Berlin craze: tourists shun sights for ‘Kiez’ experience

Article published on Oct. 19, 2009
Article published on Oct. 19, 2009

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The metropolis attracts more visitors than any other German city with almost 18 million overnight stays in 2008. But tourism is no longer about taking in the typical sights: tourists are now taking over ‘Kiez’ (city neighbourhoods) and bikes which, until now, were exclusively secrets for the capital’s residents

With the athletic world championships during the summer of 2009, the German capital once again housed a major sporting event, just three years after the football world cup. It was accompanied by an onslaught of tourists. ‘The town was full, the hotels well booked,’ according to Burkhard Kieker, the business manager of Berlin tourism marketing (BTM) GmbH. Around 400, 000 visitors attended the matches in the Olympia stadium from 15 to 23 August alone. On top of this the annual Berlin marathon took place at the end of September and in November the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the wall will be celebrated. It’s another major European event which will entice thousands of visitors to Berlin once more.

(Image: ©flickr.com/photos/antaldaniel/2912118873/sizes/o/)

However it is no longer enough for the countless tourists to Berlin just to trawl round the most important sights like the Brandenburg gate, the Reichstag or Alexanderplatz. For a long time, tourists to Berlin have been on the hunt for original places. New travel guides, as well as the homepage of the city itself, picked up on this trend a long time ago, giving information about diverse ‘insider’ spots. Among these are the districts of Kreuzberg and Schöneberg in former west Berlin, and the neighbourhoods of Prenzlauer Berg, Mitte and Friedrichshain in the east. These districts attract an increasing numbers of tourists with their local culture and alternative flair.

(Image: ©http://www.flickr.com/photos/patrickwilken/3290700012/)‘Even here in the district of Neukölln, where workers, students and Turkish families traditionally live, you increasingly encounter troops of tourists. They're on the search for the authentic, original Berlin, to feel that they haven't just seen the routine sights,’ says 30-year-old student Anette. Former resident areas are developing into tourist magnets. The Berliners almost have to search for places where they can be by themselves, which were formerly spots like the peaceful grassy areas along the Landwehr canal and Kreuzberg's hip high street Bergmannsstrasse, with its many cafes.

Callbikes

With the invasion of new places comes the discovery of new means of transport: cycling is ever popular. Tourists imitate the real bike-loving Berliners. After all, the city is bike friendly. The Deutsche Bahn (German national railways) supplies the so-called CallBikes, silver-red bikes which can be borrowed straight from the street using a mobile phone and credit card. Bike hire is a booming business in the capital these days. The weary and the lazy are driven in comfy velo-taxis through the city, while those hungry for knowledge can take part in one of the countless city bike tours. These tours are a source of amusement for the local Berliners, but also of resentment: when having to wind through a group of clattering, chattering cycling tourists on the way to work, the inherently impatient and grouching Berliners feel their freedom of movement to be confined.

(Image: ©http://www.flickr.com/photos/tellmewhat/2649971580/sizes/l/)

(Image: ©http://www.flickr.com/photos/nazlykasim/)Generally because of lack of experience, tourists rarely behave in a roadworthy manner. Sometimes they present a great danger, namely when they brake abruptly because they are passing an alleged sight or because they need to glance at the map to check which corner exactly Curry 36 is on (known to the Berliners as the best Currywurst stall in the town).

Brits on tour

The sensation that more tourists are coming to the city isn't just a mere feeling however: the Berlin tourist sector is booming. The number of people staying overnight in the city has risen every year since the fall of the wall. According to BTM, the metropolis attracts more visitors than any other German city with almost 18 million overnight stays in 2008, an increase of 2.8% from the previous year. Munich is in second place with 10 million overnight stays. Most visitors still come from Germany, but the number of foreign visitors is growing. Brits are at the top of the list, but Italians, Dutch, US Americans, Spaniards, Scandinavians and French also stream en masse to the city on the Spree.

The Berliners can't really be annoyed with this development. Visitors to Berlin, including those on bike, bring money into the city throughout the year. Even through the crisis the tourism sector continues to grow and brings economic growth in this area to a region otherwise lacking in infrastructure with a relatively high unemployment rate (above 14% in Berlin). Along the way tourism brings more multicultural flair to Berlin and so lets the metropolis feel like a cosmopolitan city; something the Berliners are secretly quite proud of.

Callbikes for €0.06 per minute (max charge €15 per 24hrs), with no deposit. DB hotline (€0.06/min)

Curry 36, Mehringdamm 36, 10961 Kreuzberg