Ich bin ein Berliner... well, not quite.
December 2, 2010 11:11 PM   Subscribe

Going to Germany for 6 days, absolutely clueless.

Further to my earlier question, I've finally firmed up my itinerary for London (yay!).

I have a gap of 6 days from 5th to 10th January free, which I'm intending to Germany. However, I am totally clueless. Unlike London, AskMeFi doesn't have many questions on touring Germany, so I don't really have much base material to work from.

The rough sketch looks something like this:
5th: Depart London and arrive in Berlin
6th: Berlin
7th: Day trip to Dresden
8th: Day trip to Potsdam & sleeper train to Munich
9th: Munich
10th: Munich and flight back to London

Are there any obvious flaws in this plan? E.g. are the day trips feasible? Will this be too taxing/expensive?

I'd greatly appreciate advice on what to see, do, eat etc. on the cheap if at all possible. Any miscellaneous tips are welcome too!

P.S. As of now, nothing has been booked, so my plans are pretty flexible.
posted by titantoppler to Travel & Transportation around Germany (24 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I would not bother with Potsdam and Dresden. Potsdam is an easy day-trip; it's barely a separate city from Berlin and you can take the local train there. But it's just a sleepy suburb with a nice castle and a nice park. It's worth seeing, but there's also plenty to see and do in Berlin. Same with Dresden, it's nice and all but probably not worth a three-hour train ride there and back just to see a church when there's so much to do in Berlin. If you think about it, you'd be trading a full day in Berlin for an afternoon in Dresden and a 6-hour train ride. Aside from that I would find it exhausting to be traveling so much every single day. It would make more sense to take the sleeper train to Munich from Dresden, if that's possible, so you don't have to repeat the 3-hour train ride back to Berlin.
posted by creasy boy at 11:36 PM on December 2, 2010

It does sound like a lot of travel in a few days, but some people handle that better than others.

Re: Munich, about 16kms outside the city is the concentration camp Dachau - first one the Nazi's opened and it served as a model for all the rest. Its doable in a morning / afternoon, and not very expensive, but definitely worth it. Pony up the extra for the tourguide session, our guide was phenomenal and really brought the experience to another (more harrowing, albeit) level.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:08 AM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure that with your time constraints, it makes much sense to go from Berlin to Munich. Munich is a lovely city, but a day and a half there isn't much and it's the most expensive city in Germany. I suggest going to Hamburg rather than Munich, since that's only 1.5 hours by train.

But really, you could easily fill all of your time staying in Berlin. There's no shortage of things to see and do there.
posted by cmonkey at 12:18 AM on December 3, 2010

Even better than Potsdam is Teufelsberg. It's more or less on the border between Potsdam and Berlin. You would easily spend a more exciting day there.
posted by mannequito at 12:28 AM on December 3, 2010

Spend six days and nights in Berlin. Explore a different part of town each day, each evening. Get any of a million "what to do in Berlin" guides and plot your city tour geographically so you'll minimize travel between places (the weather could be rather shitty in January) and maximize what you see and do. Don't be afraid to be a tourist; don't try to be too cool for school. The tourist hot spots are tourist hot spots for a reason.
posted by pracowity at 12:38 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I live in Germany now, and before that, I travelled here a number of times, so my recommendation is to stick to one or two cities. If you want to see the cultural contrasts between the "north" and the "south" I would pick Leipzig, Erfurt, or Wurzburg for your day trip (but remember, unless you are taking an ICE train, it can take quite a while to get from one city to the next).

In addition of Teufelsberg and Potsdam, there are a lot of interesting places to visit right outside of Berlin; and it is possible to do a day-trip to Hamburg. Even though Hamburg is a "northern" city like Berlin, there is a very different culture, because it is a Hansestadt the people of Hburg see themselves as separate from the rest of the country, sometimes to a point of elitism (which I find amusing).

Whatever your plans are, here are a few guides I recommend. For online guides and blogs: Supertravel, Gridskipper Berlin, Berlin.Unlike, and Spotted by Locals: Berlin (the last two especially).
For print guides my go-to are H2g, RedMaps, and Luxe City Guides. If you can read German (or at least find your way around a German website) I highly suggest Luups which you can also find at any which book store in Germany (like Thalia)

Viel Spaß!
posted by eldvno at 1:13 AM on December 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

There are several airlines flying London/Berlin and London/Munich including several budget ones so you ought to be able to get cheap flights. As others have said skip Potsdam and Dresden. You can spend several days exploring both Berlin and Munich so get some guides and work out what you want to see and do and split your time accordingly. They are very different places. Personally I'd not go to Hamburg in January because the windchill by the sea will be awful but that's just me...and expect it to be cold in Berlin and Munich, too.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:18 AM on December 3, 2010

Wait, what? 1,5 days in Berlin and a bunch of train rides? That is crazy talk. That way you will have time to see only Mitte and the most touristy things of all - Berlin has so much more to offer, and it's cheap, too. Spend the whole time here and save the money. Maybe go to Hamburg for two days if you feel like you "must" see more of Germany.

