Bucket lists were out as my flatmate and I planned our March break. Do we focus on one city or pick a few to sample? Should we stay in one country or move around more? All options have their merits and in the end, our impending move back to the States swayed us to sample a variety of countries and cities.
Berlin was the second stop on our trip and both of us could have spent the remaining week exploring this gritty yet glamorous city. However, if you’re planning a whirlwind tour, like us, here are the best stops from our itinerary.
We arrived in Berlin early afternoon and headed to the Grand Hostel Berlin. If you’re arriving from the train station it takes a bit of effort to get there but it is worth it! The hostel is ideal for the traveller who enjoys a social atmosphere but doesn’t necessarily want to have a rager steps from his/her bedroom every night. The staff are unbelievable – I’ve never experienced such high levels of customer service in a hostel. After bringing us welcome drinks, we sat in the bar/library/reception area while they gave us an introduction to the city. We didn’t start to explore the city until 2pm and decided to have a relaxing afternoon walking around the Tiergarten and climbing up the Victory Column. If you’re in need of a panoramic view and willing to put in the effort to climb the stairs, the Victory Column is a cheaper alternative to the Berliner Fernsehturm. We ended our day with a fruitless quest for a restaurant recommended by the hostel staff and settled for some Weinerschnitzel and beers.
Day 2 Highlights
We took advantage of the hostel’s partnership with the restaurant next door for an all you can eat breakfast. After rolling back to the hostel and regrouping, we went to Brandenburg Gate to join up with Sandeman’s Free Walking Tour. Sandeman’s offers tours in 18 cities across Europe and out of the 4 we have tried, Berlin was the best. This was mostly because our tour guide, Sam, was knowledgeable, engaging and absolutely loves the city. It is also an economical way to get an introduction to the city, both from a sight perspective and historical perspective. Although it is technically free, tipping is expected but you choose the value for yourself. The company also offers more niche tours including the Third Reich tour which we opted to join in the afternoon. If you book during the Free tour there is a small discount.
After about 7 hours of walking and having opted to not eat at the lunch stop on the second tour, it was time to try Currywurst, more beer and end the night with a walk around Alexanderplatz.
Day 3 Highlights
From there, we walked back towards New Synagogue to find some of Gunter Demnig’s stumbling stones. The work honors the memory of all the victims of National Socialism including Jews, Roma, homosexuals, dissidents, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the mentally ill and physically disabled, and those who committed suicide as a result of persecution.
With a dedicated ‘Museum Island’ in Berlin, it is hard not to visit at least one on the trip. We chose the Deutsches Historisches Museum, located just off of museum island. The museum is devoted to German History and is a highly recommended follow up to the walking tours. A lot of the propaganda pieces discussed during the tour were displayed in the museum and the variety of pieces showcased kept us engaged for a good two hours. One right hand turn and a 10 minute walk down the street will get you back to the Brandenburg Gate. We spent the next hour at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the free information center below. From there, we walked to the Topography of Terror Foundation, another free museum (although I would not do these back to back again).
The dessert counters at KaDeWe, the largest department store in continental Europe, came highly recommended and seemed like a natural reward for 3 walking intensive days. The pistachio éclair was well worth the walk to West Berlin. We also stumbled upon the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which has been left in its bombed state, before walking back to our hostel via the zoo and Tiergarten. Splitting a pistachio éclair was not as filling as you might expect so our final stop in Berlin was to Mustafas, an incredibly popular kebab cart located on Mehringdamm. It almost always has a line but it moves fairly quickly and for under 5 Euro you can get a delicious and satisfying meal.
There are so many things that we wish we had more time to explore – the art scene and the Pergamon for starters. However, with a walking focused weekend, we were able to get a sense of the city and start planning our return trip to this amazing city.
Photographs courtesy of Arielle Bean.