Never been to Berlin and nervous? Or maybe you’ve been here before, but didn’t really get a proper feel for the city? Either way, we’ve prepared a list of both practical and entertaining tips for your visit to the capital of Germany… the very best, at least in the minds our spaCy IRL Berlin experts 😉
Berlin has two airports within the city limits, Tegel (TXL) and Schönefeld (SXF), and both are about equal distance from the city center and both excellent – in other words, it doesn’t really matter which one you end up with. Both have easy public transport options (click here for Tegel and here for Schönefeld) or you can grab a taxi and get into town for about €30.
Once you’re here, public transport and taxis are your two options for getting from A-to-B in Berlin. Renting a car is expensive and a hassle – not to mention not the greenest option. But there are apps for the two aforementioned transport options. And of course there’s Uber, too.
The BVG: The BVG: Berlin’s public transport is well-connected, reliable and runs 24/7 – you can grab single, day or week tickets at the machines but it’s probably simplest to download the BVG App (from either the App Store or Google Play), it’s available in English and you can use it to buy tickets and store them on your mobile device without cash.
Taxis: Taxis are easy to hail anywhere, but as always: there’s an app for that. "FREE NOW" (called MyTaxi up until this week) is the most widely used app here in Berlin, so download that (App Store or Google Play) and you won’t miss Uber at all.
Uber: The world’s most recognizable ridesharing app had gotten off to a very rocky start in Berlin and up until recently, wasn’t really a thing here. If you’re most comfortable with Uber, you can now use it in Berlin, but it's not nearly as ubiquitous here as it is in many cities, so you may sometimes struggle to find a ride.
If you haven’t got a place already, we fully recommend hotels. Airbnb (like Uber) is complicated here. Many of our guests are staying in Motel One, a reasonably priced and stylish hotel chain here in Europe. The closest is one calls itself Motel One – Mitte, but it’s basically Kreuzberg. The two areas outlying Kreuzberg – Potsdamer Platz and Mitte – are also full of hotels and while a little further out, are very simple to reach by public transport.
There are two districts of Berlin where much of the action happens:
Neukölln: spaCy IRL and its venue, Heimathafen Neukölln, is in Neukölln. Over the past decade, Neukölln has been one of Berlin’s fastest growing districts. Primarily a Turkish and Arabic part of town, the recent influx of young creatives has transformed the district into a melting pot of city life, with restaurants and cafes on every corner.
Kreuzberg: The original alternative district, Kreuzberg is very similar to Neukölln in terms of its populace, but a little more chill in terms of visual surroundings. While full of interesting shops and restaurants, its nightlife over the decades has become legendary. Much of it happens on Kreuzberg’s main artery street, Oranienstraße.
Money: Cash is king in Berlin (and Germany). Keep in mind that it’s a good idea to expect most places to be cash-only above all, so carry accordingly.
Connectivity: Berlin’s Wi-Fi situation is okay and you should be able to find hotspots in cafes and even on the public transit, but if staying connected is important, getting a €10 prepaid package and SIM card is an easy way to go.
Berlin Rhythm: For the most part, Berlin stays open late, so no need to rush off to your nightlife plans at 19:00. And it follows that if Berlin stays up late, it likes to sleep in, so most cafes won’t open before 9:00 or 10:00.
Sundays: Everything is closed on Sundays! Okay, restaurants, bars and such remain open, but if you’re in need of toothpaste or toiletries, hit up the shops Saturday evening at the latest.
Language: It’s Germany, so German is the official language, but Berlin is a cosmopolitan city and English should get you by fairly easily, particularly in the parts of town you’re probably in. There are some people who can’t speak English though and people at day-to-day stops – banks, supermarkets or drugstores – sometimes won’t, so it may be wise to grab a German speaker and take them with you.
Berlin is one of Europe’s most happening capital cities and aside from enjoying your time with us, there’s plenty to enjoy outside of that. Here are a few tips:
Berlin’s been through a lot, not just in the past century but over its 775 year history. If you’re looking to do the proper tourist thing, here are the sites:
The Berlin Wall: The 3.6 meter high concrete slabs that blocked in West Berlin (and kept East Germans out of West Berlin) still stands in a few spots 30 years after its fall. Catch it in two different spots: East Side Gallery contains some Berlin’s most well-known art, including a mural from Keith Haring. The Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Straße is a much more somber affair and really gives you a feeling about the Berlin Wall was about. Both are free.
The Brandenburg Gate: Simply the symbol of Berlin. It’s situated between the American and French Embassies on Pariser Platz at the end of the historic Unter den Linden street.
Museum Island: If you want the classic tourist experience, Berlin’s rich with museums. And five of its most famous are situated all in one spot. The Altes Museum (Old Museum), the Neues Museum (New Museum – which contains both the bust of Nefertiti and the famed Golden Hat of Berlin), the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), the Bode Museum and the Pergamon Museum are all found on the island.
The TV Tower: The defining feature of Berlin’s skyline! Once a broadcasting point in the former-GDR, Berlin’s TV Tower is its most central attraction and provides a panoramic view of the city from 203 meters up. There’s also a restaurant. Book ahead here.
