Recommendations for Seventy Hours in Berlin

My wife and I will visit Berlin for the first time May 1-4. We've read RS' books, Fodor's, etc., but we'd like to get some personal recommendations on the "must see/do" places in Berlin in 2 full days and 2 half-days (one afternoon-evening and one morning). We enjoy visiting landmark buildings and green-spaces and just walking through various areas of the city, mixed with a museum or two, and sitting to people-watch over a beverage or meal. We'd like to sit-in on a short music program at a church or theatre at some point. We will use public transportation only, and, oh yes, we're not youngsters--in our mid 60's but act like we're 50. It's looking like we will be staying in Mitte and will arrive by train and depart by plane.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4764 posts

Do you want a private tour guide or simply join one of the many walking tours that is on offer in Berlin? For a private guide, check out Jeremy, the Berlin Expert. His prices are reasonable for half or full days. If you want to join a tour, Rick lists some of them, but you can read listings and up-to date reviews on Trip Advisor. Once you go on a tour, the guide can give you suggestions about events happening in town, concerts, theater, etc.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

If you don't want to do a walking tour (an excellent idea, for both the tour itself and the tourguide's recommendations for later), I'd start with one of the double-decker bus tours. They are hop-on, hop-off, but I'd stay on for one complete circuit. This way, you can see a lot of buildings (and green spaces) quickly, and get some sense of Berlin's scale. Then, it depends on your interests. I loved the Bernauer Strasse section of the Berlin Wall, the Germany History Museum, and the Aquarium, to name three places. But obviously, some wouldn't want to go to these places at all, for various reasons, or would have other priorities. I had little interest in Museum Island museums, but for many they're a must-see. I don't know about music programs in churches - someone else here may have more info. One place to people watch would be the Hackescher Hoefe, but there's tons of others. For a scenic place to eat, I recommend Oderberger Strasse (in the former East, near Prenzlauer Berg, at the Schwedterstrasse stop on the M1 or 12 trams) and Bleibtreustrasse (in the former West, right near Savignyplatz S-Bahn stop and a few blocks from the Uhlandstrasse U-Bahn stop). These have a large variety of restaurants, and are mostly patronized by their respective neighborhood inhabitants. Oderberger Strasse has outdoor tables, so you can watch the "passing parade" as you dine. In addition, if you eat at both, you will see the contrast between East and West, and between "hip" and "bourgeois." Your age, and your using public transit only, will in no way restrict you in Berlin. The mass transit is wonderful and goes everywhere, and Europeans do not think a 60 year old needs to be put out to pasture. While Berlin is certainly a "young" city, there's lots of people of all ages around.

Posted by Jon
Cincinnati, OH, USA
241 posts

Jo and Harold:
Thanks for the recommendations. If you knew on your first visit to Berlin what you know now, what would be your "Ten must see/do" places or events/happenings? We'll be in the city beginning Thursday early evening (18:00 h) through Sunday mid afternoon. We have always traveled "on our own", and will do so in Berlin. My post heading may have been a little misleading. The intent of "Be a Tour Guide", was an invitation to readers of RS' Helpline To The West who are familiar with Berlin, to suggest the itinerary she/he would recommend for seventy hours in Berlin.

Posted by Beatrix
Calgary
1974 posts

The #1 site in Berlin in my view is the Reichstag, especially if you take a guided tour. They are FREE and offered in English. And at the end of the 90 minute tour (history, architecture and art!) you get to go up to the glass dome. While the tour is free you do have to make reservations well in advance: http://www.bundestag.de/htdocs_e/visits/besgrupp/fuehr.html

Posted by Jon
Cincinnati, OH, USA
241 posts

Beatrix:
Thanks for the heads-up on the reservation. Is there a cafe/cafeteria/etc. in the building open to the public? We'll plan to book a tour around 12:00 h.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4764 posts

Everybody has their own interests. I can easily spend 6 hours in the Deutsche Museum, or an hour or so in a cathedral, but it doesn't mean you will find these even vaguely interesting. Some people like to go up to observation decks to look out over a city, others like tours that take you underground. Those who are interested in spies and the Cold War, will want a tour that covers those areas, while others want a 3rd Reich Tour, a Jewish history tour, or a graffiti tour. Personally, I liked climbing up inside of the Berliner Dom. I also enjoy the early Jewish history of Berlin, as well as learning about WW2. If the museums you want to see the most are on the museum island, than the card that covers those will work best. I still want to see the Pergamon museum, as it was closed when I was there last time.

