travel advice & savings

Free and Almost Free in Berlin

Type: District
Cost: $0
Tags: cheap
City: Berlin, Germany
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Germany has always been regarded as one of the top favorite tourist destinations in Europe. There are many famous tourist spots around the country such as the Reichstag, the Ku’damm, the Brandenburg Gate, or the Potsdamer Platz. However, millions of tourists were willing to travel to the major cities like Berlin in each every year. Tourists might need to stand in line for what seemed like six hours waiting just to get into those famous places. So, how about some tourist attractions that don’t attract many tourists, but which give the feeling of the city nonetheless? Plus they’re all free.

Berlin Wall Documentation Center, Bernauer Str. This one’s a no-brainer in some respects, but people insist on going to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum (at Checkpoint Charlie, of course, Friedrichstr. corner of Kochstr.) instead. The Checkpoint Charlie people have a (very transparent) agenda, though, while these people are just an extension of the German Federal Archives. The English captioning is a bit but the way the documents are displayed and explained — and amplified by films — on the upper floor will help you understand what the Wall was. Once you get that, check out the observation platform for a long look at one of the Wall’s deadliest stretches, and then walk it, reading the multilingual plexiglass historical markers along the way and thrilling at people’s courage in trying to cross over. (S-Bahn Nordbahnhof, then a short walk; Tram 142, stop Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer)

Dance of Death, Marienkirche. Berlin isn’t a very old city, but this church is one of the few ancient buildings from when it was a river trading post and barracks town. Like every town in Europe, it was visited by the Plague, and people sought comfort in the church, which taught that no matter what your station in life, death was the inevitable goal. To illustrate this, many churches painted the Dance of Death on their walls, showing people from all professions and ranks of nobility being waltzed into the grave by spooky death-figures. Usually the centerpiece of the composition was a Crucifixion, for obvious reasons. The one just inside this church’s entrance, to the left, is a 15th Century fresco, whose colors are fading into the walls, but being restored very, very slowly. A reproduction of the mural on paper stands before it, and if your Medieval German is good, you can read the little poems recited by the innkeeper, the bishop, the prostitute, and all the rest as they trip to their doom, guided by what look like aliens. (The rest of the art in the church isn’t too distinguished, but the organ is one of the best in Europe, so check for recitals). (Karl-Liebknecht-Str. corner of Spandauer Str.; S-Bahn Alexanderplatz or Hackescher Markt)

The Missing House. One of the most remarkable things about Berlin is that there are not, and never have been, any “ethnic neighborhoods.” No Chinatown, no Jewish ghetto. The Scheunenviertel, rich in history as it is, wasn’t a “Jewish neighborhood,” as some guidebooks will tell you. It was, however, a poor neighborhood, and that meant that a lot of poor Jewish people lived there. This is why you’ll see a lot of gold Stolpensteine, “stumbling blocks” hammered into the sidewalk by an itinerant artist who goes around Germany commemorating Jewish families who were deported, at your feet. But there were lots of other folks living there, too, as this artwork by the French artist Christian Boltanski makes clear. A group of three houses stood here. The middle one was bombed. Using police records, Boltanski determined who had been living there when this happened, and in which apartment, then made simple signs showing their dates of residence and their occupations and hung them on the wall where each apartment used to be. Poles, Jews, Czechs, Germans, and one name which could be English stand witness to the original makeup of the neighborhood. It’s private property, but you can stand at the gate and read the signs, and the residents don’t mind. (Grosse Hamburger Str. 12; S-Bahn Oranienburger Str. or Hackescher Markt)

The Triumph of Communism. Karl-Marx-Allee was going to be the architectural showpiece of all of East Germany, with its apartment houses built on the Soviet model standing proudly, bas reliefs of heroic workers and healthy children who’d grow up to be heroic workers adorning them, and its ground-level shops bursting with the products of collective labor. Of course, it didn’t quite work out that way, but the apartments got built anyway, and today the whole thing is still standing, so you can walk from Strausberger Platz, with its huge fountains, all the way to Warschauer Str. reading incredibly interesting signs in German and English which detail the entire history of the area, concentrating on the architectural heritage, but not neglecting juicy 18th Century hangings, either. They’re on both sides of the street, and on a nice day, it’s a great way to spend a couple of hours. Don’t miss the Cafe Moskau with its Sputnik on top just before you get to the fountains, either! (Karl-Marx-Allee, U 5 Schillingstr. is a good place to start your walk). With some discounts on flight and transportation expenses, this trip to Berlin would considerably, not free, but almost free!

Contributor’s Note: This article is courtesy of They offer cheap accommodation in Berlin.