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Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
Street view in Schoeneberg.
Street view in Schoeneberg.

A local’s guide to Berlin

Street view in Schoeneberg.
Street view in Schoeneberg.
  • By Rick Noack
  • Photos by Verena Brüning

Berlin can be puzzling to first-time visitors: As one of Europe’s most geographically spread-out cities, the streets here seem relatively empty even on weekdays. That’s not just because of geography, though; locals also behave as if it’s already the weekend.

What distinguishes Berliners is how seriously we take work-life balance. The city is a haven for outdoors enthusiasts, whether they’re biking along the River Spree or kayaking on one of the countless lakes around which Germany’s capital is built.

Everywhere you go, landmarks greet you, even when you’re not deliberately looking for monuments. In a place where East and West once met and where history took a fortunate turn, you’ll still find ominous Nazi-era architecture next to modern high-rises erected where the Communist-era Berlin Wall once stood. And in between exploring, have a drink in the beer gardens and check out the city’s first-class Middle Eastern or Vietnamese food selection. Welcome to the capital in the heart of Europe that, compared with its other major cities, takes things a bit easier.

Meet Rick Noack

Rick Noack is a Paris-based correspondent covering France for The Washington Post. Previously, he was a foreign affairs reporter for The Post based in Berlin. He also worked for The Post from Washington, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

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Warschauer Strasse is where East Berlin once met West Berlin: The iconic Oberbaum Bridge marked the inner-German border for decades and has now become a symbol for unity. Today, the area is one of Berlin’s most vibrant districts, with various lodging options, including architecturally acclaimed designer hotels to low-key alternatives. Cozy cafes and bars are always nearby with expansive outdoor seating, to read a book or to prepare for your Berlin adventures. Find this neighborhood.
If you want a quieter district that has a bit of everything, Charlottenburg is made for you. In the morning, the gigantic nearby Tiergarten Park is great for a run. You’ll also be right in the center of Berlin’s shopping heart: Kurfürstendamm — where you’ll find some of the more high-end stores — is only a short walk away. In nearby, more-residential Schöneberg, you’ll find weekend markets, cafes frequented by locals and cozy restaurants. Plus, you’re right next to one of the city’s transport hubs, Zoologischer Garten. Find this neighborhood.

Explore more of Berlin


If you’re not feeling too hungry, this take-away place could be the perfect starting point to explore the district of Schöneberg. The coffee is fantastic, and biscuits and other quick bites will keep you going until lunch. Grab a latte and croissant there (but not on Sundays — it’s closed) and stroll the neighborhood.
BTW: If you still need to announce your arrival in Berlin on Instagram, take your coffee to the picture-perfect lipstick museum nearby on Helmstedter Strasse 16. Call the museum to book a spot in advance.
DoubleEye, Akazienstrasse 22, 10823 Berlin
If you’re in Berlin over a weekend, don’t miss out on this Middle Eastern restaurant, located in a record store. Berliners tend to sleep in, so you should plan for some late breakfasts (check out their Facebook page or the latest opening hours), but you’ll be rewarded with a take-away brunch bowl with fresh hummus.
BTW: Take your bowl to the gigantic former Tempelhof airport next door, which has been turned into a park. The perfect brunch spot.
Gordon, Allerstrasse 11, 12049 Berlin
This pan-Asian restaurant has multiple branches across Berlin, including a location at Prenzlauer Berg with a fantastic outdoor area. Umami offers a selection of creative Asian dishes, all relatively inexpensive. The pho is available as a vegetarian option.
BTW: After lunch, head to the Otherland book store on Wörther Str. 27, with a great selection of literature in English.
Knaackstraße 16, 10405,Berlin
BRLO Brwhouse
An intriguing mix between of German beer-garden tradition and a restaurant that reminds some of Brooklyn, BRLO Brwhouse is good for a quick snack outside or a sit-down meal. Most dishes here are based on German cuisine but would strike Berliners as a more international interpretation. You usually choose a base of vegetables, to which you can add meat. Its brewery’s beers are fantastic.
BTW: take your lunch along on a stroll in Park am Gleisdreieck
BRLO Brwhouse, Schöneberger Strasse 16, 10963 Berlin
If you’ve never been to Germany, and you’re curious what modern German food tastes like, then PeterPaul should be on top of your to-do list. The dimly lit restaurant opens only for dinner and focuses on shared platters of regional dishes. Ever heard of Königsberger klopse, a kind of meatball, for example?
BTW: The restaurant usually stays open late — until 1 a.m.
PeterPaul, Torstrasse 99, 10119 Berlin
Berlin has some of Europe’s best Middle Eastern food, and if you’ve had a big lunch and aren’t looking for a heavy sit-down meal, Zweistrom might be the ideal place for something quick. In the center of the popular Prenzlauer Berg district in Berlin’s formerly East German part, Zweistrom offers huge portions for great value. Falafel or shawarma chicken plates are standbys, but you can’t really make the wrong choice.
BTW: Zweistrom is within walking distance of Prater, one of Berlin’s best beer gardens in summer.
Zweistrom, Kollwitzstrasse 104, 10435 Berlin
Here’s a spot if you’re visiting Berlin in the spring through early fall. It’s not easy to locate, but once you’ve taken the lift up Neukoelln Arcaden shopping mall and reached its parking lot, you’ll be amazed to find the entrance to an outdoor summer rooftop bar, hidden between parked vehicles. During the day, families come here with their kids for an amazing view over the city. In the evening, Klunkerkranich, full of quirky decorations, turns into a bar, high up in the skies of the capital. (Note: It’s closed January and February.)
BTW: The entrance fee is set between around $1 and $6, depending on how much you’re willing to spend.
Klunkerkranich, Karl-Marx-Strasse 66, 12043 Berlin
Curry 36
It’s a late-night German classic: the currywurst. It’s certainly not the healthiest option (and some say not the tastiest, either), but unless you have a good excuse, it’s sort of socially unacceptable to leave Berlin without having tried the famous pork sausage, with lots of ketchup or tomato sauce and fries. Out of the abundance of options, the best place for the street food is Curry 36 at Mehringdamm.
BTW: You usually need to decide whether you want the sausage with or without casing (or, “mit oder ohne Darm”). And go for the steamed onions.
Curry 36, Mehringdamm 36, 10961 Berlin
(Berlin illustrator Ju Schnee for The Washington Post)
  1. Many places in Berlin don’t accept credit or debit cards. Yes, even expensive restaurants may only take cash. Head to the ATM as soon as you get here.
  2. Apropos of getting here: You’ll probably arrive at one of the two very, very old Berlin airports. Don’t let their outdated look taint your view of Berlin.
  3. Berliners become different people when it finally gets warm after our infamously long winters. If you plan a trip when it’s cold, try to be here before New Year’s Eve.
(Berlin illustrator Ju Schnee for The Washington Post)


