During June 2018 I spent three nights in the wonderful German City of Berlin. I had wanted to visit Berlin for a while and when the opportunity arose I jumped at the chance. I’d heard a lot of great things about Berlin. Everyone I’d spoken to who had been said what a great place it was (and how nice the beer was, which is a major bonus!).
As a travel photographer, I wanted to go there for the myriad of photographic opportunities Berlin would present me with and I also wanted to learn more about its history (good and bad). Most importantly for me from a touristic point of view, I wanted to visit some of the musical landmarks of artists I admire such as David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Depeche Mode.
During my 72 hours in Berlin I visited:
- Urban Spree
- East Side Gallery
- Oberbaum Bridge
- Potsdamer Platz
- Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe
- Brandenburg Gate
- Hansa Recording Studios
- David Bowie and Iggy Pop’s flat that they shared in the 70’s (Haupstrasse 155 in Schöneberg)
- Checkpoint Charlie
- Topography of Terror
- Hackescher Markt
- Museum Island
- I also used the Hop on Hop off sightseeing bus
Hopefully, this blog will give you an insight into what I got up to during my 72 hours in Berlin and will go some way to helping you plan your next trip to the amazing city of Berlin.
Where I stayed
3 nights including breakfast | £136.44 | Room 18
Hotel Pension is nothing spectacular but I’m not too fussed about where I stay when I’m travelling on my own. When I’m with Serena we’ll stay in much nicer places but for me as long as it’s clean, safe, secure, comfortable, has an en-suite bathroom and breakfast provided I’m not too bothered about anything else.
It turned out that the Hotel Pension was cheap and met my requirements nicely. 3 nights including breakfast was £136.44 – an absolute bargain in my opinion. It was also opposite the Ausberstrasse underground station and a supermarket which was a major bonus.
The hotel is situated at the top of a couple flights of stairs and is accessed via a communal front door set back slightly from the street.
My room came equipped with a double bed. The mattress wasn’t particularly thick but was comfortable enough. The pillow was very uncomfortable to lie on as it was full of congealed filling so it was a bit lumpy. Berlin was incredibly hot while I was there so I actually used my duvet as a pillow and slept in my birthday suit. I’m sure if I’d have asked for a better pillow they’d have given me one but I couldn’t be bothered.
Main door and entrance to the bathroom.
A wardrobe, TV, Window and a chair – and that’s about it.
The wardrobe contained a safe which was a bonus; especially as I travel with £1000’s of pounds worth of camera/computer gear with me on my trips.
The small toilet/shower room.
The shower cubicle. Some shampoo and shower gel was provided.
The most important seat in the house.
The breakfast room
The clean and well-organised breakfast room.
There are some great old photo’s and newspaper clippings on the wall to view and read.
A continental breakfast including cold meats, cereals, bread, yoghurt, eggs, Juice and endless tea and coffee was included in the cost of the room.
It’s fair to say that I heartily stuffed my face every morning before heading out.
My thoughts on Hotel Pension Bernstein
At the end of a stay at any hotel, I always ask myself ‘would I stay here’ again?
The answer for the Hotel Pension Bernstein is yes. It met all of my requirements. It was in a great location. The staff were friendly and helpful (although they didn’t speak very good English). The room was small but big enough for a single person on a short break. My room was cleaned twice while I was there if I remember rightly. The hotel itself was a bit rough around the edges but it didn’t bother me too much and the breakfast was great so all in all I had no complaints. On the day of checking out the receptionist let me leave my bag in receptionist for a while so I could go out and on my return she let me freshen up and get changed in one of the rooms that hadn’t been cleaned yet which was much appreciated.
It’s a great budget hotel. There are lots of other much larger rooms. Some have a balcony overlooking the road.
If you are interested you can always find out more and book your stay at Hotel Pension Bernstein on Booking.com
[bctt tweet=”Thinking of staying at Hotel Pension Bernstein in central Berlin? Read this positive review. It might help you make up your mind.” username=”JVroundtheworld”]
What I did in Berlin
Day 1 (Getting to my hotel, Friedrichshain, East Side Gallery)
When I arrived at Schonefeld airport from Bristol I cleared security and went straight to the tourist information office. Here I got all the information I needed to get me to my hotel.
