48 Hours in Berlin
I can’t think of any city in Europe which has a more cutting edge scene.
Whether it’s fashion, discovering the best street food from all over the world, beautiful museums, intimate bars and a no-holds-barred, raucous nightlife -this city has it all. It’s very laidback, down to earth, poor but sexy lifestyle makes the city a mecca for creative types from all over the world which gives the city a very energetic and dynamic feel. The best thing is that it’s one of the cheapest cities in Europe.
It has all the ingredients for the perfect shortbreak.
So much to see and so little time to pack in the sights-here is my snapshot of Berlin on a budget.
9am Check-in Berlin Jugendherberge International
Comfortable, convenient and in a great location just a few minutes walk from Potsdamer Platz, the Berlin Jugendherberge Hostel is a great base to explore the city from. I stayed in a four bed dorm – clean, spacious and had nice big windows that let in natural light.
The toilets and showers in the “annex” were clean. They let me drop off my luggage early (I got in hours before I could check in) and leave it for an extra day (since I wasn’t actually leaving the city until the afternoon but had to check out 10am). Breakfast is quite impressive – lots of fresh fruit, cheese, cold meats and yoghurt –similar to what you would expect in a hotel. Reception staff were helpful and attentive.
Drawbacks were lack of free internet, no common room and quite a sterile atmosphere for a hostel-if they can improve on these areas, it would make it an excellent hostel.
Cost: Bed in a four bed dorm with breakfast starts at the €17 mark.
Top tip Berlin is a very walkable city but in terms of making the most of the city in the limited time, I would recommend investing in a 48 Hour pass that covers ABC zones so if you are flying into Schonfeld airport, this pass will cover your journey to and from the airport. This costs €20.50 and can be purchased at Schonfeld Airport or from Berlin. Or if you are looking to travel on a limited number of routes, invest in a 4 ticket pass which covers AB zones and costs only €8.40.
1054am The victory column- ‘Goldelse’ –
My day gets off to a nice relaxed start strolling through the leafy Tiergarten, one of the world’s largest parks which is literally on the doorstep of the hostel.
Here I meet ‘Goldelse’ nicknamed by locals as ‘Golden Lizzy.’
‘Goldelse’, the victory column has a checkered and controversial history.
Originally designed by Heinrich Strack in 1864, the column commemorates the German military victories of the past over the Danes (1873) Austrians (1866) and French in the French-Prussian war of 1870–71.
Barack Obama addressed 200,000 locals from this spot during his visit to Berlin in July 2008.
The column is also an icon in popular culture. Film buffs will recognize the golden lady as the spot where the angels of the Wim Wenders classic, ‘Wings of Desire’ would congregate and talk.
It was also featured in U2’s video ‘Stay, Faraway So Close’, which was directed by Wim Wenders and also was the inspiration for Paul Van Dyck’s 1998 hit, ‘For an Angel.’
The column nowadays is a popular visitor attraction- I climb the 270 steps (Entrance fee €2.20, reduced: €1.50 ) and from the top enjoyed looking at Golden Lizzy upclose and a panoramic views of the green, lush Tiergarten, the Soviet War Memorial plus the Brandenburg Gate in the distance.
Cost: Entrance fee €2.20, reduced: €1.50
11:34am Brandenburger Tor in sight!
Once a symbol of a divided city, the Brandenburg Gate is now the iconic symbol of Berlin and of the reunified Germany.
11:47am Pariser Platz
It’s worth hanging around the elegant Pariser Platz just observing the flow of tourists and also colourful characters that seem to congregate here. I was caught up in a dodgy ‘Johnny be good’ rendition in front of Brandenburger Tor. Let’s not talk about his outfit…
This was my view of the Reichstag, the German Parliament with it’s beautiful glass dome. Unfortunately I could not enter having failed to make a reservation beforehand (€ Free, book online here )
Top tip: For visitors who have not booked in advance
I later learnt that if you would like to visit the dome but haven’t booked in advance, people can register at the service centre run by the Visitors’ Service near the Reichstag Building, next to the Berlin Pavilion on the south side of Scheidemannstraße. If any free places are still available on the day, you are issued a booking confirmation which will allow you to visit the dome, a minimum of two hours before the time of your scheduled visit.
12:22pm Holocaust Memorial
Just a few steps away from the Brandenburg Tor, the Holocaust Memorial is another moving and symbolic architectural gem of Berlin.
The memorial’s 2,711 concrete slabs or “stelae” of the memorial are arranged in a grid pattern and varying in height from 0.2 to 4.8 m help create a confusing, disorientating and claustrophobic ambience which was the creator, Peter Eisenman’s intention. The memorial is one of those places that you have to experience yourself to fully realize it’s meaning.