After most of Berlin had been destroyed in World War II, the rubble was moved to the outskirts of the city. Today, the waste pile made up of what was once Berlin has been turned into a forest-covered hill, with the ruins of a Cold War-era U.S. spy station on its top that is still partially accessible to visitors. Tickets start at $6; guided tours need to be booked in advance. You can reach Teufelsberg (“Devil’s Mountain”) by car or, if you’re up for a 30-minute hike with some great city views, by public transport.
BTW: Since the Cold War, Teufelsberg has been taken over by artists, who have turned the former spying station into sort of an open-air graffiti exhibition. Keep an eye out for it.
Teufelsberg, Teufelsseechaussee 10, 14193 Berlin
Urban Nation Museum
Just around the corner from one of Berlin’s most popular Saturday weekend markets, Winterfeldtplatz, the Urban Nation museum takes you on a contemporary art journey. From international street art to events spotlighting artists in oppressive regimes, Urban Nation attracts talent from around the world. After visiting the museum, take a stroll around the neighborhood where some of them have left their traces on walls and buildings, transforming the district into an open-air extension of the exhibition.
BTW: Recommending seeing a museum’s restrooms might be unusual, but go, if only for the graffiti-covered walls.
Urban Nation Museum, Buelowstrasse 7, 10783 Berlin
Rent a boat or kayak
Berlin isn’t internationally renowned for its water lanes, but locals would beg to differ. In summer, Berliners head to the lakes and rivers to go kayaking, rent a boat or swim. A fantastic central option is Neuer See, right in Tiergarten Park, which has its own beer garden and restaurant; boats are rentable at Cafe am Neuen See.
BTW: If you have more time, explore the Wannsee lake, just outside of Berlin, which is easy to reach by public transport, or the lakes around the neighboring city of Potsdam.
Lichtensteinallee 2, 10787 Berlin
Tour Tempelhof
On weekends, many Berliners head to the historic, now-closed Tempelhof airport, which was turned into a recreational park after a city-wide referendum in 2014. Originally expanded by Adolf Hitler, it was later used by U.S. forces to prevent West Berlin from falling into the hands of the Soviets. Today, the runways are occupied by “kite-surfers” (on skateboards) and runners. Tempelhof’s communal garden is a perfect picnic spot. But the indoor areas are even more fascinating; book a tour.
BTW: World War II buffs should visit similar sites across Berlin, such as air-raid shelters or tunnels beneath what was the Berlin Wall. Those tours, by Berliner Unterwelten e.V., often change; check the schedule.
Tempelhofer Damm 9, 12101 Berlin
Berlin’s Badeschiff is a swimming pool inside the River Spree, with a bar and a view of the iconic Oberbaumbrücke. Some people come here just to cool down in summer and have some drinks. Others are here for the Badeschiff’s original purpose: swimming. When the Badeschiff was opened in 2004, it revived a century-old German tradition of swimming pools in rivers as a cleaner and safer alternative to jumping into the rivers themselves. Since its opening, Berlin’s Badeschiff (admission: about $6) has evolved into a recreational area.
BTW: For now, visitors need to book time slots on the company’s website in advance.
Badeschiff, Eichenstrasse 4, 12435 Berlin
Rick Noack
Rick is originally from Dresden, a two- to three-hour drive from Berlin, and moved to the German capital in 2017, following stints after high school in France, Washington and London.
Verena Brüning
Verena is a contributing photographer for The Washington Post based in Berlin. She moved from the western part of Germany to Berlin in 2009, attracted by friends’ inexpensive and spacious apartments … back then, it was easy to find one. She fell in love with the juxtapositions and imperfection of Berlin, and loves Treptower Park.