There are many places that will prove to be expensive, mainly due to the price some people spend on guided tours. Luckily, Berlin is not one of them.
The capital of Germany is not only rich in history and architecture, but it is also one with many sights and activities all over. Best of all, you do NOT have to spend a fortune to see the sites that Berlin has to offer.
Here are some activities to do by yourself on your next visit to Berlin:
All of the below sites are easily reachable by foot, and are within walking distance from one another. The first few sights are free of charge, while the ones at the bottom of this list have a price of entry (which is still cheaper than going with a tour group):
Free of Charge:
Memorial To The Murdered Jews Of Europe (memorial)
At first sight, this memorial may raise many questions on how it is supposed to represent the murdered Jews of Europe, and that’s the thing. The architect who designed the memorial, Peter Eisenmann, purposely conceded the vagueness of the memorial’s meaning, leaving it up to each individual’s interpretation.
The unevenly placed 2711 concrete pillars are indeed a powerful sight to see, and knowing that they represent the murdered victims of the holocaust causes strong feelings, despite the vagueness and lack of information in the memorial itself.
Memorial Information Center (museum)
Beneath the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is an information center and museum.
The information center of the memorial is a strong emotional roller-coaster depicting not only the history of the holocaust, but also video testimonials from survivors.
My favorite section of the memorial is the room where letters from holocaust victims are displayed. The feeling is even stronger when I found the one below written in French, a language I am fluent in. The emotions felt at the moment when I read the letter in its original handwriting are simply indescribable.
Topography Of Terror (open-air exhibition)
Sitting on the old headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS, and now stading besides the longest extant sement of the Berlin Wall, the Topography of Terror is another offers an open-air and inside exhibition on the now infamous history of Germany during the 20th century, and offers additional detail on the history of Berlin under the “Third Reich”.
Inside the complex, free tours are offered for both individuals and groups.
Checkpoint Charlie (landmark & open-air exhibition)
Checkpoint “C” was the best known crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin, and now is one of Berlin’s most popular tourist attractions.
The most important part of Checkpoint Charlie is the open-air exhibit displaying information on the Berlin Wall, such as its history, escape attempts (successful and unsuccessful), the confrontation between Soviet and Americans, and more.
Around Checkpoint Charlie there are also a few private museums providing further insight into the Berlin Wall and its significance during the Cold War.
Brandenburg Gate (landmark)
A gate with so much history in itself, the Brandenburg Gate was first erected in the 18th Century and served as the entrance point to the city. Years later, the Quadriga (statue sitting on top of the gate) would be stolen by Napoleon and taken to Paris, only to be taken back to Berlin years later..
Brandenburg gate now looks over Pariser Platz (Plaza of Paris), in what some may think is an indirect message to Parisians. If that wasn’t enough, the goddess sitting on top of the Quadriga now looks in the direction of the French embassy.
Bundestag (German Parliament)
Located within walking distance from the Brandenburg Gate, the Bundestag is yet another landmark with a lot of history in Berlin. Severely damaged by a fire in 1933, this would give a pretext for the Nazis to suspend many rights. Years later, the building would be found sitting only a few meters from East Berlin.
Today, the roof terrace and the dome can be visited by the general public. These offer some spectacular 360° views, including views of the government district as well as of the Broßer Tiergarten.
Visitors must register ahead of time to visit the Bundestag (click here for the registration site). Make sure you do this a few days ahead of time as places are limited.
Day Trip To Potsdam
Unfortunately due to having a cold I was unable to fully explore the city of Potsdam, but what I saw left me hungry for more.
I visited Potsdam on my last day in Germany, and like everyone my first visit was to Sanssouci Park. The park is so vast it can take about 3 hours to walk around it and do it fully justice. Within the park there are some of the most beautiful palaces you will see in Berlin, if not Germany. The park also has a botanical garden as well as a “Chinese House”.
Note that entrance to the park is free, however there are fees to enter the different palaces and houses.
Other than Sanssouci park, Potsdam also has a Dutch Quarter as well as a some beautiful gardens, which I did not get to see because of my debilitating cold 🙁
Sites Charging Entry Fee:
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp (Memorial & Museum)
Located 35 KMs north of Berlin, the Sachsenhausen concentration camp was the “administrative center” of all concentration camps (i.e. where all decisions for all other concentration camps were taken). The camp also served as a training center for SS officers, who would then oversee other camps afterwards.
The site and now museum contains the cells where jews were detained, along with displays of some of the artifacts used for punishment. As well, the gas chambers used for execution can be visited.
Getting to the camp takes about 1 hour from Berlin. An ABC card is required to get there; take the S1 S-bahn towards Oranienburg and get off at Oranienburg station. From there take a 7 minute bus ride (bus 821) until arriving at the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum.
Berliner Unterwelten runs, in my opinion, some of the most interesting tours in Berlin.
The Berlin Underground tours take you to some of history’s most restricted sites, those buried underground. Amongst them are one of Hitler’s bunkers, defense shelters, and tunnels used to pass under the Berlin Wall.
I took the tour of Hitler’s bunker. The feeling I got from walking around in what had served as a war fortress was indescribable. The level of destruction from Allied bombings can still be seen inside the bunker to this date.
Unfortunately no pictures are allowed inside the underground sites, and therefore no pictures to show. So here is one of the Berliner Dom instead.
Berlin is a city with one of the richest histories in the world. There are so many sites, each packed with history waiting to be discovered. What is your favorite historic site in Berlin?