Destination guide: Berlin, Germany
Berlin is the capital of Germany and one of the most important cities in Europe. It's a city full of history and culture and a very popular destination for both Germans and foreigners.
In Berlin, you can visit the Brandenburg Gate, the Telecommunications Tower (for a bird’s eye view of the city), the Reichstag building, the old bunkers that offered the Germans protection during the Second World War, the remains of the Berlin Wall (which divided the country for 28 years) and Germanic breweries, representative of one of the country's most deep-rooted traditions.
Berlin - Practical Information
Berlin is made up of 12 administrative districts of which the central ones hold the most interest to visitors. Mitte, formerly in East Berlin, is the city's historic core and packs such blockbuster sights as the Brandenburger Tor, the Holocaust Memorial, Unter den Linden boulevard, Museumsinsel and the Fernsehturm (TV Tower). The Scheunenviertel area, anchored by the Hackesche Höfe, is jammed with bars, restaurants, galleries and designer boutiques. To the north, gentrified and family-dominated Prenzlauer Berg beckons with a vibrant cafe culture, a bevy of unique owner-run shops and pockets of nightlife action.
South of Mitte, Kreuzberg counts Checkpoint Charlie and the Jüdisches Museum (Jewish Museum) among its highlights. Eastern Kreuzberg, around Kottbusser Tor, is the hub of Berlin's large Turkish population. Across the Spree River, Friedrichshain is an eccentric mix of Stalinist architecture, gritty squat-style pubs, polished cocktail culture and chilly beach bars. The main sight is the East Side Gallery, the longest surviving section of the Wall.
West of Mitte, Tiergarten boasts most of Berlin's large-scale post-reunification projects, including the government district, the Hauptbahnhof glass palace and Potsdamer Platz. The vast Tiergarten park links Mitte with Charlottenburg, the hub of western Berlin with lively shopping along Kurfürstendamm and the royal splendour of Schloss Charlottenburg. Much of the district is upmarket residential, as are the adjoining quarters of Wilmersdorf and Schöneberg, although the latter includes a throbbing gay district around Nollendorfplatz.
Weights & Measures
Most EU nationals only need their national identity card or passport to enter, stay and work in Germany. Citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, Switzerland and the US are among those countries that need only a valid passport but no visa if entering Germany as tourists for up to three months within a six-month period. Passports should be valid for at least another four months from the planned date of departure from Germany.
Nationals from most other countries need a so-called Schengen Visa, named for the 1995 Schengen Agreement that abolished passport controls between Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. In late 2007, the following nine countries joined the agreement: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Switzerland joined in 2008.
Applications for a Schengen Visa must be filed with the embassy or consulate of the country that is your primary destination. It is valid for stays up to 90 days. Legal residency in any Schengen country makes a visa unnecessary, regardless of your nationality.
Visa applications are usually processed within two to 10 days, but it’s always best to start the process as early as possible. For details, see www.auswaertiges-amt.de and check with a German consulate in your country.
Most articles that you take to Germany for your personal use may be imported free of duty and tax. Duty-free allowances for goods purchased in a non-European Union country were recently changed. Anyone over 17 may now bring in 1L of strong liquor or 2L of less than 22% alcohol by volume plus 4L of wine plus 16L of beer. Duty-free tobacco imports are capped at 200 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250g of loose tobacco. If you’re over 15, you may also bring in other products up to the value of €300 if arriving by land or €430 if arriving by sea or air. The limit for those under 15 is €175.
Most shops open between 9am and 10am, except for bakeries and kiosks that may open as early as 6am and some supermarkets which open at 7am or 8am. Closing times vary from 6pm or 6.30pm (1pm or 2pm on Saturday) for shops in rural areas and suburbs to 8pm or 9pm for malls, department stores and stores in the bigger city centres. There is no Sunday shopping except in December and a few times throughout the year. After hours and on Sundays you can get basic (and overpriced) supplies at petrol stations and larger train stations. Bakeries open for a few hours on Sunday mornings.
Banks do business from 8.30am to 4pm Monday to Friday (sometimes 6pm on Thurs- day), while core hours at post offices are 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday and to noon or 1pm on Saturday.
Travel agencies and other service-oriented businesses unlock doors from 9am to 6pm weekdays and till 1pm or 2pm on Saturday. Public servants, on the other hand, often shut down their PCs as early as 1pm on Friday. Museums usually take Monday off but stay open late one evening a week.
In villages and suburbs, shops and businesses often observe a two- to three-hour lunch break. And speaking of lunch, it’s generally served between 11.30am and 2pm, while dinner feedings are from 5.30pm to 9.30pm, although many restaurants continue to dish up throughout the afternoon. Some also observe a Ruhetag (day of rest), usually Monday or Tuesday.
Pubs and bars pour libations from around 6pm, unless they serve food, in which case they’re also open during the day. In cities without closing hours, such as Hamburg and Berlin, bars stay open until the last tippler leaves; otherwise, 1am or 2am are typical closing times. Big-city clubs open around 11pm but don’t kick into high gear until 1am or 2am and keep buzzing until sunrise or later. Cities like Berlin have a growing number of daytime clubs, so it’s quite possible not to go home at all at weekends!
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