For all its much-vaunted grime, Berlin has its share of over-exposed, over-sanitised, and yes, overpriced tourist attractions. But scratch the surface, and you’ll be surprised what you can see on the cheap. For the curious but impecunious sightseer in Berlin, the key is knowing where to look.
Let’s face it. There are two things every Berlin visitor wants a voyeuristic fix of first: the Wall, and the Holocaust. Well, these days there are enough reminders of the latter to satisfy the most ravenous misery junkie. With the STOLPERSTEINE, those brass plaques in the pavement poignantly marking the residences of individual Holocaust victims, you’ll literally be tripping over them – the name translates as ‘stumbling stones’. But if Peter Eisenman’s Holocaust memorial seems a little too much like a picnic site for proper mournful meditation, and you can’t spare the €6 return ticket / six-hour daytrip to Sachsenhausen, the eerily preserved concentration camp to the north of the city, head to GLEIS 17 at Grunewald S-Bahn station. Hidden in a leafy suburb just beyond the Ringbahn, this monument to Berlin’s deported Jews records their numbers day by day beside the disused track on which they left. Most people don’t know about it or don’t go there, making it an ideal spot for quiet reflection before heading back to the heart of the city.
For that mandatory glimpse of the Wall, Checkpoint Charlie is a tourist trap, so go to the GEDENKSTÄTTE BERLINER MAUER. Not only is the excellent documentation centre free, but this is the only place where you can actually see that there were two walls, separated by the ‘death strip’, which explains why the concrete frag- ments you see elsewhere look so flimsy. The one-hour tour, taking in the Wall and the centre as well as the beautiful modern Chapel of Reconciliation nearby, is only €3. If it’s icon hopping you’re after, forget those City Safari bus tours, and just get on the NUMBER 100 BUS. It goes from Alexanderplatz past pretty much every one of the city’s major sights, from Museum Island to the Victory Column. It ends up near the Zoo, but don’t bother. Knut’s dead and the real-life bears at KÖLLNISCHER PARK, Schnute (the Stadtbärin!) and Maxi, come free.
For native cuisine, try FLEISCHEREI DOMKE, a butcher’s shop and Stehcafé where €4.50 gets you a pile of porky Eisbein, potatoes and sauerkraut, or GDR-themed OSSERIA. Their spinach and fried eggs for €5.90 isn’t bad, but best is the Rote Grütze dessert (€2.70) – purely chemical, with none of this Western fruit nonsense. For the schnitzel-curious, the place to go is ENDLOS on none-more-picturesque Kollwitzplatz, where for a mere €5 you get as much of it as you can eat, accompanied by croquettes. Of course, no Berlin experience would be complete without the debauchery factor, so consider starting at WEINEREI FORUM. It’s €2 to rent a glass, plus ‘whatever you think is fair’, meaning, provided you can square it with a) your con- science and b) the glaring staff, this could be the cheapest two bottles you ever drank. If you find yourself in hipster magnet Weserstraße, ultra-laidback GELEGENHEITEN does €2 Staropramen (50cl), and will also locate you ideally for the €1.50 currywurst at CURRY AM RATHAUS. Clubs-wise, head to SAGE on Thursday before 10pm for free entrance and kill time playing foosball until the dancefloor fills.
Berlin summer begs for a bike, but don’t pay the standard €10 to hire one: from ORANGE BIKES it’s €6 per day. For more than three days it’s worth going to LILA BIKE, where it’s €8 the first day but only €5 after that. And if you need to get online, remember there will be 20 free Wi-Fi spots around the city this summer, and yes, there’s an app to find them – search for WALL WIFI BERLIN. It might just be time to rediscover your inner tourist.