September 10-12, 2018
Since I couldn’t buy a train ticket online in advance from Gdansk to Berlin (they required 8 days to mail it to my home and I didn’t book this far in advance) I opted to take the Flixbus overnight 9 hour bus.
Flixbus was great, no complaints about their service- But my dream of sleeping on the bus to awaken in Berlin fresh and rested was ridiculous. I maybe slept an hour. Maybe. And that’s with 10 mg of melatonin on board. Night buses are a nightmare that should be avoided at all costs unless you have somewhere to nap when you arrive.
I did not. I was meeting 2 friends in Berlin and we booked a private room at the Generator Mitte for a higher price than the Hilton. Ridiculous. And they charge extra for towels and breakfast whereas the Hilton does not, and usually gives early check in. But the location was on point. Generator is a newer brand of hostel that is overpriced and trying too hard. I was particularly pissed when I attempted to contact them regarding their booking guarantee 2 days prior to our arrival. I had found the same room for €38 less and since their booking guarantee states they have the lowest price for booking direct, I assumed they’d honour this. 5 unanswered emails, 1 unanswered Facebook message and 4 phone calls later, I was able to cancel the reservation and rebook on Expedia for the lower price. Their cancellation policy simply states to “contact the hostel” but since the phone number is difficult to find online and they don’t answer the first few tries, I feel like they’re intentionally dodging people who acknowledging their overpriced scam of promising that booking direct is the best price. If you’re going to slum it in a Generator hostel, I don’t recommend taking a night bus the night before. Treat yourself to a legit hotel for the same price that will allow you to check in early if your room is ready and you’ll have a nice shower with a hotel provided towel for free.
Generator are you a hostel or a hotel? Because hostels allow outside food and have cooking facilities and hotels have housekeeping staff and don’t charge for towels.
I obviously didn’t get an early check in but they were kind enough to allow me to shower in their filthy shared bathroom covered in enough hair and other surprises to lead me to believe it hadn’t been cleaned since in awhile.
Rant over. Lesson learned: check reviews carefully before handing over your hard earned euros.
A little pro tip for Berlin: central bus station isn’t very central. After a 9 hour bus ride to “central station” I was disheartened to find out I’d have to take two trains to get to the Mitte area. I figured out how to buy the ticket (€2.80) and started to ride downtown. I managed to mix up the transfer and boarded the wrong train. I got off quickly and got on a train headed the other way to backtrack. Oops another wrong train! Finally, after turning a half hour ride into an hour I got to the Generator hostel.
I spent my first day puttering around Berlin on my own. Besides beer, a main reason to visit Berlin was so I could learn more about the cold war. I took my time wandering the streets towards check point Charlie, noting that unlike other European countries, Berlin doesn’t have an old town or many old buildings. This makes sense given the destructive history of the last hundred years. There is no shortage of shopping malls, food establishments, etc. and other than accommodation price, I didn’t find Berlin to be particularly expensive.
I am not a huge museum person but went to the topography of terror museum as it had free admission and I thought I’d learn something useful. I ended up spending 2 hours there totally in awe, soaking up as much information as I possibly could. I highly recommend a visit here.
When I got back to meet my friends, we set out to explore more of Berlin, including the east side gallery (free) at night and the Ramones museum (€10, includes a beer).
The following day, my friends and I did our own self guided grand tour of Berlin. Below is an itinerary you can copy for an epic day in Berlin. All sites are free unless indicated otherwise although there are additional tour add ons you can pay for in most places.
1. Alexanderplatz & Berlin cathedral 2. Reichstag building – parliament building
3. Brandenburg gate
4. Holocaust memorial
5. Tiergarten park including Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism
6. Topography of terror (free bathrooms, you’ll thank me for this tip)
7. Checkpoint Charlie
8. Cold war exhibit
9. Tempelhof airport and refugee camp *this isn’t really too fascinating but if you’re into abandoned airports or have never seen a refugee camp, this is an interesting spot.
10. Bergmannstrabe – there is a cool little market on this street where you can grab lunch
11. East wall gallery
12 Ramones museum
13. Markthalle Neun and the surrounding Kreuzberg area for food, drinks and cool sights (and tattoos if you have the impulse as we did…)
14. Hit up a bunch of the local breweries for night time drinks. Marcus Brau in Alexanderplatz was our favourite – it has a seriously authentic German vibe to it.
We hit up a few breweries before heading back to our hostel to prepare to go our separate ways the next morning, all from separate departure points as Berlin does not really have one central station as you’ll find in most European cities.
General tips for Berlin:
– Have cash for bathrooms, tattoos and pretzels. Unlike other countries I visited that prefer card, Berlin still has many places that require cash and don’t accept card.
– check arrival and departure location. There are multiple airports, bus stations and a train station, and even “central station” isn’t particularly central
– try the currywurst – even the vegan one is amazing!
– make sure you visit Brammibal’s for the best donuts!