Sunday, 3 February 2013

BERLIN: My budget guide and thoughts on the city

 This time last week I'd basically never been to Germany (disregarding a very brief stay in Frankfurt from a time I was too young to remember), which is pretty feeble for a German student, so I was extremely looking forward to spending four days in Berlin with some of my uni coursemates. We arrived on Monday evening, and left late on the following Friday, and I was determined to pack in as much as possible over the course of the four days.

I found Berlin to be a very interesting city, largely because of its incredible history - having studied it over the past year or so, I was genuinely interested in doing all the cultural things on offer, as opposed to just spending four days shopping and eating. Yes, really.

The Humboldt University
I'm going to be honest with you though, I don't love Berlin like I love Paris or Vienna. Although the former of course has some beautiful buildings and areas, for me, it doesn't have the same charm as the latter two. But I feel a bit bad about saying that seeing as so much of the city was destroyed in the war, so I suppose it's inevitable that there's a mish-mash of building styles. And of course, every city has pretty and, well, less pretty parts.

That said, I had a great time in Berlin, despite the rainy, grey, cold January weather we unfortunately were subjected to for pretty much the duration of our stay. And of course, everything looks better set to a backdrop of blue sky and sunshine. I really enjoyed experiencing a bit of German culture, so here are my highlights, recommendations and findings from four days in Berlin:

A cute area near Alexanderplatz


Berlin isn't the easiest city to walk around as it's relatively spread out, so we decided to each buy a Berlin Welcome Card, allowing us unlimited travel on all public transport. We ended up only using the U-Bahn (underground) and S-Bahn (overground), but seeing as each journey would have cost over 3€ individually, our five day pass for 36.50€ was well worth it.

Not only could we travel to the airport and back and all around Berlin, the pass also covered us to travel to the nearby town of Potsdam, which was a delightful little afternoon excursion, only a 45 minute train journey from central Berlin. What's more, the Berlin Welcome Card also gives you all sorts off offers, from reductions on most museum tickets to discounts in tourist shops.

You can buy cards for various lengths of time and for different areas depending on what you want to do, and you also get a little guide book and map. The card was really handy, and meant getting around was quick and easy. We just kept our tickets with us the whole time, but we weren't actually checked once!


German food is great. I knew that much before visiting Berlin, but my view has definitely been reinforced. There are all sorts of easy ways to grab some food on the go round Berlin, with tempting bakeries selling pretzels, sandwiches and cakes on every corner. And then there's the classic German delicacy - Berliner Currywurst (essentially a sausage covered in curry sauce). What can I say? I'm now a huge Currywurst fan. We also discovered Currywurst flavour crisps, which somehow reminded me of Marmite crisps, but hey.

On an equally healthy note, I think I consumed more chocolate over my four days in Berlin than I would usually get through in four weeks. This was largely due to the fact that the supermarket Kaiser's were selling 100g bars of Milka for 59 cents each, and in Germany they have so may more flavours than we do. When you're traipsing round in the cold, having chocolate to munch on is just ridiculously comforting.

So much Ritter Sport!
Another reason for my epic chocolate fest was our visit to Ritter Sport Schokowelt (chocolate world). I may have ended up going three times. When I was little, my German great aunt would always bring us Ritter Sport chocolate when she came to visit, so the stuff prompts good memories for me. Ritter Sport Schokowelt had all sorts of chocolatey variations on offer when we visited, for lower than supermarket prices too - I think my favourite bars were the white chocolate with whole hazelnuts, and the 'Olympia' (milk chocolate with a Greek yoghurt and honey with chopped hazelnut filling.) Literally heaven. But the Schokowelt is more than just a shop: there's an incredible café offering all sorts of food including sandwiches, cakes/puddings inspired by their chocolate bars, and amazing flavoured hot chocolates - basically melted Ritter Sport whizzed up with frothy milk. And we got a 25% discount thanks to our Berlin Welcome Cards. Amazing.

