I’ve wanted to visit Berlin ever since I was a young child, and last month I finally got to tick it off my Fifty before Fifty list.
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When I was 2, my Dad was posted out to West Germany with the RAF. So we went with him and lived out there for three years. I remember being really upset when we had to move back to the UK, and I’ve been fond of Germany ever since. Berlin particularly fascinated me, because back then West Berlin was surrounded entirely by East Germany.
Then in 1989, the Berlin Wall opened – something that seemed entirely impossible at the time. My brother was doing research for a PhD in Berlin and actually stood on top of the Wall that evening.
So when Ollie started studying for his German GCSE, I said that we’d go to Berlin for a weekend to let him practice speaking the language. OK, I just wanted an excuse to finally visit the city for myself! We travelled out there last month, and despite some unforeseen circumstances, we had a fantastic time.
If you’re looking for more specific information like where to eat in Berlin, or how to get around the city, then I’ll have posts on those coming along soon. But this is my full write-up of our visit. It’s a long one, and there are quite a few photos, so get yourself a drink and make yourself comfy. Oh, and the title of this blog post is a little misleading. We were actually out in Germany for a little under three days. But somehow ‘67 Hours in Berlin‘ didn’t sound like such a good blog post title!
Our journey began with a 2 hour flight from Manchester airport with Ryanair. Flying with a budget airline means that you will probably land at Berlin Schönefeld airport, and you’ll need to transfer into the city centre. We got the S-Bahn and then the U-Bahn into the city, which took us a little under an hour. I was so thrilled to finally see the yellow U-Bahn trains ‘in the flesh’!
Top Tip: When you buy your ticket or travel card, don’t forget to validate it before you use it. Your ticket isn’t valid for travel without this, and if a ticket inspector asks to see your ticket you could be facing a large fine!
The U2 line took us to Bülowstraße, and our hotel was literally just outside the station. I had booked us into the Novum Hotel Centrum City B hotel. Its location means that you are just a few stops away from most of the major landmarks in Berlin. It also has family rooms which will sleep up to 5 people in standard beds. Our 3-bed room cost just £45 per night, so the price was attractive too.
When we got there, we found that the hotel is clean and the beds are comfortable, and there’s free WiFi in the rooms. The decor is a little basic – there was woodchip wallpaper in our room – and our view wasn’t wonderful. I wouldn’t book it for a special weekend, but if what you are after is a well-priced place to rest your head at the end of the day, it’s not a bad option.
After checking in, we headed straight back out as I had booked tickets for us to go up the Berlin TV Tower – the Fernsehturm. This is an iconic Berlin landmark, and can be seen right across the city. You can either go 203m up to the observation deck, or book to eat in the revolving restaurant which is 207m up. I had booked tickets for us to go up at sunset, which gives you amazing views of the city skyline.
Top Tip: Our Fast track tickets were a little more expensive at 19.50€ for adults, 12.00€ for children aged 4-16. But you get to skip the queue which can easily be an hour long. Book tickets online* up to three months before your visit.
After that, we headed back down into Alexanderplatz to find somewhere to eat. We decided to go to Vapiano, which is a pizza and pasta restaurant with a twist. You basically find a table, and then go and order your food from the individual stations. If you order pasta, the chefs cook it in front of you while you wait in just a few minutes. If you order pizza it takes a little longer, but they give you a pager so you can wait at your table. Your food and drink orders are charged to a ‘credit card’, and you pay at the end of your meal. The system is a little odd, but the food was really good.
And when we headed back to our hotel after dinner, the Fernsehturm was beautifully lit up for the night!
The next day began a little slower than I had hoped for. Both Ollie and Lyle were very tired after the journey, and of course the clocks were an hour ahead as well. I’d planned to be having breakfast at 9am, but both boys were still asleep. But I’m a kind Mum, so I let them doze for a little longer.
We headed over to Alexanderplatz for breakfast, where we also caught sight of another Berlin landmark, the Atomic Clock (below). Next we popped into Alex for breakfast. They do a pretty good buffet breakfast, including a glass of orange juice, for just under 8€ per head. It includes everything from bacon, sausages, fruit salad, baked goods and lots more beside.
Top Tip: The buffet at the Alexanderplatz restaurant is bigger than the one at the Sony Centre. Make sure you head to Alexanderplatz for the best selection.
But while we were eating breakfast, the weather suddenly turned colder with flurries of snow. And then the snow got heavier…and heavier… We just didn’t have the right clothing for this weather and it basically upset all my plans.
We’d planned to spend the morning walking from Alexanderplatz to the Brandenburg Gate via Unter den Linden. But this weather meant that walking around the city was not going to be much fun. So instead we took the U-Bahn to Potsdamer Platz and headed into the Spy Museum instead.
The museum is full of exhibits from the Cold War period. You’ll see all kinds of spy equipment and a replica of the infamous umbrella used to assassinate the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov. You can check to see how difficult it would be to crack your password, and there’s even an Enigma machine!
