It was no contest.
Our ship, the Viking Star, would be in the German seaport of Warnemunde from early morning till night so passengers could spend one day in Berlin as a complimentary shore excursion.
The ship had chartered a train for us which would leave right from the port for the 2-½ to 3-hour ride into the city. Then we’d hop on a bus for a 90-minute, guided sightseeing tour of Berlin before having four hours on our own to do what we wished. Later, we’d catch the train back to the ship, returning at 8:00 p.m.
But the day was going to be HOT. Unbelievably, in the middle of September, the forecast was for temps to be in the 90’s!
A beautiful Baltic beach… Or Berlin
Janice: “Can’t we go to the beach instead?”
We could rent bicycles and pedal out of Warnemunde along the forested coast, past Baltic beaches (some nudist – maybe we could get an allover tan?).
In the afternoon, we could take a 30-minute boat ride to the medieval university town of Rostock. Wouldn’t that be a more pleasant way to spend our time than journeying six hours on a train for one day in Berlin? That’s what Rick Steves did when his ship stopped at Warnemunde.
George: “You’d pass up a world-class city – home to my some of my favorite spy thrillers, by the way – for a no-name beach? I may never have this chance to visit again! One day in Berlin is better than no time in Berlin.”
Berlin won out.
Train to Berlin
The train ride was actually a fun part of our one day in Berlin.
In comfortable carriages with lots of seats to spread ourselves out (and coffee and cookies waiting for us), we traveled through pastoral countryside, past green farmland and small lakes, where swans and ducks swam by the reeds. Through open train windows, we could smell fresh-cut hay. Before coming into Berlin, we passed forests with sunbeams filtering through the trees.
What can you see in one day in Berlin?
In Berlin, our panoramic bus tour took us to some of the most important sites, giving us a quick overview of the city’s attractions.
We drove by the Reichstag (Germany’s parliament building) and former “Checkpoint Charlie” (a little hokey now – actors dressed in fake soldier uniforms charge tourists to have their photos taken).
And we stopped for photos at the massive, neo-classical 1791 Brandenburg Gate.
Our bus also stopped at the “East Side Gallery.” This section of the Berlin Wall, almost one mile long, is covered with 105 paintings by artists from all over the world, invited in 1990 (a year after the Wall fell) to paint on the Wall – it’s probably the largest open-air art gallery in the world.
The most famous painting is that of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev kissing Erich Honecker, leader of pre-1989 East Germany.
But could we get close enough to take a decent photo? A long line of people snaked past the painting, all patiently waiting their turn for a good look at “The Kiss.” We had to content ourselves with shooting from across the street, hoping for gaps in between slow-rolling buses.
Seeking respite in the German Historical Museum
And then we were set free, armed with maps and tips for what to see on our own.
Our plan was to stroll the grand central boulevard, Unter den Linden (named for its linden trees). And we did some of that before melting in the heat and making a beeline for the German Historical Museum (which we hoped would have air conditioning).
Sure enough, the museum was cool – in more ways than one…
Packed with some 8,000 exhibits, the German Historical Museum is considered one of the best museums in Berlin – we thought it superb. Everything from art and armor to Napoleon’s hat to pieces of the Berlin Wall are on display.
The upper floor covers Germany’s history from the Middle Ages to the end of the First World War, but we devoted most of our time on the ground floor – covering Hitler’s rise, WWII and then the Cold War and the divide and subsequent reunification of Berlin.
No matter how many times we’d read about the horrors associated with Hitler, learning more about those tragic times in the city where Hitler ruled made the Nazi years more immediate for us. Seeing documents ordering the deaths of some of the 70,000 mentally and physically disabled German patients who were “euthanized” caused shivers to run up and down our spines.
Practical tips for visiting the German Historical Museum
- Be sure to get a hand-held audio guide – it really added to our understanding and brought Germany’s turbulent times to life.
- Allow a good four hours to properly go through the museum.
- Stop at the museum café for a cappuccino or refreshments – its outdoor seating under the shade of leafy trees is a pleasant way to get reacquainted with the modern world after being immersed in the past.
Back to the ship
Museum exhibits depicting life in the former East Berlin – like the replica of a typical apartment – triggered an interesting discussion later with our young, liberal university student guide, Julia, who accompanied us on the return train ride back to our ship. Not everyone who lived under the thumb of communist Germany was unhappy with their lives.
“My parents liked parts of the East German rule,” she shared.
They were born in East Berlin in the 60s, shortly after the Wall was erected, so communist life would have been the only way of life they knew.
“They liked the employment situation. Everyone knew they’d have a job. If the government planned for 20 doctor positions in five years, they’d allow 20 students to study medicine.”
It was with mixed feelings when we reboarded our ship that night.
Visiting Berlin for a day doesn’t do the city justice – we’d barely even scratched the surface and now wanted to dig deeper. But at least we had our one day in Berlin.
How to visit Berlin
Most visitors don’t just breeze in and out of Berlin (or visit by cruise ship) like we did for our day trip. Berlin has so much to offer that, if possible, you’d clearly want to devote more time to exploring the city than just one day.
Check travel website GoEuro.com to search for the best options by train, bus or plane to Berlin. Their Travel to Berlin page especially is a great online resource that can compare prices, travel times and general city tips.
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Disclosure: This post has been made possible by GoEuro, which is based in Berlin. This story of our one day in Berlin is completely our own, however, and GoEuro has had no influence over our thoughts and words.