The long-waited family vacation started off poorly ... flight delayed, confirmed seats got switched due to plane change (partially our bad ... should have always checked airplane seats a few days before departure even if they are confirmed), and then our luggage didn’t make the shortened connection.
But our first meal in Berlin, dinner at Gugelhof, made up for all the unpleasantness. The rest of trip was nothing but enjoyable! This is our 2nd visit to Berlin. Staying at an Airbnb and exploring Berlin at a more relaxed pace made us feel like a local.
The flea market behind Mauerpark is quite a hit with both locals and tourists. It was a big market with a mix of sellers of used goods and antiques, local artists and craft maskers, and loads of food vendors.
We were short on time so skimmed through the whole market and headed straight to the Sunday "free karaoke" in Mauerpark. It was a round stone platform serving as a stage with ascalating stone stairs around serving as seats for a large crowd of audience ... the setup almost felt like one of those ancient amphitheater’s. We listened to a few songs ... literally anyone in the audience can go on the stage by raising your hand to volunteer. The singing level was quite mixed but the audience was very forgiving. They clap for everyone no matter how well you sing.
Our Airbnb turned out nicely. The apt is spacious and bright, tastefully decorated. It’s located in a lovely neighborhood (reminds us a bit like a mix of west village and TriBeCa).
The apt is on the 4th floor and comes with two balconies, one (living room) with a beautiful view of tree-lined Kastanienallee street, and the other (master bedroom) with a view of the courtyard behind the building and the top of the Berlin TV tower.
The pros: 1) balconies, 2) bathroom is modern and nice), 3) kids friendly items (high chair, portable crib), 4) really nice neighborhood.
The cons: 1) horrible bed and pillows, 2) elevator only stops between every two floors so still quite a lot of stairs before getting in the elevator and after getting out of the elevator, 3) window shield doesn’t really block out any light so bring eye masks
Gugelhof came highly recommended by our local friends and it didn’t disappoint. What a fantastic first meal in Berlin at this Alsace restaurant! Everything was perfect at the dinner: a cute restaurant in a cute neighborhood, outdoor seating in a tree-lined street, a friendly waiter who patiently explained the menu to us and brought our little one a free cup of mango juice.
The thin-crust flambee (a French-German version of flatbread) was a must-try. We had the special flambee of the day which was shrimp with white asparagus in a light curry sauce. It was to die for. Our little one couldn’t stop eating it ... she probably had two slices all by herself. We love the crispy thin crust - less carbs and more delicious toppings ... what can you ask for more?! The meal came out to a total of €60 including 2 glasses of wine. What a good deal!
Breakfast at Bakery Plazebo, a cute little cafe just 2 mins from out Airbnb. A lot of locals ... great quiche and coffee and fresh orange juice.
I got a free afternoon so decided to try the "Smartphone is not for calling" tour (Airbnb experience) by Danylo. I was the only one on the tour because it was a week day. Danylo was an awesome tour guide. I had a lot of fun and learnt a few new skills too (despite of thinking I was pretty good at taking iPhone photos). Some of the skills learned; 1) long press to lock AF exposure, 2) wrist tilt to get more interesting angles, 3) close up with camera lens side of the phone closer to the front object, 4) position lines to go through the corners instead of aligning with the sides, 5) live photos can turn into long exposure shots, 6) low angle close up (with camera lens on the bottom side), 7) if objects have straight corners/angle, it’s more interesting to not have those corners go in the same directions as photo corners.
Katz Orange was a complete disappointment. It was the restaurant we really wanted to try on the last Berlin trip but couldn’t get a reservation. The restaurant is located in this beautiful brick house tucked away inside a cobblestone alley. The decor is nice and trendy. Maybe all those factors set our expectation too high.
We had their signature dish - marinated pork slow cooked for 12 hours. A dish that’s supposedly so good that they named it after the restaurant’s own name. The pork was nothing more than pulled barbecue pork ... the piece they gave us was dry and tasteless (unless you dip it in the bbq sauce on the side). It was not only underwhelming but also way overpriced at €22 per person. For the two of us, they served a single palm-sized piece which costs €44! We had better bbq pork for $10 in the US. The cocktail was great and the one appetizer we had was good too (trout ceviche).
