Move over New York — Berlin is rapidly becoming the city that never sleeps, calling out to a rising population of 4.5 million, 3.5 million who come to The Grey City from over 190 countries in search of unchecked hedonism 24 hours of day.
But despite what these numbers might suggest, Berlin is still a treasure waiting to be found. Packed full of secrets and small mysteries, there’s no better way to uncover her truths than out on her streets.
If you’re new to the city, here’s a quick run of 10 facts you probably didn’t know about Berlin. Revise these and then head out to the German capital to see what you can discover.
Made up of 12 districts, the city-state of Berlin is a giant. To put it into perspective, Germany’s largest city is nine times bigger than Paris! For anyone who’s been to Thailand’s metropolis, that also means that, geographically, Berlin is the same size as Bangkok!
When you think of the river bound, beautifully bridged cities of Europe, images of Amsterdam or Venice are sure to spring to mind first. However, with its over 180 kilometres of serpentine waterways connected by a staggering 1,700 bridges, Berlin easily outsizes both of these famous canal networks.
In fact, Berlin has more canals than any other city in the world! It’s no surprise then, that cruising the River Spree, dotted with its abundant beaches, bars and swimming spots, is one of the city’s most beloved places to pass the time.
It takes a short stroll through the city street to become acquainted with the Berliner favourite: The Döner Kebab. With over 1,000 establishments selling the snack, it’s no wonder that the city houses the world’s largest Turkish population outside of Turkey, and according to some sources, perhaps even Istanbul.
Legend even has it that the dish — or at least the modern variation of it served with salad and sauce in grilled flat bread *cue mouth watering* — was even invented in Berlin, with locals consuming 60 tonnes of the meat a day! You can’t blame them; it’s delicious.
If you’re reading this before lunch time, I apologise, because if talks of the kebab had your stomach grumbling, then thoughts of the beloved Currywurst will defeat you. Berlin’s sweetheart street food: the curried sausage has been called the city’s “culinary emblem” thanks to its ridiculous popularity. In fact, about 70 million servings are consumed every year in Berlin!
To pay homage, the city has even constructed a 11,840-square foot Deutsches Currywurst Museum dedicated to the snack. Check out our cheap places to eat in Berlin and be sure to sauce (get it?) Konnopke’s Imbiß and other pocket-friendly eateries.
JFK’s famous Ich bin ein Berliner speech has been a topic of great discussion from almost the moment the former US President uttered the line. Sadly, the popular myth dictating that he publicly declared himself a jelly doughnut, isn’t accurate.
Yes, it’s true that in many cities in Germany a Berliner is a doughnut, and yes, Kennedy did said “Ich bin ein Berliner”, but unfortunately grammar Nazis have concluded that while a native German speaker would have simply said “Ich bin Berliner” without the “ein”, it does still make sense. And no, no one in the city genuinely thought he was referring to himself as a delicious dessert.
You could probably write an entire article on facts about the Berlin Wall, but of the many interesting details surrounding the structure, the most striking might actually be that there were two walls and not just one as the would name suggest — then again, the “Berlin Walls” doesn’t really carry the same ominous tone, does it?
In between the two walls lay a terrible 140m “death strip” that was secured with guard towers, tripwires, and soldiers with shoot-to-kill order on any trespassers. Horrific. In fact, as a result of the wall, many East Berliners used to suffer from an illness called Mauerkrankheit, which literally means “Wall Sickness”. Mauerkrankheit patients were symptomatically afraid of confined spaces and crowds, and would suffer from depression, delusions of persecution, and repeated suicide attempts.
Also, many don’t realise that the Wall’s end began in Budapest. Six months before the first Berliners got out their hammers, cracks had already begun to appear.
And finally, in the end, the fall of the Wall was the result of a bureaucratic screw-up thanks to a Politburo politician named Günter Schabowski. Going down in history as the man who reunited Berlin with one word, Schabowski gained worldwide fame when, in November 1989, he improvised an answer to a press conference question on a new rule that granted passports to East Germans, allowing them Freedom of Travel — even to the West of the Iron Curtain. When asked when the new rule would take effect, scratching his head in confusion he answered: sofort. Immediately. Without delay. And that was that: in 28 seconds he put into motion the end of the 28-year divide.
As you pass through the iconic Brandenburg Gate, you’ll be met with Hotel Adlon. At first glance, it’s nothing more than another beautiful hotel. No biggie, Europe is full of them. However, over the years, this is were many rich and famous folks have called home away from home. Among these celebs, the most memorable visit was from the late Michael Jackson.
Remember when the King of Pop wanted to introduce the world to his newest son: Blanket? Who could forget the image of the infant child dangling from his smiling father’s arms on a balcony? While MJ meant no malice from his actions and was just excited to show off his pride and joy to his adoring fans, what he went on to call a “terrible mistake” is one move that Jacko would rather the world forget.
The Galeries Lafayette in Berlin’s shopping district off of Friedrichstrasse houses ATMs that allows users to receive gold. Yes, you read that correctly: gold. Available in quantities weighing up to 250 grams, the precious metal is readily available.
And if that’s not enough, if you’re ever on your way to a night out but find yourself without shoes, don’t worry. Head over to Fritzclub where you’ll find yourself a vending machine that will reward you with ballet flat shoes for €9 each. Yup, come to Berlin and you’ve tripped out with Alice down the rabbit hole.
With underground railway networks, elaborate World War II bunkers, escape tunnels, sewers and brewery cellars, it’s estimated that 40% of the city’s structures are actually underground — making it almost twice as big as it appears on the surface. Many of the underground bunkers built during WWII are now open to tour groups, so make sure to visit and explore the secret tunnels, bedrooms, bathrooms and even a labour room for pregnant women.
The history lesson doesn’t end there. While you’re exploring the city, if you’re unsure of whether you’re in the East side or the West, just look for the tram tracks. Can you see them? If yes, you’re in East Berlin: trams were abolished in West Berlin after reunification, and underground transport was heavily invested in instead, giving you the gargantuan transport system you have today.
What’s more, Berlin’s public transit system, the BVG, which includes all buses and all train travels in the city, makes the equivalent distance of 8.7 times around the Earth each day. I told you the city was big. A trip here brings more than museums and mayhem, but visit the German city and give yourself the opportunity to circumnavigate the globe. There’s an achievement for your CV.
There are an impressive 180 museums in Berlin and, on average, 106 rainy days a year. So even if you tried to use the bad weather for cultural enrichment, you’ll struggle to get through them all!
Five of these are world-renowned institutions that make up a small island on the River Spree and are an absolute must-see attraction. If you’re a student out here looking for a location to host your next social, or just happen to win the lottery, remember that the Northern tip of the island is home to Berlin’s beautiful Bode Museum which can be rented out for an epic night of debauchery for a mere €8,000. #BarGains
And given that we’re on the topic of partying, it’s no secret that the city is an absolute haven for night owls. In fact, around 50,000 people dance every weekend in Berlin‘s clubs. That’s almost the same size of the population in cities like Durham in the UK or Grasse in France!
Looking for a place to live in this amazing city to check out all of these hidden treasures? Check out our rooms in Berlin!
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Do you know any other hidden facts about Berlin? Let us know in the comments. And remember: if you need student accommodation, you’ll find the perfect student home on Uniplaces.