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Berlin - January 2020

Hi All - just finished a week of solo travel in Berlin (my first visit to this city and Germany). I used Rick Steves Berlin guidebook (2nd edition) as my sole source of information. Here are a few tips and suggested 'tweaks' if you plan to visit Berlin in January and/or use this guidebook as well:

  • I arrived in Berlin midday on a Sunday, and stayed until the following Saturday, essentially five and a half sightseeing days. My plan was to dive deep into Berlin without having to cram, and save other major German cities for another trip. In hindsight, this felt like one day too many - I think three days in Berlin is the sweet spot, and a fourth for a side trip if Potsdam, Sachsenhausen, or Wittenberg appeal to you (I chose Potsdam and it was a letdown). Otherwise, move on to another location after three days if part of a longer trip.
  • I played around with Rick's suggested itineraries and felt like the following adjustments worked really well: Day 1 - don't try to work all of Museum Island into the city walk unless you just want to pick off one or two. Instead, just enjoy walking through the historic areas and dedicate a different (full) day to the museums, breaking them up with a walk through the Old Jewish Quarter at midday (great lunch options). I did them in this order and it worked really well: Pergamon, Neues, German History Museum (I disagree with the guidebook's 'Must see' designation here, unless you're a true history buff), did the Old Jewish Quarter walk (basically returns you right back to the island), Old National Gallery, and finished with the DDR Museum (least sophisticated of the bunch, but most fun). Yes, that's a lot of museums for one day but it's super efficient and you learn so much! And I wouldn't stress over timed entry tickets - I got them, but never needed them.
  • I visited the Reichstag dome at 9:00 and the windows still had frozen ice on them, so the amazing views of the city were obstructed, so you might want to go later in the day if the weather is cold
  • I stayed at The Circus Hotel (not Hostel) on Rosenthaler Platz and absolutely loved it - favorite hotel by far from my six trips to Europe. It's definitely on the hipper side but doesn't feel pretentious at all, and the staff (mostly Australian) were incredibly friendly. The attached cafe has incredible, healthy food and excellent coffee. The one downside is noise from the trams - there are three of them that converge on Rosenthaler Platz. I was in a room facing the inner courtyard and I still heard/felt them.
  • Potsdam side trip was a major let down. The New Palace was unexpectedly closed (no information on the website). And the gardens were pretty bleak and dreary, which didn't surprise me given time of year. The town itself was way too sleepy for me after Berlin. Honestly, if I could choose again I would pick Sachsenhausen memorial instead, where the cold weather would add another layer of texture to the experience.
  • Used Uber a few times - they technically outsource to a third party but it worked just fine

And just a couple observations as a solo traveller on this trip:

  • Eating alone can be a little awkward, so I pretty much stuck to quick food options and ate earlier (before places got busy) so I didn't feel bad about taking up a table by myself. And I always had my guidebook to read while waiting for food (or bill) to arrive.
  • After dinner in the evenings, I went for peaceful nighttime strolls and just observed life going by...or watched Netflix in my hotel room (guilty pleasure)

All in all, I had a great time on this trip. I love/prefer off-season travel, but I would agree with Rick's assessment that Berlin must have an entirely different energy level and vibe in the warmer months, so I plan to return someday to experience that.

Posted by
3761 posts

I had a full week in Berlin in December a couple of years ago and I would disagree with you about 3 days being the right length of time for Berlin, as we didn’t run out of things to see. Three days would be far too rushed! We didn’t have any day trips out of Berlin.

We just relied on public transport as we had a weekly ticket, so we didn’t need to use Uber as the transport system was good.

We took a guided walk on our first full day there, which was useful. Another highlight was the old Tempelhof airport tour.

Posted by
657 posts

Interesting report. I have not been to Berlin but keep reading about it. May have to plan on a visit.

Posted by
1586 posts

I'm sorry to hear about your disappointments in Berlin. I love the place and am looking forward to May when I will spend a week there for the fifth consecutive year. Will do some repeat stuff... the tulip show at Britzer Garden, a concert at the Konzerthaus. Will do some new stuff... a day trip to Seelow Heights, a visit to the old Marienfelde Refugee Center for East Germans fleeing to West Berlin. I never run out of things to do there.

Posted by
1325 posts

We spent 5 days in Berlin a few summers ago in July. It wasn’t hot at all, but warm. We had a great time and definately missed quite a few items on our list. We would go back but alas, too many other places we need to see.

Posted by
7562 posts

Potsdam is certainly more charming when the weather is nice. The palace grounds are gorgeous and the city itself is lovely, especially in the Dutch Quarter. My 1st visit was winter time and the 2nd visit was summer. What a difference!

Yeah, Uber in Germany is not Uber in the US, so I wouldn't bother with it.

German History museum is great if you are interested in German history. If not, then yes, it will be boring.

Did you not go on any tours?

Going to Sachsenhausen would be a must in my opinion if you are in Berlin, as well as Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, Wannsee Villa, Track 17, Topography of Terror, the Olympic Stadium. Thus the need for more than 3 days in Berlin.