I bought a 72-hour travel/discount pass (The Berlin Welcome Card) which turned out to be worth its weight in gold.
Once you’ve got your card you’ll need to know how to get around.
The lady at the tourist office was very helpful and spoke very good English as you would expect. She gave me this handy note which explained what train I had to get at what platform/time and the stop I needed to get off at.
In this case, it was Zoologischer Garten – I then had a ten-minute walk to my hotel.
The ‘Berlin Welcome Card’ – at €30.90 is an absolute bargain! I used this a lot for travelling all over Berlin.
There are similar cards available but this one worked perfectly for me. Basically, it allows you to use every form of public transport to get around Berlin including overground and underground trains, buses and trams.
Berlin is a very big place so unless you plan on getting taxi’s everywhere or cycling (which isn’t a bad idea but might be a bit dangerous if you aren’t used to the city) I highly recommend buying one of these cards.
Just make sure you carry it with you when you are travelling and produce it when asked. Berlin has no barriers at any of the train stations (as far as I know – which I think is a brilliant system) but officers do patrol the trains so make sure you can produce it if asked to do so or you will be fined.
NOTE – Before you get on the train make sure you validate the ticket in one of the machines. There are several in the underpass. Just slide your ticket into the machine to activate it. There are plenty of staff around to help you with this if need be.
You also get this rather snazzy and informative guidebook with your Welcome Card which is an incredibly handy guide to have if you prefer to carry a guidebook rather than consulting the Interweb.
Travelling to my hotel from Schonefeld airport.
Outside of Schonefeld airport.
Follow the signs for the train station.
I came out of Terminal A and headed towards the signs for ‘D’ where I picked up further signs for the trains.
I headed down the stairs to cross the underpass to my train platform.
Signs are easy to follow and are in German / English.
My platform was right at the other end of the underpass. (Typical)
Again, dead simple to follow the signs.
My train was on time and clean. No problem getting a seat. It did get busier the closer we got to central Berlin which is to be expected. It took about 40 min’s to get to my station.
It was a fairly modern train with digital displays and announcements at each station. There isn’t a huge amount of space for your bags though. Fortunately, I only had a smallish camera bag and a carry-on suitcase.
The grey attachment under the small table is a bin. Some of the seats in this configuration don’t offer much leg room if you are facing someone.
Once I’d got to my hotel and settled in my room, had a shower and a quick snack I headed out. Time was moving on so I had to get cracking if I wanted to make the most of what was left of my first day.
Augsburger Straße was my local underground station. The entrance was situated directly opposite the hotel which turned out to be very handy (especially when you’ve had too much German beer).
Apart from morning and evening rush hours, I’d often find that this station was virtually deserted.
I didn’t have a plan for what I was going to do on my first evening in Berlin so I just jumped on a train and eventually ended up at Friedrichshain.
I got off at Warschauer Straße which is a station within the Friedrichshain neighbourhood and just wandered around for a bit. It was a beautiful sunny evening and I found Friedrichshain to be an incredibly busy, vibrant, predominantly student area full of young people clutching bottles of beer and smoking. It reminded me of my time hanging out in London’s Camden Town all those years ago. I knew this area would yield some fantastic photo and video opportunities so I made a mental note to come back.
I walked to a place called Urban Spree (which is an enormous creative area full of art galleries, bars and live venues) and had a brief look around and then headed to the East Side Gallery area where you can find the famous Socialist Fraternal Kiss painting which depicts Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev and East German leader Erich Honecker engaging in a kiss.
The Socialist Fraternal Kiss is a special form of greeting between the statesman of two communist countries. There are different forms of this greeting but two leaders kissing on the lips instead of the cheeks is seen as a way of expressing the closeness and deeper connection that the two leaders/countries have.
When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the Soviet artist Dmitri Vrubel decided to paint the iconic image on the east side of the Berlin Wall, along with paintings from other artists who descended upon the city in the heady days following the fall of the Wall. The caption that runs beneath Vrubel’s painting says: “My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love”. Source
This remaining stretch of the East Side Gallery / Berlin Wall (which is classed as the worlds largest open-air gallery) is covered with graffiti and street art. Some of it is very thought-provoking and amusing.
