Berlin is probably one of the world's top urban places with the greatest price/benefit ratio. The city is full of scars of recent World history and alternative, non-commercialised islands are everywhere. These are my personal 7 free things to do in Berlin.
Before we start consider: Berlin‘s night life is great and considerably cheap, but expect to spend at least 30 Euro for a party night (Entrance to nightclubs is mostly 10-15 Euros + drinks). In order not to ruin your ears with crap music in free entrance ‘nightclubs' you have to save money during the day.[box type=”info”]This article is part of the free Backpacking in Europe Guide where you find more great information, resources and destination guides to plan & organize your trip to Europe![/box]
1) Explore: Berlin off the beaten path
Call it urban exploration, call it flaneurisme, call it what you want. Always try to go off the beaten path – there might be an interesting place just in a tiny, unpretentious side street. Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg are great places to explore: you should try really hard to get lost and not simply follow the masses on Simon-Dach-Straße or Oranienstraße.
Leave your camera at home and get deeper impressions outside the main tourist sights as well: Because Berlin has such a big territory (eight times bigger than Paris!) and many new buildings are being built, many are left abandoned which are now great fun to explore. Such as Hitler's Tempelhof airport or the Ice Factory close to River Spree.
Tip: To find these places check abandonedberlin.com. It is fun to read, and gives you all the needed information to trespass safely. Sometimes such trips are also organised by the Couchsurfing-Community at couchsurfing.org.
2) Strolling around Berlin's flea markets
On Sundays, there are usually some flea markets in many neighbourhoods. I recommend the flea markets between Frankfurter Tor and Warschauer Straße, RAW-Gelände and Boxhagener Platz to be more precise.
If you are searching for priceworthy books (also in English language) check the one at Boxhagener Platz. To get an idea of Berlin's multiculturalism, pick some fruits n' stuff at the Turkish market at Maybachufer/Kreuzberg.
Tip: Check this list of Berlin's markets
3) Berlin Wall Documentation Centre & Topography of Terror
The Berlin Wall Docu Centre is a rather small inside and outside exhibition about the Berlin Wall, close to the place where people jumped out of windows just before their windows facing the Western Berlin side were sealed off in 1961. Stroll around this historic ground, read and hear information about the construction of the Wall, watch films inside the exhibition centre, climb up the exhibition's tower to see where the former wall was going along.
Going back to Germany's infamous Nazi-history: Topography of Terror is another free entrance indoor and outdoor exhibition, but expect less original objects and lots to read. The site you are standing on was the former Third Reich headquarters of the SS and the Reich Security Main Office (whatever “Security” meant for the Nazis), but there is very little to see of the original building.
4) Mauerpark Karaoke
I feel a bit bad recommending the stuff which is printed in all travel guides anyway: It's this famous Karaoke at Mauerpark, close to the Berlin Wall Documentation Centre (see No. 3), which takes place during spring and summer almost all Sundays. It's in the middle of a big flea market.
Tip: Check out the dates for Berlin's one and only outdoor-flea-market-Karaoke (not all Sundays, in winter: indoor location)
5) Swimming or hanging out at the lakes
I personally can recommend Krumme Lanke in fancy Zehlendorf, a bit outside, close to another lake, Schlachtensee. Great water quality and many hidden spots between the trees surrounding the river bank.
Smell the Cold War instead of traffic and Döner. No wonder David Lynch was fascinated by the atmosphere of this site/building. He unsuccessfully tried to buy this property to build an “invincible university” for his sect (funny story in Time Mag).
Spooky territory: You have to climb over/under/through a massive fence to enter the former US-listening station with the iconic dome. It's abandoned, meaning destroyed and full of graffiti. For some reasons, the owner does not like trespassing in this useless building, so security is getting better and stricter: google the place and the situation before you go ;)
Tip: If you cannot enter, check the surrounding Grunewald and the Teufelssee.
7) Tacheles is a must-see, but it's closed!!?? What now?
Close by there is Hackesche Höfe, tourism and shopping for the bourgeoise (but looks nice anyway). Next door, next backyard is “Kino Central” with a passage to a similar ‘cool-alternative' Tacheles-like art space and shop/bookstore: Neurotitan (to get some creative, trendy urban presents for the beloved ones at home, forget about Berlin bears) at Rosenthaler Straße 39, Haus Schwarzenberg. Neurotitan Shop & Gallery has an open Loft-style exhibition with Agitprop and other art.
In between there is also another free entrance museum gem about Otto Weidt, an entrepreneur who employed and protected many jews in Nazi-times in the backyard of his brooms-and-brushes-factory. Just the interior gives you an idea of living and working in the backyards about a century ago.[note] “Höfe” or “Hinterhöfe” refers to typical Berlin backyards. Their construction within Berlin “tenement houses” flourished in 19th century-industrialised-Berlin because of a lack of space for Berlin's proletariat. The Hackesche Höfe is a fancy rebuilding of the ‘dodgy proletariat' backyards. Bring your parents there, they will like it ;)
Accommodation, Transportation & Must Eat
Right next to Berlin Zoo station you can find the new and very modern Aletto Hostel / Budget Hotel, they have a great breakfast menu, the rooms are brand new (privates and dorms) and the roof terrace offers an extraordinary view over Berlin!
Another good option is the PLUS Hostel, which is super stylish and has its own swimming pool.
Get in & around
The main airports are Tegel (TXL) and Schönefeld (SXF), both have a direct connection to the public transportation network.
by plane – a lot of budget airlines are operating from Berlin, like Germanwings and AirBerlin. Germanys main carrier is Lufthansa. Check the cheapest connections with Skyscanner!
by train – train service in Germany is very modern, the central station is called Hauptbahnhof, located near the center. Deutsche Bahn provides numerous national & international connections. Check more connections with RailEurope!
by bus – recently long-distance bus services are available, they are the cheapest way to get around in Germany. Flixbus is one of the largest companies. (Book a Flixbus ticket online)
Berlin is home to some great street food, legends have it that the famous Döner has been invented here as well as the legendary Currywurst. For Döner you should check out the area in Kreuzberg and Neukölln, my personal recommendation for Currywurst is Konnopke and Curry 36.
Anything to add to 7 free things to do in Berlin? More suggestions?
We love to hear them! Just share it below in the comment section – i will add the additional tips from time to time.[author image=”http://www.back-packer.org/wp-content/uploads/Bildschirmfoto-2012-10-06-um-21.15.52.png” ]Jannes is one of the Couchsurfing City Ambassadors of Berlin. Contact him for more info through his Couchsurfing profile. Once in a while he is also blogging and tweeting his thoughts.[/author]