The Photograph Walk Tour with Katy in Kreuzberg was the second Airbnb experience we tried on this trip. We learnt a lot and Katy was super nice and friendly. But we found the Kreuzberg neighborhood a bit underwhelming. It is supposed to be the new darling of East Berlin - a hippy neighborhood that is on the rise of gentrification (reminded us a bit like LES in New York City) .
Something interesting she told us was that she spoke English mostly with her German boyfriend. Apparently a lot of young people in Berlin prefer speaking English with each other.
Overall a great experience and we got over 80 family photos from Katy 3 days later. The tour was private for us as a family of 2 adults + 1 kid for a total of $100!
Kopps offers vegetarian tasting menus - neither of us is vegetarian so we were a bit worried that we might not feel satisfied after the dinner. That concern quickly went away and almost every dish had such a complex and delicious taste that we didn’t miss our usual meat or fish at all. The wines were great too!
The 7-course menu is structured as 1 main course in the middle and then 3 appetizers before and 3 desserts after. If you are a bit tight on budget, you can opt for as few as 3 courses which means you get the main and two appetizers/desserts of your choice. We tried all 7 but in all honesty, a 4-course meal would have been equally satisfactory without making us feel so full: skip 1 of the appetizers (the soup probably), and skip 2 of the 3 desserts (just ask which one is the main dessert).
Breakfast @ Zeit fur Brot (at Katy’s recommendation from our photo tour yesterday). It’s a popular bakery chain known for its delicious rolls 😋. Their croissant and latte were excellent too.
Spent the day at the Berlin zoo and bought the zoo/aquarium combo tickets. Berlin welcome card gives both a 25% discount.
The zoo is pretty and nicely laid out. Going on a wed also means there is not a huge crowd. Our two-year old really enjoyed it.
In hindsight, we probably shouldn’t have got the ticket to aquarium - it’s not one of the most impressive aquariums. Plus the zoo itself can easily take 4-5 hours to explore, especially if you visit with young babies or want to explore at a leisure space.
Neugruns Koche was another excellent recommendation by our local friends. It’s an unassuming neighborhood restaurant that the only thing they serve is a 7-course meal (it a set menus that changes every day but you can’t pick individual courses). We were super impressed with all the dishes ... they were inventive and delicious in an non-pretentious way.
Potsdam / Sanssouci Palace was beautiful and we were lucky with the weather - blue sky without a tint of clouds.
The palace grounds are expansive and as we have read elsewhere, the grounds are more impressive than the palace itself. We got there around 1030 and the earliest time slot we can get for the palace room tour is 1250. It’s really annoying that you have to plan your day around the those times entries so I would suggest just skipping it. We bought the combo ticket but in hindsight, we should have not bought any tickets. The Sanssouci Palace is really small so the tour was completely skippable. Instead we had to plan our route around the timed entry and there were really very little time to cover such vast grounds. The new palace is actually bigger and more grand looking than Sanssouci Palace so maybe we should have done the inside tour there. There is no wait to enter the new palace although you have to go get a timed ticket too if you have bought a combo ticket. We also entered Orangerie Palace and climbed its tower ... nothing spectacular so skippable too.
We used Berlin Welcome Card to take the 695 bus which acted like the drop on and drop off shuttles for us between the palaces. It’s not a stroller-friendly place - lots of stairs here and there and the roads are usually not paved.
We squeezed in a visit to Kladow on the way back to Berlin from Potsdam. The lake was nice but we didn’t find it worth the hassle.
To go to Kladow, you have to catch a 20-min ferry that runs every hour (on the half hours). And there is usually a line and you might not make the line cutoff if you get there too close the departure time.
For dinner, we decided to check out Markethalle Neun for its Thursday Street Food Market (5-10pm). It was a really fun experience and much cheaper than New York food courts.
We couldn’t leave Berlin without checking out one of its outdoor beer gardens.
Wedding reception at this beautiful restaurant with an open deck looking out to the park lawn and the lake.
Dinner at Babel, a Lebanese Restaurant right across from our Airbnb apt. It seemed very popular as its tables outside are always filled with crowds when we looked out from our apt. It was good food and decent value too but ambience was lacking a bit.