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  • Writer's pictureDr Julien Drouart

Practical tips for staying in Berlin

Berlin is a confusing city. There is no need to look for a historic city centre, as the communal organisation of the German capital follows a decentralised model. Consequently, we are not talking about a monumental city centre but a succession of peripheral centres. In other words, the Mitte district, while literally meaning "middle", is only one facet of Berlin's identities, and you can unapologetically move to another district without the experience being diminished. Here are some tips for staying in Berlin.

Choosing the right location for your accommodation

Choose the area where you will be staying carefully. You need to find a balance between tranquillity and proximity. Avoid noisy or uncomfortable party areas, but don't choose an out-of-the-way residential area either, as this will add considerably to your travel time. Without looking for excitement at all costs, also avoid areas that are too quiet. For your stay, it is important to discover a new daily routine that breaks with your habits. Choose the living areas.

This recommendation makes sense in Berlin, where the population density is very low and the places for socialising are numerous, scattered, in short decentralised. Avoid hotel retreats on major roads and beware of standardised hotels. Although they offer decent services, these establishments are often located on the fringes of the city, which means that you cannot walk home in the evening. They are usually found near Alexanderplatz, Ostbahnhof and the Zoologischen Garten.

Prefer to live in the heart of the city. Away from the main roads, choose your accommodation in the beautiful Prenzlauer-Berg, the Scheunenviertel (former Jewish quarter) and the beautiful Kreuzberg on the Bergmannkiez side. These areas are very well connected and are also pleasant and safe places to live. For children and teenagers, it is also possible to go on a tour on their own in the direct vicinity of the accommodation. For longer stays, the Airbnb solution seems more suitable than hotels. You can consider accommodation in the southwestern residential areas such as Friedenau.

Two tips though. Firstly, if you stay in a hotel in the eastern part of the city, do not hesitate to ask for a room overlooking the inner courtyard of the hotel and not the street, so as not to be disturbed by the noisy tram traffic. Secondly, always choose accommodation within a 10-minute walk of an S-Bahn or U-Bahn station. Preferably, close to the lines connecting East and West (S5 for the S-Bahn or U2 for the U-Bahn). Finally, remember to stay close to shops, especially grocery stores.

Adapting to public transport

In Berlin, the distances to travel are great. The German capital is very large but its population density is much lower than in Paris or London. In addition, the cultural sights are quite far apart and the architecture of the neighbourhoods can appear rather dull.

Taking public transport (S-Bahn, U-Bahn, Bus and Tram) becomes a necessity. Visit the BVG website. There are several tickets available to visitors. Please note that these tickets give you access to all means of transport: you do not have to buy new ones for connections, and you must validate your ticket before using it. Children under 6 years of age travel free of charge.

The single ticket is valid for 2 hours. Therefore, an individual day pass pays for itself after three journeys per day over a period of 6 hours. The price-performance ratio is excellent. Better still, the Kleingruppe (small group) day pass allows up to 5 people to travel at the same time. It pays for itself when you have 3 or more people. However, it does require you to stay together.

My advice would be twofold. It is best to buy tickets on arrival or every morning at the beginning of the day. You can buy a book of single tickets, a day pass and keep them for later use. I remind you: to be valid, a ticket must be validated. Taking action in advance avoids possible stressful situations, especially as the automatic ticket machines are relatively discreet in the city.

However, I also advise you to plan your stay. There is no point in buying a weekly travel card as you will probably not need it. By establishing a coherent programme, it is possible to limit and reduce them to the strict minimum. In fact, you should walk as much as possible. Saving money on transport tickets for a day therefore requires good organisation so that places of interest are not too far apart. It also requires the physical ability to walk longer or shorter distances. Nevertheless, it is a good way to save money on a daily basis for small budgets.

Finally, I personally do not recommend using the commercial Welcome Card, which combines public transport and discounts in certain museums and tourist establishments over several days. This attractive offer on paper will unconsciously force you to adopt a programme of activities to which you did not adhere at first sight.

Safety and feelings of insecurity

Finally, there is the question of safety. Certain tensions can arise: racism of any kind, verbal aggression by an idle person who is too often drunk, or a hostile reaction to tourists. There is no particular neighbourhood to avoid and the basic rules of caution are to avoid ostentatious signs of wealth in certain socio-economic environments and not to cross public parks after dark.

There is no feeling of insecurity in Berlin (yet), but the very counter-cultural tendency of some neighbourhoods may make you feel unsafe. This impression can be reinforced by the abundance of graffiti on the facades of buildings and the almost total absence of street lighting in some streets. You are not in Berlin to learn how to overcome your fears, whether real or imagined. Stay safe and use your best judgement. From experience, just avoid hanging out after 10pm at Alexanderplatz, Zoologischen Garten, the alternative centre R.A.W. in Friedrichshain and Görlitzer Park.

This advice also applies to party spaces. Be aware that Berlin has its own dress code, which is sometimes exclusive depending on the area you are in. In addition, the German capital is still highly politicised. Be careful not to enter a politically marked bar (autonomous, far right or far left), unless you have a matching style.

Also, be careful about the photographs you might be tempted to take. In Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg and Neukölln, intrusive behaviour by tourists is not tolerated. Be discreet, or you will be reprimanded by the residents.

Berlin is still a very practical and friendly city

Berliners have a deadpan and sometimes very aloof attitude. You will be far from the Latin and Mediterranean stereotypes. However, you will find wholehearted people who, once trust is established, will be excellent hosts. Choose the perfect accommodation in a pleasant area and plan your programme in parallel.

I wish you a successful holiday in Berlin. Welcome to the German capital.

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