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  • Writer's pictureDr Julien Drouart

Berlin on a low budget: pedagogical tips

Updated: Jan 11, 2022

Dear visitor, you are planning a trip to Berlin, alone, as a couple or in a group. Your budget is limited and you would like to enjoy the cultural offer at a lower cost. With a little planning, this is possible. Allow me to guide you along the way to visit Berlin on a low budget.

The basics for a cost-effective stay in Berlin

Enjoying Berlin for less requires a great deal of personal investment. Keep yourself informed about the places you visit. A historical and chronological reminder is elementary so that you are not caught unawares.

You must remain a responsible visitor. It is unthinkable to choose a cultural activity just because it is free. In doing so, you risk taking a wrong view of the places you visit. Don't ruin your holiday by refusing to pay admission fees on principle.

Activities are never free but offered in the name of cultural democratisation. A free offer is not a worthless offer. Generally speaking, this high-quality offer concerns rather hard historical and memorial themes that cannot be approached lightly or without interest. Visiting a place of remembrance must be a well-considered act, regardless of whether the offer is free.

​ Some examples of self-guided tours of Berlin

The basis for a cost-effective stay in Berlin is walking. One of the city's special features is the diversity of its urban environment. Each district has its own identity and each walk becomes a moment of discovery. If you don't have a tour guide, you should be satisfied with a visual approach based exclusively on the discovery of the surroundings. In any case, I advise you to take the time to read the information leaflets in the places you pass through.

You can therefore plan a free visit to one district per day. Look out for possible stopping points such as a museum, a memorial or a festive event. From these places you can more easily define the areas to visit.

Visit the Mitte district

In a round trip, you can visit the geographical centre of Berlin. Starting at Alexanderplatz, you walk up the main street Unter den Linden past the Museum Island and the Brandenburg Gate. Once you arrive at the Reichstag Palace, you will take the opposite route via Potsdamer Platz, Checkpoint-Charlie and the Gendarmenmarkt. You will then end up in the St. Nicholas district. This is a good overview of some 7 km.

Along the way, you will also see many memorials: those of the Memorial Foundation to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Soviet Monument in the Tiergarten, the New Guard and the Marx-Engels Forum.

Visit the Old Jewish Quarter

Located above the Museum Island, the Scheunenviertel offers a beautiful memorial walk in the footsteps of Berlin's former Jewish community. Starting at the Hackescher Markt, you will make a loop through the New Synagogue, the former Jewish cemetery and the inner courtyards of the Heckmann Höfe, Hackesche Höfe and Haus Schwarzenberg (1.8 km).

Visit the districts of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg

In Friedrichshain you can experience Soviet architecture by walking up Karl-Marx-Allee to Frankfurter Tor. On the way down to the river, you can admire the East Side Gallery. Crossing the river on the Oberbaumbrücke, you will reach the district of Kreuzberg and go to the Kottbusser Tor. On the way, you will see murals dedicated to street art. On this 7 km walk you will pass through the multicultural and alternative Berlin.

Visit memorials and documentation centres

Berlin has a generous and high quality cultural offer. In almost every district you will find an educational space where you can learn more about history. So, during your walking tours of the city, decide which places to visit according to your interests. Take the necessary time for each visit.

Introduction to the history of National Socialism

Most of the memorial sites dedicated to the history of Hitler's Germany are free and open to the public. I would specifically recommend three addresses. In the Scheunenviertel, the Otto Weidt Museum offers a local and human history of the Shoah. Not far from the Checkpoint-Charlie, you can visit the documentation centre of the Topography of Terror, which covers the entire National Socialist period. Finally, near the Potsdamer Platz, there is the German Resistance Memorial Centre, which is very exhaustive and above all based on a biographical approach.

Other more out-of-the-way places deserve your attention: the Wannsee Conference House Memorial on the Shoah; the German-Russian Museum in Karlshorst on the war in the East; and the Sachsenhausen Memorial in Oranienburg on the site of a former concentration camp.

Introduction to the history of East Germany

The sites devoted to the former GDR and the Cold War are also mostly free and open to the public. Three stand out because of their importance. Firstly, you should not miss the Berlin Wall Memorial and its documentation centre. Secondly, the Museum of Everyday Life in the GDR is located right next to it. Finally, the Allied Museum, which is much further away, offers an opposite narrative by examining the presence of Western forces in West Berlin.

Some unusual activities: offered and not to be missed

The historical themes are rather heavy. However, Berlin offers its visitors several moments of discovery, this time with a lighter touch. For example, you can gain a new appreciation for the new German democracy by attending a lecture at the Reichstag Palace or simply gaze at the modern architecture of its dome.

Switch from classical culture with the Tuesday Lunchkonzert at the Philharmonie to popular culture with the Sunday Karaoke in the Mauerpark. The alternative arts are not left out: you can learn about street art in the surprising Urban Nation museum.

What about the cultural budget?

Based on a stay of 6 days and 5 nights in Berlin for a group of 4 people, I suggest a programme including 16 activities of your choice: 6 city tours, 7 free museum visits, 2 cultural outings and 1 historical site with a lecture. So a cultural budget of about 0€.

Such a programme is realistic because walking through the city will require energy and therefore moments of relaxation are to be expected. The historical themes are omnipresent but are mitigated by the diversity of the districts visited. The total cost is zero because most of the memorials are free of charge. In the end, the savings will allow you to enjoy the food and drink venues more.

I wish you a successful holiday in Berlin. Welcome to the German capital.

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