Posted by Jon
Cincinnati, OH, USA
241 posts

Beatrix: Thanks again.
I'm continuing to mull over an itinerary for our visit to Berlin; and I'm still hoping to get some other travelers' views on "must sees/must dos" in the city. A question about the WelcomeCard Museum Island; is the card worth the cost (€34)? We plan to visit 1 or 2 museums, perhaps attend a performance at the Opera (if not dark while we're there), and visit the Berliner Dom, Charlottenburg Palace, Neue Synagoge, Jewish Museum, Topography of Terror and Bauhaus Archiv, along with some others spots we hope to hear about on this thread.

Posted by Jon
Cincinnati, OH, USA
241 posts

Jo:
We will dwell at each of the locations we visit. We don't make a checklist and rush from one place to another. When we were in Florence several years ago, we stayed well over and hour in the Baptistry studying the ceiling, and were in the Uffizi 4-5 hours (and that wasn't long enough). Back to Berlin: The "graffiti tour" sounds interesting.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Just remember in planning your time that the the Neue Synagogue is not open to visitors on Friday night or anytime on Saturday. So you will probbly want to schedule that in earlier on Friday, or perhaps Sunday morning. I am following the suggestions given you with interest as we will be in Berlin in September, unfortunately for a shorter time, so I have to prioritize. I was there for a week in 1967, and then for 2 days in 1997, so have some idea of what we want to see and do. The Reichstag and Museum Insel museums are at the top of my list.

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2899 posts

I think the Insider Tour and the Reichstag tour were probably the highlights for me. The "Famous" walk covers many of the main sights and gives you a good overview of the city. For music, I went to a performance of the Berlin Philharmonic. They are really a world-class orchestra and the acoustics in the concert hall are great. I bought tickets from their website. I really enjoyed the DDR Museum. It is a hands-on museum about everyday life in the DDR ... a trabant, model apartment, info on East German vacations, occupations, food, etc.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

I cannot recommend a specific place, but I will say that both my sons studied in Berlin while in collage, and they agreed that Berlin has the best döner kebap in Germany. This is street food, but good for lunch if you are in the right part of town.

Posted by Philip
London, United Kingdom
1698 posts

The Welcome Card is a waste of money. A much better choice is the three-day Berlin Museum Pass, which covers all the public sector and some private museums and can be purchased from any of the museums covered for nineteen euros.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9131 posts

"Everybody has their own interests. I can easily spend 6 hours in the Deutsche Museum, or an hour or so in a cathedral, but it doesn't mean you will find these even vaguely interesting." Along that same line, my favorite stop in the city was the Berlin Zoo. The sheer variety of animals on display there makes it one of the most impressive zoos I've ever visited. It's also a quiet, green retreat from the bustle of the city, although so is the nearby Tiergarten.

Posted by Emily
Chicago
256 posts

I also second (third, fourth?) the German History Museum. It's really incredible. I also like the Mauer Museum on Bernauer Strasse, near Nordbahnhof. Much less claustrophobic and cheaper than Checkpoint Charlie.
My favorite activity has to be sitting outside with a tall beer and people watching. The best places for this, IMO: the cafes on the Spree near Museuminsel, Danziger Strasse in Prenzlauer Berg, Oranienstrasse in Kreuzberg, and Oranienburgstrasse in Mitte. Don't let the sight of the ladies of the night deter you.

Posted by Heather
Royal Oak, MI, USA
46 posts

I committed a day total to the Museum Island, knowing that it would steal me away. I'm a classics student; Pergamon is going to be spectacular. The Reichstag dome tour is also on my itinerary as an essential. Walk out through East Berlin and breathe in the atmosphere.

