Berlin, Germany- Chloe
We chose to visit Berlin on a long weekend for one reason: it was the cheapest flight available from Napoli for those dates. I’d like to say it was towards the top of my list of “cities to see while we are living in Europe”, but it was not really on my radar.
Berlin, however, exceeded my expectations and is now tied for first place as my favorite city so far. I love Berlin for its deeply impactful history, cleanliness, easy metro system, plethora of English speakers, diverse food choices, and courteous people. Also, there are tons of FREE things to do in Berlin. Who doesn’t love free?
Here are my top 6 free things to do in Berlin:
1. Reichstag Building (German Parliament Building)
I highly recommend a visit to the Reichstag rooftop and dome. It is free, but you must book a time slot in advance as it is a popular thing to do in the city. If you want, you can do an audio guide as you ascend the spiral of the dome and it will point out all the buildings and monuments visible from this unique vantage point. It was a very informative experience and the architectural details of the dome are definitely photo-worthy.
2. Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor)
An iconic symbol of the city, the Brandenburg Gate is a great place to stop and take a few photos to prove you visited Berlin, both during the day and while it is beautifully lit up at night. It is only a couple of blocks from the Reichstag building so it would be a convenient stop before or after your tour of the parliament building rooftop. Today the gate stands for freedom and tolerance after having been the site of major up-and-down moments in Germany’s history. At one point, Nazis marched through it to celebrate Hitler’s power. A Soviet flag flew above it during the Cold War. Then Ronald Reagan’s speech “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” forever changed the divided city. It is now the backdrop of a huge New Year’s Eve party and a place to show support to those persecuted around the world.
3. Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Just another few blocks past the Brandenburg Gate is the German Holocaust Memorial. The memorial consists of over 2,700 concrete slabs of varying heights atop uneven grounds that slope up and down as you walk through. Although the architect stated the design had no symbolic significance, it definitely resembles a graveyard and is supposed to inflict confusion and an uneasy feeling. It was thought provoking and solemn to walk around the maze and touch the slabs. My only complaint is that there were so many tourists sitting on top the slabs, taking selfies, and children running through screaming. If you didn’t know what the memorial was for, it could be seen as a playground. I wish there was a controlled entry point with information on what it represents, so that there was more respect from others all around.
My favorite part of the Memorial was the underground museum/information center. There are several rooms to slowly walk through which depict personal accounts of victims and their families, interactive phones to listen to stories of the crimes, and a timeline of the war. Everyone was very respectful and quiet throughout and it was a very moving experience. It was also free to enter.
4. Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint C “Charlie” was once a major border crossing between East and West Berlin controlled by the Allied Powers during the Cold War. It is featured in many movies and novels. Admittedly, it is a little cheesy today with fake guards standing in front waiting for you to pay them to stand in a photo with you. However, if you slip around to the back you can have someone take your own free photo sans cheesy guards.
5. Remnants of the Berlin Wall & Topography of Terror
It is a must to see remnants of the Berlin wall still standing. If you route yourself to Topography of Terror, there is an outdoor museum with a long portion of the wall to walk along and ponder how the appalling history of the city ever happened. This site is where the headquarters of the Secret State Police once was and the entire museum is free.
6. East Side Gallery
Another place to see the Berlin Wall, but with more vibrancy, is the East Side Gallery. After the wall came down, artists took to painting over a kilometer of the wall for others to walk along and admire the positive renewal. Unfortunately, there is a constant fight to restore the paintings from graffiti, but many of the famous works of art are in tact. The backside has incredibly interesting and equally appalling stories of unfair treatment and brutality while the wall was standing.
As a bonus, here are a couple other things to do in Berlin that won't break the bank after a weekend of freebies:
Ritter Sport Store
Head into the flagship store of this delicious chocolate company and create your own Ritter Sport bar. Arrive at least few hours before closing time as they close the chocolate creations line long before the store closes.
Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom)
The Berlin Cathedral is on Museum Island. It costs 7 euros for entrance which includes the sanctuary, the crypt, and the tower. Although physically demanding to climb, the tower itself was worth the entrance fee. The views of museum island from above were stunning. There are interactive screens with headphones throughout that offer a creative way to share history behind the cathedral and crypt.
Don't forget to eat schnitzel and sausage and have a mug of the best beer in the world.
Until our next trip...
Ciao Bellas e Bellos xoxo,