Our first city break of 2019 took us to Berlin. We take you through our walking tour, where we went and what we loved about Berlin.
It was January. The post-Christmas blues had started to set in and we needed a little getaway. The weather was as bleak as it gets in Britain so we didn’t quite fancy another camping trip. After browsing for cheap flights on Skyscanner, Alan found some cheap flights to Berlin.
Megan was at work when he texted ‘Fancy Berlin?’ and she simply replied ‘Sure, why not!’ With flights booked and only four weeks to wait, we started planning for our spontaneous two-night stay in the Capital of Germany.
Travelling to Berlin
We flew from Manchester Airport and after an easy 1-hour 45-minute flight, we had landed safely at Schönefeld Airport. As we got off the plane, we gathered (most of) our things and headed to the airport. It wasn’t until we were on the tarmac that Alan realised he had left his iPad on the plane!
He left Megan on the bus and ran back to the plane to get his iPad. It wasn’t until the flight attendant came down the steps and passed his iPad back to him that Alan turned around and noticed the bus, and Megan, had gone.
Alan jumped on the next bus to the airport and luckily Megan was still waiting for him. An interesting start to our adventure.
We landed around 7 pm. A quick trip on the S-Bahn, Berlin’s train network, got us to our hotel. We stayed at the Ansbach Hotel, which was near to Berlin Zoo.
By the time we’d checked in, it was about 9 pm, so we popped out for a bite to eat. We’re ashamed to admit it was a KFC but it was all that was open.
Bright and early, at 8:30 am, we headed to Alexanderplatz on the hunt for breakfast. With only two days in the city, and with us not knowing Berlin at all, we’d booked on to a free Berlin walking tour at 10 am.
We found a cafe called Coffee Fellows, which had expanded from a family run business to a chain of over 200 stores. Both of us had a breakfast bagel with cream cheese and jam, but Alan ordered the dreamiest white hot chocolate ever; Megan was extremely envious.
We did some people watching on the busy streets outside and then slowly headed out to meet our tour guide for the day.
Berlin Walking Tour
The walking tour started in Alexanderplatz where we delved straight into the history of the German Democratic Republic (DDR). Here, we learned what the busy, public area once looked like during the bombings of WW2 and how the area was used as a place of protest in the years following.
After a short walk, we arrived at the foot of the famous Berlin TV Tower (Berliner Fernsehturm). The area around the TV Tower was once the second oldest village in Berlin before it got completely bulldozed and rebuilt.
The TV Tower is now a tourist attraction. You can hire event space, visit the viewing gallery and eat at its restaurant. It stands at a whopping 368 metres and is the tallest structure in Germany and the third tallest in Europe. Pretty impressive!
The architecture really struck us during our time in Berlin. There was such an interesting mix of styles. Moving from district to district, it seemed to change quite drastically.
As we moved on from here, we could finally rest our necks from staring up for a few minutes. One thing we both really enjoyed about the walking tour was whilst the walks in between stops. Our tour guide would chat as we walked and was always happy to answer questions.
10 to 15 minutes later and we were at the Berliner Dom and the Royal Island. Once here, we were shown a picture of the Berliner Dom from WW2. It had been hit by a bomb during a bombing raid. The main dome had been completely destroyed, but nothing else had been damaged.
Another unique feature of Berlin was something we had never expected. As we got closer to these older buildings we could see small holes. Our tour guide pointed out that these were bullet holes. Evidence of Berlin’s war-stricken past.
Checkpoint Charlie is the name given to the most famous crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. Made famous by a standoff between Russian and US troops during the Cold War, it has now become a tourist attraction where you can have your pictures taken with actors playing guards.
After this short history lesson, it was around 12:30 pm. Now we had a chance to go off and grab some food before carrying on the tour. Our guide was really helpful and gave some suggestions for different budgets and tastes. Again, as we were on a budget, we opted for the budget choice of a sandwich shop across the road called Back-Factory.