While visiting, you can visit the subterranean underground museum (Entrance € Free, but donations are welcomed) which reveals the painful and disturbing history of the Jewish Holocaust victims. The museum has a database of all the victims. Visitors can go online and query names of the victims., or record them
1pm Free lunchtime concert at Berlin Philharmonic
My lifelong dream of listening to a concert at Berlin Philharmonic is finally fulfilled. Well, not the auditorium proper but in the foyer where every Tuesday the orchestra treats visitors to a free 45 minute concert at 1pm. There were hundreds of people of all ages, glued to every blade of carpet, staircase and vantage point they could find. I was treated to a duet of violoncello and piano – excerpts of works by Beethoven, Bloch and Greig. For 45 minutes, people sat with their heads in their hands, some with their eyes closed- the music keeping their thoughts, stresses at bay and lulling us into a stunned silence. The power of music. A great experience.
Cost: € Free
2:30pm Late lunch at Monsieur Vuong
I meet Berlin in the middle or should I say the Mitte. You can easily spend an hour or two just strolling around the streets of this style conscious district soaking in its quirky, hip fashion boutiques, delicatessens and cool street cafes. I am here for only one reason-to have lunch at probably the best Vietnamese diner in town- Monsieur Vuong (Alte Schönhauser Str. 46). I enjoy their delicious Massaman Curry with a beer. Highly recommend.
Cost: With beer, €10
3:30pm Kaffee Mitte
To shake off the post lunch coma I head off to the hip Kaffee Mitte where I try their excellent Latte Macchiato. Free wifi. Nice interiors. Good pastries. A good place for watching the comings and goings of Mitte.
5pm Walk down Unter den Linden
I retrace my steps back to Unter den Linden and go for a walk down the grand boulevard of Unter den Linden with it’s layers of rich history and beautiful buildings.
5:15pm Neue Wache
One of my favourite monuments I love to visit on any trip to Berlin is the Neue Wache. I love the light and sombre mood of the Neue Wache and it’s deeply moving Kathe Köllwitz sculpture, ‘Mother with her dead Son.’ Originally a guardhouse for Prussian King Frederik William II, in 1969 the remains of an unknown soldier and concentration camp prisoner were laid to rest here, serving as a memorial to the victims of war and tyranny.
6pm Relaxing in the Lustgarden
After a few hours of walking the perfect place to relax is by the Spree enjoying the world go by and the beautiful view of the majestic Berliner Dom.
I head to the Lustgarten which is the perfect place for relaxing with a book and watching the world go by. This green oasis has been through many reincarnations. From a site for political demonstrations during the Weimar republic to a venue for Hitler’s mass rallies (when it was paved over) to it’s happy current form-a formal garden with fountains and surrounded by lot of colourful characters as you can see in the photo.
8pm Angry Chicken
If you love your spice and are looking for a meal with a difference, head to Angry Chicken in Kreuzberg. Korean fried chicken, I have to admit it is something of a novelty to me. Sadly, the closest thing I have experienced is KFC.
So when my friend and fellow blogger, Sebastian from Off-the-Path.com invited me to his friend’s birthday party, I gladly accepted. It’s a small darkly lit place with a great mix of tourists, locals and angry young people. Even though it’s a small space, it’s intimate and has a great vibe. I had a great night. I had the choice of Angry Chicken (spicy) or So So Angry Chicken (extra spicy) or even Sexy Chicken (soy garlic), or Furious (extra hot) I ordered a medium portion (6 pieces of the Angry Chicken for €3.50 ) with sweet potato fries (€3) washed down with a few Astras ( €2.50).
10pm-till late Bohnengold
Kreuzberg is packed with some excellent, chilled out bars which all seem to look like you’ve walked into someone’s apartment. Bohnengold has that same down to earth and easygoing feel with lots of sofas, peeling wallpaper, candles, antique lamps and beautiful people spread out across it’s two rooms. If you’re looking for a good ole blether with friends, the front room is perfect for conversation and beers while if you snake your way to the back, you’ll find the backroom dancefloor where the DJ spins everything from House, Motown and Trance. Best of all, entrance is free and beers are around the €2.50 mark.
Trying to take in and visit Berlin’s 170 odd museums and galleries might take a few months.
I have only a few hours so here’s my pick of Berlin museums worth checking out if you strapped for time.
9:30am Neue Nationalgalerie
My first stop, just a hop skip and jump from the hostel is the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery, Potsdamer Straße 50), Berlin’s museum of modern art. It’s great to visit for 2 reasons- you can enjoy a stellar collection of the best of 20th century art with masterpieces of artists like Pablo Picasso, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Joan Miró, Wassily Kandinsky and Barnett Newman on show. The other highlight of my visit was the building itself, a beautiful steel and glass temple designed by Mies van der Rohe.
Entry is a hefty €10 but if you are planning to some more museums during your stay, I suggest investing in the excellent Museum pass Berlin which allows you free entry to all the top museums on 3 consecutive days for just €24.
