Berlin travel itinerary

Most of Berlin’s main tourist attractions are located in the central region, Mitte. Here, I put together an itinerary to see all of them in an efficient order and on foot. It’s doable to visit all the tourist spots in Mitte in 1 day, but it can be tiring. Depending on your pace, this itinerary can simply be paused and resumed the following day. Let’s begin:

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Attractions in the city center (Mitte):

Start at Alexanderplatz (1), with the TV Tower (Fernsehturm) and the world clock. There are many stores around – including the bargain ones, Primark, Decathlon and TK Maxx – and the Alexa shopping mall near by.

Walk by the Rotes Rathaus (2) until you reach Unter den Linden – the long central avenue.

Keep on Unter den Linden: right after the river on the right is the Cathedral (Berliner Dom) (3) and the Museum Island (5 museums, one next to the other).

Continue on Unter den Linden; see the ‘Neue Wache’ memorial, walk by the main building of the Humboldt Universität (4) and keep on the avenue until reaching the Brandenburg Gate (5), one of the main landmarks of Berlin.

Walking through the gate: there is a long avenue ahead with the Victory Column at the end and a large park, Tiergarten, around.

Proceed to the right towards the German Parliament building (Bundestag or Reichstag) (6). You can visit the terrace of the parliament and have an audio-guide completely for free. But you have to book a time slot in advance through this website (‘Visit to the dome’). The building and the view are beautiful. Highly recommended!

Going back towards the Brandenburg Gate and walking straight ahead, you will find the Holocaust Memorial (7), a labyrinth of concrete that looks like a cemetery, with a very striking effect. Walk through it showing respect. There is also a free exhibition underground.

Walking towards the same direction as before, you will arrive at Potsdamer Platz, with the Sony Center (8), a giant and modern dome with restaurants and a cinema inside. Close by is the Mall of Berlin shopping center.

Go on to the Topography of Terror (9), another memorial about nazism, and then to Checkpoint Charlie (10) – a spot that symbolizes one of the former checkpoints between East and West Berlin while it was divided by the wall. But be aware that the checkpoint is not located on the exact spot where it used to be and today is only a tourist attraction.

Finish the route at Gendarmenmarkt (11), a lovely square right in the center of Berlin.


Outside the city center:

The East Side Gallery – the part that is left of the Berlin Wall, covered in colorful graffiti, is a must-see. Get off at the S-Ostbahnhof station and walk by the wall until its end, arriving at the Oberbaumbrücke bridge. It’s also worth it to explore at night the cool / alternative / hipster districts of Berlin, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, which are connected by this bridge.

Other tips:

In Berlin on a Sunday with good weather? Don’t miss Mauerpark! And check out the memorial about the wall, on the same street.

Staying 3 or more days in Berlin? Consider going a bit outside the city to visit the Sanssouci Palace and its gardens, in Potsdam (about 1 hour southwest of Berlin), and/or the museum of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, in Oranienburg (about 1 hour north).

Want to go shopping? Besides the shopping malls in the city center already mentioned (Alexa and Mall of Berlin), a great option are the Tauentzienstraße and Kurfürstendamm (also known as Kudamm) streets, in the district of Charlottenburg. There, one can also visit the main zoo of Berlin and the Gedächtniskirche: the ruins of a church that was bombed during WWII and whose main tower is broken in half until today.

Going to be in Berlin during spring or summer? Here is a list of the coolest things to do around here in the best time of the year!

Want tips on what and where to eat in Berlin? Check out this post.

Interested in staying longer? Here’s an insider’s view on what it is like to live in Berlin.


I hope you will love Berlin as much as I do! 🙂

weloveberlin

10 things you can’t miss in Berlin in the summer

There’s nothing like spring and summer in Berlin. The city completely transforms itself. As the leaves turn green, people get especially cheerful and make an effort to spend as much time as possible outdoors. Open-air festivals and events start popping up in the calendar like crazy. It is definitely the best time to visit the German capital.

