How to survive a trip to Berlin (with a history buff)

March 20, 2012

Berlin, Europe

I actually really loved history at school, but since then I haven’t taken it any further and my interest has near faded. In Scotland you don’t study very much of the exciting stuff, less grisly, gory tales of battle, more potato famine and the Jacobites. So a trip to Berlin for my history buff boyfriend’s birthday was sure to quench his antiquital thirst for long enough.

The Museum Island is great; most of Berlin was rebuilt after the Second World War but bullet holes are still visible on many buildings in this district, a short walk from Alexanderplatz tube station. You can buy a ticket which admits you to all of the museums on the island for one day, but it is pretty expensive, so we bought tickets to go to the Pergamon Museum, home of the Pergamon Alter and the Market Gate of Miletus, alongside a litany of incredible Babylonian treasures. The museum itself took 20 years to build and began construction in 1910; since then it has become Germany’s most visited museum.

The Pergamon Alter

Image by By The History Faculty

Travelling with a history buff tip 1: When in museums, opt out of the audio tour guide. Read the rationales and enjoy the beautiful Roman sculptures and artefacts. Listening to someone else talk about what you are seeing can make it very easy to drift off.

The Jüdisches Museum is somewhat of a haven for history buffs, with its tall, angular architecture and eerie interior, the building’s radical zig- zag design looks completely out of place in its sleepy surroundings. An incredibly moving experience, the structure of the building itself takes you on a timeline of Jewish culture throughout history revealing a lifetime of blame and persecution, surprisingly not just during the holocaust.

The Jewish Museum

The Jüdisches Museum

Travelling with a history buff tip 2: Be prepared for a very emotional experience. History nerds will be ready for this, if you have never studied the holocaust, you won’t be.

In the heart of the Tiergarten, Berlin Zoologischer Garten is home to so many of the world’s most amazing animals. Sadly Knut the polar bear died a few years ago but you can still see Bao Bao the giant panda, Carla and Tanja the Asian elephants and a host of attention seeking penguins among others. For €20, you can buy a joint admission ticket to both the zoo and the aquarium, which doubles up as a reptile house if slimy frogs and creepy crawlies are your thing.

Berlin Zoo

Bao Bao the Giant Panda

Travelling with a history buff tip 3: Travelling with your favourite historian will mean your holiday is dictated by maps and travel guides but as the zoo is in the heart of the beautiful Tiergarten, it is nice just to wander around and take it all in. I suggest hiding the map (it won’t be easy).

A trip to Germany is simply not complete without a trip to the world famous Brandenburger Tor. This unbelievably grand monument stands next to the Reichstag building (the parliament) and was built by Carl Gotthard Langhans as a sign of peace. Not far away is the infamous Checkpoint Charlie which despite looking like a tourist trap (gift shops selling Checkpoint Charlie t-shirts, magnets and flashing hats etc) is the very crossing point at which East and West Berlin met during the Cold War. After the wall was torn down 1989, the division between the American and Soviet parts of Berlin merged, marking the end of many years of segregation and oppression for the German people.

brandenburg gate

Image by markhilary

Travelling with a history buff tip 4: Read the book. Buy and read a travel guide before you go and carry it around with you at all times, even if it begins to feel like the third member of your trip.


We stayed in the Köepenick district, in an unbelievable (and cheap) hotel, around 30 minutes travel into the city centre but well worth it even including travel costs. This was made much easier by Berlin’s amazingly vast spanning transport system which is made up of over and underground trains. The S-Bahn is an over ground train and the U-Bahn is underground (like the Paris Metro or the tube in London). You can get around most of Berlin using just these routes, and for only €6. 50 you can buy an unlimited travel ticket which last for 24 hours. This ticket will be valid on most of Berlin’s very efficient public transport system, including most regional trains and trams.

Berlin enjoys lovely warm spring weather and hot summers. However we arrived in February and it was around -15 degrees, but there is something quite magical about the city in the snow. Just be sure to wrap up warm!

Travelling with a history buff tip 5: Gluhwein. Delicious take on mulled wine, but with a shot of rum or amaretto, it packs a punch, (perfect after a cold day of digging for artefacts).  After a mug of this, you can relax, knowing that you have made the most of your day with your integral tour guide.

Book and Beer

'The Book' and a beer... all a man needs.

What’s your favourite historical European break? Let us know in the comments section below.

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