You can easily spend two or three hours here, which is useful to know if the weather suddenly turns bad. Entry is very reasonable at 12€ for adults and 8€ for children
Top Tip: Your entry fee also gives you a 50c discount in the coffee shop, they have some fantastic cakes in there!
By the time we had finished looking around the museum, the weather had lifted a little. So we decided to walk from Potsdamer Platz over to the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag building. Unfortunately Lyle twisted his ankle on the walk to the Brandeburg Gate. And although he wasn’t complaining too much, it really affected the rest of our visit.
This took us past the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial. This was one of the sites that I most wanted to visit while I was in Berlin. Concrete blocks of varying heights are arranged in rows, and the floor undulates across the whole site. The blocks tower above you in the centre of the memorial, and you easily lose your bearings. The memorial is designed to make visitors feel unsettled, and I think it certainly achieves that.
From there we continued on to the Brandenburg Gate. It’s even more beautiful and impressive than I was expecting, and I felt quite emotional as we walked under the Gate itself. I couldn’t help thinking back to the time when the Gate was a symbol of division rather than unity, and all the people who died trying to cross from East to West Berlin.
As you can see, the weather still wasn’t amazing but the Pariser Platz was still fairly full.
Top tip: If you want to get a photo without the crowds in it, head to the Brandenburg Gate first thing. You can always have breakfast afterwards!
The next stop on our whistlestop tour was the Reichstag building, home of the German parliament. Unfortunately this turned out to be my big failure for this trip. I had intended for us to take the tour up into the Bundestag’s glass dome. But the numbers are strictly limited and by the time I tried to book it was too late. So that will definitely be on my must-do list for the next time I visit Berlin.
Top tip: Don’t make the same mistake as I did! Because numbers are so limited, you need to book early if you want to visit the Bundestag’s glass dome. Booking is available online for the current month and following month
We had a Berlin classic for lunch – Currywurst. Yes, it’s just a sausage in spicy tomato sauce with a dusting of curry powder. But somehow it tastes so much better than it should do! We just nipped into the Currywurst Express at Alexanderplatz station, but next time I’ll make the journey out to Curry 36.
By now, Lyle’s ankle was really painful so we headed back to the hotel to let him rest. That evening, we ate at Henne, which serves what we now refer to as ‘The World’s Best Chicken’.
So what do you do when you have a full day of walking planned, and one of your party has a twisted ankle?
That was the dilemma that faced us on the Thursday of our visit to Berlin. Lyle’s ankle was looking very swollen and bruised, and he wasn’t going to be able to walk as far as I’d planned. I’d hoped that we would follow the path of the Berlin wall, taking in the DDR museum and the Berlin East Side Gallery along the way.
But that wasn’t going to happen, so over breakfast at Alex we worked out a new plan. First stop on our revised schedule: the world’s only museum dedicated to the Ramones!
OK, so perhaps museum is stretching it a little, but the Ramones Museum is a fun place to visit if you like a bit of 70s punk. The rooms are full of press cuttings, posters and other memorabilia, and there are videos playing as you look around. Lyle and I enjoyed it, even if Ollie was less enthusiastic, and it was a nice way to pass an hour or so without putting much stress on Lyle’s ankle. We also picked up some t-shirts in the museum’s shop.
Top Tip: Make sure you’re hungry when you visit the Ramones Museum. Not only does the museum itself have a nice little vegan coffee shop, but it’s just over the road from Burgermeister which apparently has some of the best burgers in Berlin. After our big breakfast none of us could manage a burger, but it’s on my list for next time!
After a short break to rest Lyle’s foot again, we headed off to our last destination. I couldn’t really visit Berlin without seeing at least one part of the Berlin Wall. So we headed back to Potsdamer Platz and over to Checkpoint Charlie.
Top tip: Don’t worry too much about getting a photo of ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ in its original position. What you see in the photo above is just a replica. The last guardhouse to stand at Checkpoint Charlie can be seen in the Allied Museum.
You can see a Checkpoint Charlie museum in the photo above, but I’ve seen fairly mixed reviews of that online. So instead we headed across the road to ‘The Wall’ exhibition which has a massive panorama depicting Berlin when the wall was in place. It’s just 10€ for adults and 4€ for children, which is pretty good value. Inside there are videos and accounts from people in Berlin when the wall came down, as well as the panorama. We all enjoyed this, but we still needed to actually see the wall itself!
And we finally achieved that when we went back outside, because there is a section of the wall standing at the Black Box at Checkpoint Charlie. There are better places to see the wall, such as the East Side Gallery, but Lyle really couldn’t cope with much more walking.
But even so, it was quite awe-inspiring to finally see a section of the wall itself. As you can see, it absolutely towers over the boys! Lyle had had enough walking by now, so we just went back to Vapiano for an easy evening meal. And of course, the boys wanted to spend their remaining Euros on souvenirs.
It’s a shame that we didn’t get to see everything that we’d hoped to see, because I had a lot more planned: The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church, the statue of Queen Nefertiti at the Neues Museum , climbing the Victory column in the Tiergarten, the Topography of Terror Museum.. not to mention a trip to the famous Hansa studios!