What other German foodie things did I devour? Well, in Germany they have a range of Haribo flavours that puts the UK to shame - my housemates definitely enjoyed the fizzy sour Schlümpfe (Smurfs - how cute is the German name though?) I brought back for them. Chocolate hazelnut nougat Müllermilch (milk) was another great supermarket find, along with a particularly great rhubarb streusel (crumble cake) for breakfast. And WHAT?

But don't worry if you don't like the sound of German food (you nutter), there are Starbucks all over the city, not to mention a strangely large number of Asian restaurants amongst other international offerings.


Well, has the previous section made your realise you want to save all your money for food and spend as little as possible on accommodation? Allow me to point you towards the hostel-that-is-more-like-a-hotel-yet-still-ridiculously-cheap, PLUS Berlin - so impressive, I felt the need to write a whole separate blog post about it, here.


The Brandenburg Gate. And Mickey Mouse.
The Fernsehturm (TV tower), Brandenburg Gate, cathedrals... Berlin has its fair share of monuments and Schlossen (palaces - my faves), and we visited all the main Sehenswürdigkeiten (sights). However, I think the best thing we did was go on a free walking tour of the city. Well, free with a donation at the end.

Pretty cathedral
Sandemans run a 3.5 hour tour of all the main sites for as much or as little as you think it's worth (or as much as you can afford), but just make sure you book a place in advance. 3.5 hours of walking? Seriously? I'd rather sit in a café thanks, I hear you thinking. Well, for starters, there actually is a café break, which is nice. But the tour was so much more than just being led round the main monuments - our English-speaking guide, Rob, was friendly, entertaining and knowledgeable, telling us all sorts of stories and making Berlin's history really exciting. As German students, it was particularly great to see first-hand the sites of everything we've studied. If you do one thing whilst in Berlin, I'd recommend you do this.

The Reichstag
If free tours are your thang, there are others we discovered too (thrifty/broke students and all), such as ones of the incredibly grand Concert House, the Reichstag (parliament building) which gives you amazing views of Berlin (forget paying to go up the TV tower), and an alternative walking tour of Berlin, taking you to all the best graffiti sites and the like (which departed from our hostel.)

Inside the Concert House
Also conveniently close to the hostel is the Eastside Gallery, AKA the largest remaining section of the Berlin Wall. Definitely worth a visit. My other top cultural sites would be the DDR Museum - all about the history of East Germany, but incredibly interactive and fun as well as interesting; and the Holocaust Memorial and museum - incredibly moving... So much so that I was brought to tears.

The Berlin Wall

The Holocaust Memorial

We very nearly managed to get tickets to the ballet for just 3€ - if you queue up 30 minutes before the start of the show, have a Berlin Welcome Card and get lucky, these can be yours - but unfortunately we arrived too late. It'd be worth having a go though.


Oddly enough, I didn't actually buy anything in Berlin apart from food. Not one souvenir. That's not to say there aren't plenty of shops though. Friedrichstrasse is the place to go for all the main high-street shops, mixed in with a fair few high-end labels. There also seem to be a fair few department stores and shopping centres around Berlin, from the standard mall-type Alexa to the oh-so-snazzy rival to Selfridges, KaDeWe, which stands for Kaufhaus des Westens (shopping centre of the West.) I genuinely could've spent hours in the latter, getting completely lost on the food floor alone!

German baking goodies in KaDeWe
So there you have it: my rather long guide to Berlin. Every Berliner I encountered seemed delightfully friendly, despite my shoddy German - there was one embarrassing incident in Starbucks where, long story short, the barista asked me my name and I replied "skimmed milk". Not ideal. But hey, at least I was trying to practice my Deutsch.

Have you been to any of the places I mentioned? Do you have any other suggestions? And do you agree or disagree with my impression of Berlin?


  1. Great post on Berlin! I suggest more shopping! Particularly at the small independent shops all over the city!

    Check out where you can browse the small shops in Berlin without a hassle.

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  2. This is such a good student travel guide! So useful, it is literally everything I want to know when I go travelling. I really want to go to Berlin now it sounds amazing. Especially the food!
    You should definatley do more student travel guides.

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, I really appreciate it and am glad my guide was useful. I definitely will do more travel guides... What a great excuse to travel more! x


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