Delightfully dynamic and effortlessly edgy, Berlin packs a punch not only on its hip factor, but also on its great-value offerings for budget-minded travelers. Dig just a little deeper (and not into your pockets) to discover a city – known for its tumultuous history, provocative arts scene, and no-holds-barred nightlife – that’s also filled with top-rate attractions that are absolutely frei. Just back from a week on the ground there, here are five great freebie finds in budget-friendly Berlin.
1. Get Oriented on a Guided Walking Tour with New Berlin Tours
Powered by a freelance team of informative English-speaking guides (who work exclusively for tips), New Berlin Tours offers 3.5-hour Berlin walking tours several times daily. Get oriented with the German capital via tours that kick off at the iconic Brandenburg Gate, and gain insight into Berlin's history and culture with stops at landmarks like the Reichstag, Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, Museum Island, and more.
2. Pay Homage to Sobering History at the Holocaust Memorial
As one of Hitler’s former command centers, Berlin is full of memorials and museums recalling the lingering horrors of World War II. Few are as moving as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, colloquially known as the Holocaust Memorial. The sobering 5-acre site serves as a memorial to the some 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Wander the Field of Stelae, with its 2,711 monolithic gray concrete slabs arranged in a grid-like landscape that’s reminiscent of a graveyard. A subterranean museum below presents documentation and emotional exhibitions on the persecution and execution of European Jews. Free guided pubic tours are additionally offered on Saturdays (3pm).
3. Take in the Best View in Town from the Reichstag’s Dome
Crowning the Reichstag building (home to German parliament) is a gleaming glass dome designed by British architect Sir Norman Foster, and the perfect perch for savoring city panoramas. Ascend the structure’s spiraling ramps for views that stretch over the Brandenburg Gate, expansive Tiergarten park, and rooftops of Berlin. Complimentary audio guides provide insight on the surrounding cityscape. Online reservations must be made three days in advance; limited same-day and advance reservations can be made at the Visitors’ Service office across the street.
4. Revisit the Remnants of the Berlin Wall
Though Mr. Gorbachev did indeed tear down that wall back in 1989, reuniting ecstatic Berliners on both sides of the separated city after nearly three decades of division, limited remnants of the wall still remain intact in memoriam. At the Berlin Wall Memorial, set around a historic strip of the wall on Bernauer Strasse, view open-air multimedia exhibitions depicting historical aspects of the Berlin Wall and memorials to the lives it affected, and ogle the last piece of the wall with its former border fortifications still intact.
Across town, bordering the Spree River, the nearly mile-long East Side Gallery transformed the longest remaining section of the wall into a colorful concrete canvas for 100-plus artists from around the world, a poignant alfresco art gallery indeed.
5. Go Gallery Hopping on Mitte’s Auguststraße
With its finger on the pulse of Berlin’s cutting-edge contemporary arts scene, Auguststraße, in the Mitte gallery district, is home to a dense population of the city’s some 450 art galleries, many of which are free to visit. New for 2012, pop into the historic Jewish Girls' School, since converted into a buzzworthy gallery-and-restaurant complex, with a trio of free-entry gallery spaces, including Michael Fuchs Gallery, CWC Gallery, and the Eigen + Art Lab.
Extra Money-Saving Tip: Invest in the Berlin WelcomeCard for unlimited travel on public transport in Berlin, and discounts of 25 to 50 percent on more than 200 attractions, tours, and restaurants. Buy two- ($22), three- ($30), or five-day passes ($39).
Incurable travel addict, longtime travel scribe, and mindful money-saver Elissa Richard is currently indulging her insatiable wanderlust on an epic 14-month journey around the globe – intent on making it every step of the way without busting her modest budget. Follow her along the way as she reports back with budget-savvy travel tips from the mountains of Transylvania to the wilds of Tasmania, and from the little-trodden temples of Burma to the bustling bars and clubs of Buenos Aires. A vagabond in search of value, just for ShermansTravel!