a {local's} guide to Berlin, Germany

Anyone who reads this blog knows how much I love to experience a place like a local. Sure, there are massive tourist attractions I don't ever want to miss. But, when it comes to overall time spent in a destination, I want a majority of it to be designated to hole-in-the-wall cafes or places where selfie sticks don't exist. 

Getting a personal 5-day tour from Bastian, born and raised in Berlin, meant I got to see the infamous party city like one of its own. Half the day, I was a photo-happy tourist. The other half of the day, I was a laid-back local. 

Here is a Berliner's advice for how to see the city!

What's the language? 

German. It sounds angry, but Bastian assures me most people are whispering 'sweet nothings' to one another. I learned a whole heap of German staying with the Langs and it made me very interested in expanding from my French to German. However, it's way trickier than French {I've found} so it's unlikely you'll hear me speaking fluently anytime soon. 

How to get around? 

Berliners utilise the S-Bahn, U-Bahn, train, bus, and tram services provided for the city. I have a whole post coming on Berlin transportation. It's a lot easier than you'd like. As a matter of fact, the first day I arrived, I made my way into the city by public transport and the entire Lang family was shocked! 

What and where to eat? 

Döner kebab is something uniquely 'Berlin.' The story goes that a Turkish immigrant is credited with inventing the döner kebab. He set up a stand in West Berlin, selling grilled meat and salad inside flatbread. The rest, as they say, is history. If you're going to eat the local Berlin cuisine, get yourself a kebab and, if it's late enough, sit somewhere you can watch the drunken madness around you unfold from a sober distance. 

Club-Mate!  It's not food, but it's a super 'Berliner' thing to partake in. This Yerba-tea {which I only found out later is chalked full of caffeine, sorry Mom} Bastian reckons is something you either love or hate. I loved it! I even drank it warm at my farewell breakfast. You can go to any spaetkauf 'spaeti' {German corner shop} and pick up a full glass bottle for less than 2. 

What to do? 

Get drinks by the river! Across the river from the Bode Museum is a waterside bar that features live ballroom dancing from its patrons. The dancing is incredible. The amateur eye would never know that the dancers aren't professionals. Seriously, they're that good. There are also twinkly lights and beach seats to set the mood off right. Bastian said down by the river is his favourite spot for nights in Berlin! 

Visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe! Bastian was busy at work, so I took his suggestion and went it alone. In the middle of the city lies a grid of concrete pillars, all with varying heights. This is the memorial! It's FREE to visit, which is always a bonus in my book. The memorial was designed by its architect to leave visitors feeling discombobulated and isolated, a goal which it achieves. I was surprised how many 'Instagrammers' I saw taking photos of themselves inside the memorial grid. This goes back to my feelings on 'dark tourism.' You can read more here

Skip Checkpoint Charlie! Bastian told me {and nailed it when he said} to skip the tourist hotspot. It was a tick off the Berlin bucket list for me, but the truth is it's in the middle of a busy street with a McDonald's and a Starbucks on either corner. You have to pay 4 to take a picture with men dressed in vintage soldier uniforms, which is pretty cheesy anyway. I opted out of a photo with the men and decided, instead, to take pictures of the checkpoint from as many angles as I could find. 

Visit the Berlin Wall!  Despite this being the obvious tourist thing to do, Bastian totally recommended it. Even he said it's worth seeing. He was right and so were all the hundred of swarming tourists. It is, admittedly, a symbol of devastating recent history. The East Side Gallery will make you feel overcome with hope. It stands as a reminder that good does beat out bad. Prepare yourself for selfie sticks galore! I took some photos for a group of girls from London on vacation, and they insisted on taking a few of me {they were drunk} so I felt it necessary to post this as it was posed and taken by them. Someday, I hope they stumble upon this blog and see it. 

Stop by Brandenburger Tor! Bastian reminded me that this is a symbol of Berlin. Then, he also reminded me that the hotel located right next to it is the same famed hotel where the late Michael Jackson hung his baby from a window. So...ya know...there's that. 

Sunday karaoke! Near Prater Biergarten is a park where Americans gather on Sundays for live karaoke. Bastian was bummed I would be in Amsterdam on Sunday, missing the weekly event. However, it seems extra fantastic from what he kept telling me about it. Bastian went with his mother and he said they laughed hard at all the Americans yelling out songs to sing next. 

Special thanks to Bastian and his family for showing me around Berlin and making me feel right at home!