Posted by Jon
Cincinnati, OH, USA
241 posts

Keep the suggestions coming; these are just what I am looking for. Philip: I kinda thought this might be the case; we'll go with your suggestion. Everyone who commented on the Deutsche Museum: This is now a definite stop for us, The DDR also sounds interesting. Laura: The Berlin Philharmonic a fine idea. I've checked the website and there is a Choral performance the evening we arrive. We travel very light so our dressiest attire is "business casual", is this acceptable? Also, when does an 18:00 h performance normally conclude, I assume about 20:00 h, so public transportation will be available to get back to our hotel in Mitte? If anyone who has posted on this thread would care to give some suggestions on places to eat--lunch and dinner--I'd like to receive them. We'd much prefer to eat in non-tourist-heavy places. RS' writes about a large Turkish population in Berlin, have any on you eaten at a Turkish restaurant that you'd recommend. We're definitely open to different ethnic gastronomy experiences--we do draw the line at "monkey brains" and the like.

Posted by Emily
Chicago
256 posts

Hasir, in the Hackescher Markt or Kreuzberg if you're feelin' fancy. Rosenthaler Kebab (open 24 hours!) if you're feelin' not-so-fancy.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4764 posts

I haven't been to a city yet in Germany that doesn't have a lot of Döner Kebab stands, other than deep in Nieder Bayern. All of them claim to be the best, but I know James knows what he is talking about. Berlin just happens to have a larger Turkish population than other cities, so more Turkish food. Do try some of the other menu items on offer. I am a fan of falafel, but also like lahmacun, which is Turkish pizza. As for the popular curry wurst, this is something that is often just a cut up bratwurst, ketchup poured on top and a good shake of curry powder. Look for the places that are making their own curry sauce, otherwise you will be disappointed. Food is cheap in Berlin, with menus on the outside of the restaurants, so it is easy to find places that have the food and the prices that fit your budget and taste.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2696 posts

Hi, If you have a good reading knowledge of German, my comment won't apply as regards to the German History Museum on Unter den Linden...very recommended and especially the special feature/exhibit. Each exhibit has an explanation in English next to the German. The DHM gives a good historical survey, but if it's history you want to see in Berlin and Potsdam, visit the more esoteric museums.

Posted by Jon
Cincinnati, OH, USA
241 posts

Fred:
Our ability to read German is limited. This said, do the more "esoteric" museums provide English supplements for their exhibits? Kindly name a few of these museums. We are particularly in interested in Germany/Berlin history from the late 19th century through the twentieth.

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2899 posts

Jon, I think that "business casual" is fine for the Philharmonic. All of the museums that I visited (Pergamon, Neues, German History) either had English descriptions or included an audioguide.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2696 posts

Hi, Some of the more "esoteric" museums: (in my view) 1. the Resistance Museum (Gedenkstätte deutscher Widerstand) on Stauffenberg Strasse, near the DJH hostel (HI)...no English explanations next to the exhibits, all in German. But you have access to an audio guide. 2. German-Russian Relations Museum in Berlin-Karlshorst...all German, same building where the surrender to the Soviets was signed. The last time I was there was over ten years ago, they may have audio guides now. 3. The Anti-War Museum in Berlin-Wedding...haven't been there
4. Schloss Neues Palais in Potsdam...tour is only given in German which I took, audio guide in English available. 5. Berlin-Köpenick Rathaus (city hall) Museum...only in German, maybe changed now. If you go the old Prussian cemeteries, such as that on Invalidenstrasse/Scharnhorststrasse...only a 20 mins walk from Berlin Hbf....the main entry explanation may include some English, can't recall exactly but it was mostly, if not all, in German.

Posted by Jon
Cincinnati, OH, USA
241 posts

Fred:
Thanks for the information; we'll visit several of the places you suggested. We may head east on the Friday we're in Berlin visiting the Topography of Terror, The Museum of the Wall, the Jewish Museum, then on to the Turkish Market at Maybachufer (maybe have a late lunch there), then over to the East Side Gallery. Is there anything else to see in the vicinity of the East Side Gallery? Most of the books on Berlin don't list many places to visit in Friedrichshain in the vicinity. In fact, the only thing I've noticed is a walk/ride along the Karl-Marx Allee for a look at the spartan DDR Architecture.

