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Berlin: 5 popular sights that can be tourist traps

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To hang—or not to hang—at Alexanderplatz. Photo: Caribb
To hang—or not to hang—at Alexanderplatz. Photo: Caribb

By Molly Hannon in Berlin—

“A tourist trap is an establishment, or group of establishments, that has been created with the aim of attracting tourists and their money.” Wikipedia’s definition nails it on the head. Indeed, tourist traps aim to attract tourists—or to be exact, their wallets.

Although Berlin is renowned for its diversity, creativity, and rich (if complicated) history, there are a few places that can be worth skipping. Here are five places that are among the city’s most popular (and none of which was created as a “tourist trap”). However, each of these can also devolve into a waste of time. Know before you go—and spend your time (and euros) wisely!

Should you check out the Checkpoint? Photo: Poetwarrior2003

1. Alexanderplatz

Alexanderplatz might as well be called, “Anarchy Central.” Located in the city center, it is a tamer version of New York’s Time Square—minus the naked cowboy, but with bratwurst vendors and the Fernsehturm looming above instead. This part of Berlin is heavy with traffic, as it’s the main hub for the U-Bahn and buses shuttling to and from Tegel Airport.

Although it’s quite a sight, if you’re not keen on crowds nor a big shopper, skip the square (or “platz”) and head either to Mitte for some quality shopping, designer studios, and a row of great cafes and bars, or skip on over to Museum Island.

2. Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie, along with Glienicker Brücke (Glienicker Bridge), was the best-known border crossing during the Cold War. Today, the Checkpoint is more of symbol, an echo of the past whose historical and emotional resonance is its main appeal. The sight itself possesses little charm and is always crowded with the flashing of overzealous visitors’ cameras.

As it is one of the only border remnants of the pre-1988 days, history buffs may feel compelled to stop and pay homage to ole Charlie and its museum. Your history text book, however, could also suffice.

Professional posers at the Brandenburg Gate. Photo: Mark Turner

3. The characters around Brandenburger Tor

Brandenburg Gate is one of Berlin’s most important historical monuments and certainly deserves a visit. Visiting the Gate, along with the nearby embassies and the Adlon Kempinski Hotel, however, can be slightly disorientating. First there’s the Starbucks located across the street from it, the overeager cameramen “kindly” offering to take your picture, and the Mickey Mouse and Space Invader ready to pose with you. They all have one track minds focused on ripping you off.

If you can’t shake the hangers-on, seek solace in the Tiergarten (located across the street) or head to the nearby Holocaust Memorial—a sight well worth the visit.

4. East Side Gallery

History meets art at the East Side Gallery. One of Berlin’s most popular tourist attractions, the remaining panels of the Berlin Wall offers a 1.3 km-long outdoor gallery. However, it’s lost its luster in the past few years due to an expensive copyright controversy.

The art is nothing remarkable, although the gallery’s ability to blend art and history is still impressive. Either way, the canal is nearby and is a perfect spot for snagging a beer and enjoying a lazy Berlin day.

5. “Traditional” and “authentic” German meals

When it comes to food in Berlin these days, the words “authentic” and “traditional” are used so loosely that they have lost their real meaning. Keep this in mind when you are on the prowl for traditional German food. Berlin is home to people from 187 nations, giving it a unique international flavor of its own. Although currywurst is a true Berlin dish, a döner kebab is just as “authentic,” and I would say tastier and more filling.

The city does have, however, a heady mix of Bavarian-style restaurants and biergartens that do serve something close to authentic German food. Best to avoid the commercial ones near Alexanderplatz as they are overpriced and overcrowded, especially during the summer months. (Oddly, there is also an American-imported “Hooters” restaurant located inside the Tiegarten that I advise against.)

However, if you don’t mind paying a little extra cash for sub-par schnitzel and bratwursts stuffed in starchy rolls, then go for it. It may not be terribly authentic, but it can be tasty. Guten appetit!

About the author

Molly Hannon is an American travel and culture writer based in Berlin. She has written for the New York Times, NPR, the DailyBeast, Gambero Rosso, TimeOutBerlin, and La Cucina Italiana. Read more of her writing on her Web site: http://mollyhannon.com/

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One Response to “Berlin: 5 popular sights that can be tourist traps”

Guido says:

Surely the Checkpoint Charlie museum is just a (bad) piece of western propaganda. I went there a few years back and it was pretty bad. I think the Berlin city council have been trying to trim its wings for a long time.

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