Hallo! On my day off from grad school and after a failed attempt at making Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream this morning, I’m finally getting around to writing about Germany. We flew from JFK to Frankfurt Airport but the first city we actually went to was Berlin. Berlin is awesome. It’s not “beautiful/scenic” (as it was destroyed during WWII) or a major foodie spot but it’s super filled with so much to see and embrace. Plus, as it was rebuilt, commuting around Berlin was pretty easy walking-wise and with its train system… once we figured out how ticketing worked. More details after the jump.
Sunday, Day 1
- Arrived at 9:45AM at Frankfurt Airport
- Took a train from Frankfurt am Main Flughafen Fernbahnhof (Frankfurt Airport Main Train Station) to Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Berlin Train Station)
- Dinner at Stadtklause
Monday, Day 2
- Train to Flakturm Humboldthain (Flak Tower)
- Underground Bunker Tour at Berliner Unterwelten e.V.
- Train to & Lunch at Curry at the Wall
- Museum Island
- Berlin Cathedral
- Berlin TV Tower
- Bebelplatz (Memorial to the book burning of 1933)
- Gendarmenmarkt (Square)
- Checkpoint Charlie
- Topography of Terror
- Führerbunker (the location where Hitler’s bunker was (just a parking lot now))
- Dinner at Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap
Tuesday, Day 3
- Reichstag Building Tour
- Lunch at Cafe Bondi
- Berlin Wall Memorial & Visitor Center
- Train to Eastside Gallery
- Train to Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)
- Dinner at Mabuhay (Indonesian)
Wednesday, Day 4
- Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Train Station) -> München Hauptbahnhof (Munich Central Train Station)
Getting There By Train
We arrived in the morning time at Frankfurt Airport. The cheapest, probably quickest, and definitely most scenic way to get to Berlin was traveling on an ICE train with the Deutsche Bahn. You can get real cheap tickets for about 29,50 euro ($31 USD) if you book early online. However, we wanted our ticket use to be more flexible as we didn’t want to stress about any flight delays or being late for a train we already booked. So, we got a Flexi 3-day Rail Pass 2nd Class Twin (good for 2 peeps). With a 3-day flexi pass, you can travel 3 times on the rail at anytime within one month of the first time you use it. Prices as of today are 290 euros ($370) so if my math is correct, it’s 48,33 euro ($60 USD) per person per ticket.
With this pass and any second class tickets, there are no seat reservations that come with it. It’s an extra 4,50 euro (~$5 USD) per seat for seat reservations. It’s first come, first serve for any non-reserved seat. You’ll know if the seat is reserved (beginning stop/end stop) on a little screen above the seat. Pretty neato. If you do not see anything on the screen, that means the seat has not been reserved for the entirety of its route. However, your seat status could change at any time due to last minute seat reservations. If you do not reserve a seat, depending on if your stop is the first or not, time of day/peak hours, etc., it is very possible that you may not get a seat. If you’re traveling with someone(s), you might also not be sitting together. One time, we had to stand in the area by the door for 15-20 minutes before finding a seat and another time, we sat a few rows apart for the entire journey. For our last journey back to Frankfurt from Munich, we just sucked it up and bought seat reservations. I would say it’s more safe to get seat reservations during peak hours.
Anyway, once we got to the airport, we looked for signs toward the train station. We had to take a shuttle bus to another terminal where the train station (Frankfurt am Main Flughafen Fernbahnhof) was. Where the shuttle bus drops you off, you go into a building and take the escalators up a floor for the regional trains. We went to the Customer Service counter inside a room for help buying the Flexi pass and seeing when the next train to Berlin Hauptbahnof, which is the main train station in Berlin, was. My Charles Schwab debit card (read why I got it for this trip) got declined when buying this pass because I stupidly forgot to record that I was going out of the country (SELF REMINDER: TELL YOUR CARD COMPANY ABOUT TRAVEL PLANS BEFORE!) so I ended up using a credit card that charged me the fee that I originally got the card to avoid.
