Europe

First Stop in Europe: Berlin

      Berlin was the first city I stopped in during my two-week backpacking trip. My plan was to travel one week solo and spend the other week with my family in other parts of Europe. I prepared for my two-week backpacking trip for months and I felt many mixed emotions but I wasn’t nervous at all. I was actually concerned about my lack of anxiety since feeling anxious is my typical reaction when I’m not in my comfort zone. 

Fernsehturm

Accommodation

I decided to stay at the Circus Hostel during my three nights/four days in Berlin. The total cost for accommodations was around 70 Euros for a 10 person dorm room in December. You can definitely find cheaper hostels in Berlin but I wanted to be comfortable and make sure I got my money’s worth. I totally did! I’m not being dramatic when I say that the Circus Hostel is the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in. From the cleanliness to the aesthetic and the delicious complimentary breakfast, this was the place to stay at!

Why Circus Hostel is the best hostel in Berlin:

  • CLEAN (even the bathrooms)
  • Delicious complimentary breakfast in the Cafe (all you can eat buffet that offers fruits, cheeses, bread, etc.)
  • AWESOME micro-brewery on the bottom floor
  • Keycard accessible
  • Wheelchair accessible (!!!!)
  • Bike rentals available
  • Tours offered
  • Centrally located

 I was 24 when I traveled to Berlin and I was open to being uncomfortable to save a couple of bucks which is why I was totally fine with staying in a ten person dorm (I can’t say that I would stay in one now though). Even though I was in a room with 8-9 other people, my top bunk was fitted with a storage section and outlets which made me feel as though I had some sort of privacy. My experience in the 10 person dorm was great but since my Euro Trip, I’ve only stayed in private rooms. Maybe it’s my age or being more secure financially (or both), but I’ll gladly pay extra to be comfortable.

 

Rosenthalerplatz

 

Circus Hostel is also a great place for solo travelers! One of my goals was to meet and interact with new individuals while I traveled. I was worried that it would be difficult to meet others but it was so easy. In fact, I hung out with different groups of people every night! The microbrewery on the bottom floor definitely contributed to the ease of meeting others. Every night, I headed to the brewery and easily struck up conversations that led to bar-hopping outside of the hostel. I thought it would be more difficult to meet others for me since I am typically quiet around new people but I learned that when you travel solo, something inside you pushes you to do things you never thought you could do.

 

There is a Turkish deli across the street from the Circus Hostel that has amazing, cheap food! This meal cost me 3 Euros and I couldn’t finish it.

How to Travel from Schönefeld Airport to Berlin

I decided to hit the ground running when I exited the Berlin-Schönefeld Airport (one of two international airports in Berlin). I opted to take public transportation to my hostel instead of calling an Uber. Since this was the first time I was traveling solo, I was nervous but also confident that I could find my way (hey, I’m from New York). I  enjoy navigating new cities so I knew this wouldn’t be any different, but I couldn’t help but feel a few nerves. They quickly faded though when I realized how easy it was to take public transportation into the city.

The ticket cost is 3,40 Euro to get from the airport (zone c) to Alexanderplatz, where you can connect to the U-bahn.

 Take the Airport Express train to Berlin, located about five minutes from the airport. There are plenty of signs that will guide you to the train platform so you won’t get lost. On your way to the train, you’ll find machines that sell train tickets (they’re on the platform as well). Buy a ticket and head to the platform! You’ll most likely want to take either line RE 7 or RB 14, depending on your final destination. I took the RE 7 to Alexanderplatz, where I transferred to the U8  (U-bahn) and exited at Rosenthaler Platz. It was such an easy and efficient process!

 

Public Transportation in Berlin

Berlin’s public transportation system is so efficient and really easy to navigate! I recommend traveling around Berlin solely using public transportation since it is so reliable (very different from New York City’s MTA system – yes, I am resentful). There are a couple of things to be mindful of to ensure you won’t get fined or confused by the many forms of public transportation!

The S-Bahn refers to the trains that travel above ground while the U-Bahn refers to the trains that travel below ground.

There are two types of machines on the platform – one to buy your train ticket, and one to validate your ticket.  Make sure you validate your ticket before getting on the train!  All you need to do is put your ticket in the opening and it will automatically stamp your ticket with the date and time. Berlin’s public transportation system uses the honor system therefore, no one is checking your tickets but there are plainclothes officers who randomly check tickets on the train. If your ticket is not validated, you will be fined.

 

If you’re going to be staying in Berlin for an extended period of time and will primarily use public transportation, I recommend purchasing the Berlin Welcomecard. The card provides free public transportation, discounts on over 200 attractions and a free city guide. The costs range from 22 Euros to 46 Euros, depending on how long your card lasts for (between 48 hours to 6 days).

