England takes pleasure in London, the U.S. loves New York, France is slightly narcissistic about Paris, and once again, Germany proudly claims Berlin. More than two decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city is basking in a cultural renaissance that is marking everything from museums to fashion, food and nightclubs. That's not to say that this city has forgotten its dark past; in fact, powerful attractions like the Murdered Jews Memorial, the Topography of Terror and the Checkpoint Charlie Museum are evidence of its steadfast reverence. And yet, Berlin is on the upswing. An afternoon of people-watching at a lively cafe or an all-night dance fest at a hip club will provide you the proof.
The best time to visit Berlin is May through September when the weather is ideal for cafe sitting, park lazing and leisurely city strolling. Winter, on the other hand, is literally freezing: Temperatures tend to range in the 20- to 30-degree Fahrenheit range. However, this might be the best time for budget travelers to score deals on airfare and hotel rates.
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
East and West Berlin were historically united after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Since then, Germany has experienced a vast economic and cultural revitalization that has launched it into one of the most powerful countries in Europe and the world.
Although Germany's official language is German, you'll find that some Berliners are proficient in English, too. Still, you can't go wrong learning a few German words: Guten tag or hallo for "hello", bitte for "please" and danke for "thank you."
Punctuality and order are two characteristics highly prized by German culture, so be on time to any business meeting or formal engagement. When in a restaurant, do not leave your money on the table after receiving the check. Hand the money to the waiter and ask for your change. Tips are already included in your bill, but if the service was exceptional, it's customary to tip an extra 10 to 15 percent.
Berlin's official currency is the euro (EUR). Since the euro to U.S. dollar exchange rate fluctuates often, check what the current exchange rate is before you go. Major credit cards are accepted at most restaurants and shops.
Berlin's food options are wide-ranging, with an abundance of traditional German cuisine as well as a thriving ethnic food scene and even healthier, vegetarian-friendly options. Still, when in Berlin you can't miss the opportunity to nosh on authentic dishes the country is known for.
A variety of sausages – everything from bratwurst to bockwurst (pork and veal) to the unique currywurst (sausage covered with ketchup and curry powder) – are ever-popular, as well as staples like Wiener schnitzel (flattened breaded and then fried veal). German cuisine relies heavily on pork, so much so that you'll find eisbein (pork knuckle) served with potatoes and sauerkraut. Pop over to Zur letzten Instanz, the oldest restaurant in Berlin, one block off the Klosterstraße U-Bahn station for some traditional eats.
Berlin also has a large Turkish influence (more than 200,000 Turks call the city home) and that's spilled over into the gastronomy. For a look at a variety of delicacies, check out Turkish Market that's along the banks of the Landwehr Canal in the Neukölln neighborhood (hop off the U-Bahn at U Kottbusser Tor or Schönleinstraße). Additionally, no trip to Berlin is complete with eating a döner kebab sandwich, which was first introduced by Turkish immigrants (urban legend says it was invented in Berlin) that includes a special bread filled with thin slices of beef (or chicken or lamb... take your pick) and topped with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and yogurt-based sauce. You'll likely find them at numerous street vendors all over the city.
And no trip to Berlin is complete without some (or lots) of bier (beer). Beer is a big part of the culture; the legal drinking age for fermented beverages is 16 (for distilled alcohol it's 18). Germany also takes the quality of their suds seriously. There are a number of regulations, known as Reinheitsgebot (literally translated to "purity order"), that limit the number of ingredients used in the brewing process to only malt, hops, yeast and water. There are biergartens all over the city, but one of the most beautiful, Cafè am Neuen See, is found in Tiergarten. Don't forget to say prost or zum wohl! (cheers and bottoms up, respectively).
In general, pickpocketing tends to be a Berlin tourist's main safety concern. Watch out for pickpockets on public transportation, especially during rush hour and at major tourist attractions.
Prostitution is legal in Germany, and Berlin also employs quite a thriving prostitution business. However, visitors should be aware that a percentage of the city's prostitutes are victims of human trafficking, which the government is trying to clamp down on.
The best way to get around Berlin is via the U-Bahn underground trains or S-Bahn regional, elevated trains, which are both a part of the city's extensive BVG public transportation system. You can even take the U-Bahn from Berlin Tegel Airport (TXL), located a mere 5 miles from the city center as well as the secondary airport, Berlin Schönefeld Airport (SXF), about 13 miles southeast of the city center.
The city also offers an extensive bus and tram lines. Although service is significantly slower, travelers can take advantage of the Berlin WelcomeCard which offers unlimited service on bus routes and rail lines.
As with every big metropolis, driving is discouraged: heavy traffic and scarce parking are the main culprits. For a bit of exercise, you can also rent a bike and peddle along the city's bike lanes and through the parks. Metered taxis are abundantly available, and these can be hailed on the street or scheduled ahead of time.See details for Getting Around
United States citizens can visit Berlin for 90 days without a tourist visa. A passport that is valid six months beyond your planned departure date is required for entry. For more information on entry and exit requirements, visit the U.S. State Department's website .
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