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One day in Berlin. Crazy? Or not…

It was no contest.

Our ship, the Viking Star, would be in the German seaport of Warnemunde from early morning till night.

This would allow passengers to spend one day in Berlin as a complimentary shore excursion.

Is it worth spending just one day in Berlin?
Is it worth spending just one day in Berlin?

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 guided, 90-minute sightseeing tour of Berlin, followed by 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.

24 Hours in Berlin
This TV tower, built under the old communist regime, is one of Berlin’s most prominent landmarks

One day in Berlin (sort of )

We’ve kicked around Germany, visiting relatives in Hamburg and Rheinfelden. We’ve enjoyed bathing at the Friedrichsbad in Baden-Baden and discovered many delightful things to do in Bonn.

But we’d never been to Berlin before.

Now, our time in the city wouldn’t be like having three days to experience the best of Berlin – which would be far preferable and allow us to experience some of the myriad things to do in Berlin. (We at least had two days in Dresden!)

It wouldn’t even be like having 24 hours in Berlin.

But this would at least give us a taste of the city.

The day was going to be hot, however.

Unbelievably, in the middle of September, the forecast was for temps to be in the 90’s!

A beautiful Baltic beach… Or a day in Berlin?

Janice:  “There are so many places to visit in Berlin! Maybe we should save our visit for when we have more time. 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 a full-body tan?)

one day in berlin
This Warnemunde beach looks appealing on a hot day

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 only a few hours in Berlin?

Warnemunde, in fact, is one of the best day trips from Berlin! This is 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

George takes in the scenery on our chartered train ride into Berlin
George takes in the scenery on our chartered train ride into Berlin

The train ride was actually a fun part of our quickie Berlin visit.

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.

Dig trains? Then read next: Norway’s Flam Railway is one of the world’s most beautiful train rides!

What can you see in Berlin in a day?

One day Berlin itinerary
Berlin is a fascinating mix of old and new architecture – we particularly loved the grand classical buildings

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.

The Reichstag building:

By registering in advance, you can tour inside the glass dome on top of the Reichstag.
Germany’s modernist parliament building

We drove by the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament building.

With more time, we’d like to visit the Reichstag.

By registering in advance, you can tour inside the glass dome on top of the Reichstag. The views are supposed to be spectacular.

Checkpoint Charlie:

"Checkpoint Charlie" was the famous crossing between East and West Berlin, erected in 1961
“Checkpoint Charlie” was the famous crossing between East and West Berlin, erected in 1961

We also drove past former “Checkpoint Charlie.”

It’s a little hokey now – actors dressed in fake soldier uniforms charge tourists to have their photos taken.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin:

Once a symbol of divided Berlin during the Cold War, the 18th century neoclassical Brandenburg Gate is now a symbol of peace.
Once a symbol of divided Berlin during the Cold War, the 18th century neoclassical Brandenburg Gate is now a symbol of peace

And we stopped for photos at the massive, neo-classical 1791 Brandenburg Gate.

The female goddess of Victory rides a chariot drawn by four horses atop the Brandenburg Gate.
The female goddess of Victory rides a chariot drawn by four horses atop the Brandenburg Gate

Gendarmenmarkt:

The Gendarmenmarkt is a popular Berlin tourist attraction.
The Gendarmenmarkt is a popular Berlin tourist attraction

A short walk from the Brandenburg Gate is Berlin’s most beautiful public square, the Gendarmenmarkt.

In summer, it hosts the Classic Open Air, when for a few days, orchestras play classical music.

In winter, it’s the site for one of the best Christmas markets in Berlin.

The Kiss, Berlin Wall:

Our bus also stopped at the “East Side Gallery.”

This section of the Berlin Wall is almost one mile long.

It’s 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.”

Our photo of "The Kiss" on the Berlin Wall.
Our photo of “The Kiss”

We had to content ourselves with shooting from across the street, hoping for gaps in between slow-rolling buses.

It was a short-but-sweet tour of some of the main things to see in Berlin.

And then we were set free, armed with maps and tips for what to see on our own.

What about Porto in Portugal? Is Porto worth visiting? Absolutely! And there are ways to avoid the crowds too

Seeking respite in the German Historical Museum

Our plan was to stroll the Berlin’s 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…

one day in berlin - german historical museum
The German Historical Musuem showcases Germany’s history from medieval times to post-reunification of Berlin (Credit: Christian Wolf, Wikimedia)

Packed with some 8,000 exhibits, the German Historical Museum (Deutsches Historisches 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.

German Historical Museum
A vintage photo showing Berlin under Nazi rule

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.

For more information, see the website for the Deutsches Historisches Museum.

Related reading: What art at NYC’s Met Museum must you see if you’re short on time?

Berlin is huge; you’ll do a lot of walking! These pooped visitors are taking a well-deserved break

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 in a day doesn’t do the city justice – we barely even scratched the surface and now want 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.

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Photo credits: 5, 9 to 12, 15 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews and information, insanely useful travel tips and more!

Anda

Tuesday 25th of October 2016

We've also spent only one day in Berlin, but I think this great city deserves so much more. One day is barely enough to just get an idea about what's there, like you and I did. There are some great museums there that I'd love to visit. We'll return for sure.

Janice and George

Tuesday 25th of October 2016

So we're not the only ones who've only had one day in Berlin :-). Yes, the city deserves more time...

Becky

Tuesday 25th of October 2016

Any amount of time in Berlin is good, I love that place - such a unique and fun city! :-)

Janice and George

Tuesday 25th of October 2016

That's what we thought. We'd grab the time we had and enjoy!

Shikha

Thursday 20th of October 2016

I've not been to Berlin since I was 14 on a school trip but I'm guessing that street art mural of The Kiss must be so famous worldwide as I have seen it come up time and again in posts about the city. It looks like it has changed so much since I went in the 90s. Sounds like George owes you a no-name beach next time then since Berlin won out this time :-D

Janice and George

Thursday 20th of October 2016

Funny! We're usually pretty good at accommodating each other though. Had we gone to the beach, it might have been pleasant, but not memorable. But how can we forget Berlin? And we'll get lots of beaches in a Panama/Costa Rica trip early next year :-).

Jenna Francisco

Wednesday 19th of October 2016

I have wanted to visit Berlin for a long time, so if I had been in your shoes, I would have done just the same! So much architecture to see.

Janice and George

Wednesday 19th of October 2016

Yes, we have no regrets :-).

Suze

Monday 17th of October 2016

I haven't been to Berlin in years but I'd love to return - I agree that one day would have been a bit short

Janice and George

Monday 17th of October 2016

Yes, now we'd love to return too for a more extensive visit...