There are a lot of cool things to do in the Berliner summer. Here is a list of my favorite ones:

1) Going swimming in a lake

Believe it or not, Berlin can get quite warm. The temperature reaches around 37 degrees on some summer days. And with the lack of air-conditioned places, nothing beats dipping yourself in water to cool off. Although the city is not by the sea and therefore has no beaches, it luckily has MANY lakes. Most of them have a Freibad, an area you can access for around 3-5 euros, with sand to lay down on, toilet facilities and food kiosks. Some even offer the possibility of renting paddle or rowing boats, kayaks or stand-up paddles. Definitely a must-do in Berlin in the summer!

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Müggelsee lake

2) Open-air cinemas

In the warm months, the city offers several open-air cinemas (in German, Freiluftkino). There is practically one in every neighborhood. Movies displayed include both old classics and recent ones straight out of Hollywood. But if you’re not used to it, beware: popcorn in German cinemas is usually sweet.

3) Rooftop bars

There is a number of different bars on top of malls or buildings in Berlin, where you can have a drink outdoors while enjoying the view and the sunset. Probably the most famous one is Klunkerkranisch in Neukölln, followed by Deck 5 in Schönhauserallee and House of Weekend in Alexanderplatz (which is also a club).

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View from Klunkerkranisch

4) Thai Park

If you’re up for some nice, authentic Thai food, you should definitely head to the Preußenpark, also known as Thai Park. Everything you need to know about the Thai Park is in this post about the top places to eat in Berlin.

5) Badeschiff

Badeschiff is literally a swimming pool inside the river Spree! For a small fee you can get inside the beach bar area, which also has lockers and bathrooms. From inside the pool, you get a great view to the Oberbaumbrücke bridge linking Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, the big metal sculpture Molecule Man on the river, and to the people passing close by on stand-up paddles or boats. One of the coolest and most different things you can do in the summer in Berlin.

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Badeschiff

6) Having some beer at a Biergarten

Drinking beer is a must in Germany, and in the summer this is done outdoors. Meaning: Biergarten season! There are dozens of options around the city, some near green areas such as parks, and some at actual breweries, offering amazing locally-brewed tap beer.

7) Going strawberry picking

This is quite a different activity you can do as a day trip from Berlin. There are different fields in the outskirts of the city, about 1 hour away, where you can pick strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. In some of them there is a small entrance fee, and in others you can enter for free, pick the fruits and only pay if you want to take some home. Check the calendar of the appropriate season to visit and how to get to some of the fields on this website (only in German).

8) Monbijoupark

This is an area near Hackescher Markt where people sit on the lawn by the river Spree while having a beer and overlooking the cathedral (Berliner Dom). It’s a great place to chill outdoors and also a nice photo spot. Around the corner following the river on the opposite direction to the cathedral there is a bar where you can dance salsa or tango outdoors in the evenings of warm months.

9) Having a barbecue with friends

A common passion that Germans share with Brazilians – besides football – is having barbecues. As soon as the sun starts coming out, you can see grills and smoke everywhere around the city. Having a nice barbecue is something quite typical in Berlin, and can be done in someone’s yard (or even balcony), or in one of the several public parks, which usually have designated areas for grilling.

10) Mauerpark

You will find this tip in every guide to Berlin – and that’s because it is a must. If you’re in town on a Sunday during spring or summer, you need to go to Mauerpark, the hipster epicenter of Berlin. There, you’ll find a famous flea market, food stands, several street artists and musicians from all over the world surrounded by a crowd of cheerful young people enjoying the sound, and lots of people chilling on the grass at the small hill overlooking the park. Also, my favorite part: the open-air karaoke. The park has a small stage with stands around it, where, on warm Sundays, an open-mic karaoke session takes place. Whoever wants to sing gets the microphone, while the crowd and passers-by watch and cheer. There’s just something special about the vibe in Mauerpark.

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Mauerpark karaoke

Hope you enjoy the summer in Berlin!

The Obersee (Königssee) lake at the Berchtesgaden National Park

Most of the scenic locations that are tourist destinations look quite nicer in the Google images than in reality. There you can see the best pictures, by the best photographers, on the prettiest days, and sometimes also with a little help of Photoshop. So I try not to expect too much when I go visit one of those places. However… the Obersee lake was an exception. Surprisingly, it somehow managed to look even nicer live than in the photos I had seen.

