Experience the best of Berlin from home with this guide to some of the city’s most famous recipes, online experiences, movies and shows, books and music, and personalities.
You can have Berlin whichever way you like. It’s an indulgent city, on par with New York or Tokyo for its endless supply of entertainment. A weekend here brews anecdotes to tell your grandkids, but only when they’re old enough to appreciate the oddities (and mature enough for the unedited recounts).
In non-COVID times, Berlin teems with tourists, many of whom want world-class art and history exhibitions. Others want to rage against the circadian rhythm from Friday to Monday, while others simply seek to relax on the riverbank or lakeside, sprawled out under the sun with a beer in hand.
Berlin is both sweet and savory in its sampling, a multi-dimensional indulgence that cannot be replicated without a visit. However, until you get the chance—or to recall the revelry from visits past—you can still access many of Berlin’s most quintessential offerings from the comfort of your couch. Heck, many of us who live here regularly have to experience the city from our home after a long weekend of technosoldiering, best done with takeout Thai, ibuprofen, and a spacious balcony.
This guide to the city is a little more forgiving than a Berghain bouncer and offers you whichever slice of Berlin you want to bite: There’s art, history, culture, nightlife, media, food, drink, and more. Indulge yourself—it’s the Berlin way.
First, there’s currywurst, the street-food favorite. It consists of a wurst, often cut on a bias, dipped in a curry paste with little toothpick spears. It pairs nicely with greasy fries and a hazy demeanor. Try making your own currywurst here.
If you’re feeling especially inventive, you can try to replicate the classic Turkish doner kebab that serves as Berlin’s late-night fuel (and perfect danceathon body charger). While you probably don’t have an upright rotisserie at the ready, there are ways to replicate the process from home.
Egg-noodle spaetzle is a favorite that you’ll find atop any German-fare menus in town (though, to be honest, German restaurants aren’t any more common in the heart of Berlin than Vietnamese, Turkish, Lebanese, Korean, or Italian spots). For now, try your hand at this homemade recipe.
More Sweet and Savory Snacks
If you’re tired of your sourdough starter, then have a go at Laugenbrezeln; the buttery pretzel is a favorite in Bavaria, but Berliners devour them like candy, too. You can also make Berliner donuts, and try to say “Ich bin ein Berliner” with a mouthful of sugar and cream filling.
Booze, Brews, and Other Beverages
As for drinks, Berliners aren’t huge into fancy cocktails. They stay in bounds with picks like the Gin Basil Smash or Aperol Spritz. Instead, the locals love beer, like any proper Germans. Try a Helles from Benediktiner, a Jever pilsner, or a Weihenstephaner hefeweizen to replicate the Berliner’s favorite afternoon activity: strolling the neighborhood or sprawling in a park with beer in hand. (From the states, you may have to stick to your backyard, with open container laws being a bit tighter.)
As for non-alcoholic drinks, you can make any gathering Berlin-esque with the presence of Club Mate. It is the quintessential club beverage, as it fills you up with sugar and caffeine to boogey well into the morning. It replicates the flavor of mate tea, but with more of a Red Bull zing. It also pairs well with a shot of vodka; just sip an ounce of the drink, pour the shot into the bottle, and then tip it upside down with your thumb over the lip to copy how the Berlin bartenders serve it.
Where to Learn About German Art and History
The Berlinische Galerie celebrates Berlin’s own history through the arts and posts digital overviews of its rotating exhibitions. The Jewish Museum tells the stories of a culture that once thrived in Germany, while the DDR Museum showcases what life was like behind the Iron Curtain. You can click through the images for The East Side Gallery as if you were strolling along the River Spree and observing it for yourself. (You may even recognize a mural or two.)
Visit Museum Island
One of Berlin’s most popular tourist destinations is Museum Island, which rises up out of the Spree, much like Île de la Cité in Paris. It houses five prominent state museums and is an easy one-stop-shop for history lovers. All five core museums have digital collections posted too.