I will be happy to give recommendations for Berlin, but I'm on my way out the door. I'll come back and update later. But please promise you will stay more than 1,5 days!
posted by coraline at 1:25 AM on December 3, 2010

You can't even begin to see Berlin in a day.
posted by beerbajay at 1:37 AM on December 3, 2010

I'd drop other German cities than Berlin and go for a 1-2 day drip in neighboring country Poland and visit Poznan or Wroclaw.
posted by rom1 at 1:49 AM on December 3, 2010

I agree, spend your time in Berlin. There's more than enough to see.

We went to Dresden for three days and to be honest, there wasn't enough time to see all the lovely stuff like the Elb castles. The treasury alone took more than half a day. You'll kill yourself if you try to do all the German towns at one day each!
Munich is equally full of gorgeous, baroque stuff.

If you do wish to see another place except Berlin, do either of the three choices, not all of them.

Let us know what you're planning and you'll get more detailed advice!
posted by Omnomnom at 3:24 AM on December 3, 2010

nthing you need at least six days to start to see Berlin. Don't waste your trip by trying to spread yourself too thinly. If you need a day trip, by all means go to Potsdam only (might be a bit too cold though) or, if you want to embrace the bleakness, try Sachsenhausen.
posted by turkeyphant at 3:37 AM on December 3, 2010

I spent a week in Berlin at Easter and still feel like there is a lot left to see. You have one day! thats an itinery for a 2-3 week trip not 6 days.
posted by mary8nne at 3:48 AM on December 3, 2010

I've been living in Berlin for almost three years, and I still feel like I haven't seen enough, so, yep, more time in Berlin would be a great idea if you can manage it!

If you're looking for somewhere cheap to stay in the city, I would recommend the CityStay Hostel - my boyfriend used to work there as a cleaner, so I know they have high cleanliness standards and good facilities. It's also a great location right in the heart of Mitte (the central area).

Places to visit off the beaten track: great cafes and bars in the Kreuzberg/Neukölln area of the city ('Kreuzkölln'), which are cheaper than what you'd find in Mitte, and have a more relaxed, mismatched, cosy vibe which is closer to the 'real' Berlin, in my opinion. Visit Kuschlowski on the Weserstrasse early in the evening so you can get a spot next to the fire, then head to Fuchs & Elster a couple of doors away - it doesn't look like much, but when you walk down the stairs you find an underground maze of little rooms with corners to hide in or dance in.

And a good, cheap travel option is Mitfahrgelegenheit - this is basically like carpooling. People can post where they're driving to, how many seats they've got free, and how much money they'll charge you for petrol. You can get across the country, or even to Poland or Holland, for as little as 15 Euros. I guess you might have safety concerns about traveling with random strangers, but the site's rating system helps to weed out nutters, and I and many of my friends have never had bad experiences. YMMV, of course. Site is in German, but I think easy enough to navigate with the help of Babelfish and Linguee.
posted by greenfelttip at 5:11 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Berlin is my favorite city on earth. I'd stay there the whole time. Potsdam is right next to Berlin and not worth a separate trip.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:07 AM on December 3, 2010

Also bear in mind that Germany more or less shuts down on Sundays. I mean, there'll still be transit, and probably some museums, but things will be slow. So if that's the only day you've got in a given city, it might be disappointing.
posted by the_blizz at 8:18 AM on December 3, 2010

From a previous answer I gave about Berlin:
Berlin Walks has a great "Discover Berlin" tour in English that will bring WWII and the Cold War alive. On Museum Isle, there are still structures with bullet holes in them. Then see the Pergamon museum for some Greek and Middle East architecture.

Also in Berlin are the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Seeing it at night was very cool. The walk includes Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, but if you don't do the walk, make sure to see the memorial. It's no too far from the Bradenburg Gate and the Reichstag (which I regretfully missed touring)

Dresden is not far by train, and it was beautiful when I took the train through it on the way to Prague. I think it could be worth a day trip for you.
posted by soelo at 10:28 AM on December 3, 2010

If you have a chance, pick up a copy of "Let's Go, Germany"
Generally speaking I'm not a fan of travel books, but this has a really smart breakdown, as it's written by students traveling on a dime and looking for the quickest, safest routes to the most culturally relevant exploits, and, ya know...diskotechs. :) Berlin has a world of possibilities for what you can see; there's no reason not to spend your entire stay there, just discovering everything. For me personally, I found my heart in the suburbs and smaller towns in Bavaria, and Heidelberg especially (though more of a summer town.) Planning is good, but imo Germany is one of those countries that you can do on the fly and always find something fun and delicious to do. You could just go and then see what you hear, go on a random day trip somewhere if Berlin gets old (which it won't)
The people are generous, welcoming, and by and large speak enough English to help you find your way. Eat everything in sight. Best of luck!
posted by billypilgrim at 3:43 PM on December 3, 2010

I liked Dresden myself, but I agree with the above answers that you should stay in Berlin if you have limited time. Take a walking tour (with a group) where you can learn about the war and the wall. Also, go to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp (mentioned above). Spandau might be interesting destination because it looks like a town, while still being in greater Berlin.
As far as museums I liked Hamburger Bahnhof (not a train station), and the Jewish Museum (mostly for the garden of exile).
If you want a really out-of-date hostel recommendation (2003), I liked staying at the Meininger Hostel in Kreuzberg. It was really clean, a great location, and we had a private room with a bathroom.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:31 PM on December 3, 2010

And seeing the Kaiser Wilhelm church, old and new bell towers, is just awesome. Of course, I like brutalist architecture
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:38 PM on December 3, 2010

We just went to Berlin AND Dresden last month...