We quickly got a few croissants and sandwiches at a store next to the customer service counter and waited for the next train. The train ticket agent will punch/check your rail ticket onboard. The agent has some kind of system of knowing which seats were already checked (HOW!!?) but if you move seats, they’ll ask to see it again.
We used Air B&B (Use my referral link to get $40 travel credit for new sign ups). Highly recommend staying near a train station as its your ticket (heh no pun intended) getting around. We stayed right by the Mall of Berlin in this studio apartment. It was a great area as we were within walking distance to buses/U-bahn and to a lot of sights such as the Brandenburg Gate. We were really communicative to our host because our train was delayed but he was fine meeting us and getting us the keys. Modern, small but comfortable space for the two of us. The bed is two beds pushed together (this seems normal in Germany?) but it was comfortable. Would stay there again if the price hasn’t gone up terribly.
We only needed to use our own feet and the S/U-bahn system to get around Berlin. Many sights are close to each other in clumps of areas. When we went to the U-bahn station the first time, we were confused AF. It took like 30 minutes for us to figure out how to buy the right ticket and wtf that one machine by the tracks were. Hopefully this post from TripAdvisor will save you from the same experience we had. The most relevant part to follow:
There are no ticket takers at the U-Bahn stations. There are machines that will allow you to purchase tickets for the day, a few days or 7 days. The prices vary depending on the number of days or the distance you need to travel. The city is divided into A B and C zones… The machines will accept coins and bills of 5 or 10 euro only… The honour system rules on the trains. There are no ticket takers and no turnstiles.
You must validate your single ride ticket in the machine next to the machine that sold the ticket and be able to produce your ticket when asked for it by undercover, transit staff.
I have T-Mobile for my cellular plan and T-Mobile has free international data and texting. I used Google Maps for all my map directions; it worked well for the U-bahn.
Things to Do
1. Flakturm Humboldthain (Flak Tower)
We took the U-bahn to the Berlin-Gesundbrunnen station. We only went to Flak Tower because we arrived early for our tour at the Berliner Unterwelten (see #2). It was a nice climb up with a cool view on top. This tower was used by Nazi Germany for defense against air raids. You can take a tour of it from Berliner Unterwelten.
2. Underground Bunker Tour at Berliner Unterwelten e.V.
You can only buy tickets in person on the day of (we also used student discounts FTW). Check out more information on the website before you go (tour descriptions & schedule here). They have tours in multiple languages. People say that tickets go pretty fast as this is a very popular attraction so to get there early. We got there about 2 hours before the first tour of the day.
We did Tour #3: Cold War nuclear bunkers because it was my husband’s birthday present and he loved the Cold War period. The entire tour was super interesting and in depth. The tour guide was amusing and very knowledgable. This was one of the highlights of our trip. It’s pretty cold as it’s underground so do listen to the tips they give you and bring a sweater!
3. Museum Island
We took a train back and had lunch then walked to Museum Island. If we had more time, I would have tried to visit a museum or two but we just took a stroll past it. It’s an “island” of multiple museums.
4. Berlin Cathedral
Continued walking to here. We didn’t go inside but just admired its beauty from the outside.
5. Fernsehturm (TV Tower Berlin)
You can apparently get a good view up there but we didn’t want to pay. We were going to the Reichstag Building tour the next day where there is a good vantage point of Berlin there.
6. Bebelplatz – “Library” Memorial Site for the book burning of 1933
This square is where one of the infamous Nazi book burnings happened in 1933. The memorial has glass plates where you can look through to see empty bookcases (enough to hold the 20,000 books that they had burned). You’ll know where the glass plates are by finding groups of people with their heads down.
7. Gendarmenmarkt Square
This square has really architecturally-nice buildings outlining it. Not much is going on here though except if you are going to see the Orchestra there.