The Bode Museum houses sculptures and Byzantine art; Neues Museum has artifacts spanning Egyptian and Middle Eastern prehistory; Altes Museum displays Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art and artifacts; The Pergamon Museum, with Middle Eastern and Islamic art and archeological wonders, like the Gate of Ishtar and Processional Way of Babylon); and The Alte Nationalgalerie, which houses over 2,000 paintings spanning Impressionism, Romanticism, and Neoclassicism.
During the spring and early stages of the pandemic, Berlin’s Botanical Garden shared frequent updates of its blossoming plants with over 22,000 species onsite. You can take a virtual tour of the gardens by scrolling through their posts and getting a taste of Berlin’s picture-perfect spring.
A recent mini-series from Netflix, wherein a young woman defaults from her Orthodox community in NYC and escapes to Berlin for a life anew. The show’s depiction of life for modern and creative 20-somethings is an accurate and uplifting encapsulation.
Cabaret features Oscar-winning turns from Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey, and depicts a pre-WWII Berlin, along with many of the bon vivants who brought color to its creative countercultures.
Wings of Desire (1987)
Wim Wenders’ black-and-white portrait of a wall-divided Berlin (shot just before its crumbling) follows guardian angels who watch over a distressed people, as they ponder the benefits and miseries of mortality.
Babylon Berlin (2017)
The Golden Twenties backdrops this thrilling series. It’s based on Volker Kutscher’s series of detective novels, with investigator Gereon Rath at center.
Books Inspired by Berlin
Since Berlin has always attracted and inspired artists, even through wartime and behind the Wall, it remains a prominent subject in media—both fiction and nonfiction. Here are some ways to fill your days with dispatches from Berlin, some new and some old.
The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood
Christopher Isherwood resided in a Weimar-era Berlin, just as the Nazi Party grew in prominence. His queer perspective on the city and its countercultures remains a relic, and his writings inspired Cabaret. (Also of note by Mr. Isherwood: Mr. Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin.)
Berlin Blues by Sven Regener
Berlin is an indulgent city, and part of its fabric are those residents who came to indulge—…and have yet ceased in their revelry. Berlin Blues tracks a guy who, in boho West Berlin, has abated responsibility and must navigate the nuances ranging from bureaucracies, heartbreak, and four-legged pests. This book feels like a precursor for the influx of young, lighthearted spirits who flocked to post-Wall Berlin (and who still do).
The Wall Jumper by Peter Schneider
As real as any depiction of walled-in Berlin, this book looks at both East and West sides of the structure and helps explain the politics and suffocating effects of Cold War Germany.
Book of Clouds by Chloe Aridjis
Magical realism feels at home in Berlin, and Book of Clouds uses the device to unearth many of the city’s ghosts. Foreigner Tatiana falls in step with the city’s many attractive, addictive, and oft-destructive offerings while encountering a supernatural sampling of yesteryear Berlin.
A Berlin Party Don’t Stop
Berlin’s iconic nightlife needs no introduction. It’s one of the city’s main tourism draws, with weekend parties raging well into Monday morning. Sadly, it’s one of the last things that will return to normal, but local musicians and DJs are finding ways to be heard in the interim. Chief among them is United We Stream, a Covid-era collective that has a steady roster of DJ sets. You can also stream music from the artists at labels like Ostgut Ton-A-Ton-unterton (the label behind techno-lored Berghain) as well as Tresor (one of the longstanding, must-visit techno clubs).
Berlin’s music scene extends past nightlife and DJ sets, too, and these more classical options can also be streamed into your home. Put on your duds and play arrangements from The Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall as well as the Komische Oper Opera House.
Berlin Food Stories | @berlinfoodstories
Start pinning these posts, which will provide you with any and all restaurant recommendations in Berlin.
Honey Dijon | @honeydijon
This American DJ is the local celeb to spot around town, and anytime she plays a set, the line queues for hours. She’s a fun follow on Instagram, too, clearly enjoying her expat life in Berlin and (in normal times) jet setting around the world to headline festivals and events.
Gropius Bau | @gropiusbau
Berlin’s experiential art center is a must-visit for its contemporary and immersive exhibitions.
Voo Store | @voostore
Many tourists consider the carefully curated Voo as an attraction all its own. Its Instagram, like its offerings, is an editorial-ready cross between high-end fashion and Berlin streetwear.