Whether you’re planning a romantic city-break or an interrailing trip around Europe, Berlin, a city fit to burst with history and culture, has got to make its way onto your shortlist. Having spent about 48 hours there myself a few summers ago, I’ve got plenty of ideas to suit a whole range of different interests (although let’s be honest, you’d be hard-pressed to avoid the history of a place like this, even if you did want to).
Get your history fix
You simply can’t go to Berlin without learning something new about the Cold War. Even if you’re completely clueless on arrival, it’s more than likely that you’ll end up being drawn in by the fascinating stories of life in communist Germany. Inevitably, the city is full of interesting museums and memorials, but if you’ve only got a day or so then there are a couple of must-sees.
Firstly, check out Checkpoint Charlie and the nearby museum. This spot was essentially the most famous border-crossing between East and West Berlin, which was divided by the Berlin Wall at the time. What is left there today is fairly unspectacular to look at, but it’s a symbol of the division enforced on the city. The Checkpoint Charlie Museum is jam-packed with so much information that you could be there for hours, but even just a quick browse is enough to spark an interest.
Similarly steeped in history, the East Side Gallery is an iconic sight not to be missed. This 1.3km section of the Berlin Wall has been transformed into an open-air art gallery, containing 105 individual pieces, all of which have been painted graffiti-style onto the wall itself. Just spend an hour or so wandering up and down, allowing yourself to appreciate the messages and ideas expressed by the artists.
Be a tourist
Even if you don’t like to follow the crowd, you might have to suck it up just this once so that you don’t miss out on the top attractions. Obviously, these places are full of history too, but they’re also perfect for a quick look and a holiday snap. Firstly, seeing as it’s one of the most famous landmarks in Germany, you’ve got to see the Brandenburg Gate. It’s a spectacular sight and the surrounding area (Pariser Platz) is also really cool, with various embassies and monuments coming at you from all directions.
Just a stone’s throw from the gate you’ll find the Reichstag, which is yet another of the most well-known landmarks in the city. Home to the German Parliament, the building is as formidable as it sounds. You might just want to marvel at it, see if you can spot Angela Merkel’s room, or pose in front of it, but you can also climb to the top of the dome for some spectacular views. Just a warning, Berlin is sometimes known as the world’s biggest building site, so you may find your view somewhat obstructed by the odd crane!
Speaking of views, those from the top of the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) are apparently just as brilliant. Unfortunately, when I visited it was drizzly and misty, so I didn’t see much, but the climb up there and the blast from the organist as we passed during a daytime service made it worth the time anyway. The cathedral itself is also lovely to look at, and you may find yourself appreciating all these beautiful buildings a little more that you usually would, as they stand out among the communist architecture that still remains in much of East Berlin today.
Before you finish your sightseeing for the day, you should make your way over to Alexanderplatz, where you can see (and climb) the Berlin TV Tower, which is Berlin’s highest construction. It has something quite ‘space age’ about it and it’s just a cool thing to see. Alexanderplatz itself is a big square right in the centre of Berlin and is surrounded by a shopping mall, hotels and plenty of places to eat and drink.
As well as sucking up as much of Berlin’s history and culture as physically possible, you also need to just relax and actually experience some of the culture for yourself. For this, I’d definitely recommend that you spend some time one evening in Potsdamer Platz, an innovative and modern square in the centre of Berlin, about a kilometre away from the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichtag.
You’ll be spoilt for choice if you’re looking for somewhere to eat and the buzzing restaurants in the partially covered area of the square have hundreds of tables outside, with blankets to snuggle up in when it gets a bit chilly. The high-rise buildings and ‘ceiling’ of this part of the square are lit up with coloured lights at night, creating the most amazing atmosphere.
Seeing as it’s only a short visit, you’ll want to try and cram in as much as possible, but during those in-between times, grab yourself a currywurst from a street vendor and wander around the Tiergarten for an hour or so. It’s basically just a huge park in the centre of Berlin, but it’s a great place to go if you just need to escape the tourists and see some greenery. If you really want to escape, then take a train to Potsdam and visit the beautiful Sanssouci palace and idyllic gardens, although this is probably something to do if you have a bit more time.
There you have it: a whistle-stop tour of some of the best things to do in 48 hours in Berlin. Enjoy your travels!
What do you think? What suggestions do you have when visiting Berlin? Tell us your tips in the comments section below.