Look, I’m not going to tell you where to get the best currywurst or döner kebab, because these people already have the best thing those foods have to offer is convenience, not culinary excellence.
I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m a snob. I’m a regular ol’ bon vivant. I hate drinking wine from anything other than a nice wine glass (although the opposite is true for beer, which should only be poured into a glass if it’s from the tap, otherwise, the bottle is fine, thank you very much), and I prefer to eat at white tablecloth establishments, but the *fun* part about being a grown-ass woman is that you only get what you can afford, and when you’re a freelance writer, you can’t afford shit.
But I’m not going to live off kebab.
So rejoice, ladies (and guys, whatever) of snobbery and meager bank accounts! I am your champion! I will find you the best cheap eats in the best cheap city in Europe. I! AM! YOUR! GUINEA PIG! (But don’t call me a pig, you guys.)
This is all what I thought before I went to Berlin. But sitting in my New York apartment on my third day back from my short little vacation, I realize I have failed you. The one good meal I had was over 100 euros. (I totally couldn’t afford it but the wine was great and they kept it pouring (I told them to keep it pouring) and I wanted my white tablecloth experience and a nice date with my man, dammit.)
So I have no advice for eating cheap. I’m not a food writer. Just use Yelp. (Or just put it all on your credit card, like this travel expert advises. KIDDING.)
Let me preface this with two important points – two important facts about moi. One: I do not like itineraries. I don’t really plan for trips.* I like to just go with the flow, see where the day takes me. Relax. And two: I’ve been to Berlin before, for just a short trip during the European Championships (like a few hours) and stayed with a friend (read about it here). So my recollection of it led me to believe I was much more familiar with it than I actually was.
Lesson learned: Don’t think you can go to Berlin and just wing it. You will get hungry and think you’re heading to the city center (and you’ll head to the Gendarmenmarkt) but there will be nothing around (in your price range). A wasteland (for your price range).
You’d think there’d be beer and sausage available every five steps in Berlin. False. Berlin ≠ Prague.
So, my advice, from having spent more time there: stay in Mitte. I know, it’s so uncool. (Or cool. Depending on your school of cool.) It’s no Kreuzberg (right, hipsters?). But it’s easier to stumble upon stuff there than it is in, say, Neukölln, the only other neighborhood I took the time to wander. (And don’t tell me stuff about the Schillerkiez, because there’s like, one restaurant there.)
Oh – but if you are in Neukölln (and you should totally go just to do the following), go to a little grocery store, get a bottle of cheap, delicious beer, and take it to Tempelhofer Park, which used to be an airport. Today, it is a vast field of green where people go to relax and play. It is so Berlin, you guys. (I think I might coin that phrase, but say it in German: Das ist so Berlin. Cute, right?! I think it’ll catch on.)
I stayed at two different hotels in Mitte over two days: The Circus Hotel, and Hotel Amano, and they were both lovely and accommodating. I would certainly stay in either again (but I would choose The Circus if I had to). The Circus is modern and sleek, the rooms relatively inexpensive (equal in cost to my white tablecloth dining experience), and the clientele young and hip. The breakfast buffet is great, the bar has a great aesthetic, and there’s even a little reading nook inside with lots of cool things to pick from, as well as a lovely terrace outside that would be great to sit in when it’s warm. (On that note, Amano has a rooftop bar that is worth visiting in the warmer months that overlooks the TV tower and the neighboring streets. It’s covered in string lights and vines and would be a lovely place to get tipsy in Berlin.)
I would totally stay at The Circus and hang out and eat by myself and not feel like people were judging me.
The Circus also has a hostel right across the street that seems even cooler than the hotel (but I’m over that shared-room life so I enjoyed my private bathroom). Both the hotel and the hostel, it’s worth mentioning, are full of beautiful 20-somethings.
Restaurant Advice (Not Recommendations)
Plan in advance. And bring cash. Of the restaurants that do accept credit cards, most only take chip cards. And don’t use TripAdvisor to find restaurants. Yelp is ok though.
Go to a soccer game (but call it a football match if you’re an American and want to get pretentious with it). This is a great way to experience one aspect of German culture on the cheap. I would recommend Hertha Berlin, as that’s the only Bundesliga game I’ve been to, and it was a delight. Also, I look really good in blue. (It brings out my eyes.)
DON’T: BRING A NICE CAMERA – THEY’LL BE PISSED AND TREAT YOU LIKE SOME KIND OF CRIMINAL (ANOTHER LESSON LEARNED).
DO: GET SOME CHEAP, DELICIOUS BEER AND A ROSTBRAT AND SIT IN AWE OF THE FAN SECTION AS THEY JUMP IN UNISON (MORE THAN IN UNISON: THE FAN SECTION IS AN ENTITY) WHILE SINGING ABOUT THEIR BELOVED HERTHA BSC (HAIR-TUH, NOT HER-THA). TICKETS GO FOR ABOUT 20 EUROS (JUST MAKE SURE YOU’RE NOT IN THE SUPPORTER’S SECTION).
Find a good ‘hood to plot yourself in, research some cool spots beforehand just to have in your back pocket, and ask for recommendations from people who look like they know the scene (do the young kids still use the word “scene”?). Don’t try to do all of Berlin at once. You’ll get overwhelmed and hangry, and someone will have to take you home early for a nap.
Oh! Also, get a Berlin WelcomeCard: it will save you money on public transport and museums.
*Except, now I try to find restaurants, because I get hangry like a little toddler and end up making a big mistake with food choices because FOOD IS THERE NOW LET’S EAT IT. So I try to have a few restaurants in mind now for the neighborhood where I’m staying.