Berlin Timeline: August 9th-13th
Our First Day in Berlin
We arrived in Berlin from London. We were able to take advantage of free breakfast at a nice airport lounge in London, followed by free lunch and alcohol in the Berlin airport! We had a little time to kill before check-in at our hotel, so we figured we ought to get the trip started off right with some German beers!
We got our public transit ticket and hopped on a bus to the popular Potzdmer Platz where we had a reservation for one night in a 5-star hotel, the Grand Hyatt Berlin, which was booked for free using credit card rewards. This was one of the nicest hotels we’ve ever stayed in. The room was incredible. There was a price list in the room that listed the nightly cost at 470 euros ($546)! So we lounged around the room for a while to take advantage of it, including the awesome shower, fuzzy robes, and plush king sized bed!
After this, we ventured out to do a little sightseeing, including a stop at Checkpoint Charlie, and reading some history on the Berlin Wall and the Cold War. Then, we found a local restaurant serving authentic German food, which was delicious!
Day Two in Berlin
The next day, we had to say goodbye to our 5-star hotel and go check in at an Airbnb in a different part of town, Kreuzberg. Although not the same as our fancy hotel, it was a very nice Airbnb with a great host. We enjoyed getting to see this more residential side of town that we often get to explore with Airbnb. The host was barely around, so we got to enjoy the space mostly to ourselves including a big bedroom with a seating area, bathroom, kitchen, and laundry! It was also very interesting to see that our host had traveled to America many times, and his apartment was decorated with lots of American memorabilia!
After getting settled at our new place, we walked around some and then hopped on the U-bahn (subway) to Alexanderplatz where we discovered an awesome street festival going on. We saw many street performers and found some German street food. We did a combination of walking and riding the popular Route 100 Bus to some of the city’s major sites including: the TV Tower, the Brandenburg Gate, the Victory Column, the Reichstag Building, and a few sights in between. That night, we found ourselves back at the Alexanderplatz street festival where we listened to music and tried some Mexican street food.
Day Three in Berlin
We signed up for a free walking tour of Berlin which was quite long at 3 hours, but was surprisingly laid back. We got to see a few new sights, including the Jewish Holocaust Memorial and the location of Hitler’s bunker where he committed suicide, and learn some fun facts about places that we had passed before. We also saw the historic Hotel Adlon, and learned that it’s the hotel where Michael Jackson infamously dangled his baby over the railing. We saw some sections of the Berlin wall still in tact and learned some tidbits about the city. We enjoy these free walking tours because the guides work on a tips-only basis, so you’re free to tip them as you feel appropriate.
After the tour, we did some more sightseeing on our own, including the Berlin Cathedral, Museum Island, and the official Berlin Wall Memorial. We also randomly encountered a parade/festival for the legalization of marijuana! This was very interesting, especially because at the festival we saw countless people smoking weed without any repercussions, and there was a large police presence there. After some research, it appears the laws are a bit unclear, and that although the widespread growing and selling of marijuana is illegal, small amounts for personal consumption are excluded. Either way, it was an interesting event to stumble upon, ha!
That night, we stopped at one of our favorite low cost German grocery stores, Lidl, in Germany itself this time! We bought some sandwich supplies and snacks and made our own dinner that night. I also got some local German beers at the grocery store, and we walked around the popular night scene in Kreuzberg.
Day Four in Berlin
We actually moved 2 different times while in Berlin because there were two nice hotels in the city we were able to take advantage of using credit card rewards. Unfortunately, our rewards only allowed 1 night at each property, so we stayed at the Grand Hyatt Berlin the first night, Airbnb for 2 nights, and then the Hilton Berlin the last night! It wasn’t ideal to move around this much, but fortunately we had gotten pretty good at packing/unpacking, and all of the properties were relatively close. We decided to walk from the Airbnb to the next hotel this time, taking some breaks along the way at a couple local parks and having a picnic of our grocery store leftovers. Walking with our stuff isn’t too bad since we each only have our big backpack and a small bag, but it does get tiring and painful on our shoulders! Something we failed to realize when we bought our travel backpacks was that they don’t have a hip strap, which we’ve learned would’ve really helped with distributing the weight off our shoulders!
When we got to our hotel, there was a delay in getting our room ready. For our wait, they gave us free breakfast the next morning, which was a nice perk! After checking in, we headed to the Reichstag Building (Berlin’s parliament building) for a tour at the top (dome) that we had booked a couple days before. Entrance was free, but you do have to book in advance because they stay busy. At the top, there were some awesome views of the city, and there’s a free audio-guide to listen to that gives history on the government building as well as the sights you’re looking at down below.
After our tour, we wanted to go back to the hotel to be able to enjoy the pool and spa area for a little while. They had a very nice indoor pool, multiple saunas, and some other spa-like areas including a warm waterbed relaxation room, aromatherapy room, and some fancy showers! After that, we ventured out to see the East Side Gallery, part of the Berlin wall that has been preserved and turned into a graffiti gallery. We got some German schnitzel for dinner at a divey, late night food spot. Then, we wandered around through a pretty sketchy part of town to try to find a bar that our tour guide recommended, before finally bailing out because the directions were leading us down what very much looked like a “rape dungeon.” Having escaped without being mugged or offered drugs by many of the corner dealers (surprisingly), we grabbed a snack (for Jared) and a beer (for me) at the U-bahn station and headed back to our hotel. We made one last stop in our fancy hotel bar (a far cry from where we had just come from) and I tried a delicious raspberry German weisse beer served with a side of fancy bar nuts. We then called it a night.
