There are lot of fantastic neighbourhoods to choose from when you visit Berlin but few rival Mitte. For me ‘Mitte’, the ‘middle’ and heart of Berlin is one of the best places to feel the pulse of this incredibly vibrant, hedonistic and cultural city. There’s a lot of history packed into the huge 39.47 km² area that Mitte covers. You have the best of Berlin in one area-from the Reichstag, to the Museum Island, the iconic TV Tower, the sprawling magnificent Tiergarten park and the ugly but pretty Potsdamer Platz. Plus there’s a ton of cool bars and places to eat here.
Where to stay in Berlin Mitte: Circus Hostel Berlin
I’ve had the good fortune of living in this part of town for awhile now but if you are looking for a tip of a place to stay in Berlin Mitte then I’d shamelessly like to plug the Circus Hostel. The hostel has a great location just beside Rosenthaler Platz U-Bahn station-you’re right in the heart of Mitte. The spacious dorms and private rooms have been recently refurbished and offer a high level of comfort and ensuite facilities. Other star features include their fabulous Behind the Iron Curtain walking tours and also their excellent onsite coffee Shop where you can enjoy great coffee and snacks throughout the day. They offer a great value breakfast buffet ( till 1pm on weekends!) and their basement bar offers some of the best beers in town. Plus you have the only museum in the world dedicated to David Hasselhoff. Curious to know more- checkout my full review of Circus Hostel Berlin
Back to our self guided walking tour of Berlin Mitte…
Over the course of my last year I’ve learnt a few secret spots and cool places to eat and drink in Mitte. Following the success and popularity of my earlier self guided free walking tour guide of Edinburgh, I’d thought I’d share this information with you in the form of a self guided free walking tour. You can customise the guide to suit your interests but all the locations referenced here are within close walking distance of Circus Hostel. Hope you find the guide useful and thanks for reading.
A short walk from Wombats Berlin Hostel is Alexanderplatz, lovingly referred to by locals as ‘Alex.’ Once upon a time the heart of Berlin’s nightlife in the roaring 20’s, Alexanderplatz is nowadays a bustling transport hub and also home to some hulking ugly concrete buildings , a hangover from the GDR era. Still, if you want to get a feel of what socialist Berlin might have been like pre reunification, come here. Another cool feature to checkout here is the World Time Clock, a continually rotating installation that shows the time throughout the globe.
2. Berlin TV Tower
One of the icons of the GDR era and also with the unique distinction of being the second largest building in the European Union is the beloved Fernsehturm (TV Tower) which is a symbol of the city (and as a fantastic point of reference for lost tourists), visible for miles around. I warn you in advance that its pricey but from the top of the tower you get an incredible 360 degree panorama of the city. Come early here if you want to avoid the long queues or alternatively you can prebook your entry time online but it does cost few euros more. If you want to linger longer there is a restaurant Sphere to dine from.
Top tip: An alternative view that costs far less ( but opens at a later hour ) and also offers great views of the tower is the Panorama Terrace of the Park Inn Radisson Hotel. It costs just €4 (Hours: Summertime: 12 noon – 10 pm, Wintertime: 12 noon – 6 pm )
3. Haus des Lehrers ( Alexanderplatz 9 )
There’s a few other landmarks to checkout when you are in the area. One of my favourite murals in the city can be found slapped against a dreary modernist skyscraper built in 1964 -known as Haus des Lehrers aka House of Teachers this 125m long mural is one of the largest murals in Europe. Created by Walter Womacka, ‘Unser Leben’ (Our Life) gives you an idea of what life was like in the GDR era.
4. Kino International ( Karl Marx Allee )
Another place to checkout if you are looking for a feeling of Berlin pre-unification is the fabulous Kino International. During the GDR era this was the cinema theatre where all the film premieres take place and the last one was rumoured to take place on the day the Wall fell (Heiner Carow’s ‘Coming Out’ ) The architecture of the building is fantastic and love the nostalgic ambience of the place- you feel you could be in some 1960’s styled Wes Anderson movie. The cinema has a regular programme of films plus also the ‘Representation Room’ where state and party leaders celebrated before and after film premieres is now host to Kino International’s gay and lesbian club.
Short stroll from Alexanderplatz is another cool hub of shops, bars and restaurants known as Hackescher Markt. One of the most interesting parts of visiting this area is the sprawling complex of elegant courtyards with impressive Art Nouveau facades known as Hackesche Höfe. The area was home to one of the biggest Jewish communities in Berlin. Neue Synagoge on Oranienburger Strasse, just a few hundred yards from Hackesche Höfe is worth checking out.
Other interesting but not so well known landmarks here include the Museum Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt, formerly the site of a 1940’s workshop owned by Otto Weidt that employed blind and deaf Jewish people to manufacture brooms and brushes. During the Holocaust, Otto fought to protect his Jewish workers against deportation and the museum tells the extraordinary story of how Otto defied the Nazis. It is a really moving haunting museum- on the walls you can observe framed photographs of people who have hidden in the Weidt workshop and also witness the small, windowless hideout room in the furthest corner of the building-this has been kept in its original condition.
