Berlin has the Brandenburg Gate and Museum Island, sure, but it’s more well known in Europe for its creative types, niche fashion, and scandalous park corners (ask any gay man living). During a recent (and first) trip to Berlin, I didn’t bother catching a glimpse of the famous sites. Instead, I chose to seek out the eccentric- and I am so glad I did. Walking to these sites gave me the excuse to wander through some of the city’s most famous parks, view the skyline from various vantage points, and even feel what it is to be a Berliner (not the donut) in some of the more local neighborhoods. I can honestly say that every item on this list put a grin on my face as I meandered to the next stop, and inspired some brilliant dinner conversation the following nights. I hope you feel inspired to check off a quirky item or two from this list on your next trip to Berlin, or seek out the unusual in the weeks to come, wherever that may be.
Oh man, I love currywurst. Having lived in Germany for over a year, I know that every German has their local favorite spot for grabbing this quick meal. The dish- first made famous in Berlin, but now ubiquitous across Deutschland– involves a sausage, sliced into smaller pieces, smothered in a tomato-based sauce, and topped with curry powder. The result is a savory treat, apparently worthy of its own museum. The surprisingly informative Deutsches Currywurst Museum is particularly photo friendly (basically made to Instagram) and walks you through the meal’s history, spices, and zeitgeist- even discussing the future of recyclable plates and mini plastic forks (oh, those forks are an essential part of the recipe). Naturally, the self-guided tour isn’t complete without a tasting (or in my case, a complete meal) of assorted sausages and sauces. Open 10h00 to 18h00 daily. €11 (€8.50 concession) for ticket with small tasting bowl, €13.90 (€12.50 concession) with complete meal (three currywurst types, a brötchen (bread roll), and sparking water).
This quirky attraction borders on bizarre. Until 2015, brown bears inhabited enclosures, next to a children’s playground and the Märkisches Museum, in the small Köllnischer Park in Berlin Mitte. The last bear, Schnutte (ironically, translated as ‘pout’) was euthanized a few years ago as a result of animal rights protests. The tiny Bärenzwinger (bear pits) still remain as a symbol of Berlin’s commitment to the city’s symbol and are hauntingly intriguing. This site made for wonderful conversation the following evening, as my dinner guests could not believe that I chose to spend an afternoon here. Open 24 hours.
Berlin is a club capital (not that I would know personally) and this permanent teledisko claims to be the world’s smallest. Found in the slightly derelict (at least during daylight hours) back porch of the Kater Blau Club, anyone can dance away any hour of the day in this converted telephone booth with a few euro coins. Song only €2; song and photo or video €4; song, video and photo €6.
You can find small convenience stores, locally called a Spätkauf, scattered throughout the city. Because Germany allows (nay, encourages) drinking on street corners, these Spätkaufs serve as a pit-stop for a quick beer on the way to the bar or club. Unlike most German shops, Spätkaufs are open late into the night for your drinking pleasure. They are easy to find, but if you are having trouble- no fear- there’s a wonderful website that details their locations across the city.
This exquisite building in the trendy Kreuzberg neighborhood houses- of all things- a spa. Germans love their saunas and the Liquidrom spa is complete with several, as well as baths and steam rooms. Bathing suits are required for the pool but, like most German spas, discouraged in the sauna for ‘hygienic’ reasons. Don’t forget to bring a towel and sandals (and even a robe if you packed one), unless you would prefer to rent them for €8.50- €15.50. Relax for 2 hours for €19.50, 4 hours for €24.50 or a whole day for €29.50. Open 9 to midnight daily and until 1h00 Fridays and Saturdays.
The beautiful Tiergarten Park provides a necessary break from Berlin’s hustle and this tree will- quite literally- stop you in your tracks. The locally-famous Stand By Me tree features the song’s lyrics anonymously carved into the bark. Look closely and you will see the bark has since healed, but the lyrics remain. You can find this monument, serving as a beacon for those who love swoony bass beats, at the corner of Grosser Weg and Grosser Sternallee. Open 24 hours.
Unless you count perusing Spätkaufs as a shopping experience, Germany offers very few options for late-night shoppers. This bookstore is the one glorious exception. Dussman das KulturKaufhaus (translation: the culture buying house) houses multiple stories of books, records, and inspiring gifts. The bookstore has an unrivaled English and international section, which could easily be its own (huge) shop. It also has an amazing live greenery wall and relaxed café. Open weekdays 9- midnight and Saturday until 23h30. Closed Sunday.
Of all the places listed, this might be the quirkiest. As a zoologist, this spot charged to the top of my list during my research. The Tieranatomisches Theater (translation: animal anatomy theater) is, unbelievably, still in use to this day. The round lecture hall is used to instruct veterinary students on anatomy by placing the animal of interest on a round table and slowly dissecting its parts. The architectural details alone make this site worth a visit. Overlooking the building’s exterior windows and interior bookshelves, stucco animal skulls (complete with ornate flowers) remind you that you are very much on their turf. A never-ending painting, depicting man’s relationship with beasts, encircles the lecture hall, making for a stunning scene with the glowing light fixture. Open Tuesday- Saturday 14h00 to 18h00 when lectures are not taking place, and free to enter.
When you mention ‘quirky’ and ‘Berlin’ in one sentence, street art instantly comes to mind. The Haus Schwarzenberg Street Art Alley is a constantly evolving display of murals painted by local and international artists. Situated in the archway of a small cinema, the alleyway curves and meanders with plenty of details to keep you entertained and, quite possibly, bewildered. The one painting that you are sure to find each visit is a joyful pointillism representation of a smiling Anne Frank. Free to enter. Open 24 hours.
Berlin’s dark history is certainly not forgotten. These copper plaques, named Stolpersteine (translation: stumbling stones) are a wonderfully authentic way to honor those who were murdered during WWII. As you walk around Berlin, if you look down, you will be sure to stumble across a Stolperstein, located in front of the house where the deceased once lived, with details of their name, date of birth, deportation year, and where they died. The stones are often grouped together as families, reminding us that history- although in the past- can respectively remain in our minds at present. As it should. The stones are quite small and could easily be missed, but are particularly beautiful when found without looking. If you do need directions, their locations throughout the city can be found on their website.