'Poor, but sexy' was the description a former popular mayor gave it to Berlin. Since he left office less then 5 years ago, the prices are on the raise - especially in terms of rent and housing in general - and making your life here is not as easy as it seemed and used to be - at least for some dreamers. However, as a short or long term visitor, you can easily enjoy your life here and the secrets of a city which even 10 years later, keeps fascinating me. For those visiting Berlin on a tight budget - or keen to spend money on an additional trip outside the city - my bottom-of-the heart recommendation is Potsdam, which is close and a hidden gem of everything, from architecture to nature, history and food too - or for some foodie experiences, here is my top list to do in the city, without breaking the bank while getting (almost) the best of my home city completely for free. All you need is a one day transportation ticket. Otherwise, you can also purchase a Berlin Card which will give you automatically free access to some important cultural highlights plus other travel advantages.
1. Admire the architecture of Potsdamer Platz
Less than three decades ago, this place was a No Man's Land as it was situated at the high security border between the West and East of Berlin, but nowadays is displaying the most spectacular and futuristic architecture in all Berlin. In the 1920s, the writer Stefan Zweig called it 'the Babel of the World' and it is what it may still look like, after the intensive works of decorating the place with gems of architecture signed by great minds in this domain as Hans Scharoun, Helmut Jahn or Renzo Piano. From the spaceship shape of the Sony Center to the Marlene Dietrich square where the famous Berlinale Film Festival which is about to begin soon takes place every year, keep your head up and don't forget to breathe. Fully recommended to visit especially during the winter season, when the sky scrapers are getting a touch of humanity with all the festive lights and air balloons snow men. A full article dedicated to one of my favorite places in the city, coming up on the blog this month too.
2. Top sightseeing: Brandenburg Gate and Unter den Linden Alley
|Picture took from the famous Adlon Hotel nearby|
Minutes of walking from Potsdamer Platz, this part of Berlin is always busy with tourists from all over the world, taking a selfie or just curious to find out more about the history and architecture of this place. From Pariser Platz you can walk a couple of minutes until the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. From Brandenburg Gate onwards, you can walk alongside Unter den Linden boulevard until Bebel Platz - another famous place in the infamous WWII history of Germany - Humboldt University and its weekend old books small flea market and the newly renovated Opera House. If you are hungry for some cultural treats, you can visit - for free - the Humboldt Box with precious information about the past, present and future of the city. Recommended time to visit is during the summer when the lime smell is inebriated - Linden stands for lime in English, and actually many cities in Germany do have their own Unter den Linden alley as well.
3. Visit the German Bundestag
The German Bundestag roof terrace and dome can be visited for free, but prior registration is requested. Part of the governmental quarters with its bold architecture, this parliamentary institution is democratically opening its doors to travellers from all over the world that from the top of the dome can even have a look at the regular MPs working sessions during the week.
4. Admire the classical architecture of Gendarmenmarkt
A couple of streets away from Brandenburg Gate, Gendarmenmarkt is a highlight of classical elegance in the Mitte part of the city. Besides the beautiful buildings to admire, here are regularly organised open air concerts and various other events during the summer. My favorite time to visit is during the Festival of Lights, organised at the end of each autumn, when the buildings are displaying a variety of colours and light shapes. From there, the Checkpoint Charlie which separated the East from the West can be reached within minutes.
5. Walking around Tiergarten
Once a hunting ground, hence its name - Tier means animal in German - Tiergarten is a place to visit regardless the season, including during the rare sunny days during the winter time. Walking through its alleys is a pleasure and a lesson, with its special lamps representing different parts of Germany, or the open beer gardens in the summer or just the many green spots near the rivers where you can just rest and read under the blue sky.
6. Learning about Berlin history at Nikolaiviertel
On the way to Alexanderplatz and its famous TV Tower - not a freeby destination, though - Nikolaiviertel - Nicholas' Quarter - represents the oldest part of Berlin. Created in 1200, this little sequence of the very old times in the city, has a special charm, with the cobblestone streets, small coffee places and car-free areas. Forget the ugly communist looking buildings - the famous Plattenbauten - you can roam around the place as is no tomorrow. My favorite time to visit is in the summer, when you can spend all your time outdoors, people watching while sipping your coffee and having a little bit of delicious local food.
7. Street art at the East Side Gallery
Berlin is worldwide famous for its street art - an extensive post with my favorite places to see it, coming up to your favorite blog in a couple of days too - and one of the famous places where you can see it is the East Side Gallery, the longest part of the Wall still intact.
