkerberg, the area of the park where grilling is allowed. The gorgeous Fairytale Fountain is well worth a visit, even if you’re not that into fairytales.

Treptower Park

Treptower Park stretches over four kilometers along the River Spree, and is filled with sunbathers during the summer months. The Haus Zenner is a large beer garden with views over the river and the nearby Island of Youth has several places where you can rent pedal or rowing boats.

treptower park berlinPark am Gleisdreieck

The Park am Gleisdreieck is one of Berlin’s newest park – the eastern part opened in late 2011, and the western part only opened in May 2013. The triangular-shaped former waste ground around the rail tracks was transformed into a park after decades of neglecting, and provides now one of the largest recreational areas in the city. There are playgrounds, skate parks, cafés, table tennis areas and boule grounds, rose gardens and viewing platforms that invite to escape the city noise around you for a while with a good book.

Tempelhofer Freiheit

The Tempelhofer Freiheit is a huge green space on what was Tempelhof Airport, Berlin’s main airport until 2008. Since then, it has been transformed into a community park, much of it left in its original state, with added community gardens, barbeque areas and an artsy mini golf facility. It’s a great place to hang out for a picnic, just read a book, or stay for sunset, but it’s HUGE – just walking across the landing strip takes at least half an hour, so we’d also recommend exploring it by bike.

tempelhofer freiheit berlin

The lakes

Berlin is known for its dozens of lakes just outside the city, and it seems that in the summer months, everybody escapes the heat of the capital and rushes to one of the many lakes. Some are harder to get to without a car, some easier, but a Saturday at the lake is a quintessential Berlin experience. Just pick one and head there early, because all of the lakes tend to get crowded on weekends.

Wannsee

Wannsee is the most popular lake around Berlin, and since it is connected to the city via S-Bahn, it gets really busy. Up to 30,000 people at once can be accommodated here – Wannsee offers the largest swimming area at a lake in all of Europe! The beach has beach chairs, beach volleyball fields, and water slides for kids, you can rent boats, there are restaurants and cafes, and a nudist area.

How to get there: Take the S-1 to Potsdam and get out at Wannsee.

Tegeler See

Lake Tegel is the second largest lake in Berlin and often named as the most beautiful one. There are seven islands and it is a great lake for sailing, boating or taking a steamboat ride. There are smaller beaches along the west side of the lake, some restaurants and trails through the surrounding forests. The Greenwich Promenade is lined with places to eat and benches to take in the scenery.

How to get there: Take the U-6 to Alt-Tegel and get out at either Alt-Tegel or Borsigwerke.

lake tegelSchlachtensee

Schlachtensee is apparently the cleanest of Berlin’s lakes, and you’ll see lots of fishermen out on little boats or in the woods that line the shores of this beautiful lake. You can actually walk around the lake on a 7km (4.3miles) boardwalk, making it a perfect destination for a long walk until you find the perfect spot to soak up the sun. The Fischerhütte Am Schlachtensee is a historical guest house with beer garden where you can relax after a long stroll, or rent a boat to spend time on the lake.

How to get there: Take the S-1 to Potsdam and get out at Schlachtensee.

Müggelsee

Müggelsee is the largest lake near Berlin, and is basically East Berlin’s counterpart to the Wannsee. You can hike here, rent boats or canoes, sunbathe or enjoy the nudist area. If you make your way to Müggelsee, you might want to combine it with the quaint former fishing village of Rahnsdorf. Here, you’ll still find cobble-stone streets, hundred-year old houses and a muscle-powered ferry you can take a cross the lake.

How to get there: Take the S-3 to Erkner and get off at Friedrichshagen or Rahnsdorf.

berlin tegeler see

Have something to add?

This is our ever-growing list of our personal Berlin favorites, and we would love to add your own comments or advice to this list! Please help this guide be as comprehensive as possible – and leave your suggestions in the comments below and we’ll add the best ones to the section where it belongs.

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