It is a crystal clear mirror lake surrounded by the Alps which makes the water reflect the image of the mountains and the sky. Sounds like paradise? And it is.

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Lake Obersee can be found at the end of the Königssee lake, in the Berchtesgaden National Park, in the extreme southeast of Germany, literally at the border with Austria. The Alps mountains that surround the lake delimit the border. Despite being located in German territory, the closest city (and airport) to the park is Salzburg which is also gorgeous! Therefore, I would recommend visiting Salzburg for a weekend (long or not) and go on a day trip from there to Berchtesgaden quite easy to do, even by public transport.

The Berchtesgaden National Park also offers many other activities, such as several trails for trekking and viewpoints. One of them is where the Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus) is a house that was given to Adolf Hitler for his 50th birthday as a teahouse for diplomats. Berchtesgaden, by the way, was a place Hitler really enjoyed visiting. But don’t let this discourage you! The sense of peace that nature provides in this park really doesn’t deserve to be associated to that gloomy figure of the past.

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How to get there

Take the bus number 840 in Salzburg to the final stop (Berchtesgaden Hbf, the train station). The journey takes only 45 minutes (same by car). From there, take another bus that goes to Königssee. Everything is quite easy to find, also because several other people will be going along the same route. To go back, you just need to take the same buses in the opposite direction.

From Munich, you can reach Berchtesgaden by train with a change in Freilassing, but each journey leg takes around 3 hours (around 2 hours by car).

Arriving at the entrance to Königssee, walk to the ferry dock and get a ticket for the boat ride that goes across Königssee all the way to Obersee. On the way, a guide will explain a bit about the park, indicate a few beautiful waterfalls, and show the echo effect on the lake. The boat first stops at the St. Bartholomä station, where you can get off to visit the chapel and then take another boat (included in the ticket) to the Salet station. From there, a short path of a 5 to 10-minute walk leads to the Obersee lake.

On the other side of the Obersee there is a little house and you can walk there, around the lake along a path on the right (quite easy to walk), and then back. The view from the other side is also amazing! And this house is actually a small restaurant, where you can also find toilets.

Swimming in the lake is not allowed (although some people can be seen stepping in the water by the shore).

When to go

I believe the lake and its reflexions look especially stunning during the summer, on a sunny day. I went in June 2015 and it was a beautiful day, and not very crowded.

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St. Bartholomä chapel by the Königssee
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Obersee seen from the opposite side to the entrance path

For more photos of this destination, click here.

I hope you enjoy this delightful visit to the Berchtesgaden park and its lakes, Königssee and Obersee! 🙂

Fun facts about Germany (part 1)

There are so many facts and habits in Germany that are funny/odd for a foreigner that this will have to be a series of posts, rather than just one! lol

For those who have lived here for a while, like me, these things have already become completely normal and nowadays go unnoticed. But those who are not so familiar with the German culture usually find these facts quite confusing or weird.

Let’s start with 5 of them:

1) At the cinema, you’ll find sweet popcorn

They do have salty popcorn here, but the ‘standard’ popcorn, the one you can usually buy in stalls, is usually sweet. Going to the movies and not even having the option of eating some salty popcorn? How come?

popcorn

2) Academic scores are from 1 to 6 (1 being the highest)

In Germany, the grading system doesn’t range from zero to 10, or from zero to 100. They don’t use the A-B-C-D system either. It works like this:

1 = very good
2 = good
3 = satisfactory
4 = sufficient
5 = insufficient
6 = very insufficient / zero

You need to get at least a 4 to pass an exam or course. Universities often don’t even mention grade 6, as any number higher than 4 already means ‘failed’. The grades also have one decimal place, usually with odd numbers. For example: 1.3 – 1.5 – 1.7 (1.3 being a higher score than 1.7). For Germans, a grade ‘2’ is better than a grade ‘3’. Totally counter-intuitive.