I must say that I don’t condone the eating of our furry friends 😉
I walked the full length of the East Side Gallery and beyond towards Alexanderplatz.
It was a lovely evening so I just carried on walking. Eventually, I came upon the Hackescher Markt area where I stopped to indulge in some people watching while I drank a nice cold beer and stuffed my face with a massive chicken kebab.
I then got a train back to Zoologischer Garten Station and walked the short distance from the station back to my hotel.
Needless to say by the time I got back to my hotel room I was absolutely knackered and my feet were already killing me but when I go on these short trips I like to try and squeeze as much out of them as I can.
Day 2 (Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Bus Tour, Currywurst)
I got up fairly early and stuffed my face with as much food as possible, (I’d have probably given a ravenous pig a run for its money) and decided to get the underground train to Potsdamer Platz as this was my jumping off point for the day’s explorations.
This advert on the window of the train made me chuckle. It’s amazing what passes as acceptable advertising in other countries. Can you imagine this appearing on a tube train in London?
Before I visited Berlin I watched a documentary on Netflix about the Hansa Recording Studio (which is fairly near to Potsdamer Platz) where David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Depeche Mode had all recorded career-defining albums before the wall came down in 1989. I knew things would have moved on since then but I wasn’t prepared for what greeted me as I emerged from the underground at Potsdamer Platz.
Part of me wanted it to look like it did back in the 80’s before the wall came down but now it’s full of modern high rise buildings, shopping centres, restaurants and coffee shops.
Segments of the Berlin wall can still be seen at Potsdamer Platz.
Tourists reading about the history of the Berlin Wall.
I had a look around Potsdamer Platz and decided I would head into the Mall of Berlin to use the loo (which costs 50 cents to use), cool down, buy a notepad and pen (yes – I still like to write notes as I travel around) and get a snickysnackysnoo (something to eat for people not familiar with that Northern England phrase).
Lead by my big nose I headed for the food quarter and succumbed to the temptation of the famous German delicacy – Currywurst. I purchased said delicacy from the highly recommended ‘Currywurst House‘ for €6.90 including a soft drink; another bargain.
Berlin is very cheap. You certainly won’t starve there even if you are on a tight budget.
All hail the CurryWurst
I wolfed it down and drowned myself in Coke Zero before walking towards the Brandenburg Gate via the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
(Tip) in the ‘Mall of Berlin’, they have mobile device charging points on the ground floor of the shopping centre.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe / Holocaust Memorial
This impressive memorial was built by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold. It consists of 2711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern on a gradual slope. Underneath the memorial is an ‘information area’ which holds the names of approximately 3 million Jewish Holocaust victims.
I was disappointed by the school children that seemed to be treating it more like a playground rather than a solemn memorial. They were screaming, shouting and running around. I don’t know where the Teachers were. I can only hope that it was down to youthful high spirits and they were reprimanded accordingly but even so they really should have been told to respect what this memorial represents.
The memorial is a short walk away from the Brandenburg Gate.
As expected the Brandenburg Gate was very busy. It’s well worth a visit though. There are several restaurants and coffee shops in Pariser Platz so it’s a great place to people watch.
The famous Brandenburg Gate.
This is where I picked up the sightseeing bus. (Parked on the left)
Hop on Hop off – sightseeing bus
I bought my sightseeing bus ticket from a shop in Pariser Platz. It cost me €26.00 for a 48-hour ticket. If you have time I highly recommend buying a 48-hour ticket. Berlin is a big place and there is lots to see.
I love sitting on a sightseeing bus listening to the commentary. It’s a great way to see all the main attractions and learn a lot about the city you are visiting.
I always try to sit upstairs on an open top bus so I can take plenty of photos and video.
There are two routes you can do with this particular tour company. I managed to do all of route A and a bit of route B. As you can see the tour covers a lot of ground and don’t forget you can jump off explore and jump back on again.
I sat on the bus until it passed the shopping centre near to my hotel. I decided to jump off so I could go back to my room to freshen up and recharge my batteries (literally not metaphorically).
