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
    doenerkebab

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

    santamaria
    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!  : )

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How the German school system works

classroom

The German school system is quite different and curious.

The first level, equivalent to pre-school, is Kindergarten – a famous German word that is also used in English. It is not mandatory in Germany; parents decide whether or not to enroll their children. Then comes Grundschule, the elementary or primary school. It lasts 4 years, usually from ages 6 to 10. Starting from Grundschule on, education is mandatory (and free!) for everyone.

Until that point it is quite similar to other countries. It starts to look different at the end of Grundschule.

When the child is almost finishing Grundschule, around the age of 10, a decision needs to be made: which of the 3 types of school he/she will pursue. This is usually decided by the teachers and advised to the parents, based on the child’s school transcripts.

Now let’s go through the different types of schools: Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium.

Putting euphemisms aside and explaining it in a clear, straightforward way (as the Germans do): the difference between these 3 schools is the level of difficulty and demand on the students.

Hauptschule is the easiest school out of the three, demanding less from the students. Realschule is the one with intermediate level of difficulty and demand. Gymnasium is the hardest one, where the intellectual demand is the highest of the three and the student has to dedicate more time and effort to the studies. At the end of Gymnasium the students take an exam called Abitur (also referred to as Abi), which is somehow similar to the SAT in the U.S. or the Baccalauréat in France. The student who does not have high enough grades to pursue the Gymnasium straight after primary school can still (given that his/her performance improves) attend Realschule first and then Gymnasium, or even take a longer path of Hauptschule, then Realschule and then Gymnasium.

But what about those who attended Hauptschule and/or Realschule, without having finished Gymnasium and Abitur? They pursue vocational training, or technical courses.

Something one should know about German society:

In Germany, a university diploma is not a necessary requirement to land a good job with a good salary. That’s because there are hundreds of vocational training courses (Ausbildung), which are schools that prepare people for all the non-academic professions. For example: retailer, mechanic, hair dresser, product designer, dental assistant, among many others. And all professions are relatively well-paid. Of course some get better salaries than others, but the discrepancy is not as big as in my home country Brazil, for example. This results in a society with skilled workers in all areas, of both manual and intellectual labor. Each technical course lasts at least 3 years, and the apprentice has to go through theoretical and practical training and evaluations to be able to practice the profession. While in Brazil it’s very common to hire an electrician, for example, only based on referral, in Germany one can, in theory, trust any professional electrician, as they are all equally well-qualified.

Therefore, it is natural that not all Germans decide to go to university – since there are other attractive options where one can start working and earn money sooner. Some people also say that those who go to university spend years learning many things in theory but, at the end of the day, have no work experience and don’t know how the profession works in “real life”.

Indeed, a store salesperson probably does not earn the same amount as a medical doctor – but he/she earns enough to live well. In Germany each person has the opportunity to make the professional choice they consider best for themselves.


Pros and cons of the German education system:

  • CONS:

It is quite segregationist, since students are divided into schools of different difficulty levels.

It is a way of labeling students by their potential, and judge them for their school grades.

Kids are forced to decide on their future at only 10 years of age. They are too young to know what they will want to do afterwards.

If the children from Hauptschule were surrounded by dedicated classmates during high school, as the ones from Gymnasium, maybe that would motivate them to study more.

  • PROS:

This system is already so embedded in the German culture that they don’t see it as segregationist. Children grow up knowing this is how it works, and nobody thinks of it as ‘perverse’.

Different people have different rhythms and interests. Not everyone is meant for university. Not everyone is willing to study really hard at school.

A society is not and shouldn’t be made of only intellectuals, but also of skilled workers from all areas.

Placing all students in one single type of school would mean to slow down the ones who are willing to study harder because of those who prefer to pursue the path of technical training.

The decision is not irreversible. There is mobility and the students can change their minds and swap their school type if they want to and show interest for it.


This is a basic summary of the main points of the school system in Germany. It varies a bit from state to state and there are some exceptions, such as the school that integrates the Hauptschule and Realschule (Integrierte Sekundarschule) and the Gesamtschule.

I find some points very interesting, but disagree with others. But in general, this curious school system seems to work, and is strongly related to the job market and to the German society.

Germany’s Romantic Road

rothenburgThe Romantic Road (in German, Romantische Strasse) is a route that leads through several small medieval towns and villages of Bavaria, in Southern Germany. It’s a region known for its castles, vineyards and colorful half-timbered houses (typically German). The full road is 350 km long and goes from Würzburg to Füssen (where the Neuschwanstein Castle is).romantischestrassekarte

Which towns to visit

This theme route was created by tourism agents in the 1950’s as a marketing strategy to encourage tourists to visit those small villages. In fact, nowadays there is also a Romantic Road in the South of Brazil.
But the main destinations to visit on the Romantic Road in Germany are:

