A custom-made version of Berlin

Now I’d like to think that my friends simply miss me a lot and would do anything to be near me, but something tells me that I wouldn’t have to change the sheets of our sleeping couch so often if we’d moved to, say, Duisburg. You can divide the Dutch into two groups: those who are madly in love with Berlin and those who have never been there ‘but have always wanted to go’. Both of those groups know we have a guest room in one of the most central parts of the city. And they want to use it.

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Taking a photo at a Photoautomat – always a good idea

So what do you do when in your first 2.5 months in Berlin you have more visitors than the average Bed & Breakfast in Vladivostok? You turn yourself into a Touribüro. No matter how many times our friends have been to Berlin and what their expectations of this trip might be (seeing us, of course), in exchange for a fridge magnet and a Photoautomat photo we show them exactly the Berlin that they want to see. Dome of the Reichstag? No problem, you won’t even need an audio tour and we’ll book your tickets. The best underground bars? We’ll find them for you. An amazing schnitzel? Coming right up. And we’ll also make sure there are clean sheets on the bed and fresh towels in the bathroom.

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Our still growing collection of fridge magnets

How our Touribüro went into business

Obviously, every tour starts at our home, a small GDR Museum in one of the most beautiful locations in Berlin. We hand our guests a local beer and try to figure out what they want to see, do and taste in Berlin – and how much they expect us to be around while they do so. Our first guests were my parents and sister, who were helping us move all our furniture from one country to another. This meant that our Touribüro went into business the same day we arrived in Berlin. Since we had been pretty busy packing boxes and organising a farewell party, we hadn’t prepared much for our first customers. I did know where the nearest Ikea was, so we took them there – but I’m afraid that wasn’t the most fun thing my family ever did in Berlin. Hopefully the authentic vegan dinner at Yellow Sunshine (Wiener Straße 19) and the also pretty authentic German dinner at Pavillon in Volkspark Friedrichshain helped them forget about that Saturday morning when all of Berlin seemed to have decided to go furniture shopping.

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Not bad for our first Berlin barbecue ever

We’ll do anything for your entertainment 

1.5 weeks later, our next visitors arrived. A nice couple consisting of my best friend, a Berlin lover who had visited the city with me two times already, and her girlfriend. Our Touribüro still had some teething troubles, since we didn’t have any internet and our home office was moving from café to café. Luckily enough, summer had just started and we enjoyed ourselves with barbecue parties in the park and big glasses of beer in a wonderful Biergarten in Kreuzberg (Golgatha, Viktoriapark). With this experience and three (!) guest-free weeks, we  were able to keep improving our ‘Summer in Berlin’ tour. By the time the next couple arrived, also already Berlinsiders, we had discovered a wonderful rooftop terrace on top of a shopping mall in Neukölln (Klunkerkranich, Karl-Marx-Straße 66) and a city beach with great pizzas close to our home (Holzmarkt Strandbar Pampa, Holzmarktstraße 25).

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Picking plums at the Ahrensfelder Berge. Do you see any other tourists?

We know Berli like our own back yard…

Our guests were satisfied and we had been visiting some of our favourite places a few times by now – but since they were our favourite places, we were not complaining. After a break of one (!) night, the next couple arrived. Both complete Berlin newbies, so they wanted to see the highlights. We made a programme for them that consisted of the Brandenburger Tor as well as the abandoned amusement park Spreepark (Kiehnwerderallee 1-3) and spicy Currywurst as well as a crispy salad. We took them underground during a tour of Berliner Unterwelten and behind the scenes during a tour at Tempelhof Airport. I must admit: walking the full length of the Eastside Gallery back and forth wasn’t the most interesting thing I ever did, but the beer at city beach Yaam (An der Schillingbrücke 3) we had afterwards made up for that. It was a full schedule, we walked about 5 to 6 hours a day – no kidding – and as soon as we had waved goodbye to them, my sister arrived.

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The pizzas aren’t the only great thing at Holzmarkt Strandbar Pampa

How convenient: a surf festival in Berlin

Now this was a tricky one, since she had visited Berlin many times already and her last visit was only a few weeks before. I had to surprise her – and myself. Our activities for just one day: a pharmacy that has recently been converted into a bar, but still has all the original elements (Ora, Oranienplatz 14), Berlin’s most eastern neighbourhood Marzahn, a museum apartment that hasn’t changed a bit since its GDR days (Hellersdorfer Straße 179), one of Berlin’s highest mountains (Ahrensfelder Berge) where we picked fresh plums and, to top it off, a fairy-tale themed bar (Am Friedrichshain 24). Another satisfied customer. With our last visitor thus far, the programme became even more personal. This was another one of my friends who had visited the city many, many times before, even though surfing is her favourite thing to do and there are not a lot of waves to be found in Berlin. But wait: someone decided to organise a surf festival at the Badeschiff, the swimming pool in the Spree (Eichenstraße 4)! I invited my friend over for that weekend and added some longboarding at the Tempelhofer Feld. She liked it so much, she decided to miss her flight back. Or maybe she didn’t do that on purpose.

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Why not: a surf festival in Berlin. image courtesy of Cristoph Leib, Straend Festival

Don’t tell anyone, but we actually like it… 

And now we’re alone again, planning ahead for our next visitors. First two Berlin regulars, who I plan to take to the Thai food market ‘Thai Wiese’ (at Preußenpark) and some upcoming neighbourhood (maybe Wedding?), then a couple of first-timers again. I wonder what we’ll do when this is all over and I don’t have to write down all the things I would like to do with that friend or remember for that family member. Maybe we’ll start discovering the city for ourselves and find the places WE really like. Or maybe we’ll start an actual Touribüro, because, truth be told, it is fun to show people their custom-made version of Berlin. Any Chinese tourists interested in a personal tour? Americans or Italians, perhaps? We’ll start planning right away. 🙂