The first time I received a grade in my Master’s, the email said ‘1.0’. I almost had a mini heart attack. 😀

3) The second floor is the first one

In Brazil, the ground floor is usually considered the first floor, the floor above is the second, and so on. But in Germany, the ground floor is ‘floor zero’. And the first floor (number 1) is the one that comes above the ground floor. This causes newcomers a lot of confusion. ‘Meet me on the first floor’ – in the beginning my brain was trained to automatically think of the ground floor, which is the first floor on which you step. In many elevators or in the large department stores here, you can see the digit ‘zero’ on the screen referring to the ground floor (and sometimes -1 and -2 for underground floors).

4) When entering a German house/apartment, you must take off your shoes

This is perhaps the most typically German habit of all. Each and every German person takes off their shoes as soon as they step inside the house, still by the door, and puts on a pair of ‘house shoes’, or walks around in socks. They do the same when they go visit someone, and expect it from you when you visit them. Since I’m not a huge fan of walking barefoot, I have to remember to check that my socks don’t have any holes before I go visit a friend around here! lol

The goal of this habit is to preserve hygiene and to avoid bringing dirt from the outside into the house – which is quite understandable. But this habit is so embedded in the DNA of Germans that they follow it strictly even when it doesn’t make any sense. Like in the case of house parties, for example. Parties always cause a bit of a mess, and the apartment will have to be cleaned later anyway. What difference will it make if the guests take off their shoes? 😛

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“Shoes off” = how to get a German house party started (note: there were a lot more shoes that didn’t fit in the picture)

5) Germans love fizzy drinks

Did I say ‘love’? I meant CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT. In Germany there are not two, but three options of mineral water: Still, Medium e Classic. Imagine a tourist or newcomer in the country who just wants to quench his/her thirst and finds 3 types of bottled water for sale. Which of them should be the one without gas? The one that says ‘Classic’, right? WRONG. Classic in Germany is fizzy water. Go figure… Still is without gas, and Medium with a bit of gas (as you can see, they take this very seriously).

Tap water is safe to drink around here – and still, some Germans prefer to buy sparkling water in the supermarket (even having to carry all that weight home). You can even get a ‘sparkling water maker’ appliance for your home to transform normal water into fizzy water yourself! The addiction is real.

The Bastei and the Saxon Switzerland National Park

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The Bastei bridge and the Lilienstein mountain in the background

Saxon Switzerland (in German, Sächsische Schweiz) is a region and national park located 43 km southeast of Dresden. It got this name because the landscape full of mountains may resemble Switzerland – but it’s actually Eastern Germany, almost at the border with Czech Republic.

The most popular attraction of the national park is the Bastei – a sandstone rock formation formed during the Cretaceous period (100 million years ago). There, one can see the famous Bastei bridge (Basteibrücke), 194 meters above the Elbe river. There are a few viewpoints at the Bastei that allow a nice outlook of the bridge and the mountains around.

On one end of the bridge is the Felsenburg Neurathen – the ruins of an old rock castle. Admission is only 2 euros. It is an open-air museum with beautiful views to the region in suspended bridges.

The access to the Bastei is easy and no real hiking is needed to get there – only climbing stairs, if you don’t go by car. But those who want to go hiking or trekking have several options throughout the national park. Besides the Bastei, another popular landmark of the region is the Königstein fortress. We prefered to visit the small town of Pirna by the river instead.

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Entrance to Felsenburg Neurathen

How long to stay:
One day was enough for us to visit the Bastei and Pirna. If you want to see other spots or go trekking, add more days.

How to get there:

By car: drive towards the Bastei Berghotel, where the entrance to the Bastei is. Since only guests staying at the hotel can park their cars there, leave your car in the parking lot of the national park, 3 km before getting to the hotel. From there, a bus can take you to the entrance of the Bastei (and the Berghotel) for 2 euros (return ticket).

By train: take the S1 in Dresden direction Bad Schandau (it takes 30 minutes), get off at Kurort Rathen and take a ferry to cross the river. From there, climb the stairs up until you reach the Bastei.

