Mr Maven and I have just returned from a three day city break in Berlin. This was our first holiday without the kids since our 10th anniversary trip to Rome several years ago.
Berlin has a reputation as a diverse city which has completely reinvented itself. I wanted to see how Germany deals with its devastating role in modern history.
I’ve never been to Germany before. Unless you count 48 hours working at the largest printing equipment exhibition in the world (which I don’t).
I know Berlin has a vibrant nightlife. Twenty years ago, I would have put that on my list of reasons to go. Now I’m in my 40s I’d rather have a lovely meal, a couple of glasses of wine and get a good night’s kip.
So my itinerary is not for those of you who venture out for the evening just as I’m going to bed. It’s also not for the art lovers. We race through art galleries as if propelled by a travelator.
This three day sightseeing itinerary is a mix of history, architecture and good food.
First, the basics:
None of this content is sponsored in any way. I booked the trip without any input from brands, so any recommendations here are based on my own research and experience.
We booked the whole trip through Expedia and flew from London City Airport to Tegel with British Airways. Time Out Berlin was our invaluable guide.
Berlin is spread out and each area has a distinct vibe. Mitte is the area where most of the historical sites are to be found, but is a busy, noisy construction site. We decided to stay in Charlottenberg. This is an upmarket area with boutique hotels, designer shops and more Chihuahuas than you can shake a stick at.
The underground train network, the U-Bahn, will take you everywhere. Charlottenberg had a choice of stations from which to begin our adventures.
We stayed at the gorgeous Hotel am Steinplatz, a luxury hotel with a shady courtyard. This was our venue for breakfast, and in the evenings, for quaffing cocktails.
I wouldn’t stay there with the kids – no pool, no buffet, no way!
These itineraries assume Charlottenberg as the starting point.
Berlin itinerary: Day 1
Get your bearings, do some window shopping and sample the local food and drink.
Pick up an open top bus tour from outside Uhlandstrasse Station. We went with the Yellow Tour as they seemed to have the most frequent service, and this is one you can hop on and off.
Yes, the locals might look at you with utter disdain, but the bus is the best way to get the lie of the land and help you decide where to return later on foot.
Get off the bus at Gendarmenmarkt to gawp at the beautiful French and German churches and concert hall with its grand staircase.
Have lunch at one of the square’s many (overpriced) cafes.
Take the bus back to Uhlandstrasse Station and walk towards Adenauerplatz Station. Enjoy some window shopping on the upmarket Kurfurstendamm, with its designer shops.
When you’re ready for dinner (and make sure you’re really hungry) head to Diche Wirtin – the Fat Landlady – on Savignyplatz in Charlottenburg.
The Diche Wirtin is a cozy pub and a Berlin dining institution, serving fresh, hearty, traditional German food. Mr Maven had Beef goulash with red cabbage & dumplings. I had the chicken schnitzel with warm potato salad and pickled cucumber salad. All washed down with lashings of cold Berlin Pilsner.
The meal was great value and the service was friendly. The schnitzel was as big as my head.
Berlin itinerary: Day 2
Visit the more serious historical sights.
We started our day by taking an Uber (yes, they’re in Berlin too) to Denkmal für die Ermordeten Juden Europas – The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial.
This field of stelae comprises 2,711 stone slabs, arranged in undulating rows, each tilting slightly at different angles to give the effect of an old Jewish cemetery.
It’s deliberately spooky, quiet and claustrophobic. But you absolutely must visit the information centre to understand the full apocalyptic horror of the events of the Holocaust.
The museum presents the information in a factual, but sensitive way, telling the stories of some of the victims.
I am Jewish – I stress the ‘ish’, being more of an atheist. I’m not remotely religious, but I do feel culturally attached to my Judaism. So the visit to the Holocaust Memorial felt like a pilgrimage of sorts.
Emerging from this crypt-like museum into the sunlight and then walking through the field of stelae was a sombre experience. Neither of us spoke for an hour or so as our heads were so full of questions.
Visiting the Memorial and museum is not enjoyable, but if you’re in Berlin you can’t miss it.
Lest we forget.
From here it is a short walk to the Brandenburg Gate, an impressive 18th century monument and one of Berlin’s most recognised symbols of Germany’s history, division and unity.
One block away from here is the Reichstag building which houses the German Bundestag (parliament). Lord Foster’s renovation includes a huge glass dome which visitors can walk around.
It’s free to enter, but you must book in advance by filling in an online form at least three days in advance of your visit.
