"Berlin is a city condemned forever to becoming and never to being," wrote art critic Karl Scheffler in 1910. Since then, every day of Europe's tumultuous 20th century seems to have left a mark on Berlin's streets and facades. That's why it is so difficult to provide a list of places to visit. Berlin's energy, sloppiness, repetitive street names and slapdash outbursts of architectural gems from any decade imaginable make it more like an assortment of historic and social experiences than a city. But I'll try to recommend what I can.
1. Stroll through Kreuzberg
Get out of the U-Bahn at Südstern and walk along the historic Lilienthalstrasse. The air is cold and fresh because the street is surrounded by cemeteries on both sides and a large park, Hasenheide. Lielienthalstrasse is full of beautiful 19th century "Altbau" houses, most of which were destroyed during World War II in other parts of the city. You can still find large pockets of them in Kreuzberg and in Prenzlauer Berg, but the beauty of Lilienthalstrasse is also its gardens. You'll see a small tidy garden patch in front of every house, with roses or lilacs (come in the spring!) - they up half the sidewalk. The gardens used to be a distinctive Berlin feature, but they have been dismantled on most of the other remaining "Altbau" streets. If you look closely at the pavement in Prenzlauer Berg you'll see a different pattern on its broad sidewalks where the gardens used to be.
The embassy of the Vatican stands on Lilienthalstrasse, as well as a wonderful Polish bookshop and cafe across from it. Snack on one of their pastries, and get a haircut at Kalamistra from Traudel while you're in the neighborhood.
Photo: Graefestrasse in Kreuzberg
For another quiet walk among locals, take Graefestrasse all the way to the canal called Landwehrkanal, lined with big old trees. If you find yourself on the Maybachufer Tuesday or Friday between 11:00 AM and 6:30 PM, you won't miss the bustling Turkish Market. I'll confess that I accidentally bought 60 limes for 2 euros there once. At the market, you'll find street food for a snack on the go, or cheap ingredients for cooking just about any dish imaginable.
For a relaxing day among both locals and tourists, turn the corner of Lilienthalstrasse and walk along a street called "Südstern" by the cemetery towards Bergmannstrasse. Marheineckeplatz has a lovely flee market on the weekends. Buy some fruit or have a coffee in the Marheinecke Markthalle, a beautiful indoor market. Continue along Bergmannstrasse and turn off into the quiet and breathtaking Chamissoplatz, you'll think you crossed the street into Paris.
Photo: a rainy day near Chamissoplatz in Kreuzberg
Have a hummus platter at Knofi (one of two on Bergmannstrasse) and buy some Turkish delight to take home. Then keep going to Viktoriapark for either a beer in the beautiful Biergarten in the summer, or a walk to the Prussian monument atop the hill (or both).
And don't miss Berlin's most famous curry sausage place, Curry 36, right near Mehringdamm. Or, instead of curry, dig into the most delicious kebap in town (not joking), Mustafa's - just outside Mehringdamm Ubahn. You'll see a big line, but it will be absolutely 100% worth it - you'll never taste a more delicious kebap!
And f you want a Berlin souvenir, Heimat Berlin on Bergmannstrasse is very tasteful.
2. Sprint along the landing strip at Tempelhof airport
Tempelhof is an actual airport that's been converted to a park. Possibly one of the few places in the world where you can literally run along the landing strip. In good weather you can grill out there. Bike, skate, fly a kite. Lie around on its vast green expanses. Make the space of the airport your own - it's a liberating and surreal experience.
You can walk to Tempelhof from the Südstern Ubahn station mentioned above, just follow Lilienthalstrasse to the end and turn left.
3. Go to the Grimm library and touch the building
For the nerds and the tactile people among us. The Jacob-und-Wilhelm-Grimm-Zentrum is the new Humboldt Universität library, located just off Friedrichstrasse. Its craziest feature is its facade - pick a corner and touch it, knock on it, put your face on it. You won't regret it. It's also glorious on the inside, boasting 2 million volumes in open shelving, a terraced reading room with walls of cherry wood beneath a glass roof.
Actually getting a spot to read there requires a university affiliation, standing in line to put your stuff in a locker, and sometimes during exam time you really have to struggle to find a spare desk.
4. Walk to Potsdamer Platz from Brandenburg Gate
Start at Pariser Platz in front of the Brandenburg Gate, take in the grand embassies looming over you, but don't hang out with the tourists for too long. Go visit the Holocaust Memorial, a vast solemn structure. In fact, few people know that Hitler's bunker (the place he died) was located underground at the diagonally opposite end of this memorial from the American embassy, in front of the grey apartment buildings.
Photo: the Holocaust Memorial in Mitte
In addition to the Holocaust memorial, across the street just a few meters into Tiergarten you will find another important memorial - the Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism, which opened in 2008. Walk up to it and be sure to look inside the "window."