I intended to jump back on the sightseeing bus later that evening but as I was walking back towards the bus stop I came across a food festival at Breitscheidplatz. I ate some sausage and fried potatoes in an edible crispy shell (€4.50) (which was lovely) and had a beer or two (€2.50 each) (which were also lovely) before waddling off in the direction of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.
I must admit it didn’t dawn on me until I got to a memorial outside the Church that I had been sitting and eating where a terrorist attack had taken place back in 2016. 12 people died and 56 people were seriously injured when a truck drove through the Christmas Market at Breitscheidplatz.
The memorial of the terrorist attack.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
As I was so full of beer and food I decided to take a slow walk back to my hotel instead of taking the underground. After a nice cool shower, I hit the sack and slept like a log.
Day 3 (David Bowie & Iggy Pop’s flat, Hansa Recording Studio, Urban Spree)
I love the music of David Bowie and Iggy Pop so I really wanted to go to Haupstrasse 155 in Schöneberg to see the area and the flat they shared in the mid 70’s.
Kleistpark is the nearest underground station; the building that houses the flat is a short walk up Haupstrasse.
Here’s the memorial plaque that commemorates the life of David Bowie which is on the wall outside the building where they once lived.
‘We can be heroes, just for one day’
‘I’m a Blackstar’
A slightly bedraggled memorial.
I nearly got flattened while taking photos of this memorial. I stepped back into the road and didn’t realise I was in a bus lane. A bus came hurtling down the road and missed me by inches. Definitely a very close call.
The communal entrance to the building containing the famous flat.
The exterior of the ‘Neues Ufer’ cafe on Haupstrasse that David Bowie and Iggy Pop used to frequent during their time here back in the 70’s.
Unfortunately, it was closed but I was able to look through the window and could see that the walls were adorned with pictures of David Bowie and Iggy Pop. Next time I go to Berlin I’ll definitely pop in for a coffee and a sarnie. Note the ‘Black Star’ emblem in the window.
Here’s the exterior of the iconic Hansa Recording Studios. David Bowie recorded two of his famous trilogy of albums here including ‘Low’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Lodger’. Iggy Pop recorded ‘Lust for Life’ here. Depeche Mode recorded ‘Black Celebration here and U2 also recorded ‘Achtung Baby’ here.
There is a studio tour you can go on but this needs to be booked in advance. I didn’t get time to do it on this trip but I will definitely do it on my next trip to Berlin.
The picture of Bowie in the window is actually a lenticular which changes as you walk past it.
Click here for some great photo’s of Hansa Studios past and present on Pinterest.
I’ve become ever so slightly obsessed with learning about what David Bowie and Iggy Pop got up to during their time in Berlin. As I write this I’ve just ordered a couple of books about this very subject.
I’ve been in several bands myself over the years. I used to sing a bit and play the guitar. In recent years I’ve taught myself to play the drums so I’ve always been into music. I’m fascinated by what musicians get up to behind the scenes and have a bookcase full of musicians biographies at home.
Checkpoint Charlie was the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. It was called ‘Charlie’ after the letter ‘C’ in Nato’s phonetic alphabet.
These days you can have your photo taken with a couple of guys dressed up as American soldiers for a few Euros if you wish. I was a bit underwhelmed by it all so it was more of a ‘ticking a box’ exercise to say I’d been there.
I thought it was a bit ironic that there is a now a massive McDonalds at what was Checkpoint Charlie.
Even though Checkpoint Charlie itself didn’t do much for me all of the information on the boards above opposite Checkpoint Charlie proved to be very interesting.
There’s a museum dedicated to Checkpoint Charlie here as well but I didn’t have time to visit it, unfortunately. Another job for my next visit to Berlin.
Die Welt Balloon – Air Service
‘Die Welt’ (The World) is the name of the daily national newspaper who sponsor the sightseeing balloon. I didn’t get a chance to go up on this trip but I will next time I visit Berlin.
The balloon rises to a height of 500 feet above the ground so you get an amazing view of Berlin.
Outside the ticket office.
You can book your flight in advance on Expedia if you wish.