Unfortunately we weren’t organised enough for this, so didn’t make it into the dome – but apparently it’s impressive.
Lunch at Hackescher Markt is a half hour walk – or during a day where the temperatures reached 32 degrees, a short air-conditioned taxi ride.
Choose to eat traditional German food or go for international cuisine such as tapas at one of the open air restaurants, while listening to live music. Mr Maven went for a massive German sausage. I just had a beer with lemonade and some chips.
On the banks of the Spree, just a short walk from Hackescher Markt is the DDR Museum, an interactive display, looking at life for the citizens of East Berlin before the Wall came down in 1989.
It’s kitch and slightly distasteful, glossing over much of the region’s suffering. But if playing around in an interrogation room, or listening in to a bugged apartment is your thing, then knock yourself out.
Dinner was at Borchardt – a French restaurant in a grand dining room. We had a table on the large terrace behind the restaurant, where they really pack the diners in close together – but it’s a beautiful crowd.
I had a delicious meal of Caesar salad with scallops followed by miso marinated seared salmon on a seaweed salad. This is fine dining with a price tag to match.
Berlin itinerary: Day 3
See the city from two different perspectives – above, and from the river. The Wall is the focus of the afternoon.
I recommend an early start to beat the crowds for this excursion.
Take the U-bahn to Alexanderplatz Station. Directly opposite is the Berliner Fernsehturm, the TV Tower, Germany’s tallest building and Europe’s fourth tallest free standing structure.
If you arrive early, you can buy tickets for the observation deck and go straight up. We tried to get tickets during the afternoon of the previous day and there were no tickets left.
Berlin is mostly low-rise, so the tower looms large and is a landmark which can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. The 360 degree view from the observation deck is impressive.
If you’re organised enough to book well ahead, you can reserve a table in the revolving restaurant. We aren’t.
From the tower, we walked for 10 minutes back to the DDR Museum, where we took a one hour boat tour on the River Spree.
The tour, by a real person rather than a recording, was given in German and English and pointed out all the major landmarks. Make sure you have your sunscreen with you – there was no shade on deck.
Another air conditioned taxi whisked us to KaDeWe, Berlin’s answer to Selfridges, a Mecca for shoppers and foodies.
Having no money for designer handbags at the moment, we headed straight up to the Food Hall. There we found samples galore and every type of cuisine you could imagine.
We had a light lunch at Sumosan in the food hall, prepared in front of us, while we sat at the bar. The sushi and sashimi was delicious and provided sufficient fuel for the long journey to our next destination.
A couple of minutes from KaDeWe is U Wittenbergplatz Station, where you can take the U-bahn to Bernauer Strasse. It feels like you’re travelling well out of town, as the scenery changes from the well maintained buildings of Mitte, to what was the boundary of East and West Berlin.
Turn left out of the station and you can immediately see remnants of the Berlin Wall. These are not the gaudily painted, mural daubed walls of the East Side Gallery, but more a memorial to the stark reality of division.
A few minutes walk away is the Berlin Wall Memorial Museum – Gedenkstatte Berliner Mauer, where the story of the rise and fall of the Wall is told through the eyes of its people. There is a viewing platform a few flights up, where you can see over the Wall, with its watch towers.
Walk back to Bernauer Strasse through the park which includes the Wall, where you can see how brutally its construction cut through the city.
In the evening, we took the U-Bahn to Warschauer Strasse station and the East Side Gallery’s remnants of the Berlin Wall.
Twenty minutes walk from here, over the bridge is Sage restaurant, with its outdoor beach bar overlooking the river. This looked very cool – all vintage cars chill out music. The restaurant was packed and as we hadn’t booked, we didn’t get in. Or perhaps we just didn’t quite fit the profile of Sage’s clientele.
Whatever, an Uber took us back to Gendarmenmarkt where we ate at Amici, an Italian restaurant, run by Italians. Decent wine, with an average, mid-priced meal. But by that stage we were so exhausted we would have eaten anywhere.
If we’d had another day, I would have either visited the various galleries on Museum Island, or taken a train out of town to one of the lakes.
Three days was ample for us. Being away from the kids isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. We all missed each other. For me, the best part of any holiday is coming home.
Have you been to Berlin? Have I missed out anything really obvious that should be in our three day itinerary? Please let me know in the comments below.
Much love, Vx
[Disclosure: nothing to disclose, not sponsored, no affiliate links.]