As a massive Modern European history nerd, Berlin was the place I was most excited about visiting on the trip. The city itself is huge, and there was more to see than we could hope to accomplish in the 4 nights we were there. Contrasting with the historical is a strong sense of modernity. Berlin was fashionable and effortlessly cool (even in the middle of a heatwave).
Again, this was part of our Interrail trip, so we were getting the train from Amsterdam. The train was a direct Intercity service which was supposed to be 6hrs 20mins but ended up being over 7 hours on account of a delay. We didn’t have reservations which meant a bit of seat jumping for the first hour or so, but when we finally settled down we had a secure seat for the rest of the journey. As far as comfort is concerned there wasn’t anything special about the trains, but they were spacious which is always good when you have to sit down for half a day. We got into Berlin Hbf around 4:30pm, then had to navigate the U-Bahn to get to Schönhauser Allee, where we were staying.
We stayed in the Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood in an AirBnB. The district is North-East of the centre, about a ten minute underground journey from all the standard attractions. We had a room in the apartment and shared the kitchen and bathroom spaces with Maya, our host, and her husband, both of whom were lovely people. Maya was also more than happy to give us recommendations of places to eat and drink in the area and information about the city. Kastanienallee and Oderberger Staße were great streets for good restaurants, and Wohnzimmer on Lettestraße was a particularly nice and cosy bar for cocktails. We also used the kitchen in the apartment to save ourselves some money on breakfasts and lunches. Bonus was Maya had a cat who would come and sit on the windowsill in our room—Babu definitely made our stay extra special.
As we spent quite a while in Berlin, it’s probably best to share the best things we did rather than a whole list of everything. Berlin was also where the June heatwave kicked in, so much of what we did was definitely aided by the good weather.
Tiergarten Sightseeing — Many of the famous monuments in Berlin are located in and around the Tiergarten area. From the Reichstag which is just outside of the park to the Victory Column and Brandenburg Gate, there’s a lot to see in this small area. A little picnic in the park is also very fun (although we did get a few bug bites).
The German Spy Museum (Deutsches Spionage Museum) — As far as museums go, this definitely stood out from the rest. The museum takes you through the origin of espionage up to the Cold War, with lots of spy movie references in between. All the gadgety stuff was probably meant for kids but we still had fun with it. Can’t help but wish we had done the laser maze though…
The Remains of the Berlin Wall Memorial (Niederkirchnerstraße) — While the East Side Gallery part of the Berlin Wall is famous for its provocative street art, this memorial presents the remains of the wall preserved as it was in 1989. It’s incredibly moving, with detailed information alongside it on the history of Germany in the 20th century. It also sits parallel to the Topography of Terror, the site of the former Gestapo headquarters now dedicated to documenting the horrors of Nazism.
Potsdam — If you have time during your trip, take the S-Bahn down to Potsdam for an escape from the main city. With lots of natural parks and beautiful architecture, it was a welcome departure from the busyness of Berlin. In the city centre there’s even the ‘real’ Brandenburg Gate — a relic from when Germany was separated into districts, showing the former border of the Brandenburg area. Schloss Sanssouci, an 18th century palace, has fantastic grounds for wandering through and seeing flowers and fountains.
Museum Island (Museuminsel) — There is more to see on this ‘island’ in the middle of Berlin than you could hope to fit into a single day, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing as much as you can. The museums vary in subject, from Ancient Rome and Greece to Egypt to 19th century art, but it really does mean there’s something for everyone. The neo-Classical architecture on the island is enough reason to visit in itself. An ice-cream in James-Simon Park on the other side of the bank is the perfect way to enjoy both the buildings and the atmosphere of Berlin on a sunny day.
Tips for the Trip
Cash or Card — One of the first things our host informed us of upon arriving was that many places in Germany are cash only, and so it was important to be aware of this when going to restaurants and bars. Considering we had been using our cards for the whole trip up until this point, this was definitely really useful advice.
Public Transport and Welcome Card — Berlin public transport is the best way to get around the city. Be it S-Bahn, U-Bahn or tram, everything is well connected and easy to use. Berlin uses an honesty system on its public transport, which means there are no ticket barriers but instead periodical ticket inspections. A single costs €2.40, so just less than in London. As we were using the transport a lot, we opted for the 72hr Berlin WelcomeCard. This gave us unlimited public transport in the ABC zones (you can just go for AB but we wanted to go as far as Potsdam) and unlimited access to the museums on Museum Island. It cost €48 each, but also gave us discounts on other things such as the Spy Museum.
Berlin was an amazing place to visit and I would love to go back to see more of the history that I missed (and more of the famous nightlife too).