At the end of my gap year when I dropped out of university and took a year out, I decided to treat myself with a trip to Berlin. I found cheap flights from Dublin with RyanAir, and booked a private room in the Sunflower Hostel, as I like the safety of my own space when I’m travelling alone but hostels are a great opportunity to meet other travellers or find out about cheap local events.
Before I arrived I decided to buy a Berlin City Card, which offers unlimited transport and discounts on museums and lots of other attractions. You can get them for one day or as long as you’ll be staying in the city. I spoke to the tourist information point in the airport to confirm which would be the best option, and opted to get the card for the full length of my stay.
I flew to Berlin Schönefeld Airport on a Sunday and immediately dropped my case off at the hostel. I headed straight for the East Side Gallery, a series of murals painted on what was once the infamous Berlin Wall. It’s now the longest open-air gallery in the world, spanning an impressive 1.3 km. Seeing the gallery had been on my bucket list for a while, so it was incredible to be able to tick it off.
I joined a walking tour to hear more about the history of the wall, and then spent some time basking in the glorious weather on the bank of the River Spree. Some fabulous buskers and performers were dotted around, so it was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours before I could officially check into my room at the Sunflower. I was exhausted so I grabbed some dinner at a lovely local vegan cafe, then called it a day.
The next day I visited Alexanderplatz, the largest and probably most well-known public square in Berlin. It features the World Clock, which displays the time in 148 countries at once. Once again, I joined a guided tour and learned more about the history of the square. I learned that the square was used for its underground bunkers during the second World War, making it a target for bombings.
Next I headed to Checkpoint Charlie, one of the most famous spots in all of Berlin. The checkpoint was an important site in the Cold War, seeing American and Soviet forces face each other with tanks ready to fire, and was also a part of many attempts to flee East Berlin after the Berlin Wall was erected.
I stumbled across the Wall Museum at Checkpoint Charlie, which hadn’t been on my list for the trip but looked fascinating. I’m so glad I went in because it was absolutely incredible! The museum gave some background to the wall being built, then detailed many successful and failed escape attempts once East and West Berlin were separated, and culminated in documenting the eventual fall of the Wall. Unfortunately photos aren’t allowed inside the museum, so you’ll have to take my word for just how amazing it was!
To finish off my day I headed to the famous Brandenburg Gate for some photos. It was really cool to see after reading more about its history in the Wall Museum, and the streets surrounding it were quiet apart from other tourists.
The next day I headed to the Natural History Museum. It was about an hour away from my accommodation by tram and I was worried that the exhibits would be entirely in German, but I figured I might as well check it out. The museum was well worth the trip – most of the exhibits were in English and German, and even those that were exclusively German were breathtaking to look at. It was only a few euros entry, and I spent most of the day there.
The museum had everything from dinosaur skeletons (including the world’s largest dinosaur skeleton, a Brachiosaurus specimen in the second picture from the left), to taxidermy animals and minerals.
After the museum I decided to walk around the city for a bit rather than rushing to squeeze in some other items from my list before it got dark. I began to notice a hidden gem – the manhole covers! They feature intricate designs of famous sites from the city, and have now inspired an artist to make prints using the manhole covers themselves. You can check out Emma-France Raff’s shop here.
For my last full day in Berlin I headed to the famous Haus Schwarzenberg Street Art Alley. The alleyway itself is filled with graffiti and street art, and at the far end there is a stairway which is completely covered in stickers, prints, and graffiti. There are two artist studios on two floors off the stairway, and they’re well worth checking out. The alleyway also features a beautiful mural of Anne Frank.
There is a small courtyard cinema, which unfortunately wasn’t running while I was there, and a bar where I sat and people watched. It was well worth visiting, and some of the artwork is extremely thought-provoking.
There were a few other small museums that I would have liked to visit but unfortunately they were closed mid-week on the days I had planned to visit them. It’s a lesson in better planning, but also a good excuse to visit Berlin again!
I would highly recommend visiting Berlin, it’s a fascinating and vibrant city with loads to see and do, whether you’re into art and cultures, history, or you’re just a foodie!
Until next time,