Before I start, I have a confession to make: I love Berlin. This love story dates back to 2008, when I spent six months in the German capital working as an intern at a translation agency. Prior to moving here, I had only ever lived in Devon, which pales in comparison to the Hauptstadt. I returned to Berlin for my birthday in October. Here are some tips for a great stay in the ever-changing city.
Always buy a travel pass… and validate it
This sounds like a no-brainer, but Berlin U- and S-Bahn stations are barrier-free. It is possible to get on the train and not pay, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The trains are spot-checked from time to time and you can end up with a hefty fine if you’re caught without a valid ticket. Make sure you stamp your ticket before you get on trains or when you get on the bus. Tickets aren’t dated, so the stamp proves that your ticket is valid.
Don’t get the hop-on hop-off bus tour…
…Unless you’re really interested in what the tour guides say. Instead, get on the number 100 or 200 bus. These buses take you around most of the major sites including the Reichstag, Potsdamer Platz and the TV Tower (see map here) and are included in the cost of a normal travel ticket (€6.90 per day for adults*, click here for more information). This is much cheaper than some of the tours on offer.
Potsdamer Platz, the Jewish Memorial (not to be confused with the Jewish Museum), Brandenburg Gate, Unter den Linden, the Reichstag and Bundestag are all within walking distance of each other, as are several other sights. If you have free time in Berlin, then I recommend just having a stroll around – it’s really not necessary to depend on transport links to get everywhere.
Book tickets to get into the Reichstag in advance
When I lived in Berlin, you could rock up and join the massive queue to get into the Reichstag for free and see amazing views from its magnificent dome. Security has since tightened and you now have to sign up a few days in advance. It’s still free, but make sure you register each person in your group as they can apparently refuse entry to any non-registered visitors.
Go to the Berlin Palace / Humboldt Forum
The former Berlin Palace was bulldozed following World War II in favour of an East German government building and is now being reconstructed. The rebuilding process has been fraught with tension: it has taken too long and cost too much money. But the new museum that is under construction is set to be a must-see attraction. You can see extensive information here. During the construction phase, visit the Humboldt Box just outside (you can’t miss it) for models of the city, information on the reconstruction and much more.
Visit some of the best museums in the world
Berlin hosts an amazingly varied selection of museums – believe me when I say there’s something for everyone. The Jewish Museum and the Pergamon are two of the best museums I have ever visited and I urge anybody venturing to Berlin to tour them. Visit the Jewish Museum to get an extensive insight into Jewish history spanning two millennia. Go to the Pergamon if you like architecture from the Ancient World – and not just from Greece and Rome: Babylon, Mesopotamia, Syria… Suffice to say it will blow your mind.
See remnants of the Berlin Wall
The united city has kept certain parts of the Berlin Wall intact. Go to the East Side Gallery, which is not actually a gallery but a section of the wall by the river that has been transformed into a long piece of art; the section of the wall preserved at Bernauer Straße with a memorial and a museum or to Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg, which hosts a flea market on Sundays. You can also see chunks of the wall and bits of history at Potsdamer Platz. Look down at the pavement to see a metal demarcation of where the wall once stood (and do as many tourists do by straddling it and taking a selfie to say you’re standing in both East and West at the same time).
Look out for events
Berlin’s event calendar is a busy one. Have a search for what’s going on during your stay. From the Long Night of Museums to the Festival of Lights to classical concerts at Berliner Dom, the city offers something for everyone all year round.
Find cheap and tasty food in independent restaurants
On our recent visit, my boyfriend and I ventured out to Prenzlauer Berg. I don’t really keep up with which region is “in”, but Prenzlauer Berg used to be the place to be with cool bars and restaurants when I lived there. We found an amazing Vietnamese restaurant on Prenzlauer Allee where we had two huge main meals and a glass of wine each for under €20. Bargain! If you’ve been to Berlin and have restaurant recommendations, please do post them in the comments.
Party in Berghain
This information may be outdated as I went here once (and once only!) in 2008. This club is definitely the weirdest I’ve ever seen. Queue for hours, try not to annoy security, leave your cameras in the cloakroom (a rule back in 2008, not sure what they’re doing now with the advent of smartphones) and party until 6 a.m. in this former warehouse that specialises in techno music.
Come back often!
When I worked in Berlin, one of my colleagues told me that the city changes so fast that it’s hard to keep up. “There’s always something new to see or do,” she said. I took this with a pinch of salt at the time. Revisiting in October, I realised that she was right. I barely recognised parts of the city and got lost on several occasions (like a true tourist). I’m not the type of person who goes back to the same place over and over again when I travel, but I do for Berlin because it’s an incredible city and it changes at a rate of knots.
This should be plenty to get you started in Berlin. If you have any comments or questions, please do use the comments section!
* Price valid as of December 2015