I LOVED Berlin, and I’ll tell you this for free (get it, for free!?)- I wasn’t expecting to. In a slightly macabre way, what makes this very modern, hipster-filled city so interesting is it’s dark past; and although it’s true that many of the tourist hotspots here centre on the city’s horrible history, I do think it’s important to learn as much as you can about a place in order to even have a hope of understanding or truly appreciating it. And pals, I was well and truly shocked to realise just how easy it is to discver all of these stories of yesteryear, without paying a single penny.
The East Side Gallery
When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, they didn’t actually get rid of the whole thing. Chunks of the wall were sent out to various museums and establishments, and whole sections of it were left standing, as a reminder of what on Earth went down back in the day. The East Side Gallery is a stretch of the wall in what was once East Berlin, which has been painted and decorated with a gallery of murals by artists from across the world. These paintings are absolutely beaut, ranging from joyous, to dark, to downright bizarre, and all of them commenting on the changes in Berlin around 1989-1990.
One of the most famous murals- ‘Dee Bruderkuss- is a painting of a photograph of the kiss between the former Soviet leader and the former East German Prime Minister. Don’t get me wrong pals, I’d seen photos of this particular work of art before, but never realised it actually depicts a real moment in history. It’s also a bit of a surreal contrast to see so many people stopping to take selfies in front of images on the wall symbolising the deaths of so many people at the hands of the East German government and their guards at the border. What a time to be alive.
Closest stations to the East Side Gallery are Ostbanhof or Warschauer.
Located at Mühlanstraße 45-80.
Berlin Wall Walk and Memorial
Another memorial to the victims of the Iron Curtain, although not as well known as the East Side Gallery (probs because it’s not quite as instagrammable a location), the Berliner Mauer Weg actually runs pretty much the length of the entire Berlin Wall; although we didn’t walk the whole distance, instead starting from Prenzlauer Berg and continuing as far as the Berlin Wall Memorial at Bernauer Straße. All the way along the path you can read about and listen to the stories of people who lived in Berlin while it was separated, see guard towers left standing, and where tunnels were dug beneath the walls. It’s a mind blowing situation.
The Berlin Wall Memorial is at Bernauer Straße 111, and the closest station is Bernauer Straße. Although you can go inside the building, there are lots of exhibitions in the open air nearby.
A cycle path also runs the entire length of Berlin Wall Walk, which takes you right out of the city into the surrounding woodland.
We stumbled across this very quaint area completely by accident, and were all rather surprised to find a collection of pastel coloured buildings and cobbled streets that look so old in what is widely considered to be a very modern kind of a city. Founded in the 1200s, the area around St Nicholas Church and it’s two spires is actually technically a reconstruction- a whole load of buildings got destroyed in the war- but it’s pretty hard to actually tell this. What a beaut little area, and if you fancy a downright delicious cake and coffee while you’re there, I highly recommend a place called Bonne Vie, which has the atmosphere of a grandmother’s living room- and I am ALL ABOUT that granny atmosphere.
Nikolaiviertel is located in the central Mitte district, footsteps away from Alexanderplatz.
The closest U-Bahn station is at Klosterstraße.
Check out Bonne Vie on Tripadvisor here
Don’t get me wrong pals, you can fully pay to go inside the Checkpoint Charlie museum, or even pay more to have your photo taken with some German lads dressed up as US soldiers. But the city has done a good job of making a decent amount of free information available in the open air, as well as maintaining Checkpoint Charlie itself for your viewing pleasure. If you’re not sure what it is (again, I wasn’t 100% on it myself), Checkpoint Charlie was one of the most important border crossings during the Cold War, controlled by the US Army. It was also the only point where foreign nationals were allowed to enter East Berlin, and the sight of a ‘tank confrontation’ back in the 60s.
The closest U-Bahn station to Checkpoint Charlie is at Kochstraße, which is mere footsteps away.
Named the Brandenburg Gate because it was once quite literally the gateway to the road to Brandenburg, this is one of the most famous landmarks of the city and nowadays considered to be a symbol of peace in Europe and general unity all over! (Bit awkward now the UK keeps banging on about no longer wanting to be united with Europe than, let’s face it. How EMBARASSING) It’s rather a splendid old monument, and the site of many a political event and joyful celebration; when I visited it was at the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, so there were concerts galore happening here, with the Brandenburg Gate as a very fitting backdrop.
The closest station to the Brandenburg Gate is right in front of it! Brandenburger Tor, on the S-Bahn and U-Bahn.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews is a sobering reminder of the terrifying rule of the Nazis. A sea of tombstone-like grey concrete slabs covers a 200,000 square foot area in the centre of the city, arranged in a grid formation which visitors can walk between. The further into the maze of stones you go, the higher they rise around you, creating quite an uneasy, lonely feeling. I really appreciated going to visit this place, though I was pretty shocked at the amount of people who it seemed weren’t there to see the memorial or consider the point of its existence. A family of four were sat eating a bag of crisps on top of one of the concrete squares, and a girl was posing seductively in the middle of one of the narrow walkways of the grid while her boyfriend took pictures. A group of teenagers were running noisily between the slabs, jumping out and shouting at one another from time to time. They were jarring disturbances to an otherwise very peaceful, mellow atmosphere.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews is located a block away from the Brandenburg Gate.
Closest stations to the Memorial of the Murdered Jews are at Brandenburger Tor or Mohrenstraße.
This is just a downright beautiful part of the city, also located in the central Mitte district. Home to the famous turquoise dome of the Berliner Dom, and partly surrounded by the river Spree (also a beaut place for a stroll), Museum Island is full of majestic architecture plus a beautiful wide-open green space for chilling out in the sunshine. And if you fancy going inside the museums and getting your learning cap on, a lot of the city’s museums and galleries offer free entry once a week or month, plus free entry for under 18s.
To find out which museums offer free entry on which days, check out Museums Portal, or if you’re totes fine with paying you can get a 3-day Museums Pass for €29 which I think is pretty full on good value. Go to Visit Berlin to buy.
The closest station is Hackescher Markt.
Tips for visiting Berlin on a Budget
- A daily travel card is €7, or a weekly card is €30. It allows access to all forms of public transport within the city- tram, bus, U-bahn and S-bahn.
- Whenever I’ve visited the city, unless I’ve been in a hurry to get somewhere I’ve spent a great deal of time walking, and ended up finding some cute lesser-known spots in the process.
- Stay away from the tourist traps if you want to eat cheaply!
- All-you-can-eat breakfast buffets are a big deal in Germany and Berlin is no exception. Make the most of this if you get the chance!
- If you’re travelling from somewhere else in Germany, make sure you book your train in advance, to save a whole load of money.