After the Wall was finally down, artists from all over the world used its concrete canvas for creating unique pieces of art which are nowadays classical works of street art. It is the world's largest open air gallery, covering 1,316 meters.
My favorite part of it is however at the very end of it, after 15 minutes of walking or so - close to Ostbahnhof train statio -, where you can find very mind-blowing samples of work that can be easily considered for any serious art exhibition.
8. Outdoors in Grunewald and Schlachtensee
Despite the mass of concrete and the scaffolding surrounding most of the central and eastern areas, Berlin remains a green city, surrounded on all parts by forests and beautiful lakes. Grunewald is one of my favorite places to visit during the summer, especially when I am starving for some hiking, with great relaxing views. Schlachtensee is a great destination for both children and adults and a perfect way to spend an active weekend.
9. More outdoors in Krumme Lanke and Nikolassee
After Schlachtensee, you can continue the green exploration of the city with another two places you can visit for free: Nikolassee and Krumme Lanke. Children will enjoy chilling around, especially if you are prepared for some swimming sessions around the lake. During the summer weekend, the place is fully packed, but during the week it is rather the opposite and walking around thinking about life and gratitude can be done without being bothered too much. If you travel with your pet, you have one more reason to consider those places, as in Krumme Lanke, there is even a small patch of beach where the 4-leg friends can jump in the waters and make new friends too.
10. Countrylife at Domäne Dahlem
If you plan to take your little children with you to Berlin, there are so many things that you can do together with them, one of them being a visit to the Domäne Dahlem. Except the second half of December when the holidays fair is taking place every weekend, the entrance is usually free and it is a great way to question the limits of farming lifestyle implanted in the city, while getting to know different plants and cereals and meeting face to face animals that many kids often see only on TV or in the books. Seriously, how many of you, city kids, went face to face with a cow or a hen in the last five years?
11. Summer fun at Tegel Lake
Tegel Lake - Tegelersee - is a top place for bathing, enjoying the summer sun and also doing a little bit of very easy hiking. The second largest lake and is practically an island of green in the middle of the city, close to the industrial area of Siemensstadt and a couple of boat stops away from the picturesque town of Werder - an der Havel.
12. History classes at Karlshorst Museum
If you love history or you are a historian yourself - as me - Berlin is a place to consider not only for a visit or two, but even for a long stay. Especially the museums dealing with WWII have free entrance, therefore you can come over and over again for better understanding the recent history. You can start with the Karlshorst Museum, where the surrender of Nazi Germany was signed in the night from 8 to 9 May 1945. A little walk around the area is also a recommended (free) experience.
13. Cold War Histories at Alliirtenmuseum
Continue your history lesson with the Cold War experiences viewed from the Western side of the city, with a visit to the Alliirtenmuseum - Museum of the Allies - in Zehlendorf/Dahlem, in what used once to be under the American control. With information available in French and English, beside German, this is a very well done permanent exhibition, explaining painful histories of the city, such as the Berlin Blockade during which the Soviets blocked the access to the areas controlled by the Western powers for a year between 1948-1949 with direct consequences for the population of Berlin, in very suggestive and exhaustive ways.
14. Aviation experiences at Gatow Military Museum
For more specific details about the Cold War, with a particular focus on the military and defense developments, the Military Museum of Gatow, situated in a former airport precincts is a great historical introduction. If you love airplanes and technical histories it is worth to pay a visit to this place which is relatively far away from the city areas - but with a free of charge entrance though.
15. Sunbathing for free at Tempelhof Field
There is another aspect about Berlin which I love: the power of re-inventing spaces. The former airport of Tempelhof, whose fate was decided by its citizens a couple of years ago, against the real estate developers who wanted this place turned into a fancy construction site, is nowadays an open air park, where you can enjoy the beautiful sky in the summer. A pleasant opportunity, especially if you don't have (yet) your loft with glass ceiling. Kite surfing, biking and rollerblade running are also (free) options to consider during your visit here.
16. Walking through Naturpark Schöneberg
Less famous than Tempelhof, but more quiet and interesting is the Naturpark Schöneberg, a former train depot turned into a natural park, with tufts of grass springing from the former train rails and trees covering completely the industrial area. There are also open air exhibition of works of art using not only the space, but also former fragments of the original place for creating unique samples of creative works.