Our Asha has recently become one of our Itinerary Coordinators after many years with Halsbury in other roles. As she’ll be tasked with planning lots of school trips to Berlin, Lynsey offered to show her around one of her favourite cities.
In Asha’s new role she’ll be organising itineraries for school trips to Berlin, so I wanted to show her as many of the sights popular with our groups as possible, to give her a really good overview of the city and to ensure she’ll be well placed to advise our groups. And we certainly crammed a lot into four days!
We flew from East Midlands to Berlin Schönefeld. As is the case with our groups, we had our public transport tickets in advance. So, when we arrived at the airport’s S-bahn station, we were able to immediately board a train and head off to the city centre.
Accommodation in the heart of Berlin
Our accommodation for the trip was the A&O Berlin Hauptbahnhof.
A&O have four accommodation centres in Berlin and are one of our closest partners. We have an allocation at their hostels which are purpose-built for groups and ideal for exploring the city.
It was great to stay at the Hauptbahnhof hostel this time, as it’s recently been refurbished. Since my last visit it now looks much fresher and more modern.
The reception area is large with lots of seating for groups, as well as games, table football, TV screens and a bar/café.
The hostel also has a rooftop bar with amazing views across the city.
Don’t worry about students sneaking alcohol where they shouldn’t though - A&O operates a coloured wristband scheme for groups - different colours indicate whether they may be served alcohol or not.
All rooms are en-suite and modern, and the hostel has a multitude of meeting rooms which can be used by groups for free.
One of the biggest plus points of this hostel is the location. An easy 10-minute walk from the Hauptbahnhof (the main train station) gives you excellent access to the S-Bahn, U-Bahn, buses and trams, so exploring the city is simple. The public transport system in Berlin is well connected and easy to use.
After checking into our rooms, we walked to the Hauptbahnhof and picked up some lunch. As well as being the main train station, the Hauptbahnhof also contains a large variety of restaurants, cafes and shops and so is ideal for picking up a bite to eat.
From the Hauptbahnhof we headed to the Brandenburg Gate, passing the iconic Bundestag before strolling through the Tiergarten.
Visiting the Holocaust Memorial
We had a short stop at the Brandenburg Gate for the obligatory selfies and tourist photos before walking to the nearby Holocaust Memorial or, to give it its full name, ‘The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’.
We headed straight to the visitors’ centre and joined the queue which moved surprisingly quickly. You do need to allow a little extra time here, as everyone is required to go through airport-style security due to the sensitive nature of the site.
Once inside there’s an excellent exhibition on the Holocaust. You can explore independently or, alternatively, audio guides and guided tours are available. Once we’d made our way through the exhibition we went outside and spent some time exploring the field of stelae.
Getting a glimpse of history at Potsdamer Platz
We then took a short walk down the road to Potsdamer Platz. At the centre of this iconic square are some remaining sections of Berlin Wall. There’s also an exhibition showing how things looked when this was one of the most famous areas of no man’s land in the world.
From being Europe’s biggest building site for much of the ‘90s, Potsdamer Platz has now been transformed and features several shopping and entertainment complexes, such as the Sony Centre and Mall of Europe, making it an ideal stop for lunch or to spend some free time in the evening.
In February the area is buzzing with the world-famous film festival and in November/December the area is transformed in to a Winter Wonderland complete with a toboggan run!
Experiencing life in East Germany at the DDR Museum
After some time at Potsdamer Platz we hopped on to the U2 and travelled to Alexanderplatz to visit the DDR Museum nearby. This museum is always a favourite with our groups and covers daily life in the former East Germany in a fun and interactive way. Even after several visits I always find something new to see.
Once we’d finished at the DDR Museum we headed next door to Andy’s Diner. This is the most popular destination for our groups eating out in Berlin. They offer a good range of reasonably priced group menus and our groups are always warmly welcomed. Asha and I certainly enjoyed a delicious meal.
Checking out the views from the TV Tower
After dinner, we strolled back to Alexanderplatz to visit one of Berlin’s most iconic sights - the TV Tower. A visit to the top of the TV Tower is a must for many of our groups visiting Berlin. From the top you can enjoy spectacular views across Berlin and at night it is great to see the city lit up.
We started our day with breakfast in the A&O hostel. As with all A&Os they offer an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet with everything you could need, including cereals, bread rolls, a range of cold meats and cheeses, eggs, yoghurt, fruits, juices, tea and coffee. We fuelled up ready for a busy day.
Seeing how the Wall separated normal people at the Berlin Wall Memorial
We started day 2 by taking the tram to Nordbahnhof for a visit to the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Str. This is one of my favourite visits in Berlin as it’s free and gives you a great overview of how the Wall separated normal people in Berlin.
The Wall ran the length of this street and at various information points you can listen to and watch witness testimony from people who lived through it and even dug tunnels to escape. It really brings history to life.
In the visitors’ centre there are some excellent exhibitions and free guided tours of the memorial can be organised for school groups. While passing through the Nordbahnhof, don’t forget to stop and check out the fascinating exhibition on ‘ghost stations’ - stations which were cut-off and in no man’s land during the time of the wall.
From Nordbahnhof we jumped on the tram and travelled to Friedrichstrasse. Here we took a quick stop at the Tränenpalast (Palace of Tears). Again this is a free exhibition and tells the story of what was the main train crossing point between East and West.
Sweet treats in Berlin
We then strolled down Friedrichstrasse to the Gendarmenmarkt. This beautiful square is one of my favourite places in Berlin, not just for the beautiful views but also because both the Fassbender & Rausch and RitterSport chocolate shops are nearby!
The Fassbender & Rausch chocolate shop features luxury chocolates and is worth a visit just to see the amazing chocolate models of the main sights of Berlin.
