A weekend away in Berlin is the perfect mix of vibrant culture, lively nightlife, cheap ‘biers’ and fabulous food. Although this exhilarating city has a population of approximately 3.5 million people, at times of the day you can get lost with relatively few people getting in your way. Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany, however it’s key sights are easily reachable by foot, bike or public transport.
With its rich history there is plenty to do and see in the city. After World War II the city was divided; East Berlin became the capital of East Germany while West Berlin became a de facto West German political territory, surrounded by the Berlin Wall (1961–1989).
Following German reunification in 1990, Berlin once again became the capital of a unified Germany. Since this time Berlin has developed into a popular tourist destination. Although various neighbourhoods show signs of its treacherous history, berlin has also become known for its contemporary street art culture, which can be seen on the side of its buildings.
With many young artists and entrepreneurs settling in Berlin, it has made this vivacious city a popular entertainment center of the world. If you only go to Berlin to party all night and sleep all day, you will miss everything this city has to offer.
Berlin has two commercial international airports. Tegel Airport (TXL) is situated within the city limits. Schönefeld Airport (SXF) is located just outside Berlin’s south-eastern border in the state of Brandenburg.
Many budget airlines fly to Berlin; however, I always think it’s best to search on Skyscanner as a first port of call. I managed to pick up very cheap flights from Gatwick to Schönefeld airport for just £77 return with Norwegian (January 2017).
If you are travelling alone, to cut costs it is best when you arrive to take the express train from Schönefeld airport. I then checked on the map which station I needed to get to and used the Berlin Metro app on my iPhone to work out which trains I needed to get.
One little tip: One of the best tips I can give someone is make sure you are on a network provider that allows you to keep your data on while you travel. I am with o2 and this costs me nothing extra when I travel in Europe. Therefore, I am able to use the internet and apps whilst I’m away.
Berlin has a very reliable and easy to access transport system, which is perfect if you are a solo traveller to ensure you keep to your budget. This consists of the U-Bahn (underground), S-Bahn (light rail), buses and trams. One ticket can be used for all of these services and you can buy a day ticket for €7,70.
Berlin is well known for its highly developed bicycle lane system, however as I visited during January, I decided would be safer for me!
Tours and Top Sights
I spent some time researching different tours before I set off, as I was looking to spend as little as possible on seeing the sights. Therefore, I opted to research and plan my own sightseeing city tour, which was easy enough to do. I simply purchased the Lonely Planet Pocket Berlin guide,downloaded the Berlin Metro app and I also found a really handy app called Sygic Travel for planning which sights I wanted to see in the time I had.
- The wall
After getting off the flight I dropped my bags and headed to The Berlin Wall Memorial. Walking through the grounds and seeing the wall in person was an emotional and insightful experience. This piece of wall extends for 1.4km along Bernauer Strasse and integrates an original section of the wall.
The closest station is Berlin Nordbahnhof, which you can easily find on the Metro App I mentioned earlier. The station itself is a memorial to the fact that it was a ‘ghost station’ during those years. Trains were not permitted to stopping, due to the fact that the station sat directly on the border of West and Eastern Germany. Head right when exiting the main entrance to the station and you will start to see the wall on your right hand side.
The memorial contains the last piece of Berlin Wall with the preserved grounds behind it. The multimedia stations provide information of the site’s history and help explain how the wall shaped the everyday lives of the people stuck on either side of it.
- Brandenburg Gate
The Brandenburg Gate is an iconic landmark of Berlin and Germany. What was once a symbol of separation during the Cold War, the landmark Brandenburg Gate is now a symbol of German reunification, unity and peace. It’s pretty spectacular if you are travelling by underground and exit the station with the view of the gate right in front of you.
- Holocaust Memorial
After walking through Brandenburg Gate, if you make a left turn and continue walking down for approximately 5 minutes you will come across the Holocaust Memorial. This memorial symbolises the Murdered Jews of Europe.
As you approach the 2711 concrete columns that rise from the ground, it gives an eerie sombre feeling. I spent roughly half an hour walking through the maze of columns at my own pace, whilst only occasionally passing others. I happened to visit on Holocaust Memorial day (27th January 2017), which for me made the experience further impactful.
Berlin is also home to a diverse gastronomy scene, reflecting the immigrant history of the city. As you walk through the Holocaust Museum Columns, at the other side is a restaurant where you can sit outside and eat some Currywurst (Steamed, then fried German pork sausage typically cut into slices and seasoned with curry ketchup and served with chips!).
With the sun on my face, bier in hand and Currywurst in front of me, I took a few thoughtful moments to reflect on the sights and history I had seen so far on my visit to the capital, Berlin.
- The Reichstag Building
The Reichstag building is the traditional seat of the German Parliament. It now features a glass dome over the session area, which allows free public access to the parliamentary proceedings and magnificent views of the city.
One little tip: To avoid disappointment ensure you book in advance to go up to the glass dome. I tried to do this on the plane on my way to Berlin and it was fully booked! Stinker. Click here to book now
- Checkpoint Charlie
I wandered along past checkpoint Charlie simply because it was one of the most renowned crossing points of the Berlin Wall. It was given this name by the Western Allies during the Cold War, however has now been turned in to a tourist attraction.
One little tip: Personally I wouldn’t bother paying to have your photograph taken. As you walk towards the checkpoint there is a timeline of history, which is quite interesting. However I didn’t waste too much time here.
- East Side Gallery
Another place to visit part of The Berlin Wall is the East Side Gallery, although personally, for me it’s not as moving as The Berlin Wall Memorial and doesn’t hold the same emotive response.
Located at Spree river in Friedrichshain, it has become one of the largest open-air canvasses in the world.
Pubs, bars and clubs
A pioneering music and dance scene has developed in the 21st century, with Berlin’s nightlife being celebrated as one of the most diverse and vibrant in the world. Unlike London these days many parties last well into the morning or even all weekend. The central boroughs are home to many nightclubs, including the Watergate and Berghain. This is a boundless city, where music and parties are accepted for their importance and contribution to Berlin’s culture. Back in September 2016 The Guardian discussed how a German court has ruled that legendary club The Berghain provides more than mere entertainment and should therefore be taxed at lower rate. Read more here!
When visiting foreign countries, I always feel that the best nights are unplanned and usually involve a few locals leading the way! Well my first night in Berlin was no exception. After getting a taxi to Urban Space and finding out it was shut, I walked along the road, absolutely freezing cold and stumbled across a great little German pub (don’t ask me what it was called, as I have completely forgotten the name). I do know though that if you keep walking down that road towards the top of the above map you may find it on the right. I also know it was one of the only places that stated it was selling biers in a big bold sign outside. If anyone finds it, please let me know!
It was fantastic, I met many locals, drank extremely cheap beer (€1.50), played pool and darts all night.
Flights – £80 return (Norwegian)
Spending money (food, drinks and club entry) – €60/£50 for 2 days
Total spend – £190.00