Day Five in Berlin
The next morning, we got up for the aforementioned free hotel breakfast, which was (not surprisingly) very fancy! It was one of the nicest hotel breakfast spreads we’d ever seen. They even had self serve champagne for mimosas, which I sadly did not partake in because it was a little too early for champagne in my book! We had to check out of our hotel that morning, but we had a couple hours to kill before our train ride to Munich! We left our bags at the front and walked around the area of the hotel, Gendarmenmarkt, for a while.
Then we picked up our bags and made our way to the Hauptbahnhof (Central Station). We actually had a really stressful time trying to get to our train. Some of the bus lines weren’t in operation, which made it very confusing. We were trying to avoid taking too many different types of transport (U-bahn, then bus, then walking, etc). So we tried to just pick the option that allowed us to walk and then only take one form of transit, but we kept running into dead ends. By the time it was all said and done, we ended up walking almost all the way to the train station. We had been avoiding the S-bahn because we didn’t understand where to find it or what it was. (U-bahns, and buses, and trams, and S-bahns, oh my!) But we finally had to bite the bullet and use one. We finally got the Central Station and the confusion didn’t end there. Directions were very poor, and when we finally did find where we were supposed to be, we still somehow almost missed the train even though we had allowed plenty of time.
Finally on the train, we realized that our seats were at a 4-person table with 2 other people, and we had the inside seats across from one another by the window. This wasn’t an ideal setup. But after a few stops, our neighbors moved to some other seats that opened up, so we had the whole 4-person table area to ourselves which was nice! It was a cool experience to get to ride the train from Berlin to Munich, with some nice views along the way! We were excited to get to Munich because we had high hopes for what the Bavarian region would be like! Stay tuned for more on that 🙂
Final thoughts on Berlin: It’s a very eclectic city, with a lot of different cultures meshing together. From what we learned, it’s always evolving and changing. Personally, I like the historic charm of other European cities better, but Jared liked Berlin a lot. Unfortunately for Berlin, there has been a lot of damage over the years from wars, so much of the original architecture was wiped out and not restored to its original condition. Therefore, many of the structures are “newer,” but not like 2018 new, like 1950’s+ after the world wars, or 1990+ after the Berlin wall came down. Architecture isn’t everything, but that’s what left a big impression on me about the city. It did have a unique vibe though compared to some of the other cities we’ve visited, and there certainly is a lot of history to be found there.
Next Stop: Munich!
Insider Tips on Berlin:
- The public transportation can be confusing! Definitely use Google Maps or a similar App to find your route. If you plan on moving around the city a lot, your best bet is probably to get a day pass each day, which covers you for unlimited rides on any form of transit (bus, U-bahn, S-bahn, trams). They mostly operate on an honor system, so you don’t actually have to show your ticket to anyone. We never had our tickets inspected closely, except once or twice on the bus they glanced at them. On the trams, S-bahn and U-bahn, no one ever checked them. But, it’s still best to have one because fines can be pretty hefty if you get caught without a ticket.
- Take the Route 100 or 200 city bus for a cheap self-guided sightseeing tour of the city. Google it. These buses take you by most of the major sights, and you can get off to see things then get the next bus when it comes, all for the low price of a day ticket on the public transportation.
- Take a free sightseeing tour to get a better feel for the city’s history. These tours are tip-based only.
- They charge you for water at restaurants, which we were surprised by because from what we read, the tap water is safe to drink (and we drank it regularly)! It’s basically the same price to get a beer or soda at the restaurants as the water, so why pay for the water, get a beer!
- I definitely recommend trying to learn a few words in German. It was definitely a little more confusing getting around here than in the UK!
- A little German lesson for you:
- Hauptbahnhof or “Hbf” means the Central Station in German.
- Berliner Mauer means the Berlin Wall
- Mitte (“center”) is the center borough of town in Berlin where a lot of major attractions are
- Danke means thank you, dankeshon means thank you very much
- Bitte can mean you’re welcome or please
- There are lots of delicious German chocolates and chocolate snacks! My favorites were Ferrero Duplo bars and Manner wien chocolate wafer snacks! Try some!
- Schnitzel is basically fried meat. The most common is wienerschnitzel, which is veal. They also do pork or chicken schnitzel!
- “Deutsche” is how they refer to “German” (the language or the people) in Germany. Germany itself is referred to as Deutschland in the German language. I was very confused at first, thinking they meant Dutch, like in the Netherlands. Jared says he knew this already, and that everyone knows this except me. But I doubt I’m the only one!
- In Germany, they drive on the right side of the road. They use the Euro. Outlets are 230V and their plugs are the standard European Type C or Type F plugs with 2 round prongs.