Willkommen in Berlin
Discover about Adaptable Travel's Jack Randall's journey to Berlin and why your should take your next school trip to Berlin.
The capital city of Germany, A city that has been a central figure in Europe’s turbulent history. Though the past hangs over it like a shadow, this has not stopped the City of Berlin and Germany as a whole from thriving, expanding and evolving over time into one of the hippest, multicultural cities in the world. A historic city with a modern edge. Berlin is a city for all.
In January of this year, I had the chance to visit Berlin during a solo trip through some of Europe’s beloved and historically important cities. Following a relatively short flight from Birmingham airport, I touched down at Berlins Tegel airport. It was early and with check in at my hostel some 3 hours away, there was plenty of time for me to acclimatise. The first task was to actually get into the city, so I jumped onto the nearest bus and set off, not knowing exactly where I was heading but knowing it would be central. Tegel is the closer of Berlins two airports, located approximately 10km from Central Berlin so links into the city are fast and frequent.
The plan – hopefully, would be to keep an eye out for recognisable landmarks and jump off as soon as familiarity loomed. As it turns out, this was a lot easier than expected. Berlin’s modern buses include screens that let you know upcoming stops well in advance. One of these said stops was “Brandenburger Tor”, even with my limited knowledge of German, this sounded very positive. Sure enough, as the bus turned the corner, there in front, rising high and proud above a large open square stood the Famous monument of the goddess of peace, Eirene riding a chariot drawn by four horses. The Brandenburg Gate, a gateway of unity and peace, was my first taste of this beautiful city, and what a way to start.
After a brief stop in one of Berlins many helpful tourist offices, I now had a clearer idea of my accommodation location. So once again I set off, walking and taking in the city at my own pace. En route I passed the rear side of Museum Island, the stunning architecture of the Bode Museum drawing my attention from a distance. On I continued, through a quiet, snow-dusted park before eventually reaching the lively Alexanderplatz. Here I stopped off for a coffee and Currywurst, a favourite snack for Berliners. This sausage, curry powder and ketchup combination is delicious and is highly recommended for a quick pick me up. Alexanderplatz is a bit of a transport hub, from here you can catch a bus, tram or tube to pretty much anywhere in the city and is a place I would regularly pass through over the 3 days spent in Berlin. A Short while later I arrived at St Christopher’s Inn Berlin, a lively Hostel with great facilities located Just 2 stops away on the U-Bahn (underground tube) from Alexanderplatz. As it was not yet time for check in, I instead dropped my bag off in one of its rentable lockers and set right back out. A weight literally taken off my shoulders.
My brief glimpse of Museum Island ignited an interest so this is where I headed first. For those not familiar with this area, the island is, as the name suggests, home to six of Berlins biggest & best museums making it a must visit. Also located on the island is the Stunning Berlin Cathedral and just off it, you can find the DDR Museum and German Historical Museum.
With limited time in Berlin, sadly I did not get the chance to visit every museum on the island. In my time I managed to fit in visits to the Berlin Cathedral, Neues Museum (Ancient Art & Archaeology) and the Pergamon Museum (Antiquities & Ancient Art Collection). I would highly recommend all three of these visits for any visiting school group as well as any of the other museums on the island, each with its own unique focus on art and history from around the world.
With time Fast approaching 6pm (closing time for most museums) it was time to look for something else to do! A short walk along the beautiful snowy River Spree brought me to the DDR museum. This interactive museum documents the daily lives of those living in East Germany under the GDR during the countries split. School, work and family life are all presented in an environment that encourages interaction and touching to stimulate learning.
After spending a few hours at the DDR Museum, it was nearly time for my visit to the famous Reichstag Building. This requires pre-booking in advance directly with the German Bundestag and can be very popular so make sure you pre-book well in advance if it is on your list (it should be!). Grabbing a quick snack on the way from a nearby cafe, I walked the distance to the Reichstag. Enroute, I once again passed the Brandenburg Gate, now providing an entirely different yet equally (if not more so) beautiful scene, covered in snow and lit up against the dark sky. Beyond this lies the Tiergarten an extensive wooded area stretching all the way to the Victory Column located on the north-western side of the park. The Reichstag is located on the north-eastern side and is easily reachable by walking along the tree-lined pathways of the Tiergarten, Eventually, I reached the imposing structure of the Reichstag.
Being a still functioning Government building, there are some rather strict airport-style checks to pass before you can proceed up to the buildings spectacular glass dome. This is all worth it however as the views offered from the top of the building are some of the best to be found. Armed with an audio guide which is provided on entry, you will learn the long and storied history of the building from its opening in 1894 through its history and connection to Nazi Germany and finally onto its destruction, rebuilding and current day usage. A friend recommended to do this at night time to get the best views of the city and I could not agree more. Looking over the white night skyline of Berlin is an image I will never forget. With that, my first night was at an end. I returned to the hostel to check in and rest, ready for the day ahead tomorrow.
