When we first started planning our Europe getaway Berlin was a non-negotable city for me. I was very determined to explore this city! There are many reasons that people flock to this vibrant city, to explore its many layers of history, its beautiful galleries, nightlife and growing multiculturalism. It is a great city for young people. There is so much to see and explore, but I highly recommend setting aside plenty of time to explore and just hang out in Berlin. There is so much more to this city than just ‘site-seeing’.
Want to learn about Berlin’s history, culture and important historical sites? Start your day in Berlin with a morning walking tour. We took a Sandeman’s New Europe Free Walking Tour (like we did in Prague and Amsterdam). The tour is a great introduction to Berlin and covers the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, Pariser Platz, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Site of Hitler’s former bunker, Luffwaffe HQ, the Berlin Wall, Former SS Headquarters, 1920 Cabaret Mile, Gendarmenmakt and Old Royal Boulevard. We were lucky enough to have the fantastic George as our tour guide. After having gone on the tour you will have a good idea about what areas of Berlin you want to explore further.
Then spend the afternoon exploring the Friedrichstraße area. It is a great area to do some shopping, or window shopping as this area stocks designer labels and attracts those with big budgets. In addition to the shops its a great area to soak up a little history. For a traditional German dinning experience I highly recommend having dinner at Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt. The staff were friendly and efficient and the food delicious, and comes in VERY generous portion sizes. The menu is limited for vegetarians (of which I am one) but I did have the biggest salad known to man! It was a terrific dinning experience.
On day two take a little trip outside of Berlin and visit the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum. You can visit the concentration camp without a tour, however, by taking a tour you are able to better engage with the dark history the site. This is not an experience that is ‘enjoyable’, it is deeply moving, and at times upsetting, but a good tour guide makes all the difference. Our guide was George from Sandeman’s New Europe Tours, he was extremely knowledgable and engaging and somehow managed to make a difficult topic accessible. It was an unforgettable experience.
Head back into the city and take a coffee break at westberlin, a coffee shop in the Friedrichstraße area. They have an excellent selection of good quality coffee and a delicious selection of homemade cakes. After a caffeine fix, a short walk takes you to the Jewish Museum. The Jewish Museum was a highlight for me. I didn’t know what to expect, but the collections where engaging and extremely informative. The museum building alone is worth the visit and extremely thought provoking. Partly designed by Daniel Libeskind, the building features three intersecting, slanting corridors names the Axes, the Garden of Exile comprising of 49 tall pillars and the Museum to the Holocaust Tower which is a tall empty silo.
On day three spend some time exploring the Friedrichshain area, beginning with the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is a section of the Berlin Wall that is now an open air gallery. Featuring 101 large paintings, the East Side Gallery is a symbol of freedom and hope. The Friedrichshain area is full of great cafes, restaurants, bars and cute little shops. It is a great area to walk around and explore. We spent a lovely afternoon exploring this area and particularly enjoyed stumbling across Goodies, a health food cafe that is very vegan friendly.
One thing I wished we had time to do in Berlin was explore Charlottenburg Palace and Gardens. Charlottenburg Palace was built as a summer home for Sophie Charlotte, the Queen of Prussia. The Palace was further developed and remodelled by generations that followed her. There are several museums that located near the Palace so you can continue your education on the history of the region. If you are lucky enough to have a fourth day- spend it at the Palace!