Then follow the traces of the Berlin wall up Ebertstrasse to Potsdamer Platz. You'll see a double brick line under your feet where the wall used to be. Potsdamer Platz was the most vibrant part of town in the early 20th century, full of cafes, crowds of people, beautiful buildings. It was bombed during World War II, then the wall was built straight through it, and it remained empty for many years. The new buildings were not erected until after Germany's reunification.
Today, Potsdamer Platz is a windy place with a lot of office buildings. But as you walk around between the offices and shopping malls, try to find the only building in the whole quarter that wasn't destroyed during the war. It's called Haus Huth, and it was built in 1912 as a restaurant and wine house. Today, it's still a restaurant and wine house, and the upper portion of the building has a rotating exhibition of modern art. Have a look at its elegant yet sturdy, lonely facade, and try not to let Potsdamer Platz break your heart.
For a panorama view over the entire city, take Europe's fastest elevator in Potsdamer Platz Arkaden (Potsdamer Platz 1) up to the Panoramapunkt (there's a student discount).
5. Watch Prenzlauer Berg evolve
Prenzlauer Berg's century-old cobblestone streets will remind you of Paris. Aesthetically, it's the Eastern sister-district of West Berlin's Kreuzberg. Once a hotbed for East Berlin opposition-type troublemakers, Prenzlauer Berg became home to squatters and artists, and then recently transformed into an expensive area with sought-after real estate. Play with the children on its beautifully reconstructed playgrounds. Walk along Oderberger Strasse and be blinded the the soft beauty of its facades. Stare at hipster fathers carrying their babies across Kollwitzplatz and sitting with their strollers in outdoor cafes. Come by the Mauerpark flea market on a Sunday if you dare face the crowds. Visit the Kulturbrauerei complex for a drink, a movie, or a Christmas market over the holidays. Whatever you do, don't miss the exceptional, moving Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse. Have a glass of wine or two at the pay-what-you-want wine bar "Weinerei" (on Veteranenstr. 14, near Zionskirchplatz) - you get a glass for 2 euros, try all the wines you want, and pay however much you wish when you leave. And make sure you find this expat favorite - Saint George's bookshop, full of second-hand English-language treasures, plus a lot of books on the history of Berlin. Look out for tatters of bohemian life beneath the fresh layers of paint in this beautiful, quickly evolving part of town.
Photo: a Prenzlauer Berg local
6. Feel small in Treptower Park
Located on the banks of the river Spree, Treptower Park is famous for its towering, magnificent Soviet War Memorial. Go on a cloudy day. Or better yet, after rainfall.
Photo: a misty day in Treptower Park
7. Grab a coffee or cider on Boxhagener Platz and walk along Karl Marx Allee
Boxhagener Platz is the setting for Torsten Schulz's best-selling novel called (surprise) Boxhagener Platz, translated into English under the title A Square in East Berlin. The novel is about life in East Berlin around Boxhagener Platz in 1968. This square is located in a part of town called Friedrichshain, where a lot of artists have found themselves after prices in Prenzlauer Berg soared in the 2000s. Lovingly called "Boxi" by some, the square hosts a Saturday "farmer's" market with delicious cider, and Sunday it's taken over by a flea market with some East Berlin flair. The cafe Mokofuk is absurdly good for third-wave coffee and people-watching. Nearby you can find Kino Intimes, a small art house movie theater that's been tucked away in this building since 1906.
If you make your way out of the quiet green streets surrounding Boxhagener Platz, take a walk down Karl Marx Allee back towards Mitte. This is a broad, monumental socialist boulevard built between 1952 and 1960. Some of the apartments here were allocated to those who participated in the construction of these grand buildings, and some of these families still live there today. Study the facades and their ceramic details, imagine East Germany's annual May Day parade. One Wikipedia editor dubbed this street "Stalin's bathroom" in an infamous 2009 Wikipedia edit, referring to the tiles on the buildings. Italian architect and designer Aldo Rossi called Karl Marx Allee "Europe's last great street." If you're lucky, you'll get see the dual towers of Frankfurter Tor glisten in the sunset in all their tragic post-socialist glory.
8. Explore Brandenburg
Rent a bike, take it out of the city to Brandenburg an der Havel or to Wusterwitz, bike around the lakes and have a picnic. You can check out some bike routes here. Brandenburg is flat, airy, and has all the sky in the world.
But mostly, Berlin about bumping into a piano standing in the middle of the sidewalk. Berlin is when a Faust production opens at the State Opera with a plea for the audience to donate to NGO's aiding refugees. Berlin is about a Botticelli exhibition displaying his works from 1481 to 2015. Berlin is ex-lovers and ex-lovers of ex-lovers sipping coffee at bakeries across the city on a rainy Saturday morning years ago, and years from now. Berlin is when you feel the growing pains of Kreuzberg and Neukölln in your knees. Berlin is gospel singing on Südstern, traces of 19th century gardens on strangely wide sidewalks, pastel-colored buildings standing tall and holding their breath between cemeteries. The city turns beneath your feet like a small planet suspended in all of Europe's woes. Feel it once for a second, and the city will never let you go.
Or you can just ask our locals in Berlin
They will be really happy to help you with recommendations :)