Day two would be my only full day in Berlin so I was determined to make the most of it. I began the day with a hop on hop off bus tour, passing most of the major sights in Berlin. This is a great way to see and learn about Berlin’s history even if you don’t have time to visit and spend time at each individual site. It also makes for an excellent way to get around when limited on time with buses running every 10 minutes or so. After circling most of the sights, my first stop of the morning was Charlottenburg Palace and its surrounding grounds.
A little way out from central Berlin, the palace is the biggest in the city and well worth a visit for its gilded interiors and beautiful grounds.Charlottenburg PalaceCharlottenburg Palace groundsFollowing my leisurely strolls around the snowy grounds of Charlottenburg, I hopped back on the bus. Next stop, Checkpoint Charlie!
Checkpoint Charlie is a staple when visiting Berlin. Once the main checkpoint between East & West Berlin, there is a lot of history to this otherwise unassuming little shack located in the middle of the busy road. What stands on the spot in Friedrichstrabe today is not the original checkpoint but it is an exact replica with on duty guards and all. The original can be found in the Checkpoint Charlie Museum located on the corner just next to the checkpoint's location. The occasional command of “papers please!” rings out across the busy intersection, recreating the role the borders guards had in times past. If you struggle to imagine what it must have been like during the time of the split, you only need to pay a visit the “The Wall” A huge circular building just a short walk from checkpoint Charlie which offers an 18 meter tall, 360 degree panorama of the area as it used to look, with complete wall, guard towers and all. Stepping back outside of the panorama, you can very clearly see the surviving remnants of the past which were magically brought to life inside.
Ahead of schedule and with plenty of free time, I spent my next couple of hours wondering the streets once again. On I went, passing the Memoria Urbana Sculpture in Mitte. Finally, I ended up at the beautiful, wide open square of Gendarmenmarkt. On opposite ends of the square, identical church buildings stand facing each other. In the middle, Berlins Impressive Konzerthaus rises tall above the square.The Deutscher Dom located to the left of the Konzerthaus is now home to the German Bundestag Museum which offers a range of exhibits focusing on German parliamentary history. Inside you will find a replica of the Bundestag debating chamber. The actual chamber can be found in the Reichstag and can be seen from the dome via glass panels in the chamber roof. Unfortunately, the Französischer Dom, which stands to the right of the Konzerthaus, was closed during my visit though this is still regularly used for congregations as well as being home to the Huguenot Museum. It also has a large tower which can be climbed for excellent panoramic views of the surrounding area.
I spent my evening in Potsdamer Platz, an area that was totally devastated by bombing during World War II. Very little of what used to stand in the area remains, it has not been left to rot, however, instead of becoming a modern, lively hub that showcases the Germany of today. Central to Potsdamer Platz’ modern push is the Sony Centre, a large open space covered by a brightly lit dome which is home to a number of restaurants and bars making it a great place to meet up and relax. Also nearby is a cinema and Legoland to keep students entertained. Here I sat down and enjoyed a lovely meal at Alex, a large restaurant located on the plaza under the Sony centres dome.
Having enjoyed my fill, I jumped on the nearby U-Bahn which took me right back to Alexanderplatz. Tonight I would be spending my night 200m above Berlin in its iconic TV Tower. Rising high above Alexanderplatz, the tower offers a 360-degree panoramic view of berlin from its viewing platform which is reached by high-speed elevator getting you to the top in a nifty 40 seconds. A bar and restaurant can also be found in the viewing platform making it a great place sit and take in the fantastic sights all around you.
My final morning in Berlin was spent at the Eastside Gallery a fantastically preserved outdoor art gallery showcasing art and graffiti from artists all over the world spread across a standing section of the Eastern Berlin Wall running alongside the river spree. Walking along the wall, it is amazing to see just how many of the messages are still relevant today. Being an open air gallery, it is free to visit and is worth taking the time out to see first-hand. For groups studying art and history, it is a must though I would still recommend it as a visit for all purely for the messages conveyed on the wall which will ring true with anyone.
With that, my time in Berlin was sadly at an end. My flight back would be from Berlin’s second airport, Schonefeld which is a little further away though just as easy to get to with regular trains to and from the airport. A new airport, located next to Schonefeld is scheduled to open next year and will take over a large number of the flight routes into Berlin.
During my time in the city, I had a chance to visit many of the most popular cultural visits however there is plenty more to do in Berlin which makes it the perfect destination to visit regardless of what subject your students study. Adaptable Travel has put together a range of itineraries to suit all so if you need some inspiration for your next trip or already know what you wish to do, get in touch with us today and we will be happy to help you arrange your next study trip to Berlin!
Written by Jack Randall, Educational Travel Consultant at Adaptable Travel