Posted by Philip
London, United Kingdom
1698 posts

Friedrichshain doesn't have that many "sights" as such, but the area NE of Warschauer Strasse station is full of hipster bars/boutiques, whether that's an attraction or a warning for you :-)

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2696 posts

Jon, You're welcome. Since you list Topography of Terror, another horrific site is the Plötzensee Memorial (Gedenkstätte Plötzensee). If you're interested in a military site, in addition to the one I suggested above, see the huge Soviet memorial/cemetery in Berlin-Treptow,... saw it once in 1984...quite stunning and gives you a sense of the magnitude of the historical event.

Posted by Mark
Berlin, Germany
319 posts

our dressiest attire is "business casual", is this acceptable? There is no enforced dress code. Business casual is appropriate for low to mid priced seats.
For the premium priced seats it depends on how comfortable you are with being slightly under dressed compared to the people around you. about 20:00 h, so public transportation will be available to get back to our hotel in Mitte? The day schedule to night schedule switch occurs around 1:00 a.m. On Friday and Saturday nights the night schedule frequency is high enough that you don't have to to make special plans. On other nights the night schedule depends on buses in ~30 min intervals so you need a bit of planning to avoid long waits, but for Tiergarten to Mitte that isn't hard.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

Jon, Freidrichshain does have some good places to eat, but it's quite spread out, and you're closer at the East Side Gallery (if you start at the Ost Bahnhof and work your way east towards the Warschauer bahnhof, the opposite way most people do it, but it doesn't matter) to Kreuzberg-Ost which is one of my favorite neighborhoods for eating and drinking. At the end of the gallery, just cross the bridge and head towards Skalizterstrasse. This street has not one but two of my favorite (AUTHENTIC) Mexican restaurants in Berlin, and both are funky and fun - Taqueria Ta'Cabron and Maria Peligroso. Additionally Chai Yo Thaifood is supposed to be good. Or if you keep walking down Skalitzerstrasse to the intersection of Oranieanstrasse you're in the heart of Kreuzberg with a million fun restaurants, from burrito shops to hamburger joints. I really want to try Angry Chicken, a fast food korean fried chicken place that's popular with the hipsters, or it's sister more upscale restaurant Kimchi Princess around the corner. Berlin is an international city and does international food best. Doener is OK but you can get it virtually anywhere, whereas the hip fun international fusiony food scene in Berlin is pretty unique in Germany, so I choose to explore that when I'm there. And currywurst is more of a snack, not a real meal.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

That said, Freidrichshain is worth exploring if you want to see one of the fastest rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods in Berlin. Simon-Dach-Strasse between Revaler Strasse and Frankfurter Allee is the main drag for bars and restaurants. Fun area to explore. Make sure of the streetcars in this neighborhood, U and S bahn stations are less convenient.

Posted by Jon
Cincinnati, OH, USA
241 posts

Fred: This thread has opened the door to me investigating many things I would not have done on my ownone of these is the Gedenktätte Plötzensee. I had discovered this just prior to your mentioning it. Is there some means of transportation from the Beusselstraße S-Bahn station to the site? It looks like it's about a 1 km walk otherwise; and the walk doesn't look like it would be particularly scenic. Sarah and Philip
We really enjoyed time we spent in Camden while in London. From your descriptions, it sounds like we should spend some time walking around in Freidrichshain and Kreuzberg-Ost. We were going to head over to the Turkish Market while we were in the vicinitythat's why we were going to the East Side Gallery on Friday.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2696 posts

Hi, I have yet to see that poignant site, the Gedenkstätte Pöltzensee, but only know that it can be reached by bus from Berlin Hbf. You could inquire at Hbf. at the Tourist Office on the ground floor facing Invalidenstraße regarding the site's Anfahrt (how to get there). Maybe on the "afternoon-evening" you might want to do day trip r/t from Nerlin Hbf. to Seelow to see the battlefield memorial/museum Gedenkstätte Seelow. Getting requires transfering at Frankfurt an der Oder. It's in German, don't recall if an audio guide is available...most likely by now. Regarding the relaxing part, etc., I suggest the Cafe am Opernpalais on Unter den Linden...a bit touristy, depending, a nice experience. You need a full week or more in Berlin!