We went by car and the access was quite easy (we rented a car in Dresden for 22 euros per day). But we saw many people climbing the stairs up to the Bastei. It looks tiring, but it’s doable. The stairs are wide and relatively new.

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Entrance to the Bastei bridge
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View to the Elbe river

Saxon Switzerland is an area where one can wander around nature and admire the views to impressive rock formations. Dresden is 2h30 away from Berlin, and there are quite cheap buses doing this route. So it’s a very feasible option for a weekend trip from Berlin – or a day trip from Dresden or Leipzig.

Festivals in Germany: Baumblütenfest

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The Baumblütenfest (literal translation: festival of the tree blossoms) is a festival that takes place annually in the small town of Werder (Havel), very close to Potsdam and 45 minutes from Berlin. The name was given because it takes place at the beginning of Spring, but doesn’t suit the festival so much. Instead, maybe it should be called something like ‘festival of the sweet wine’. 😛

In this free, open-air street festival, people who live in Werder sell their own home-made wine, a very sweet and liqueur-like wine, right outside their houses. So you walk along the town streets and eventually stop in front of houses to try out and purchase some of the home-made wine. There are several flavors available, usually wild berries: strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, amongst many others. Prices in general are 2 euros per cup and 7-9 euros per bottle.

The town is taken over by young people, lively and cheerful from the wine. For safety reasons, it’s forbidden to walk around with glass bottles, so you’ll only find beer in specific places. The wine is super sweet, which really disguises the actual amount of alcohol. And since the combo ‘people + alcohol’ may eventually cause some trouble, there are police officers watching over throughout the whole town.

The town is also full of tents selling street food, some spread out stages with live music, and even an amusement park with a Ferris wheel and other rides. And going up a street from the main square will lead you to the top of a hill, where you’ll find a big open-air area, with a stage, a Biergarten and a nice view of the surroundings.

I’ve already been to this festival in 2 consecutive years and plan to keep attending. The best thing about it is that everyone there is happy and laid-back (of course, the wine helps, haha). It’s a really cool and fun vibe (which sometimes can be rare in Germany). A great option for those who don’t dislike crowds and want to enjoy the start of the warm and sunny weather outside.

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Different wine flavors at the Baumblütenfest

When: the Baumblütenfest lasts for 1 week, including the weekends before and after, always at the end of April / beginning of May. In 2016, it goes from April 30th to May 8th.
How to get there: by taking a regional train RE1 from Berlin and getting off at the station ‘Werder (Havel)’. Price of the transport ABC ticket (each way): 3,30 euros. In Berlin, the train leaves from the main stations, such as Hauptbahnhof, Friedrichstr., Zoologischer Garten and Charlottenburg.

Tips: what and where to eat in Berlin

Berlin is a city that has a lot of good things to offer, and one of them is food! It is perfectly possible to find good and affordable places to eat around here. And note that I said places and not restaurants. That’s because street food has a very strong presence in the German capital.

Here are some tips of where to find food that is Berliner style: tasty, multi-cultural, inexpensive and far from posh.

  • 1) Döner kebab
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How can one not recommend a döner to someone who comes to Germany? Of Turkish origin, it’s one of the most popular fast foods in the country. It’s delicious, cheap and is worth for a whole meal. The döner kebab is usually served as a sandwich, in a crunchy, triangular Turkish bread. The meat is roasted in a rotating spit with the shape of an inverted cone, and the crispy meat is then sliced vertically, like a barbecue. The classic version has lamb meat, but some places also offer the chicken option. The döner also has a lot of salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onions, red cabbage) and sauce (herbs, garlic or spicy). The vegetarian alternative to döner is the falafel which, instead of meat, has the tasty deep-fried balls of chickpea with spices. It is also nice for the Berliner carnivores that wish to vary a bit from the döner. Another variation is the dürum – instead of a sandwich, it’s like a wrap: it comes in a thinner type of bread in the shape of a cylinder (and is usually even bigger than the döner).

