As the capital city of one of Europe’s key countries, Berlin is inevitably extremely well-connected, with autobahns speeding traffic from all over Germany and trains heading here from across the continent. Berlin is currently served by two international airports, with an under-construction third, Brandenburg, expected to open at the end of 2017. Tegel is the closest to the centre (around five miles) and connected by plentiful buses, while Schönefeld, the main hub for most budget airlines, is half an hour south by train.
Travel around Berlin is both easy and inexpensive, with an extensive network of S-Bahn trains (suburban trains), U-Bahn trains (underground trains), trams and buses connecting the city’s twelve administrative districts. There’s three tariff zones, with AB covering the city centre, BC the urban sprawl and ABC Berlin’s surrounding area, and a single ticket, valid for one person for two hours’ travel, costs around €2. As with most public transport networks across Europe, tickets need to be validated before use: plain-clothed ticket inspectors are everywhere and the fines, hassle and public shame are considerable. And Berliners really don’t like people skipping out on their fares!
Of course, you might prefer to get around on your own steam. Berlin’s a big city, but over 500,000 people navigate its streets by bike each day – with almost 400 miles of bike paths, including whole roads where cyclists have priority over motorised vehicles, it’s easy to see why.
Food and drink
As you’d expect from a city with this status, Berlin has a lot of options when it comes to eating and drinking – and forget the stereotypes of sauerkraut and sausage, as these days the national gastronomy typically takes a backseat to Greek, Turkish, Balkan and Indian specialities. Well, almost: currywurst (curried bratwurst, or pork sausage) from street vendors remains a ubiquitous staple of East Berlin – and rightly so – but there’s little that you won’t be able to find across the metropolis, and at pretty much any time of day as well. Berliners tend to eat out regularly and prices reflect that, with main dishes typically averaging around €6-10, and in keeping with the city’s laid-back feel, many places that serve food during the day morph into bars and coffee houses by night and early morning.
That said, the area around Unter den Linden and the Brandenburg Gate are best avoided if you’re looking for value, tending as they do to cater for wealthy diplomats and well-heeled tourists. Kreuzberg (near to BIMM Berlin) and Schöneberg offer a distinct and very appealing bohemianism, while Bergmann-strasse and Oranienstrasse are grittier destinations for daytime lounging and evening drinking alike. The hottest places tend to change pretty much weekly, with new pop-ups and squat-cafes appearing overnight: Time Out Berlin does a decent job of flagging up the best of them. We’ve also recently put together a 24 hour guide to Berlin which features some current favourites.
Where to shop
The city’s many multi-level department stores tend to draw the biggest crowds of shoppers, with West Berlin’s Ka De We the best of them. Opened in 1907, it’s served as a beacon of luxury for over 100 years, through Nazism and massive fires and the cold surrounds of Communism, and the foodhall alone is worth any trek. As for malls, Potsdamer Platz Arkaden and the Alexa Centre are sure bets of glass and massive chain stores, whilst the Kurfürstendamm offers two miles of high-end retail. More interesting, quirky fare is to be found in the boutiques and speciality stores around Charlottenburg, Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg, whilst Kreuzberg houses the bulk of Berlin’s alternative and ethnic stores. Don’t overlook the flea markets either: with bargains abounding and an atmosphere lacking from the more mainstream areas, they make for a most rewarding half-day’s browsing.
Money goes much further in Berlin than in many other European capitals, and if you’re coming from the UK in particular you should prepare to be pretty astounded. Rents are low, travel is cheap and going out every night is less of an option and more of an expectation. Comfortable living expense figures can be as low as €600 per month or less and include your accommodation, groceries, bills and entertainment, so there’s no excuse not to immerse yourself in all that the city serves up to you.Student discounts on sights, accommodation, food, travel and transportation are plentiful, especially with an International Student Identity Card (ISIC), and free entertainment is everywhere – from art galleries on Thursdays to raves in the forest.