  • Würzburg
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    Würzburg shares many similarities with Prague, such as a bridge with statues (which resembles the Charles Bridge) and a fortress on the mountain top on the other side of the river (Festung Marienberg), giving the city a fairy-tale look.
  • Rothenburg ob der Tauberrothenburg2Rothenburg is the most famous town in the Romantic Road and perhaps the most charming one in Germany. Walking along its streets makes one feel like in a Disney World park (that is, it’s lovely).
  • Dinkelsbühl
    dinkelsbuehl dinkelsbuehl2
    Dinkelsbühl is a small historic and preserved town that still has walls and towers from the Medieval times. And (many) colorful houses.
  • Nördlingen
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    Like Dinkelsbühl, Nördlingen is also surrounded by old medieval city walls. Seen from above, the city is shaped like a circle and displays 5 equidistant towers in the perimeter (perfect for those who love symmetry, like me). Fun fact: Nördlingen is shown in the original version of the movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
  • Neuschwanstein CastleneuschwansteinThe Neuschwanstein Castle in Füssen needs no introduction. It’s one of the most popular attractions in Germany. The best view spot to admire it is from the Marienbrücke bridge. The Hohenschwangau Castle can also be seen nearby.

How to get there and to go around

The best way to go along the route is by car. There are also bus tour companies, and some people even make the journey on bicycles! However, if you don’t have much time to spend and would like more freedom to choose where to go, taking a car would be ideal. Inside each town it’s perfectly possible to walk around – they are all very small.
The road is in general well signposted, with road signs indicating the Romantische Strasse. Before going, we thought the Romantic Road itself would be a longer, slower path going through all villages, parallel to the fast lane (Autobahn). But actually, most times the Romantic Road was being indicated on the Autobahn itself. So this route is not just a road per se, it is the whole region.
Coming from a different country, the closest airports to the Romantic Road are Frankfurt (north of the route) and Munich (south of the route). And, of course, you can make the journey in any of the directions (north-south or south-north).

How much time to spend

That depends a lot on how many towns you want to visit. The complete road comprises 27 small towns and villages. To visit the main destinations on the circuit presented here, you’ll need at least 3 days. I’d recommend: 1 day in  Würzburg; 1 day in Rothenburg + Dinkelsbühl + Nördlingen; and 1 day in Füssen. As the route is very customizable, more days could be added to also visit Munich, for example, or other villages along the road.

romantischestrasse2The Romantic Road is a great choice for those who want to visit medieval, picturesque and typically German towns of Bavaria (Bayern, in German).

To see more pictures, click here.

What it is like to live in Berlin

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Photo by Mari Cerdeira

Berlin is a big, cosmopolitan, young, alternative, lively, laid-back, cool city.

It has people from all tribes. On the subway you will see a blue-haired girl sitting next to a white blond child, next to a rastafari guy, next to a Turkish family, next to Spanish tourists. Berlin is diversity!

Berlin has even been elected the most fun city in the world.

Living in Berlin means always having something to do. Every weekend you can find out a new nice place that you didn’t know before.

It means living in an inexpensive city! – With a law that limits rent prices.

Germany is an affordable country, by Western European standards. And, within Germany, the cost of living in Berlin is way lower than those of other cities, such as Munich or Hamburg, for example.

“Berlin is not Germany.”

Berlin is very different from Southern Germany. It is not conservative, and not as flawless. And not as wealthy either.

It’s a city that is booming and transforming itself at this very moment. It’s very different from what it used to be 20 years ago, and will be very different 20 years from now.

It has a very strong urban and artistic culture. And restaurants from all countries. And very well-known nightclubs – especially famous for their electronic music.

It’s living in a multifaceted city. Some neighborhoods are very residencial, others very touristic, others very hipster, others super fancy. Berlin is the result of an amazing mixture of several elements.

“Berlin is the New York of Europe.”

It’s a city with a very efficient public transportation system that covers all places. And that has no turnstiles for control.

Living in Berlin is being able to go back home from the bar or club by subway. That’s because public transportation runs 24 hours the whole weekend. (!!!!) And on week days? The subway closes at around 1 am, but there are still buses running all night long. You don’t really need to take taxis.

It’s a flat city, great to move around on a bike too.

In general it’s very safe but, being a big city, it DOES have pickpockets, and one should keep an eye on their belongings.

It’s a very green city, with many parks and lakes (40% of the total city area!).

The outskirts of Berlin, not too far, already feel like a different world. One can live very close to the excitement of the city and still have a house with a backyard like in the movies.

It’s a city that exhales history.

Many people speak English here, but not everyone.

It’s a city where temperatures range from -7 to 37 degrees Celsius.

A city with many train stations, a gigantic central station, and 2 airports (because the airport that is going to replace the 2 existing ones is taking forever to open).

It’s living in a city that changes when spring and summer arrive. The sunshine and heat modify the city’s vibe completely. Everyone goes outside, the sun sets a lot later, there are festivals and open-air events everywhere…


Is it too obvious that I like living in Berlin? =)