Berlin seems to be the place to go this year. I didn’t go three scrolls through my Facebook feed this summer without someone on there popping up with their photos/check-ins/opinions about Germany’s capital city. I went in the beginning of July, I knew I wanted a city break at some point this summer and after looking at some of the top destinations in Europe (Barcelona, Prague, Amsterdam). I decided on Berlin, booked through Booking.com (hello favourite booking site) at the Ivbergs Hotel Berlin Messe for £145* for four nights, which was split between two of us, and the flight direct from easyJet at £219.90*.
Berlin has so much to offer that its really hard to try and cram it all in without any forward planning. As is true with most cities, there is an abundance of attractions, tours, shops, trips and, entertainment, and before you go, you really need to have a sit down, even if you’re one of these people that wings it, and think about your priorities – especially if you are not there for a long period. Of course, there are the big tourist pulls: Checkpoint Charlie, The East Side Gallery, the Berlin TV Tower, Berlin Zoo and all the others you’ve undoubtedly heard about, but, do a bit of research, the city is huge and there are always things going on in every district, some things seasonal, some things all year round that don’t attract the tourist crowds. A word for the tourists while we’re on the topic – you might think that the Berliners hate you and are rude when they reply in English, they’re really not, their language doesn’t do small talk and they’re accent makes their bark sound worse than their bite. Also, most of these people live and work in the city, if they push past you in the underground they’re probably just trying to get to work/home, they’re just going about their day.
So, let’s get down to business, first things first: BUY A BERLIN WELCOME CARD. It’s not just a tourist gimmick. For €39.50* you get five days unlimited travel on all transport in all zones (trains, buses, trams) and discounts on attractions and restaurants and bars, I used mine everyday, not only for travel into the main centre from Charlottenburg, but pretty much everything we did, I got a discount using the WelcomeCard. If you’re landing at Schönefeld Airport you’ll need to buy the card that includes the outer zone (more on the zones next), but it’s not that much more of a financial stretch.
The next issue for me was figuring out the transport system, there was a little confusion due to my lack of research so I’m going to break it down real simple for you. A ‘U’ line is the underground – these are your main routes into the city centre, ‘S’ lines are standard over ground trains, most of them do not get you close enough to the centre although they do operate in sort of a ring road fashion around the outside, ‘X’ lines are buses – in my experience they are not particularly necessary until you need to get to/from the airport. If you’re going from the airport to the centre, or anywhere close to the city centre, get a U line. On the map it may look like the S9 line will get you within walking distance to somewhere exciting but this is not the case, we got one from Schönefeld Airport to Schönhauser Allee (which looked like a reasonable distance to the Brandenburg Gate stop) and it turned out it would have taken 40 minutes to walk from that stop to the Gate. Save the hassle. Get the X7 bus to Rudow then a U7 to Mehringdamm then a U6 to Stadtmitte (you will use this station a lot) THEN it is within walking distance. It may sound confusing but I promise it is the easiest way. With the WelcomeCard, you receive a transport map and everything becomes clearer (hint: the map can also be found on the website if you’re super duper organised).
Ok, so yes, I did a lot of the main ‘touristy’ attractions. A quick run down for you: TV Tower – yes, yes, a thousand times yes, we went up close t the end of the dayand the golden hour across the city from 1200 ft was incredible. Just look at those views!
Brandenburg Gate – yes but be prepared to go “Oh wow look there’s the Brandenburg Gate….. pretty cool…”, The East Side Gallery – yes, that shits historical and so interesting. Charlottenburg Palace – yeeees, but it is so so far from the train station and not overwhelmingly interesting, but the gardens are pretty and there are some good photo ops there.
Checkpoint Charlie: no, you drive past it on the tour bus and yes that really is it, the Checkpoint Charlie Museum is better but be prepared; you will not read everything, you’d think they got paid by the word in there. Holocaust Memorial – yes, very humbling, so easy to get lost in the rows and feel the immense inhumanity of it all.
Berlin Zoo – this ones tricky, on the one hand they have polar bears and brown bears and sun bears and you get much closer to the animals but on the other hand, you can really appreciate how much money we put into our zoos here in the UK, some of the enclosures in Berlin are tragic and were quite upsetting, what’s worse is that other European tourists didn’t seem to grasp the magnitude of the work that needs to be done there, I won’t say anymore as I’d like you to judge for yourselves.
One of the areas I really appreciated, and actually visited most days, was Alexanderplatz. Overshadowed by the TV Tower, and with a big open space, markets were hosted throughout the day and night offering street performers, pop up bars, exhibitions and general festivities. It had such a nice atmosphere and if you do one thing while you’re there – head down to Alexanderplatz and see what’s going off – we drank cocktails in the sun while watching clowns then got Henna tattoos and contemplated zorbing in a paddling pool.
Berlin is definitely one of the most thriving cities in Europe at the moment and I highly recommend the city as a destination for a short break (longer, if you can afford the prices of food/drink/activities), but walk the streets, talk to the locals, take in the city – you don’t have to be a tourist to get the most out of Germany’s cultured capital.
*All prices correct as of April 2015