Also worth checking out at Friedhof Große Hamburger Straße is the nearby Jewish cemetery-the second oldest Jewish cemetery in Berlin. Dating back to the 1600’s this was destroyed by Nazi’s in WWII. Behind the locked gate you can see a replica of the headstone from Moses Mendelssohn who was an important part of the Berlin Jewish community. On Koppenplatz to the northern entrance of the cemetery you can find Karl Biedermann’s bronze sculpture ‘The Deserted Room’ that commemorates the Holocaust.
Also definitely worth spending time in The Dead Chicken Alley where you will find bars ( Escschloraque with its crazy interior decor and cool music is a belter) , exhibitions, workshops and a ton of great artworks and graffiti.
Also if you are in the mood to catch a movie later, highly recommend checking out the programme at Hackesche Höfe Kino, one of the best cinemas in town showing a good selection of independent, art house and mainstream movies showing in English.
Also, if you are coming to Berlin, you can’t leave without having the city’s iconic dish, the Currywurst. Its basically a diced up classic german wurst with a lot of ketchup on top and dollops of curry powder on top-might sound too appetising but its tasty. One of the decent places to try this is Curry 61 in Hackescher Markt. They also have a vegan version plus their fries are not too shabby.
6. Museum Island
Berlin has an astonishing 175 museums but arguably the best collection of museums can be found in the stunning Museum Island. The northern half of an island in the Spree river, the Museum Island is a collection of 5 world-renowned museums.
I would definitely make time for the Pergammon Museum to see the beautiful Ishtar Gate which was apparently the gate to the kingdom of Babylon and later check in to the Neues Museum to see the famous bust of the Ancient Egyptian queen Nefertiti. If you love art then a visit to the Alte Nationalgalerie is a must with is an impressive collection of art that includes works by the amazing Caspar David Friedrich, Monet, Van Gogh, Constable and Courbet.
You can get admission to all the 5 museums with a combined ticket which costs €18 (€9 reduced) It is pricey but really worth the investment if you are a culture vulture.
After visiting the museum, don’t forget to take a picture of the Spree river, the TV tower in the distance from the enchanting Friedrichsbrucke bridge in the heart of the Museum Island.
7. Unter Den Linden
Now turn right from the Museum Island and walk up the grand boulevard of Unter den Linden with it’s layers of rich history and beautiful buildings.
On your right you will see the Neue Wache ( free entry) which has the iconic Mother and Son sculpture by Kathe Kollwitz, one of my favourite monuments in the city. I love the light and sombre mood of the Neue Wache. Originally a guardhouse for Prussian King Frederik William II, in 1969 the remains of an unknown soldier and concentration camp prisoner were laid to rest here, serving as a memorial to the victims of war and tyranny.
After exiting Neue Wache and strolling further up Unter den Linden you’ll find yourself back in Lustgarten with the majestic Berliner Dom on the right in the background. This is the perfect place for relaxing with a book and watching the world go by. This green oasis has been through many reincarnations. From a site for political demonstrations during the Weimar republic to a venue for Hitler’s mass rallies (when it was paved over) to it’s happy current form.
On your left opposite the Lustgarten you will see Bebelplatz where the Nazis burnt the books of those they persecuted and ostracized. There’s an installation there , ‘a library with empty shelves’ by Micha Ullman.
Walking further up then brings you to the majestic Brandenburg Gate -one of 20 original gates whereby you could enter the city back in the day. Once a symbol of a divided city, the Brandenburg Gate is now the iconic symbol of Berlin and of the reunified Germany. It’s worth hanging around the elegant Pariser Platz in front of the Brandenburg Gate to just observing the flow of tourists and also colourful characters that seem to congregate here.
After passing through the Brandenburg Gate on the right you will see the Reichstag, the German Parliament with it’s beautiful glass dome.
It is free to enter but you have to apply in advance for tickets. Views are fantastic here plus you can choose to dine in their rooftop restaurant here.
Top Tip: Best viewpoint in Berlin
If you have time, one of my favourite viewpoints of Berlin ( other than the view from the bar of the Wombats Hostel Berlin ) is from the iconic ‘Goldelse’ (nicknamed by locals as ‘Golden Lizzy’)
Barack Obama addressed 200,000 locals from this spot during his visit to Berlin in July 2008. The column is also an icon in popular culture. Film buffs will recognize the golden lady as the spot where the angels of the Wim Wenders classic, ‘Wings of Desire’ would congregate and talk. Climb the 270 steps (Entrance fee €3.50, reduced: €2.50 ) and from the top you can admire Golden Lizzy upclose and get panoramic views of the green, lush Tiergarten, the Soviet War Memorial plus the Brandenburg Gate in the distance.