8. Checkpoint Charlie
This is one of the checkpoints for Eastern/Western Germany back during the Cold War. Huge tourist spot so it’s very crowded but cool to check out. There are a few posters up on the street that tell you the history about Checkpoint Charlie. You can also take a picture with “an American soldier”. There are a bunch of shops around that area. We bought a piece of a the Berlin wall at one of the gift shops.
9. Topography of Terror
This is an indoor and outdoor museum at the location of where the headquarters of the Gestapo (Nazi Secret Police) were. They had exhibitions about the rise of Facism and the terrors that were carried out. We only intended to spend like 15 minutes in here but actually ended up spending a good hour or so there just reading. And it’s freeeeee. Pretty fascinating stuff although some details made me a little sick. Outside is also a part of the Berlin Wall that wasn’t torn down.
10. Führerbunker (the location where Hitler’s bunker was)
I wouldn’t go out of my way to come here as literally it is a parking lot now and there is nothing to “visit or see” but if you’re in the area, why not. There’s a sign that gives a little info.
11. Reichstag Building Tour
We walked here from our Air BnB. Free guided tour of the building and dome plus access to the rooftop terrace (great views) but you must get tickets in advance. Guided tours are 90 minutes and are in various languages. We requested tickets right when requests were available (starting the first day of the month 2 months before… so if you’re trying to get a tour any day in September, you can start trying to register Jul 1). You can put in a maximum of 3 dates/times and they select one for you. Check it out here.
12. Berlin Wall Memorial & Visitor Center
We had to take a train here as it’s kind of out of the way. “The memorial contains the last piece of Berlin Wall with the preserved grounds behind it and is thus able to convey an impression of how the border fortifications developed until the end of the 1980s”. It was cool to see the memorial site but I didn’t care much for the visitor center.
13. East Side Gallery
We took the train here. Street Art murals on the Berlin wall. Pretty neat to see. I think the art changes occasionally.
14. Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)
The only remaining town gate of Berlin that was part of no-mans land during the Cold War. “It’s a symbol of both the division and reunification of Germany.
Where We Ate
We ate dinner here the first night we arrived in Berlin. I just yelped around our Air BnB and this came up. It was okay… nothing memorable. We got the pork schnitzel and meatball. It was simple.
2. Curry at the Wall
Currywurst is a German street food. It’s a fried pork sausage with a thick ketchup-y sauce topped with curry powder. And it’s pretty good!
3. Mustafa’s Gemuse Kebap
GO HERE!!! This was the best meal of the trip despite our 2 hour wait in the cold. Don’t go during peak lunch or dinner times. Unfortunately, our timing just didn’t work out for us to come at any other time than 6:30pm. But that says something right?! 2 hour wait for a less than 4 euros doner kebab “Hanchen Doner” (kebab sandwich). SO FREAKING GODLY DELICIOUS. My mouth is watering thinking about it. I even bought another one to eat the day after and it was still delicious. What annoyed me was that they definitely could speed things up by adding an additional meat spool (IDK what they’re called – the giant metal rod that holds the huge meat and spins around while cooking and the guy shaves off the meat). But they only have one. And there was a 15 minute pause where no one was served because they had to wait for the meat to defrost. Super inefficient but hey, I’ll line up again (maybe only for a max of 30 minutes next time).
4. Cafe Bondi
We stopped into this cute cafe for lunch here on our way to the Berlin wall. Found through Yelp. Food here was actually pretty good. The menu changes weekly I believe. I got a Bahn Mi (vietnamese) sandwich and it was actually good.
We had dinner here the last night of Berlin and honestly, this was the second best meal after the kebab. We didn’t really want any German food so I found this Indonesian place through Yelp. Great service, pricing and even better food. We had the “Nasi Goreng Ayam” which is fried rice with vegetables, eggs and chicken and the “Crispy Duck in peanut sauce”.
As always, let me know if you have any questions. Guten Tag!