Berlin is home to more than 150 museums and countless other landmarks. With so much to see and explore and only a day to spare, read on how to make the most of your stay in this historic city
Berlin, the capital city of Germany built around the Spree River is home to more than 150 museums and countless other landmarks. You need a week’s time to fully appreciate and admire this beautiful place. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent reunification in 1989 have healed the scars of the past and helped Berlin emerge as one of the top tourist destinations in Europe.
Imagine arriving in a city as big and happening as Berlin with only a day to spare. With so much to see, experience and explore, you may want to fit in as much as possible but before you realize and ponder over what to see and how to move around, half of the day is probably gone. Here are some tips on how to make the most of your day in this historic city.
The first thing we did was to buy a Day card (Tageskarte) which allows unlimited travel on all public transportation - buses, trams, S Bahn and U Bahn. Priced at 6.10 Euros and valid until 3 am the following day, these Day cards are available at the vending machines located at most of the underground and urban rail stations. Children under 6 travel free with an adult ticket holder. Remember to validate the ticket before you start your first journey. Check their website for more details www.bvg.de
We had a filling breakfast at hotel, boarded Tram 4 just outside the hotel and reached the historic centre (Mitte) of Berlin. Most of Berlin’s famous landmarks are located in this area. We strolled along the Spree River to reach Museumsinsel about 15 minutes before the gates opened.
The northern part of Spree Island houses five of Berlin’s best museums filled with thousands of years of treasure from all over the world. This cluster of museums also referred to as Museumsinsel (http://www.smb.museum/smb/home/index.php) has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Gates open at 10am, meaning you are not likely to be bothered by the hordes of tourist groups and school kids who throng the museums later during the day. Keeping in view the time constraint, we focused our attention on just two museums:
Pergamon Museum (Admission 10 Euro), further subdivided into antiquity collection, museum of Islamic art and the Middle East museum houses huge sized artifacts excavated mainly from various regions of Turkey. What impressed us the most was the Greek Pergamon Altar, Blue Babylonian Ishtar Gate and the Market gate of Miletus
Neues Museum or New Museum (Admission 10 Euro) reopened in 2009 mainly houses collection from the Egyptian and pre-historic era. The star attraction of this museum is the bust of Egyptian queen Nefertiti.
Finished with the museums, it was time now for some relaxation and visual treats. Under the bridge near the magnificent Berlin cathedral there are numerous tour companies which can take you on an hour long leisurely Spree river cruise (Tickets 10 Euro) passing through historic Berlin. A multilingual audio guide is available and included in the ticket price.
Refreshed by the Spree river cruise, we walked towards the Hackescher Market and had lunch in Weihenstephaner (Oberland Gaststätten Betriebs GmbH, Neue Promenade 5, Mitte; +49 (0)30 25 76 28 71; www.weihenstephaner-berlin.de). Located in an old historic building this restaurant serves authentic Bavarian cuisine. We had a soup (Beef with liver dumplings) and grilled meat with potato-cucumber salad which cost us 12 Euro each.
We took the U-Bahn and got off at Kochstr to visit Checkpoint Charlie, a key Cold War site used as a crossing point in the Berlin Wall. Except for a small museum nothing much is to be seen here so we followed the Friedrichstrasse to reach Gendarmenmarkt, one of the most beautiful squares in entire Germany. The centre of the square has the statue of a famous German poet (I don’t remember the name). The square is also adorned by a Concert hall and German & French cathedrals facing each other.
Moving further ahead we reached Unter den Linden, Berlin’s grandest tree lined boulevard. Strolling along the street was an experience in itself as we passed by cathedrals, palaces, statues, Humboldt University and other heritage buildings. The end of the street led us to the iconic Brandenburg Gate.
Brandenburger Tor (Gate) built during 1788-1791 is Berlin’s only remaining gate and is one of Europe’s most famous landmarks. In the cold war era, the gate became a symbol of city’s separation and was situated in the no man’s land just behind the wall. The gate was reopened on December 22 1989 after the fall of the Wall. Spend some time here admiring the monument which has witnessed tumultuous periods of history.
Just south of the gate is the Holocaust Memorial in memory of the Jewish victims of the infamous Holocaust. We stood in silence at the site, even my son was silenced by the spiritually charged atmosphere of the site.
Just close to the Brandenburger gate is the Reichstag, which functions as the seat of German Parliament, the Bundestag (Platz der Republik 1; Tel: +49 30 227 32152; www.bundestag.de/htdocs_e/index.html). The outer facade of the building is impressive but what attracts the attention of tourists is the glass dome designed by renowned architect Norman Foster.
The roof terrace and glass dome are open to public from 08.00 hrs to midnight daily (last admission: 22.00 hrs). Entry is free but you can expect a waiting time of 30-40 minutes during peak tourist periods. If you are traveling with kids under 7 years old or disabled people, you might be lucky as we were and get direct access from a side entrance, to the right of the main one.
A multilingual audio guide (free) takes you through the history of the German Parliament and the sights you will see during the ascent and descent. The top of the dome offers excellent views of the city and its surroundings.
If your legs have given up, don’t be disheartened, there is still something you can do without spending a penny. Just outside the Parliament catch Bus no100 going towards the Zoo. Sit back, relax and enjoy the sights on the way. From the Zoo station catch Bus no 200 which follows a different route and goes to Alexanderplatz passing through the beautiful area of Potsdamer Platz. No tickets are required to be purchased as your Day ticket is valid on these buses.
Back to Alexanderplatz we spent some time walking around and gazing at the towering TV tower. We didn’t have enough time to go to the top but those who have time can try the observation deck (Admission 10.50 Euro), which also has a bar and restaurant. Do check their website for more details http://www.tv-turm.de/en/index.php
We were clueless about dinner, in our quest for food we landed up at a Spanish restaurant Las Olas (Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse 29 10178 Berlin-Mitte, Alexanderplatz; Tel. +49 (0 30) 2 41 54 72; www.las-olas.de). The place had beautiful interiors and claimed to serve authentic cuisine from the southern region of Spain. We were not disappointed either, as the mixed ‘Paella’ (chicken & fish) we ordered was quite filling and delicious and cost us 13 euro each.
We were tired by now, decided to call it a day and boarded the tram to return back to the hotel. For those who want to carry on, there is a stylish club in the same area, Hit Weekend (Alexanderplatz 5; http://www.week-end-berlin.de/), to swing, groove and dance to the latest tunes.
Where to stay:
We stayed in Grand City Hotel Berlin East (Landsberger Allee 203, Lichtenberg, 13055 Berlin) and paid 60 Euros for a double room. Breakfast was charged extra at 13 Euro/per person/per day. We got a large room with comfortable beds and spotlessly clean bathroom. The only disadvantage was its location, being a bit far from the city centre. However there is a tram stop opposite the hotel which can help you reach the bustling Alexanderplatz square in 15-20 minutes.
Leonardo Royal Hotel (Otto-Braun-Strasse 90, D10249 Berlin) is another excellent hotel located in the heart of Mitte district, just 15 minutes' walk from Alexaderplatz. All the rooms are equipped with air-conditioning and include a minibar, safe and LCD TV. Double rooms are available at 130 Euros inclusive of breakfast. The huge terrace restaurant with more than 400 seats serving international cuisine is one of the highlights of this hotel.