8. Holocaust Memorial
After Reichstag continue to your left and you’ll find yourself in front of the Holocaust Memorial, another moving and symbolic architectural gem of Berlin.
The memorial’s 2,711 concrete slabs or “stelae” of the memorial are arranged in a grid pattern and varying in height from 0.2 to 4.8 m help create a confusing, disorientating and claustrophobic ambience which was the creator, Peter Eisenman’s intention. The memorial is one of those places that you have to experience yourself to fully realize it’s meaning.
While visiting, you can visit the subterranean underground museum (Entrance: € Free, but donations are welcomed) which reveals the painful and disturbing history of the Jewish Holocaust victims. The museum has a database of all the victims. Visitors can go online and query names of the victims., or record them
After that, you walk straight to the iconic Potsdamer Platz. End the walk in style by nipping into the Ritz Carlton for cocktails at the fabulous Curtain Club- pricey but probably one of the most best craft cocktails I have ever tasted.
Top tip: Get the full picture of the Berlin Wall at the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer
For those of you who are keen to learn more about what life was like behind the wall, I highly recommend a visit to the very moving and haunting Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial) : A memorial to the victims of the Berlin Wall, this stretches for 1.4km along Bernauer Strasse, along the actual course of the Wall. This is probably the best place to learn how all the elements of the hated barrier and the death strip fit together, how the border fortifications were enlarged and perfected over time, and what impact they had on the daily lives of people on both sides.
Cool places to eat and drink in Berlin Mitte
Once you’ve finished your walk, have a drink or bite at some of my recommended places below.
This Tajikistani themed tea room with a very cool Oriental ambience is a nice place to come and drink some tea and chill. Recommend requesting the ‘Russian Tea Ceremony’ here. Bring cash plus there is a weekly story telling event very Mondays at 19:30.
Vintage retro mirrored dance hall where you can find people dancing tango and eating simple hearty German cuisine-this is a real local institution and atmospheric place.
Where to drink beer in Mitte?
Really important question. For beers, I am not a huge craft beer fan but I love going to Brewdog outpost in Berlin Mitte ( Ackerstrasse 29) As a huge fan of Liverpool FC and football in general, I do spend a lot of my time and money at the excellent FC Magnet Bar just off Veteranstrasse (26) Czech beers on tap and they show most of the Premier league and Bundesliga games. Plus obviously don’t forget the basement bar of the Circus Hostel.
Zeit fur Brot
Vegan friendly and amazing cinnamon rolls right near Rosa Luxembourg Platz.
Their menu changes daily so there’s always new dishes to try but I usually plump for the tried and tested Bún bò Huế or bún bò, a popular Vietnamese soup containing rice vermicelli and beef. It is delicious, easy on the wallet and usually wash this down with some Tiger beer.
Banh Mi Deli
I’m also a huge fan of the Vietnamese sandwich -“bánh mì” : A product of French colonialism in Indochina, this sandwich mixes ingredients from the French like their crispy fresh baguettes, pâté, jalapeño and mixes them with native Vietnamese ingredients such as coriander, cucumber, and pickled carrots and daikon (đồ chua). For me, for taste and flavour this is the best sandwich in the world. Whenever I am in Berlin, I try to visit the wonderful unassuming Banh Mi Deli just off Rosenthaler Platz (Rosenthaler Str. 2)
Cuore Di Vetro
One of the best ice-cream parlours in town. Try their pistachio gelato. Lots of vegan options too.
Top tip: Visit a Späti
If the weather is nice, especially in the summer, locals love to grab a beer and go to the park. The beer’s here are also nice and cheap and range from €1-3. You’ll find beers at a Späti. Also known as spätkaufs, these late-night stores are an icon of the Berlin streetscene. Some of the spätis during the summer will have often have tables outside for you to drink beer. Some they even have their own bathrooms. Sometimes they even have their own impromptu raves. They pretty much replace any bar if you’re super strapped for cash. My favourite Späti in Mitte is the one on the beginning of Weinbergsweg -cheap beers with lots of outdoor benches plus its perfectly located to watch the crowds and chaos of Rosenthaler Platz.
Shopping in Mitte?
Not my speciality but ……if you are a lover of a good graphic design and coffee, pay a visit to the Type Hype Store & Milchbar- this design concept store and coffee shop is located under the hotel Lux11 on Rosa Luxembourg strasse. The design of the store is very Art Deco with lots of minimal structure – it’s a type house. Lots of letters, shapes and structure. Also if you love books , pay a visit to the lovely Ocelot bookstore ( Brunnenstrasse 181) -probably my favourite local bookstore in the city. Great selection of travel books plus they do good coffee.
Further Berlin resources and guides to checkout
- 7 of the best budget places to stay in Berlin
- 15 Free Things to do in Berlin
- 10 Cool things to do in Berlin on a budget
- 10 Movies that inspired me to visit Berlin
- How to hack to Berlin Transport System
- 6 free iPhone apps for exploring Berlin
- Cheap eats guide to Berlin