The food was cheap, so we didn’t’ have high expectations, but we were pleasantly surprised. The sandwich was pretty nice, but the highlight was a box of six doughnuts. As interesting as the tour was, the walk was tiring us out. That extra sugar helped keep our energy up.
We met back up with our group and headed towards the Berlin Wall Museum. Right on the corner of Checkpoint Charlie, we didn’t actually go in. But the museum had a helpful map on the outside that our guide used to bring the Berlin Wall to life.
Continuing on the tour, our guide shared an insight into the drastic measures the government went to, to ensure Eastern residents didn’t make it to the Westside. Some of the most interesting stories were those of people who had escaped, including a whole family who created a zip wire across.
We could have spent all day in this area. We were completely surrounded by German history.
The Holocaust Memorial
Another 15-minute walk brought us to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a place of remembrance and contemplation. Opened in 2005, the site contains 2,711 concrete slabs of different heights, creating a sense of uncertainty.
The ground of the memorial is slopped and uneven, allowing you to create your own perception of the memorial. We were given some time to take it in. It’s hard to think about the atrocities that Jewish people have faced, but this memorial was a lovely place to contemplate it.
Leaving the memorial, we were close to the end of our tour. Around the corner from the memorial, we were greeted by the Brandenburg Gate. This is often the first place a tourist will visit, but this attraction was the final stop on our walking tour.
With this being the only surviving historical gate in the city, you can imagine how busy this area gets. Random fact: in the square of the Brandenburg Gate is the Adlon hotel, which is the hotel where Michael Jackson infamously held a baby out of a window… So, yeah. Do with that information what you will.
We soaked a final bit of history up from our tour guide, took a quick selfie, and had the rest of the day to casually wander around Berlin. Although it was a free walking tour, there is a voluntary donation. We paid €20 simply because we thought it was a brilliant way to spend the morning.
Stand By Me Tree
During the late afternoon, we didn’t have anything else planned. Alan had researched things to do before we came and he found a marvellous hidden gem in Tiergarten Park.
After searching high and low for this unique sight, hoping and praying it was still there, we eventually found what we had been looking for.
This touching tribute contains the lyrics to Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” carved into several trees in the area. It is still unclear when this happened or why, or who in fact carved these lyrics, but it truly is breathtaking.
The walking tour, whilst brilliant, really took it out of us. We’d taken over 22,000 steps, so we wanted a bit of a slower day. However, as it was our last day in Berlin, that wasn’t quite going to happen.
Alan had another quirky “attraction” he wanted to see before we headed home, so we went out on our search. This time we were heading away from the tourist parts of Berlin.
Taking the U-Bahn, we came out at Schloßstraße (roughly translated as Castle Street or Castle Road). It didn’t take us long to find what we were looking for.
The Bierpinsel is a truly unique building. Built in the 1970s, with three floors, it has usually been a nightclub or restaurants. Now, it sits empty. Its unique architecture looms over the other buildings at 46 metres.
Even though we’ve seen it, we still kind of don’t believe it is real. The pictures just look like an alien spaceship has landed in the busy shopping district.
With that interesting piece of architecture seen, it was time to do a little bit of shopping. We took a look around one of the shopping centres nearby (which impressibly had a slide in it!) before heading back into the city centre.
We bought a few souvenirs for family (Alan’s mum collects pens and Megan’s mum collects fridge magnets) and some chocolate for our colleagues. Most importantly though, we bought a bauble.
“A bauble in February?!” you must be thinking. Well, we started a tradition of buying a Christmas bauble from each place we travel. We eventually found a gift shop that sold one and we were content.
Our flight wasn’t until the evening, so after a steady day of wandering around the centre, we eventually made our way back to the airport and headed home.
Our trip to Berlin opened our eyes and taught us so much about the history of Germany’s Capital city, and all within just two days. We would definitely recommend this short break to anyone, especially if you’re wanting to understand the history behind this fascinating city.
If you have been to Berlin, or plan on visiting soon, we would love to hear more about it! Leave a comment below or get in touch on Instagram or share your pictures using #MakeLifeWild.