Usual price: between 3.00 and 3.50 euros (above this, it’s overpriced)

Where: in one of the thousands of kebab kiosks throughout the city. One of Berlin’s favorite is Mustafa’s, which offers not the classic döner, but one with chicken, cooked vegetables and feta cheese. Because it’s so famous, the lines are always long, even in the middle of the night. (Subway station: U Mehringdamm)

  • 2) Santa Maria

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    Chilaquiles in Santa Maria

If you’re a fan of Mexican food, you have to go to Santa Maria. There they have real, authentic Mexican food, not Tex-Mex. Every time my friends from Mexico visit Berlin, they insist that we go eat there. Santa Maria is a small and cozy restaurant, with very reasonable prices: around 7 to 12 euros per meal (well-served). They also have Taco Tuesdays: tacos and tequila for 1 euro each. But be aware that it’s better to arrive with a bit of spare time – they don’t make reservations. Recommendation from my Mexican friend Sharlen: get the ‘chilaquiles’ with green sauce (for those who enjoy spicy food) or the ‘tacos de carnita’ (if you’re weaker, like me).

Where: 2 locations, the original one on Oranienstr. 170 (subway station U Kottbusser Tor) and a new branch on Krossenerstr. 18 (U Warschauer Str.)
http://santaberlin.com/
→ A good thing about Germany: restaurants usually show their menu (with prices!) on their websites.

Another option for good Mexican good is the Taqueria Ta’Cabrón (U Schlesisches Tor).

  • 3) Thai Park

The “Thai Park” is an example of the peculiar multiculturalism that defines Berlin. It is a public park (official name: Preußenpark) where dozens of Thai people at small stalls sell the most diverse typical homemade dishes from their country. Fried dumplings, fried bananas, fried shrimp… Fried everything! They also sell a delicious dish of sticky rice with coconut sauce and mango slices. You will find even insects to eat at the Thai Park. Unfortunately, this culinary wonder only takes place during the warm months of the year. Highly recommended to those who are in Berlin in the summer! You can find it any day of the week, but on Saturdays there are more stalls. A tip: the 5-dumpling dish with different fillings of your choice for 5 euros.

Where: Preußenpark (subway station: U Fehrbelliner Platz)

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  • 4) Al Andalos

Al Andalos is a Lebanese restaurant, the kind that only locals know about. Small and unpretentious, I only found out it existed because a friend took me there. The menu behind the counter, in German and Arabic, offers sandwiches and very well-served dishes, typical desserts, and vegetarian or meat options. The food is not only tasty and authentic, but also quite cheap, with sandwiches for 1.50 euros and dishes for 5 or 6 euros. A tip: for two people, order the Al Andalos dish, which comes with a bit of everything (falafel, halloumi, kafta, Lebanese rice, salad, etc.) for 11 euros. This amazing place with friendly staff is open until very late in the night. Although the food is Lebanese, the background music is usually salsa or flamenco. Hard not to love.

Where: Sonnenallee 40 (between subway stations U Hermannplatz and U Rathaus Neukölln)

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Al Andalos in Neukölln
  • 5) Burgermeister

Another example of the “it-had-to-be-in-Berlin”: Burgermeister is a street burger place located beneath the tracks of a subway station, where the public toilets of the station used to be! Recently, a “restaurant version” branch opened near the original one. The name is a wordplay: Bürgermeister (with umlaut) means “mayor” in German, but in this case they are referring to the “master” (meister) of burgers.

Where: original “kiosk” version at the U Schlesischer Tor subway station and the “fastfood restaurant” version at U Kottbusser Tor.
www.burgermeister.berlin

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Burgermeister at U Schlesischer Tor

Other places to eat a good hamburger in Berlin:

Kreuzburger (another wordplay!): has 3 stores in Berlin (Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg) that stay open until late or make deliveries. Make sure to order the sweet potato fries!! It’s one of the things I most love in this city.
www.kreuzburger.de

The Bird: a very famous restaurant. It’s best to book a table in advance and go with some time to spare, because it usually takes a while for the burgers to be served (2 locations: subway stations S+U Schönhauser Allee and U Schönleinstr).
www.thebirdinberlin.com

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Kreuzburger and their divine sweet potato fries

Guten Appetit!  : )