German freelance TV journalist and travel blogger Yvonne Zagermann has lived in Berlin for the last two years — the realization of a dream she’s had since first visiting as a teenager. “This city doesn’t expect anything from you but to be yourself,” she says. Check out Yvonne’s advice for getting the most out of Germany’s sleek-yet-gritty capital, then add your own tips and top picks in the comments section below or on our Travel Favorites site.
Berlin is My City
The first place I take a visitor from out of town is Golzo in Goltzstraße, because it’s my favorite café in Berlin and everything in this city starts with a coffee.
To escape the city I head to one of the many lakes around Berlin. Just hit the road and you’ll find one in a half hour or less.
If I want to spend my day with hipsters, start-up evangelists, and free WiFi, I go to St. Oberholz at Rosenthaler Platz.
For complete quiet, I can hide away in my own neighborhood, the Bavarian Quarter. When I open my window I hear birds chirping and bunnies scampering across the lawn. One time I even spotted a hedgehog.
If you have to order one thing off the menu from Borchardt it has to be schnitzel — and keep your fingers crossed for one of the many celebrities who have been here before like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Vivienne Westwood, or Robert de Niro to show up.
The Garage is my one-stop shop for great vintage clothes.
If my city were a celebrity it’d beMadonna in the early 90s: sexual, provocative, rebellious — while at the same time beautiful and glamorous.
The most random thing about my city is the fact that it’s the only capital in the world where a water plane is allowed to take off.
My city has the most hipster men.
My city has the most hipster women.
My favorite jogging/walking route is Kastanienallee in Prenzlauer Berg where you’ll find lots of vintage and designer stores and cute cafés. It’s also the perfect place for people watching — that’s why it’s called “Casting Alley.”
Shopping, drinking coffee, and watching-people count as a sport, right?
Burgermeister, next to Schlesisches Tor, is the spot for late-night eats.
You can tell a lot about my city from standing on the Oberbaumbrücke (the bridge Lola keeps running across in Run Lola Run) and just watching people. Look to the right and to the left from the bridge over river Spree.
You can tell if someone is from my city if he’s carrying a bottle of Club-Mate and a canvas tote bag.
In the spring you should explore Berlin’s many flea markets to find great vintage clothes, furniture, books, and local art.
In the summer you should go for a swim at the Badeschiff and party the night away in the many open-air beach clubs you’ll find there.
In the fall you should fly a kite. Also, don’t miss the Festival of Lightswhere illumination artists light up historic buildings and other important landmarks in a spectacular show.
In the winter you should wear hiking boots (the sidewalks may be icy), check out the many Christmas markets, and have a mug of Glühwein (mulled wine).
A hidden gem in my city is the abandoned amusement park Spreepark. You can go on a guided tour on weekends.
For a great breakfast joint try Entweder Oder in Prenzlauer Berg and order the Oderberger Spezial (it feeds two).
The best way to see my city is by bike. My tip: buy one at one of the many flea markets and resell it before you leave. If that is too much action for you, hop on the bus 100 (or at night 200) to get a tour around the city for €2,30.
If my city were a pet it would be acat: mostly grey but with a mythical beauty and a strong mind. A pet that’s not expecting anything from you but for you to be yourself.
If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live at a beach in Thailand running a coconut bikini company.
The best book about my city is Berlin Blues. It’s about Frank Lehmann, nearly 30, who lives in Berlin-Kreuzberg and struggles with his everyday life in 1989, the year the wall came down.
When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is “Berlin” by Fischer Z.
If you have kids, you won’t want to miss the Berlin Zoo (the famous polar bear Knut’s birthplace), where you can see cute baby animals. It’s also the oldest zoo in Germany.
A mayor saying “it’s poor but sexy” about his city could only happen in my city.
My city should be featured on your cover or website because it’s Berlin, the alternative heart of Europe with more bridges than Venice.
All photos by Yvonne Zagermann except where noted.
[See also: National Geographic's Berlin City Guide]