Up close and personal: Mitte, Berlin

Brandenburg gate
Brandenburg gate

Up close and personal: Mitte, Berlin

by Anna Leigh Bagiackas
Stripes Europe

You could plan a trip to see all of Berlin. But you could also just plan a trip to Berlin’s central borough of Mitte because this neighborhood is packed with so many things to do and see that you will need longer than you think. As a college student and Eurail pass-holding backpacker, my time in Mitte made Berlin my absolute favorite city and keeps me coming back.

Mitte is the central part of the city, located on the Spree River, and it was the birthplace of Germany’s capital in the 13th century. Home to the government quarter and the city’s most popular museums and sites, it was divided into East and West Berlin following World War II, adding to its layers of history.

To Do

Berlin has a culture and a vibe all its own. Decades and centuries of history sit alongside street art created just minutes ago, creating stark contrasts for travelers to ponder. Visit the iconic TV Tower, Germany’s tallest building at 368 meters, and stop for lunch at its rotating view-filled restaurant. Then ground yourself walking through Checkpoint Charlie, one of Mitte’s historic checkpoints that connected East and West Berlin. You will also find some of Europe’s most recognizable sites, including Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag Building (Germany’s main parliament building) and Museum Island. Here you can visit the Berlin Dom, Old Museum, New Museum, Old National Gallery, Pergamon Museum and Bode Museum.

Wander through Tiergarten Park, the largest urban park in Mitte and home to a number of important memorials including the Holocaust Memorial and the “Siegessäule” or Victory Column. Make Alexanderplatz, Mitte’s central square, your base for the afternoon with its many notable sites nearby and lots of shopping and restaurants to explore.

Mitte offers lots for history buffs, particularly with WWII history. Sites include the Topography of Terror indoor and outdoor museum, the former headquarters of the Gestapo and SS, and the Führerbunker, Hitler’s air raid shelter and place of death. And as the center of post-war Berlin, seeing pieces of the Berlin Wall up close is also a must.

For something not as well-known, but equally fascinating, check out underground Mitte at the Berliner Unterwelten. This underground museum allows you to explore bunkers and tunnel systems, including the escape tunnel between East and West Berlin. After that, visit the DesignPanopticon, the museum for bizarre objects for an experience off the beaten path.

Mitte can be explored on foot, but boat tours along the river and bike rentals are also great options for seeing this borough. There is no shortage of shopping opportunities, from high-end brands to local artists and craftspeople. Keep your eye out for magnificent murals and spontaneous art, such as along Street Art Alley, for a taste of local Berlin.

To Eat & Drink

As an international city, Berlin is a foodie hotspot and can offer you amazing eats from all over the world. Of course, you can enjoy some traditional German fare, such as at the beer garden and restaurant Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt. Or make your way to Shiso Burger, a Japanese Korean fusion burger joint, for something completely different. Looking for fine dining? Learn about Restaurant Tim Raue, named after one of the chef’s featured on Netflix’s “Chef’s Table,” for an Asian-inspired German meal.

Since fine dining wasn’t on my itinerary as a backpacker, I sought out coffee shops, which can be found all over Mitte. Stop in Alexanderplatz for one of the many brunch spots including The Greens, a unique spot offering coffee and plants.

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