I was recently invited on a familiarisation trip to Berlin by Welcome Berlin, an agent who we work closely with in the city. The trip would include a visit to the International Tourism Börse (ITB), the world’s leading travel trade fair, and a chance to visit some of the accommodation our groups stay in.
Berlin is a city I know well, having been several times in the past. It’s definitely one of my favourite cities, as there’s always something new to see and discover.
In fact, I enjoyed a number of new experiences on this trip, including the visit to the ITB and a guided bike tour of the Berlin Wall with Berlin on Bike Tour.
The ITB was great as I was able to spend the afternoon networking with some of our suppliers, as well as exploring the huge trade fair. I was also treated to the world premiere of the new Welcome Berlin website which they launched at the show.
On the bike tour we were expertly guided around the remains of the Berlin Wall by a friendly, knowledgeable guide. Travelling by bike gives you a very different perspective on the city, as you can travel much further than on a walking tour and you experience the city in a different way.
Nervous cyclists? There’s no need to worry – helmets are compulsory for students and the guide is experienced at choosing the quietest, safest routes and ensuring the pace is one that suits the group. No tour is ever the same, as the guide will tailor the tour for the age/knowledge level and specific interests of the group.
I had been to the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse before, but I still learned new stories and information from the guide. Here you can get a real sense of how it was for the neighbours, friends and families who were separated overnight. You’ll also learn about the structure and guide towers of the wall, and hear the stories of some of the desperate escape attempts via makeshift tunnels.
One of the most interesting stops for me was the Platz des 9. November, located next to the Bornholmer Bridge. This is the actual point where, on the 9th November 1989, the border was opened for the first time and citizens were able to pass freely from East to West and vice versa. There is an open-air exhibition depicting the history and pictures from the period.
Of course, after working up an appetite on the bike tour, I couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to enjoy Berlin’s most famous street food – currywurst from the famous Konnopke’s Imbiss. This currywurst stand has been owned by the same family since the 1930s and queues regularly stretch around the block!
I can confirm that it was very tasty! I would say no visit to Berlin is complete without trying some traditional currywurst and pommes, and it’s also a quick, cost-effective way for groups to enjoy lunch. Plus, the pupils can test their German skills when placing their order!
I also had the opportunity to see the One Grand Show at the beautiful Friedrichstadt Palast. Billed as Europe’s most elaborate show, it’s a real feast for the eyes, with all the costumes designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier. The show can be enjoyed by both German linguists and non-German speakers. And we can offer specially discounted tickets for school groups, which makes it a great option for an evening activity.
During my trip to Berlin I stayed at the A&O Hostel Mitte. The A&O chain offers purpose-built youth accommodation all over Germany and Europe, and is always a favourite among our groups. I was invited to the Mitte centre because it’s one of their first hostels to be refurbished with their new design – and I have to say I was very impressed with the work that’s been done.
The hostel now has a fresh, modern feel and the reception/bar/café area is spacious with some great areas for groups to congregate in the evening. Over the next year or so, this new design will be rolled out across the entire A&O chain, which is great news for our school groups.
The A&O Mitte made a great base for exploring Berlin, only a 10-minute stroll to the Ostbahnhof, meaning easy access on public transport to many of the main S-/U-Bahn lines of the city.
While in Berlin, I also inspected a couple of other accommodation centres which we either already use or may use in the future for our school groups. These were the TRYP by Wyndham Berlin City East, Meininger Hauptbahnhof and Hotel CityLight.
My favourite of the three was the Hotel CityLight, which is light, modern and ideal for school groups. All rooms are en-suite and there’s plenty of space for groups to meet and entertain themselves in the evening. Located just a short walk from the Gesundbrunnen U-/S-Bahn Station, a busy public transport hub, the hotel is in the perfect location for exploring the city.
TRYP by Wyndham Berlin City East, is a large, modern hotel in the east of the city. This accommodation will suit groups looking for more of a traditional hotel feel than a hostel. All rooms are en-suite and there is a bar area and meeting rooms for students to use in the evenings, as well as an outdoor terrace area for the summer months. The hotel is in a quiet, safe location and within walking distance of the Stasi Museum - ideal for history groups.
The last stop on my tour was the A&O Hauptbahnhof. This is the hostel we use most frequently for our groups in Berlin due to its great location, just 10 minutes’ walk from the Hauptbahnhof, Berlin’s central train station. This hostel will soon undergo the same refurbishment as A&O Mitte, so will benefit from a similar fresh, modern feel. And, as with all A&Os, the rooms are all en-suite and the reception/bar/café area is perfect for groups to get together. Plus, of course, you couldn’t really ask for a better location from which to explore Berlin.