Topography of Terror
The ‘Topography of Terror’ is a museum and memorial built on the site of the old SS Central Command. It’s right next to the ‘Die Welt’ ballon sightseeing attraction that you can see it poking out from behind the building in the photo below.
You can get a real insight into what happened here during the war.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to go into the museum (on the list for next time) so I just wandered around the grounds and read the information displayed.
While I was there I saw a small group of heavily tattooed bikers walking around having their pictures taken in front of some of the displays (particularly ones with infamous Nazi’s in them delivering Nazi salutes). I didn’t see any of these bikers giving Nazi salutes themselves but I think it’s fair to say they were most probably Neo Nazi’s having a ‘fun’ day out. All of them were built like a brick out-house and covered in some very suspect tattoo’s so no-one was going to say anything but it was still quite disturbing to see with my own eyes.
Urban Spree is a 1700 sqm artistic space in Berlin-Friedrichshain dedicated to urban cultures through exhibitions, artist residencies, DIY workshops, concerts, an art store and a large Biergarten.
I absolutely loved walking around the Urban Spree area. I also enjoyed several pints of beer in the Biergarten in the blazing sunshine. It’s such a cool place to visit.
There’s some fantastic grafitti on show.
Some of the Street Art is fantastic. You can also buy some really cool pieces in the art gallery.
A giant mushroom. And why not? Maybe the person who created this was on mushrooms at the time 😉
My tips and advice for a short trip to Berlin
- – Buy a Welcome Pass (or similar) for cheap travel and discounts for many attractions (make sure you validate it before using it though in one of the machines)
- – Go on the hop on hop off sightseeing bus – you’ll get to see all of the main attractions within a couple days
- – If you like art/design / Galleries / Music visit the Urban Spree area in Friedrichshain
- – Walk down by the river near Oberbaum Bridge (near East Side Gallery) within the Friedrichshain neighbourhood and continue to walk all the way to the Hackescher Markt via the Berliner Fernsehturm (viewing Tower). It’s a very long but great walk especially on a sunny evening
- – If you are a meat eater and beer drinker try the CurryWurst and wash it down with lots of lovely German Beer (I didn’t find a single beer I didn’t enjoy)
- Berlin has loads of vegetarian and vegan restaurants as well. I saw at least three in the Friedrichshain district so if you love art and you are a vegetarian or vegan you’ll be laughing
- – I always recommend going off the beaten track – why not get on the train and jump off at a random stop and have a walk around?
- – You can charge your mobile devices on the ground floor of the Mall of Berlin (in case you get stuck)
- – Watch out for cyclists! There are cycle lanes everywhere in Berlin. I nearly got run over by a cyclist near my hotel because I didn’t realise I was walking in a cycle lane but that was totally my fault
My thoughts on Berlin
I think it’s obvious from this blog that I loved my short but sweet time in Berlin. It’s got so much to offer and really has something for everyone.
- – I loved reading about the history of Berlin and visiting the historical monuments and attractions
- – Berlin has a very vibrant art scene which I love
- – I found Berlin to be very cheap – especially food and beer
- – It’s so easy to get around, I love the fact that there are no barriers in the train stations, it makes it so easy to get around
- – The weather was brilliant so maybe that’s why everyone was in a good mood but I really didn’t pick up on any bad vibes (I’m not naive enough to think Berlin doesn’t have its problems like every other metropolitan city but I honestly didn’t come across anything particularly negative – especially anything aimed at me)
- – There’s plenty of room for a big city, there really aren’t that many people there (compared to London for example)
- – Berlin has really got under my skin, when I came back I watched a load of documentaries about pre and post-war Berlin, I also emersed myself in the Bowie and Iggy Pop years again and learnt more about the Berlin Wall
- – I can’t wait to get back, i’ve got a lot of unfinished business. It’s only a matter of time before I’m chomping on another currywurst
- – If you are thinking of going my advice is book your ticket immediately, you’ll have a great time
Websites worth checking out
- https://www.visitberlin.de/en (official website)
- http://www.iheartberlin.de/ (well-respected website that’s been going for 10 years)
- https://fotostrasse.com/david-bowies-berlin/ (excellent website I came across when researching David Bowie & Iggy pops Berlin years