Berlin’s culinary scene is pretty diverse, but if you’re looking to try the ‘local’ cuisine, there a few German restaurants worth checking out. German food is pretty meat-heavy, so be warned. There are always vegetarian options of course, but your selection is limited.
Wirsthaus Max und Moritz: Around since 1902, Max und Moritz is a landmark-protected German restaurant with a large ‘tavern’ like feel. As traditional as it comes, go there for the atmosphere as much as the grub.
Kuchen-Kaiser: Kuchen-Kaiser has Max und Moritz beat in terms of age, opening in 1866. Outlying Kreuzberg’s famous Oranienplatz, the restaurant’s cuisine still does it traditional, but the atmosphere, staff, price and clientele have a much more distinct Kreuzberg vibe.
Drei Schwestern: The restaurant itself has only been around since 2010 but it’s situated in Kreuzberg’s oldest building: Bethanien, a former hospital built in 1846 that has transformed into a cultural center over the past five decades after being squatted in 1973. Don’t be fooled by how new the restaurant is – it comes highly recommended by the locals.
Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap: Okay, whether it’s German is debatable, but if you’re looking to try Berlin’s most well-known street food, Mustafa’s is the standard-bearer and with that title, come very long lines – so be prepared.
Just like nightlife and bars, grub is up to everyone’s individual taste, but if you’re looking for something yummy, unique and Berlin, we recommend ‘food row’ on Paul-Lincke-Ufer. The northern side of the Landwehr Canal is littered with different dining options, including modern Mexican (La Lucha), wood-oven baked pizza (Zola), the always popular ramen (Cocolo Ramen) and more.
Wanna sneak a quick bite on the way to, during or after the conference? Here are a couple of places within walking distance:
Azzam: If you do indeed need a fast bite but don’t want to sacrifice taste, Azzam can’t be beat. Renowned for their falafel and hummus, Azzam offers the best Middle Eastern fast food on Sonnenallee.
Café Botanico: If you want to cap off the conference with a classy yet casual affair, Botanico offers Italian cuisine almost directly behind Heimathafen Neukölln, with many of their ingredients grown right there in their own garden.
Wonder Waffel: The world’s first fruit doner kebab? It may just be fruit and sweets tucked into a Belgian waffle, but if you’ve got a sweet tooth to satisfy, it’s a colorful and fun option.
Damaskus Konditorei: If you’re looking to try something that reflects the diversity of Neukölln, Syrian confectionery Damaskus delivers the sweet side of life rich in flavor, like their pistachio Mabruma.
If you just want to soak up the city life, Berlin’s rife with stuff to do!
The Maybachufer Market, also known as the Turkish Market: Every single Tuesday and Friday from 11:00-18:30, Maybachufer, the street along the Landwehr Canal, fills up with fruit, vegetable and food stands of all sorts. Whether you want produce for a picnic along the canal or just want to check out its ambiance, the market is a Kreuzberg-Neukölln staple.
The Computerspielemuseum (Computer Games Museum): As much a museum as it is an interactive history tour and play space, the museum has dedicated itself to preserving digital interactive entertainment culture since 1997. Located on former East Berlin’s impressive Karl-Marx-Allee boulevard.
Open-air cinemas: Movies might not sound intuitive on a summer night, but watching films on the big screen under the stars is a Berlin tradition. Grab a beer and pull up a deck chair and relax to some well-programmed art house film, mostly in original language. These two are close to spaCy IRL and come fully recommended: Freiluftkino Kreuzberg and Freiluftkino Hasenheide.
Bars: Everyone’s tastes differ in this arena, so we’ll rather tell you where to go: Oranienstraße in Kreuzberg and Weserstraße in Neukölln. Along these two strips, you’ll anything for any taste, from fancy cocktails to a raucous punk rock bar, from cafes to gay spots. And with just as much food as imbibing options, you could spend a whole night on either of these streets.
Queer/LGBT: Berlin’s reputation as a haven for queer and LGBT people is over 100 years old and that hasn’t changed in the 21st century. If you want to see a bit of Berlin’s LGBT history, head over to the Schöneberg district. The early gay rights movement is said to have started here. Today it’s mostly a gay (men’s) area of town with cafes, shops, bars and clubs. For something more diverse and purely nightlife, SchwuZ is over 40 years old, dedicated to providing something for all queers (the program changes every evening) and is situated in Neukölln.
Flea Markets: Flea markets are ubiquitous in Berlin and a great place to get some one-of-a-kind items. Mauerpark in the northern district of Prenzlauer Berg is undoubtedly the most famous, but it gets packed. For something smaller but just as hip, try out the Boxhagener Platz Flea Market in Friedrichshain, on every Sunday 10:00-18:00.
Tempelhofer Feld: If outdoors are your thing, a simple way to spend a day in the sun is on Tempelhofer Feld. Formerly an active airport in the middle of the city, after its disuse the city converted into a vast park. You can find everyone from enthusiastic community gardeners to ecstatic rollerbladers to large families having a BBQ there.
We hope our tips for Berlin make your stay, and of course the conference, one of the most exciting you’ve ever had! Go to conference site →