U-bahn (Berlin, Germany)

While using public transportation in Berlin, it’s important to be mindful of the fare zones. There are three different zones – A/B/C and the cost of the tickets vary depending on your location and destination.

  1. Zone A = includes S-Bahn ring and includes the city centre
  2. Zone B = ends at Berlin’s city limits
  3. Zone C = the surrounding area outside of Berlin (the Berlin-Schönefeld Airport is in Zone C)

Fares overview

Ticket Fare Concession fare*
Short journey € 1,70 € 1,30
Single Ticket AB € 2,80 € 1,70
Single Ticket ABC € 3,40 € 2,50
4-journey Ticket AB € 9,00 € 5,60
Day Ticket AB € 7,00 € 4,70
Day Ticket ABC € 7,70 € 5,30

Tip: Take out cash! I found that many spots in Berlin were cash only or were so cheap, you’d rather pay in cash. I originally came with some Euros, with the expectation that I would primarily use my foreign transaction fee free credit card for purchases. I had to take out cash from the ATM on day 2.

Attractions

My focus in Berlin was historical since I’ve always had an interest in World War II and the Holocaust (I was fascinated as to how a genocide could occur while the whole world was watching – nowadays, I know better than to be surprised by the inaction of countries’ when it comes to human rights atrocities).

There are old school photo booths sprawled throughout the city!

Insider Tours: Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

I’ve always had an interest in the Holocaust and I knew I did not want to pass up the chance to visit Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp with Insider Tours. Insider Tours conducts various tours daily and are so easy to participate in. You buy your ticket online (17 Euros) and show up at the meetup spot. Once our group met up, we all took a train to Oranienburg, the town where the concentration camp is located in.

During our tour, we learned that there are still many delayed fused bombs buried in Oranienburg to this day. The bombs were placed by the Allies during World War II and lay dormant, until they explode (on average, every five years). Our tour guide assured us that we would be safe since a bomb was uncovered only a year prior to our tour.

It was pretty surreal to realize that not too long ago, many people walked through these gates and never left. Sachashuasen was not an extermination camp but primarily used to hold prisoners of war (they were murdered regularly as well).  As we walked through the gates, we entered into a large field and saw a large machine gun placed on top of one of the towers. We learned that the machine gun had the ability to swivel in whatever direction the soldiers pleased. Interestingly enough, after World War II, it was used as an internment camp, ran by the Soviets, to hold those who were affiliated with Nazis or against Stalinism.

If you’re interested in this part of history, I recommend you attend. You won’t leave the tour in high spirits, but it was definitely an experience I will remember. I did go in December, so honestly, it was freezing. It was so cold, I even considered leaving the tour early (I was not properly prepared). When it hit me that there were SO many prisoners in the past who were cold and basically wore NOTHING, I decided to stick it out. I felt silly for leaving for being a little cold.

DDR Museum

Again, I LOVE learning about this time in history so I had to head over to the DDR Museum. It’s an interactive museum about what life was like on the Eastern side of Berlin after the wall went up. To be honest, I didn’t really think about the Eastern side of Berlin at all until I got to this museum but I realized there was so much history we were not taught about this time period! I truly enjoyed the interactive part of this museum. We were able to walk through a replica of an apartment, play with various items that were popular during that time period, and learn what it was like for those in the Eastern side when the wall came down.

 

East Side Gallery

Obviously, visiting the East Side Gallery is a MUST. Unfortunately, I read somewhere a while ago (don’t quote me though) that they are considering getting rid of the rest of the wall to build new buildings in the area, so go see it while you can! The East Side Gallery took me about twenty minutes to see the whole wall covered in art and it was beautiful.

Other Places to Visit:

  • Christmas Markets (HUGE deal in Germany during Christmas time)
  • Kreuzberg (Neighborhood filled with art and is rapidly gentrifying)
  • Museum Island (I didn’t have time to visit but you should totally go if you’re into museums!)
  • Tiergarten
  • Reichstag
  • Checkpoint Charlie (you can get your passport stamped there!)
  • Memorial of the Murdered Jews in Europe (I truly regret not making time to see this)
  • The Topography of Terror

 

My next stop on my solo trip after Berlin was Rome and Amsterdam. Nothing compared though, to my time in Berlin. I’ll be back to visit with Neesha one day, but if you have the opportunity to travel solo, you must go to Berlin!

 

Tell us about your experiences in Berlin! What did you enjoy the most?

One Comment

  • Patricia Chabla

    I loved this, it reminded me I’d when I busted Berlin but back then the wall wad up and while I was able to go through check point charlie. I was limited to where I could go. Thanks for that memory and do my next trip to Europe has to include Berlin!

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