I was somewhat skeptical about what Berlin would be like for three days. I’d been given mixed reports, however I was pleasantly surprised by how much there was to explore. I really didn’t have a strong connection to Berlin’s war history as many visitors would, however after learning more on the topics I came away with a much broader view of the history.
What proved to be useful was the Berlin tourist card. At 27 Euros for 72 hours, it included a myriad of discounts, a map and included all city public transport for the time.
On our first afternoon and evening we explored Berlin around the main tourist areas; deciding to do the most typical tourist thing and go to the viewing deck pragmatically the TV tower. Akin to Sydney’s Centre Point Tower or Paris’ Eiffel tower the TV Tower gives panoramic views around the City’s metropolis as far as the eye can see. The view was undeniably good but it wasn’t the greatest day to view the city. The most striking thing for me was how big the city is and the number of large residentially buildings of 6-10 storeys that sprawl across the city. It just shows to densely urbanized the city is when you compare it to Australian cities where a building of that size would jut out of the landscape noticeably. The TV tower was an overall good experience but between the line for the ticket, 1 hour wait, then line for security, then the line for the lift and considering the price, and sours the experience a little; I think the wait time would become quite ridiculous in summer when its busier.
Between buying the ticket for the TV tower and our turn to go to the viewing deck we managed to visit the Cathedral, boasting a huge dome roof. Whilst remarkably imposing on the landscape the building seems awkwardly out of place given the historical context of Berlin when most buildings are relatively young. The cathedral was ambitiously built as an attempt to rival those of other famous cities such as London & Paris. Unfortunately, for me at least, whilst it is a grand church with stained glass, imposing architecture and grand features it is a little too forced, especially given its short history.
The following day we decided to take a city walking tour by a company called Insider Tours. They had really good reviews on trip advisor and offered a few different themed tours such as a general Berlin tour, Third Reich Tour and a Berlin Now tour. I was honestly skeptical about going on a tour; it just seems so cliché and touristy to me to walk around in a big group with a figurative neon sign glowing ‘tourist’ on my back. But gladly I changed my opinion! The guide Barry was an Irish ex-pat and gave us a great tour of Berlins ‘best of’ in about 4 hours. He really knew his stuff and wasn’t just repeating a set monologue. I was really stoked as to how much I learnt about the city, its history and how much we saw in such a short time. There are lots of tours around and the tour guides work on a ‘freelance basis’ so I think you can get lucky with any tour really, but I would recommend the Insider Tours. They had great reputation online and were great value; 9euros with our Berlin tourist card (there was also student/senior discounts at 10euros).
The tour covered the major attractions of Berlin; Brandenburg Gate, walk past museum island, Reichstag (the parliament), Holocaust memorial, various buildings, Checkpoint Charlie & Hitler’s bunker site amongst other sites. Along the way Barry our guide pointed out a number of various sites of importance that were not necessarily on the tours itinerary but were of significance to Berlin’s story. He also gave us tips on what to explore further in your own time.
We took the evening to wander about and find a place to eat and also found a couple of bars to explore. There were plenty of places to eat, and Berlin has some very ‘cool’ places; lots of little bars packed with locals as well as there were plenty of cafes and restaurants. Our hostel itself located in Rosenthaler Platz was really great. It was really clean and had its own little bar downstairs, albeit dominated by UK backpackers. Located beside a large intersection moments to the underground it was close to lots of bars and restaurants nearby and getting around the city was a treat.
The public transport in Berlin was oh so easy, and the tourist pass included all travel making life so easy! I think the most we ever waited for a train or underground was 6 minutes, and there were so many options to get around; buses, trams, trains and underground ‘subway’.
Our final day we decided that we would take another tour to explore more of the history of Nazi Germany in the Third Reich Tour. This proved to be a pretty good choice, as again our guide took around the city, this time with a focus on a more serious note. The tour was a mix of interesting sites, memorials and historical information. It did have a few overlaps with our other tour but perspective of the tour was distinguished so as not to be repetitive.
In the afternoon we took our best guess to visit one of the three main museums the city offers. There are three huge museums on a small ‘island’ in the city centre; the Old Museum, New Museum and the Pergamon. The Pergamon is named after the Pergamon Alter that is reassembled inside and the museum build around it. It was a pretty epic reconstruction and I found it hard to believe it was entirely reassembled given the grand size. It housed a number of other artifacts from Greek, mesometamian and Roman history. Whilst it was a good experience, part of the museum was not open, and if we knew this we may not have made the choice to go there with such other quality museums on offer and our limited time frame.
My tips for Berlin are:
• Get a tourist card (The museum island option is probably worthwhile too)
• Take a walking tour
• Learn a little German (I didn't haha)
• Research and pick the museums to visit (there’s so many to choose from its overwhelming)
Gaby & I really enjoyed our time here and the history was really interesting; even if its not your special interest.