Looking for a cool city break that doesn’t break the bank? Look no further than budget-friendly Berlin! Here are 10 tried-and-tested tips to explore the German capital for zero Euros …
1. Sandeman’s Free Tour of Berlin
A great start for anyone new to Berlin and even those who have been before: You sign up for FREE and tip the guide afterwards if you liked what he or she showed you.
Ask your guide to point out some film locations and most of them will happily do so. On the tour that I did, we saw the location of Hitler’s former bunker in the last days of WW2, which is now a car park. Of course, things like that are not a “sightseeing attraction” and shouldn’t be glorified at all. But in 2014, the bestselling novel Look Who’s Back was made into a film and part of it was filmed here. That’s why it became interesting to me. It’s also important to remember so that the horrible things that happened during WW2 will hopefully never happen again.
Extra Tip: Tours leave from the Starbucks Café at Brandenburg Gate and are offered daily in English and German. For details on timings, check out Sandeman’s website.
U-Bahn stop is “Brandenburger Tor” (U55)
2. Brandenburg Gate
Probably the most famous symbol of Berlin and Germany as a whole, the Brandenburg Gate was first erected 1791. Since then, it has survived the Napoleatain wars and a short detour of the quadriga (the chariot with four horses on the top) to Paris, two world wars as well as the building and knocking down of the Berlin Wall.
After 28 years in Nomandsland, it has once again become a tourist attraction as well as a typical Berlin feature in various German and international films. The must-do photo call for any Berlin Film Fan visitor!
Extra Tip: If you come early in the morning, you might be lucky to get a shot which looks like it’s only you and the gate!
U-Bahn stop is “Brandenburger Tor” (U55)
3. Checkpoint Charlie
Another monument of immense historic importance. This used to be Berlin’s most important border crossing from the East (Russian sector) to the West (American sector). As I learnt on my Sandeman’s Walking Tour, this was the site on which World War 3 nearly broke out due to an argument between an American and a Russian soldier.
Today, it’s rather peaceful here. If you like to, you can have your photo taken with a Russian and an American soldier happily smiling next to each other, stand with one foot in the East and one foot in the West or simply cross the border without anyone checking your passport.
Extra Budget Tip: Fuel up for the day with a breakfast at the “Back-Factory” just opposite the U-Bahn entrance. The budget breakfast chain is based on a self-service system and is thus a lot cheaper than conventional bakeries. You can get a coffee, a bagel, a typical German “Brötchen” (bread roll) and a Berliner (jam donut) – all for just 5 Euros!
U-Bahn stop is “Kochstr. / Checkpoint Charlie”
4. Holocaust Memorial and the adjoining museum
This place of remembering is of course free because it’s important to remember the terrible things that happened in Germany and far beyond during the terror regime of the Nazis. I can tell you that especially the inside of the museum is not for the faint-hearted, but it is nevertheless worthwhile visiting.
Extra Tip: Walking around the huge concretes of the memorial is a typical Berlin experience not to be missed, but do keep in mind that this is a site for commemorating a very serious crime in human history. So do show respect and refrain from acting like this is a huge jolly playground.
This was the most central square of the former East Germany republic known as GDR. As such, many historic events took place underneath the “world time clock” on Alexanderplatz, including the first peaceful demonstrations requesting the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The square has also featured in a range of films such as The Bourne Supremacy (2004).
The CineStar Cubix is a large screen cinema worth a visit, but not many films are shown in their original language, so make sure you check the program.
Extra Budget Tip: Just a little bit off the square, at Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße 3, you’ll find an amazing Vietnamese vegan restaurant called “Madami”. The dishes here are reasonably priced, look very pretty and taste absolutely delicious!
U-Bahn stop is “Alexanderplatz”
6. Potsdamer Platz
This famous Berlin square used to be on the Eastern side of the formerly divided city as well. More precisely, what is now Potsdamer Platz even was the death strip. After renunciation, it received a massive make-up over though and now shines in sparkling new light.
The cinemas in and around the so-called Sony Center frequently host glittering movie premieres of both German and international films. The time of the Berlinale, which takes place in February each year, is obviously the busiest time. At all other times, enjoy the rare opportunity of going to a German cinema where films are being shown in the original language. In fact, at the CineStar within the Sony Center, films are being shown in their original language all the time!
Extra Budget Tip: Eat at Vapiano next door! Originally a German self-service restaurant chain with delicious Italian food, it has now expanded all around the world. It can get busy in this particular branch though. For even less bucks, you can get a currywurst, Pommes (fries) or a Döner (Turkish Kebab) in the basement shopping mall just underneath the Potsdamer Straße S-Bahn station.
U-Bahn stop is “Potsdamer Platz”
Berlin’s largest park is also one of the largest urban parks in the world. On a warm summer day, this is the perfect place to be for some country-style relaxation right in the middle of the city.
Extra Tip: If you’d like to have the Tiergarten and most of Berlin at your feet, climb up the nearby “Siegessäule” (Victory Column). The entrance fee of 3 € is not too bad and the view is spectacular!
8. Berlin Wall Memorial
With one side of the street in the former East and the other side in the former West, Bernauer Straße (Bernau Street) was the setting of many tragic moments during the era of the Berlin Wall (1961-1989). For example, this was the setting of the famous photo showing a woman jumping out of her window as a last minute resort just before the Wall was closed off.
Some people even lost their lives here as they made a desperate attempt to get from the locked-in East to the free West and were shot by the East Germany border police.
Learn all about the people’s fates in a divided city and nation through the films and photos shown at the Visitor Centre.
Extra budget tip: On one of my visits, I discovered the SUKHO Restaurant (Eberswalder Straße 1) by chance. To me, one of the best vegan and vietnamese eating places in town!
The Berlin Wall Memorial is located at Bernauer Str. 111, S-Bahn to Nordbahnhof.
9. Flohmarkt am Mauerpark
Another really cool stretch of the Berlin Wall still exists at the Mauerpark. This is the place to go bargain hunting for local designer T-Shirts or vintage vinyl as Berlin’s most famous flea market opens its gates every Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm.
In the summertime, you can grill in the park, take part in the popular Bearpit Karaoke or just relax. And even on the most chilly winter day, the stands are open for business as I experienced during my visit in January 2014.
Extra Tip: This is the perfect photo opportunity with an authentic and full-size piece of the Berlin Wall.
U-Bahn stop is Eberswalder Straße
10. East Side Gallery
The “open air museum” East Side Gallery is an equally free, impressive exhibition about the famous Berlin Wall. When the wall came down in 1989, dozens of international artists decorated a stretch of 1.3 km to serve as a reminder of the grim divider.
Extra Tip: If you stay at the nearby PLUS Berlin Hostel (Warschauer Platz 6), the weekly activities might include a FREE walking tour of Alternative Berlin. The hipster area around the hostel is perfect for that with lots of alternative history. The hostel is very affordable, although it depends a bit on whether you’re coming in the low or high season. But: The PLUS hostel even has its own sauna and swimming pool in the basement! Now that’s what I call a real plus indeed!
U + S Bahn Warschauer Straße