Top 10 things to do in Berlin

Usually when we visit a major European city we stay for four or five nights. We visited Berlin for seven nights in December 2010 and still hadn’t scratched the surface by the time we left. In keeping with the German theme of my last post, here are my personal top 10 things to do in Berlin to help you decide how to spend your time there:

1. Introductory walking tour. This will give you a good overview of all the main sights so you can revisit the ones that particularly interest you or spend the rest of your time seeing things that weren’t covered by the tour. I recommend Sandemans, a professional “free” (tips based) tour company that also offers other cool (paid) tours with themes such as Alternative City.

Berlin Cathedral

2. Pergamon Museum. There are a lot of excellent museums and galleries in Berlin but the Pergamon is particularly amazing. It was recommended to us as “a museum that houses ancient buildings – things that were never supposed to be indoors” and it has to be seen to be believed. The Gates of Ishtar (once counted as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) and the Pergamon Altar are incredible.

3. DDR museum. An interactive museum dedicated to depicting what life was like in the German Democratic Republic. You’re welcome and encouraged to take photographs, open and through rifle drawers, even to try to start a Trabi! The exhibits range from the day to day reality of life under socialism to the darker side of informants and political agendas.

4. East Side Gallery. The longest surviving and most visually interesting section of the Berlin wall as well as the largest open air gallery in the world.

My God help me, this deadly love to survive

5. Sachsenhausen concentration camp. We didn’t go to Sachsenhausen as we’d only just been to Auschwitz and Birkenau the week before we arrived in Berlin but if you haven’t already been to a concentration camp it is a worthwhile albeit extremely sobering experience.

6. The Jewish Museum. A very well designed and curated museum dedicated to all Jewish history. (Not just WWII but it does of course touch on it.) Don’t underestimate its size, it is huge!

7. TV Tower. I do like scaling towers that offer overall views of the city I’m visiting and the iconic TV Tower at Alexandraplatz does exactly that. The wait can be quite long so as soon as you arrive in the area go and buy a ticket and if the estimated wait time is longer than 30 minutes there is an SMS service that can alert you 30 minutes before your ticket is likely to be called so you can go for a wander while you wait. (In winter there is a Christmas market at the base which is a perfect time killer.)

8. Eat some local delicacies. You can’t leave Berlin without eating a a doner kebab (reputedly invented in Berlin) and some currywurst.

Currywurst

9. Eat a really good German meal. Weihenstephaner is the best restaurant we ate at in Berlin. The staff were great, the food hearty and delicious, and the beer superb.

10. Hamburger Bahnhof. A modern art museum housed in what used to be a train station. When we were there they had a particularly bizarre art installation/science experience featuring live reindeer, mushrooms, urine, snowballs, flies and mice! They also have permanent exhibitions featuring Andy Warhol amongst others.

And there’s so much more than that! What are your favourite things to do in Berlin?

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Bavaria, Bremen, books and beer

We visited Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg on our 2010 tour of Europe but always meant to come back to Germany to see some of the south. On this visit (10-18 Aug 2012) we picked Munich (to tick the Bavaria box), Mainz (because we work in graphic design and print and wanted to see the birthplace of the printing press) and made time to see Bremen again (as we have a friend there).

Munich

We stayed in another Airbnb property in Munich, a lovely self contained studio apartment hosted by a well-travelled and kind photographer called Jörg. We didn’t do an awful lot of sightseeing as, perhaps unsurprisingly, we spent most of our time drinking and eating. However, it felt like the things we did do gave us a nice overview:

  • One of Lenny’s Bike Tours is a great introduction to the history and sights of Munich, with a healthy beer garden break for lunch in the middle.
  • Any cycling tour will take you through the English Garden, a verdant, sprawling park, but it’s lovely to linger in and worth revisiting for more cycling, strolling or some sunbathing (even nude in one particular section). You can swim in the river Isar which passes through the park but it’s icy cold with a very strong current.
  • Climbing St Peter’s Church tower rewards you with a great view of Munich’s famous central square, Marienplatz.
  • Friends highly recommended the Deutsches Museum, the world’s largest museum of technology and science but I’m afraid we just didn’t get around to it… perhaps because we were too busy exploring beer halls!

Overlooking Marienplatz

Speaking of beer halls:

  • Augustiner: our favourite brauhaus for well-priced, hearty Bavarian food and a festive but cosy atmosphere.
  • Weisses: good food and an excellent range of wheat beers, which I’m normally not too keen on but rather enjoyed in Munich.
  • Hofbräuhaus: a little more expensive with a significant drop in food quality. It’s arguably still worth visiting for a drink though, or at least a wander through its seemingly endless rooms. Note that a litre of beer is served by default – you have to specifically request it if you’d “only” like a pint. ;)
  • Chinese Tower beer garden: located inside the English Garden this is the second largest beer garden in Munich. We found the meals a little pricey for lunch: I’d recommend just grabbing one of the delicious giant pretzels with some butter to accompany your beer. (Or you can even bring your own food.)
  • Finding a table in a Bavarian beer hall: you’ll most likely have to share so as soon as you spot some empty seats ask the others at the table if it’s okay to sit there.
  • If you need a break from rowdy beer halls Goldmarie serves very nice food and it’s not too expensive but you may need to book.

Beer, beer, beer

Mainz

The highlight of Mainz for us was visiting the Gutenberg Museum. Not only is it home to three Gutenberg Bibles and a working reconstruction of Gutenberg’s press but it’s filled with oodles of old and beautiful books, other printing presses and exhibitions on printing in Asia (which actually developed much earlier than it did in Europe), paper making, book binding, the media, teeny tiny books and even things that were made to look like books but are actually something else. Not everything is in English but I believe they offer guided tours in English and audio guides are also available. It’s probably not for everyone but we really enjoyed it and ended up spending a whole day there. (We were able to leave for lunch and return on the same ticket which was very convenient.)

Apart from that Mainz is quite nice to wander, particularly the altstadt (old town), but 2 nights was plenty of time for us to feel like we’d seen everything.

Gutenberg, Mainz

Bremen

An unplanned bonus of travelling from Mainz to Bremen was that the train ride happened to follow quite a long section of the Rhine which rewarded us with some incredibly picturesque views of traditional little German towns and even some castles dotted all the way along the river.

Alex’s friend from uni, Nick, was our host and tour guide again on this our second visit to his hometown. Things to do in Bremen:

  • Admire the main city square and wander the cobbled backstreets of the altstadt (old town).
  • Go on a tour of the Becks Brewery – a working brewery and a much better experience than Heineken. Make sure you try Haake-Beck and Haake-Beck Kräusen while you’re there, unique beers only available in the Bremen area!
  • Enjoy a beer along Schlachte Embankment, lined with beer gardens and “the” place to be seen in Bremen.

Alex and Nick in Bremen

A note on German train travel

You can save a significant amount of money booking German train tickets in advance online. You can choose to receive a PDF ticket to print which can be handy if you’re on the road and don’t have a fixed address for receiving mailed tickets (although it can sometimes be tricky to get access to a printer). I recommend paying the €4 extra for a seat reservation as every German train I’ve ever been on has been almost if not completely full (but maybe that’s just my luck).

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