Unlike many European cities – London, I’m looking at you – it’s possible to schlep around Berlin for very little outlay. Here’s a selection of free things to do in Berlin for a weekend away.
Topography of Terror (free)
Fascinating yet disturbing permanent exhibition about the rise of National Socialism in Third Reich Germany. There are a huge number of photo and book displays, including German and English notes. A brief introductory video also plays in the studio: it’s worth asking at the reception desk for timings for the various languages it plays in.
Roof Terrace at the Park Inn, Alexanderplatz (cheap)
The mighty spire of the Fernsehturm (TV tower) is visible from almost anywhere in the city, but the ride to the top is expensive (around €14). The tiny roof terrace at the Park Inn hotel close by is almost as lofty, for much less money (currently around €4). The terrace includes a small bar and a few seats and, for those with an Adrenalin rush, the opportunity to base jump attached to a harness. Note that, while a lift takes you almost to the top of the building, there are a couple of flights of stairs to the terrace itself.
Reichstag Dome (free)
Entrance to the roof of the Reichstag building is free, but advance booking is pretty much essential: you can do it in advance easily enough online. While you may be able to turn up on the day and snag any remaining spaces, it’s not guaranteed, especially during peak seasons. You’ll also need to bring photo ID and go through security before getting into the building.
While the view from the top is stunning, it’s fiercely rivalled by Norman Foster’s glass dome, which is perched on the roof like a glorious snow globe. You can pick up a free multi-language audio guide when exiting the lift, which unwraps the history and function of the building, as well as the view beyond.
Berlin Wall memorial (free)
Bernauer Strasse was once split along its length by the Berlin Wall, with one half of the street in East Germany, and the other in West Germany. This permanent outdoor exhibition includes photographs, audio stations and other information points that unwrap the misery and terror of living ‘under the wall’.
The memorial starts just outside Nordbahnhof S-Bahn station and continues for around 1km. Don’t miss: the National Monument to German Division on Ackerstrasse Street, which is a recreation of the ‘death strip’, complete with a guard tower. If you pop into the (rebuilt) Chapel of Reconciliation – the original was destroyed to make way for the wall – you’ll also find poetry, references and other links to this period of history. There are also more photos and information in Nordbahnhof station itself, which make for particularly chilling reading.
Berlin is beautiful whichever way you look at it, and no more so than in its architecture. One of the best ways to meet the city is just by walking and looking. Highlights include the modern glass city at Postdamer Platz, and the gigantic GDR socialist buildings on Karl-Marx-Allee.
- Taking a turn in Tiergarten: this huge park crouched behind Brandenburger Tor and the Reichstag Building has its share of green space, memorials and street entertainment.
- Checkpoint Charlie: free, but incredibly touristy and, unless you pay to visit one of the several surrounding museums, not much beyond a photo opportunity.
- East Street Gallery: a portion of the Berlin Wall plastered with graffitti or photo/art exhibitions. Note that large swathes of the wall are protected by fencing, so there are fewer photo opps than you might imagine.
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