24-hour City Guide: Berlin, Germany

Sights to see in Berlin, Germany. Photos by Katrina Sklepowich
Sights to see in Berlin, Germany. Photos by Katrina Sklepowich

What to see and what to skip if you only have one day in Germany’s capital, Berlin

Hey wanderers!

This is your 24-hour city guide for one of my favourite German cities – Berlin! This post is a quick reference for what to see if you’re short on time – when I was in Berlin back in 2012, we really did only have two days to see everything. We spent one day visiting Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and the other day seeing all the city had to offer. Of course, my first recommendation is to extend your stay past 24 hours if possible, because this city has so many cool things to see…but if you only have a day, here’s what I recommend you check out.

IMGP4194Don’t forget to grab that hostel reservation

Berlin is relatively affordable for backpackers and travellers, and there are a lot of great options for accommodations. Just remember to book ahead – Berlin is a pretty popular tourist spot. We opted to stay in a suburb and it was amazing. Don’t be afraid to stay on the outskirts of a big city – you’ll get more exposure to local culture and have a more authentic experience. We still had excellent access to train stations and bus routes, so getting to and from the city centre and all the hot spots was no problem. Another great thing about our hostel was that it offered free walking tours. And, as you’ll have read in Kaeri’s post about Seville, walking tours are often the best way to see a city!

What to see:

Whether on a guided tour or not, here are some sights to see while you’re in the city:

IMGP4202Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor)

A historic staple, this giant and gorgeous gate is a natural meeting place and offers a great photo op. This is where our walking tour started and it really introduces you to the city and its history. Damaged during the Second World War, it’s now fully restored.

IMGP4226Checkpoint Charlie

A relic of Berlin’s tumultuous past, Checkpoint Charlie is the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East and West Germany. Decked out with retro insignia and soldiers in full dress, this army checkpoint will take you back in time. Here, you’ll learn a lot about the Wall that separated East from West, Soviet-occupied Germany from the Western Ally sector. It’s a pretty crazy story.

IMGP4214The Berlin Wall 

You can’t miss out on seeing the remnants of the Berlin Wall – it was so weird for us to see sections of the wall still intact. The deconstruction of the wall represents a defining moment in Germany’s (and the world’s) history. Although much of the tourist spots in Berlin are a reminder of the World Wars and everything that followed, the Berlin Wall, now, is more a symbol of the movement that brought down the Iron Curtain.

IMGP4213The Holocaust Memorial

Located in the centre of Berlin near the Brandenburg Gate, the  Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a moving reminder of the human cost of the Second World War. It’s super sad, but also important to go see. The memorial consists of a Field of Stelae (the concrete blocks pictured) and an Information Centre. It also memorializes the Sinti and Roma, as well as homosexuals and others who lost their lives under the National Socialist regime.

IMGP4196Ritter Sport Bunte Schokowelt 

After experiencing Berlin’s fascinating history, you will be in need of some delicious German chocolate. Stop by Ritter Sport’s Schokowelt (Chocolate World, my friends) and make yourself a custom chocolate creation, or just stock up on hundreds of amazing chocolate squares. I can’t tell you how worth it this stop will be! We each brought home several bags of mini Ritter Sport chocolate bars – they make great gifts (and are tasty snacks whenever you need a guilt-free pick-me-up). Always finish your day on a positive!

What to Skip:

Honestly, I can’t think of anything not to see in Berlin. My best advice is to take it all in if you can. I should also mention that there are great day trips to make from Berlin, like traipsing about Schloss Charlottenburg, the largest palace in Berlin, or taking a train out to Oranienburg to visit Sachsenhausen – if you have an extra day or two, I suggest doing both.

What else do you recommend seeing in Berlin when short on time? Is there any spot you love that I missed? Comment below or send me a message on Facebook – I love hearing from you!

As you know, this travel blog has been part of a school project – let me know how I’m doing by filling out this quick survey! Thanks for your help and for checking out this post.

Until next week, stay well!
Katrina

Why I went to Sachsenhausen

I am currently reading Jody Picoult’s The Storyteller.

My friend Jessica, a fellow lover of literature, recommended it to me this summer. She told me it was her favourite book written by Picoult and she also warned me that it was an intense read. I’m grateful that she gave me the heads up because this book revolves around the experience of a Jewish girl, Minka, during the Holocaust – any book that talks about war, genocide, or crimes against humanity, let’s face it, make me really sad.

The book deals with the complex issues of abuse and forgiveness, and while I only finished Part 2 last night, some of the scenes I have read so far have been heart-wrenching. I don’t want to ward you off the book because it is important and beautiful and well-written, but it does deal with difficult subject-matter.

Reading The Storyteller has brought back memories of a trip I took two years ago. I was traveling with friends of mine and while we were in Berlin, Germany, we decided to visit Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp located about an hour from the city centre. We could have gone to visit nearby castles or the Reichstag (Parliament), but all of us felt that it would be important to visit the camp.

Context: I had just finished my university degree in Human Rights, and in my last year of school, I had taken a course on Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. All of us have German ancestry. We had to go.

We took the train to Oranienburg and walked to the camp museum and memorial. The weather was terrible – it was windy and cold and we kept thinking it would storm. The gloominess amplified the atmosphere of despair at the camp. I can’t really describe the feeling of being there – it was terrifying, sad, grotesque. I will never forget that visit.

While Minka, the girl in The Storyteller, didn’t spend time at the concentration camp I visited (she was a prisoner at Auschwitz, then at Bergen-Belsen), every time I read a scene detailing Minka’s experience, I think of Sachsenhausen.

As we draw closer to Remembrance Day and as governments around the world make difficult decisions regarding ISIS and other threats to human security around the world (conflict in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, political unrest in Hong Kong, and the Ebola virus crisis, etc.,), I think it is important for us to remember the Holocaust and other past atrocities. We always say “never again” and we always say that this time, we’ve learned how to be better. The concentration camps left standing in Europe as memorials and museums are there to remind us to be better. Here’s hoping Canadians can demonstrate that we have learned from past mistakes, and that we are a better people.

Read The Storyteller. Visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Be kind to one another.

Happy reading,

Katrina

To learn more about Sachsenhausen, visit the museum and memorial website: http://www.stiftung-bg.de/gums/
*All pictures below are my own.