Berlin is one city where your euros can still pack a punch. And, perhaps even more importantly, it’s also full of art, history, sausage, and frei stuff to do.
Here are six of our favorite freebies in the German capital:
The official seat of the German Parliament, the Reichstag affords you (at no cost!) one of the best views of the city from its famous dome and roof terrace. Wait times can be hefty, so we’ve found it’s best to visit at night (the building stays open until midnight, although the last entry is at 10 PM). Take a quick elevator ride to the top and snap a bunch of photos. A free brochure, available as you enter the building, offers a pictorial guide to the Berlin skyline. (So, that’s the new train station!)
This majestic gate, called “the trademark of Berlin” by the local authorities, was built by King Wilhelm II in 1788. The Gate has seen a lot. It has survived conquests, bombings, and oppressive regimes. The monument sits at the end of the mighty Unter den Linden, and has recently received a city-sponsored cleaning. We think the best time to view this beauty is at night, when its majesty shines under soft lights.
Checkpoint Charlie, the name for the passport control for visitors going between East and West Berlin, is today a major tourist draw. There’s no charge for hanging out next to the original booth once manned by Soviet and American soldiers. Located along busy Friederichstrasse, today guards smile, pose for photos, and answer questions from tourists. Across the street, several creative vendors charge €5 for a “legitimate” stamp for your passport. Ah yes, nostalgia… (Watch out for the Segueways—see photo above.)
There are two good spots to see what’s left of the infamous Berlin Wall. The East Side Gallery (in Kreuzberg), where artists like Keith Herring have painted over old pieces of the Wall as part of a public exhibit, is the cheerier of the two locations. This part of the Wall bursts with color, celebrates freedom and shows off the graffiti talents of many Berliners and friends of Berliners. For a more somber and realistic take on the Wall, visit the piece that’s still up near the Topography of Terror exhibit (below), in Mitte near Checkpoint Charlie.
Topography of Terror
OK, it sounds ominous (and well, it is), but this exhibit—in Mitte—is one of the most comprehensive one-stop shops for facing the magnitude of World War II, Berlin’s role in it, and the Holocaust. Placards with black and white photos show Hitler’s rise to power, the resurrection of the Wall, and many more key historical moments. Explanations and timelines accompany the photos and follow a clear path that leads you parallel to old S.S. Nazi police baracks. It’s a tad creepy, if you really let your mind go there. But, well worth a visit.
The Holocaust Memorial
The newly-opened “Monument to the Murdered Jews in Europe,” designed by architect Peter Eisenman, opened in 2005 and consists of 2,711 concrete slabs arranged on sloping ground. Walking through the enormous memorial can be somber, disorienting, and dizzying. An underground information center is open daily (except Monday). The outdoor monument is open and free to the public at all times.
Berlin is full of cheap eats. You can hardly walk down the street without bumping into a bargain-priced doner-kabap. In any case, save a couple of euros for a good currywurst and Beck’s beer at the end of the day. You’ll need a breather after a day of intense sightseeing.