11:30am Filmmuseum, Berlin
If you love movies and film history then a visit to the Filmhaus, in the Sony Centre at Potsdamer Platz is a great way to spend a few hours and immerse yourself in an excellent multimedia experience of German film history. Highlights of the tour include a behind the scenes look of classic German expressionist masterpieces such as ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’ and Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’. Other areas covered include the films of the Weimar Republic; how the industry suffered in the years of Hitler and National Socialism, exile in Hollywood to the post-war years and contemporary cinema. The personal highlight for me was the section dedicated to the greatest German diva, Marlene Dietrich with a number of her personal objects and memorabilia on show.
Entry €6, Reduced entry: €4.50
1pm Pergamonmuseum, Berlin
Lying in the middle of the Spree, Berlin the UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site listed Museum Island is home to five of Berlin’s most important museums and if you are on a short visit , one not to be missed is the spectacular Pergamonmuseum, one of the world’s major archaeological museums. The highlights of the museum are a series of astounding structures, from a partial recreation of the Pergamon Altar (170–159 BC) to the two-storey Roman Gate of Miletus and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, dating from the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar (605–563 BC). Upstairs is the Islamic Art collection.
You can access the museum with a day ticket which costs a hefty €14 (€7, reduced) but free with the 3 day Museum pass.
2:30pm Lunch at Poulette
Berlin is just about Asian and fast food. Even on a budget you can sample some fine dining. Like Poulette, (Knaackstrasse 30) a great French bistro in Prenzlauer Berg that between 11-4pm serves 3 course menu for just 10 euros. I had asparagus soup for starters, fillet salmon with ratatouille as main finishing off with a raspberry sorbet. Great meal. Beautiful place too.
4pm Berliner Mauer- East Side Gallery
If it’s a beautiful afternoon, I hop over to the river Spree embankment in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. Here lies the longest stretch of the old Berlin Wall (Berlin Mauer) and is Berlin’s most visited tourist attraction.
Possibly the largest and longest existing public art gallery in the world, the 1.3km Berliner Mauer has over 105 paintings including the infamous My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love byDmitri Vrubel depicting the steamy, fraternal embrace of the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev and East German president Erich Honecker.
5:30pm till late Hanging out with Kreuzberg
Coming to the end of the trip. I wallow in nostalgia, visiting all my favourite Kreuzberg haunts.
I lived in Kreuzberg for a month almost a year ago and it’s a part of Berlin that I am always nostalgic about. It has a great energy and a real quirky mix of people- backpackers, hipsters, stoners, American expats, eco-lovers, Turks, Indians, IT geeks, bootstrap entrepreneurs, graphic designers, travel bloggers…you name it, every tribe of humanity lives in this vicinity.
I revisit all the places I loved here like the run-down, graffiti strewn Gorlitzer Park (which used to be a railway station).
If you ever plan to come to Berlin, come during the funfilled crazy Mayday celebrations when Berliners come out to party. One of the places to come to is Gorlitzer Park which becomes host to impromptu raves and girls walk around with flowers in their hair. It’s like Woodstock all over again.
For old times sake I nip over to the awesome Burgermeister to have their excellent tofu burgers (€3.50).
I then head down to Gorlitzer Strasse and relax in Nest Café where the coffee and wifi is great. I head to Walther afterwards, an intimate friendly bar, sipping on Astra beers (€2) and chatting to the friendly staff.
I wind down the evening in style at the very cool ( hipsters everywhere!) and style conscious Michelberger Bar. You won’t find a cooler looking bar in Berlin-you have lampshades made out of bookcovers, vintage chairs and big ass sofas surrounded by piles of books that invite you to relax and escape the world outside. Pick your drink of choice from their cool ‘Book of Booze’ (I go for a nice gin and tonic for €7) and enjoy this beautiful bar. Perfect place to wind down my 48 Hours in Berlin.
Cost Tofu burger (€3.50), Coffee at Nest (€1.80) , Astra beer at Walther-€2 and my G&T at Michelberger Bar (€7)
Total cost: 48 Hours in Berlin
2 nights at Jugendherberge Berlin International : €34
4 ticket travel pass €8.40
3 day Berlin Museum Pass: €24
Neue Nationalgalerie: € Free with Berlin Museum Pass
Pergamonmuseum € Free with Berlin Museum Pass
Lunch at Poulette €10
Lunch at Monsieur Wong €10
Coffee at Kaffee Mitte €2.50
Angry Chicken €11.50
3 Astras at Bohnengold €7.50
Evening in Kreuzberg
Tofu burger at Burgermeister €3.50
Coffee at Nest Café €1.80
Astra beer at Walther €2
G&T at Michelberger bar €7
Thank you to the German National Tourism Office, their partners for the ‘Youth Hotspots’ campaign – Jugendherberge : The German Youth Hostelling Association and Deutsche Bahn for sponsoring my ‘German Wanderlust’ tour.
Also like to thank Karin, Nicole, Julia and everyone from Visit Berlin for their kind support.
I was touring Germany as part of an effort to highlight and discover the country’s emerging ‘Youth Hotspots.’
Please note: While my trip has been sponsored, the views and thoughts represented in this article are my own.