I really thought I would dive into the vegan market I was at last week or figuring out where we would go for a weekend now that most of our weekend obligations are out of the way. (We’re thinking Dullstroom, but we may hit somewhere new.)
Instead the cold, rainy, great weather – which I love – reminded me of Germany. And the run-down feeling – which should be expected after a weekend with a dinner party and a wedding – guided me to my weekend in Berlin last year.
Just a glance at this picture from Berlin should demonstrate how waking to rain and grey prompted my blog choice.
And, what you can’t see is that, by the time my 48 hours in Berlin were over, I had a raging cold and quite probably a flu.
But, the weekend didn’t start that way. It actually started years ago when I began reading and watching everything I could about the Stasi, the DDR and the wall. It began with The Lives of Others and was eventually chased with Deutschland 83.
I’m purposefully leaving out a book list and all of the less-than-stellar movies and shows. But, my obsession ran deep.
When I knew I was going to go to Germany, I knew I was going to Berlin – and I knew I was going to explore the Cold War division. I was still deciding whether I would study at the Mannheim Universität or the Goethe Institut in Mannheim, but I already had a list of museums I needed to see in Berlin. (How and why I chose Mannheim over, say, Berlin, is a totally different story.)
The mission: Berlin museum domination on a budget
Because I’m a number-crunching, travel-budgeting freak, I had a list (erm, spreadsheet) of museums I hoped to explore – along with their entry prices.
And, yes, I knew there was no way to see everything I wanted to see; I had three categories of museums:
- DDR Museum
- Wall Museum (East Side Gallery)
- Wall Museum (Checkpoint Charlie
Hope to see:
- German Spy Museum
- Berlin Story Bunker
- Deutsches Historisches Museum
If there’s time:
- Berlin Cathedral
- Berlin Story Museum
- Hitler – How could it happen
- The Kennedy’s Museum
- Schönhausen Palace
- The Story of Berlin Museum
My (lengthy and ambitious) Berlin museum list prompted two very critical decisions:
- Where I would sleep, and
- How I would get around the city.
Getting around Berlin
With so many museums on the agenda (which is unusual), I checked out the discounts I could get using the Berlin Welcome Card.
In Europe, most sizeable cities offer some sort of a Welcome Card that combines:
- Public transportation
- Discounts and/or free entrance to museums
- Discounts at (usually expensive and touristy) restaurants
In Berlin, the Welcome Card is super reasonably priced (currently €20 for 48 hours).
Normally, I can dismiss these visitor cards quickly as they’re only worth it if you’re going to a handful of museums – otherwise, it’s just best to figure out day tickets for public transport when you get to the central train station.
I truly (yes, this is real budget travel planning) spent the time calculating the amount I would save on museum entrances (a minimum of something like €16 – depending on the final list of museums) and then took a look at the cost of public transport for the 48 hours I would be in Berlin.
TIP: if you’re only going to one or two museums, check their websites and Facebook pages for discounts while planning your trip. There are more discounts for Berlin Museums than you might expect.
The Welcome Card worked for me this time around, so I planned for it. An awesome bonus that comes with the Berlin Welcome Card is that I was able to print everything ahead of time; on arrival at the Hauptbahnhof, I would be able to just jump on the bus to… wherever I was staying. (Sadly, it didn’t work out like that, but that had nothing to do with the Berlin Welcome Card.)
Finding a bed in Berlin
Then, because I’m super nerdy and budget-conscious, I tucked all of my top museum choices into a Google map, along with the Hauptbahnhof – and Treptower Park, because of the Soviet-era monument in the park.
Then I started looking for a place to stay.
I would normally turn to AirBNB, but even a cursory search revealed that it wasn’t worth it. I only needed a place to sleep and a place to prepare food (as I couldn’t justify eating out when I was spending so much on museum entrances). I also needed something cheap and central. (Well, clearly, in the central-eastern part of the city.)
That’s how I ended up with a hostel (which isn’t as disconcerting as you might think when you’re 40+ and travelling alone).
And now there are hostel platforms, like Hostel World, which proved truly invaluable for planning this trip.
Don’t think there wasn’t an entire spreadsheet dedicated to finding one that worked for me. I worked my way through a list of hostels in Berlin that were in the area I was after, had a minimum rating and could tick as many like-to-have boxes as possible.
In the end I chose Wombat’s City Hostel because it had everything I wanted:
- Various room sizes and prices
- En suite bathrooms
- Full kitchen
- Short walk to major public transport lines
- In the area of at least some of my must-see museums
- Late checkout
- A coffee shop and bar
Was it a party hostel, aimed at 20-somethings planning to drink and dance their way through the city? Yes. Did that bother me? Not really. Would I stay there again? Yes – but only if I was doing the exact same trip and the hostel was only a central place to cook and sleep.
In any case, this was the view from the rooftop deck at Wombats City Hostel in Berlin.
Useful Berlin visit planning sites
Don’t worry; I won’t leave you hanging with just the planning side of a museum weekend in Berlin. Stay tuned for a complete view of these museums and my Berlin triumphs and trials.