Once the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie are ticked off your list, Berlin offers up a host of unexpected (and, at times, downright bizarre) activities: swimming to a techno soundtrack, cinema-inspired sports, and an insect-based cooking course.
When you think about Berlin’s underground scene, chances are that World War II air raid shelters and Cold War nuclear bunkers aren’t the first things that come to mind. Berliner Unterwelten (Subterranean Berlin) is a museum that offers a unique perspective on Berlin’s history from its base in a former air raid bunker at the Gesundbrunnen train station. Guided tours led by researchers take visitors through the vast network of secret tunnels built by the Nazis, with a number of different themed tours available. These include the Dark Worlds Tour, which centres on life during wartime for the average citizen of Berlin; and the Under the Berlin Wall Tour, focusing on attempted escapes via tunnels underneath the Berlin Wall.
Every other day of the week it’s Preu?en Park (Prussian Park), but on summer Sundays this verdant stretch in the off-the-hipster-radar suburb of Wilmersdorf is transformed into Thai Park – a little taste of Bangkok right in Berlin’s backyard. From under a flurry of colourful umbrellas, the mostly Thai vendors (though you’ll find Vietnamese, Chinese, Filipino and Laotian, too) serve up mouthwatering Asian street food cooked on the spot, from spicy noodle soups to fluffy banana fritters – all at prices more affordable than packing your own picnic.
Berlin’s music scene is legendary, even if its dance-till-dawn attitude isn’t for everyone. Rather more relaxing than queuing for hours to get turned away from the notorious Berghain, futuristic Liquidrom combines techno music with a luxurious spa experience: float off on a pool noodle with the strains of live electronic music infusing the very waters enveloping you. With sauna, massage treatments and a bar also on offer, an immersive evening at Liquidrom is designed to leave you blissed out.
While Tempelhofer Feld – a former airport turned public park in 2010 – is one of Berlin’s most popular, if peculiar, drawcards, what few of its visitors may realise is that it’s one of the world’s first official Jugger training areas, too. The sport, inspired by the 1989 cult post-apocalypse movie The Salute of the Jugger, looks a little like rugby-meets-fencing, and its adherents claim it’s a blast. If you’re feeling brave, the Jugger eV league offers free weekly training sessions – or simply gawk from the sidelines.
Already considered one of the most vegan-friendly cities globally, Berlin is now embracing a new culinary wave – or at least tentatively sampling it… . Insects have been staples on the menus of numerous non-Western cultures and now, as we search for more sustainable ways of living, organisations like Berlin-based MikroKosmos are helping people remove the ‘creepy’ from their creepy crawly food experiences. Find their stall at Markthalle 9 every second Thursday or, better yet, take part in one of their cooking courses – you can email them for more information.
G?rlitzer Park (known as ‘G?rli’ to the locals) is another of Berlin’s best-loved parks and it has a dark secret – well, a glow-in-the-dark one, to be exact. Spread across five rooms in the basement of the park café is an 18-hole, trippy blacklight miniature golf course, complete with neon renderings of Berlin’s most famous landmarks. Go for birdie with the Berlin bear looming over you or hit a hole-in-one at the suddenly psychedelic Brandenburger Tor. You can also try your hand – or backhand – at black light table tennis.
Treptower Park is more than a lush location for a bike ride, it’s home to an imposing Soviet War memorial. Designed by Soviet architect Yakov Belopolsky, it honours the Soviet soldiers who fell in the Battle of Berlin in 1945. Look out for sculptor Yevgeny Vuchetich’s 12-metre statue of a soldier holding a rescued child in one hand and a sword in the other. Some say it commemorates the deeds of a Soviet soldier who braved heavy gunfire to save a German child; others say the child represents Germany itself, liberated from Hitler by the USSR.
In a city as youthful and dynamic as Berlin, there’s a lot to be said for places where tradition is still revered. The Tajikistan Tearoom, a gift to Germany from the Soviets in 1974, serves it up by the steaming cupful. The tearoom was originally built as the Tajikistan pavilion for a trade fair in Leipzig during the 1970s, after which the pavilion was donated by the Soviet Republic of Tajikistan to their East German hosts. From its ornate sandalwood pillars and the epic murals playing out over vibrant walls to its Russian teatime delicacies, Central Asian and Russian cultures mix to create something magical in this space. As such, a hidden gem though it might be, advance reservations are still encouraged.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but there is such a thing as a free lunchtime concert. Just across the road from Tiergarten, the Berliner Philharmonie concert hall puts on world-class performances to anyone who has a lunch break to spare, every Tuesday afternoon in the main foyer of the Kammermusiksaal. Whether you’re taking a breather during a business trip or relaxing on vacation, swap out going for another d?ner for some culture instead.
This article is an updated version of a story created by Alice Dundon.