RitterSport, located just around the corner, is much more budget friendly for students stocking up on chocolate treats and you can even design your own chocolate bar to take home!
Checkpoint Charlie and Asisi Panorama
After a quick stop for lunch we continued down Friedrichstrasse to another iconic sight in Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie. We spent some time taking the typical tourist photos before heading across the road to the Asisi Panorama.
This was the first time I had visited this relatively new attraction and I was very impressed.
An 18-metre high panorama by artist Yadegar Asisi depicts a section of the wall as it was pre-1989.
The drawing is so detailed it almost comes to life before your eyes and there is so much to see. I would highly recommend a visit to the Asisi Panorama if you're in this area.
Topography of Terror
From Checkpoint Charlie it was a short walk to the Topography of Terror.
This is an exhibition on the site of what was the SS Headquarters in Berlin. There’s an excellent exhibition which can be explored independently or with an audioguide or guided tour and, again, like many sites in Berlin it’s free of charge. This visit is a must for any groups studying WW2 and the Nazis.
We then carried on to the Berlin Story Bunker (not to be confused with the Story of Berlin), located next to the Anhalter Bahnhof. This museum is located in a genuine WW2 bunker and is separated into 3 main sections.
First is the exhibition ‘Hitler – How could it happen?’. This exhibition spanning three floors covers the rise of Hitler through to the end of WW2 and is explored with the aid of an audio-guide.
The second is the ‘Berlin Story Museum’. This exhibition gives a comprehensive history of Berlin through the ages, again with the aid of an audio-guide. The final part of the museum is a guided tour through the historical parts of the bunker which are recreated as they were in 1945.
In the evening, we headed to the Hofbräu Berlin.
This is also a really popular choice for our groups eating out in Berlin. The restaurant is themed on the world-famous Hofbräuhaus in Munich and offers traditional Bavarian food accompanied by an Oompah band.
We were warmly welcomed and enjoyed the traditional huge Schweinshaxe (knuckle of pork) and Maß (litre) of beer. The band were soon in full flow and we enjoyed singing and dancing along. This a great night out for groups who want a traditional German experience.
After another hearty breakfast we met John from Insider Tours. This is the company who organise all of our guided tours in Berlin, so it was good to meet face-to-face and discuss what they can offer for our groups.
We always get great feedback from these tours and it’s excellent to know they have the expertise to tailor them exactly to our group’s needs.
Nineties Berlin - the exhibition
We then headed off down Unter den Linden to view the Berlin Cathedral, Lustgarten and Museum Island area before heading over to Nineties Berlin.
This is a brand new exhibition opened by the owners of the DDR Museum. After getting over the fact that the ‘90s now warrant a historical exhibition (and how old that made us feel), we set about exploring the exhibition.
As with the DDR Museum, the exhibition is highly interactive, leading you through how the city was in the ‘90s and how it was developed in the years after the fall of the Wall. The museum is constantly evolving as new exhibits are added and it’s well worth a visit find out what happened to this once divided city after ‘Die Wende’.
East Side Gallery
From Nineties Berlin we hopped on the S-Bahn down to Ostbahnhof for a stroll along the East Side Gallery.
This is the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall and is covered with street art by artists from all over the world.
En-route we stopped off at the newly opened Mercedes Platz. This brand new entertainment area located in front of the Mercedes Benz Arena includes a variety of bars and restaurants to suit all budgets as well as a multi-screen cinema and bowling alley.
Stasi Prison Memorial
After lunch, we continued on down the East Side Gallery past the famous Oberbaumbrücke to the Warschauer Strasse Station. From here we took the tram to the Gedenkstätte Hohenschönhausen (Stasi Prison Memorial).
For our groups studying history this is always a popular visit as many of the guided tours are led by former inmates.
It was my first time visiting, so it was really interesting to experience the same tour as our groups. The tour was a fascinating insight into the horrible psychological methods used to extract confessions from inmates and gave us a much better understanding of what life was like as a prisoner under the Stasi.
Once our tour was over we headed over to the West of the city to the Zoologischer Garten Station.
We paid a quick visit to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church before heading off down the famous Ku'damm.
This shopping street is the ‘Champs-Elysées’ of Berlin and features some of the most expensive designer stores in the city.
Our destination this evening was the Hard Rock Café, another popular choice with our groups. We enjoyed one of the menus offered to our groups and were full to bursting by the time we headed back to the accommodation!
Our final day in Berlin started with meeting our sales representative from the A&O chain along with the hostel manager for an inspection visit of the newly renovated hostel. It was great to ask them questions and see all of the facilities, so we can fully advise our group about what’s on offer.
With just a little time left before our flight home we headed off for one of my favourite visits in Berlin - the Bundestag Dome. This is a free visit but must be pre-booked because security is understandably high here, due to it being the German Parliament building.
After going through the airport-style security we made our way in the lifts up to the terrace area.
The Bundestag gives a very different view of Berlin to that offered from the TV Tower, as you’re at a lower level but still high enough to get a spectacular perspective of the city. I would advise groups to visit both to compare views of the city.
From the terrace, we made our way into the dome (designed by British architect, Sir Norman Foster) and to the top with the free audio guide describing the sights we were seeing along the way.
From the top the views are unmissable and we were lucky to have a really clear day. It was the perfect way to end another excellent trip to Berlin.
There’s so much to see and do in Berlin and, as so many visits are free, it’s great for groups on a limited budget
It’s also a truly cross-curricular city with visits suited to German language, history (focusing on the Nazis and the Holocaust, and the Cold War), politics, art and, of course, the Christmas markets.
I already have my next visit planned. I will be there in November to experience the celebrations for the 30th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, which should be an amazing experience.
Bis nächstes mal Berlin!