Berlin: Nice, big, lots to see and do... but it can be overwhelming. And crowded. And very expensive. There's a Hooters that's quite an experience in and of itself (Different from US Hooters, DEFINITELY!). The city tour by double-decker was really nice, but be sure to bundle up if you're wanting to ride on the upper deck. The tour guide will speak English, and you can hop off-hop on at most of the stops. The KuDamm is one of the most famous shopping districts in Europe, but very, very expensive (I paid 5 Euro for a bottle of water!). The Checkpoint Charlie museum is a very interesting visit, as well as the Berlin Wall walk. The weather here in Germany has been C-O-L-D and snowy lately, so dress accordingly. If you are interested in lodging, the Ibis chain of hotels are nice and relatively inexpensive. There's one a few hundred meters from Checkpoint Charlie. We paid 80 Euro a night for a pretty nice room, and you couldn't beat the location. The Brandenburg Gate is only a kilometer away, and a very walk-friendly route.

Dresden is a quiet, beautiful city. Definitely see the Frauenkirche, it's pretty impressive. Don't forget to visit the tombs underneath the main church. If you like architecture, check out the opera house. There's a beautiful, huge mural on the walk from the Frauenkirche to the opera house. There's a gorgeous art museum across the street. There is also a nice route where you can walk along the river. For lunch, try to catch a relatively inexpensive (maybe 15 euro for the whole meal) lunch at Wienerwald. It's a chain, but each one is unique. Everything in the Dresden Wienerwald is polished hardwood, and a pleasantly cellphone free environment (signs are posted). It's right int he shopping district by the Hauptbahnhof (train station.) Wienerwald is on the walk from the train station to the Frauenkirche, on the left hand side.

I would skip Potsdam. It's like a mini-Berlin. Maybe spend an extra day in Dresden? I paid a flat 100 Euro for a large suite on the top floor of the Ibis. If you're an exercise nut (I am... I like to take a jog in every city I visit), it's a VERY jogging-friendly city.

Munich is (as someone previously noted) VERY expensive, and not very public-transportation friendly. Regensburg, on the other hand, is quite inexpensive and absolutely beautiful. Ibis rooms are about 50 Euro for a very well-equipped room downtown. Regensburg was originally founded by the Romans, and if you're a history nut, there are some pretty cool museums. You also can't forget to visit the Donau (Danube River), and take a short riverboat tour. Absolutely gorgeous. There is also a pretty impressive cathedral, and the Wallhalla, a copy of the Acropolis built by King Ludwig. The downtown area is very walking-friendly!

(I'm partial to Regensburg, I live only 15 km away, LOL!)

Last thing: be careful with the dates. You want to visit Berlin on the 6th, but that's a German Holiday... most stores and restaurants will be closed (it's Three Kings Day). You will still be able to see a lot of things that day, but just be aware that there will be a lot of things you won't be able to enjoy. Berlin is more tourist-oriented, so it won't be as shut down as a smaller city, but there will be inconveniences (especially with public transportation and taxis).
posted by Master Gunner at 2:14 AM on December 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Munich is (as someone previously noted) VERY expensive, and not very public-transportation friendly.

Munich is expensive in terms of cost of living and shopping but if you're happy to stay somewhere and explore and are judicious about where you eat and buy your drinks you should be able to have a great time without breaking the bank.

Have to disagree on the public transport - I grew up there and even once I had a driving license (and access to a car) I still never drove anywhere - there's a vast network of underground trains, trams, buses and late night routes to take you wherever you want to go and back.

The price structure and the underground map are not entirely self explanatory to the uninitiated so on arrival get some advice on what ticket option is best for you during your stay. Use the journey planner to plan routes (if they involve bus journeys at least) or else ask somebody for help - most people will speak enough English to help you.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:54 AM on December 4, 2010

Response by poster: Lots of you have spoken out against spending just 2 days in Berlin, so I gladly bow to the greater collective wisdom of Mefi and have extended my stay in Berlin to last the entire 6 days, with a possible day trip to somewhere.

Any suggestions of must-see places in Berlin, or suggestions for a day trip out? E.g. is Dresden advisable?
posted by titantoppler at 7:55 AM on December 4, 2010

Just read the comment on holidays - 6th of Jan (epiphany) is only a holiday in Bavaria, Baden Wuerttemberg and Sachsen-Anhalt so you'd be fine in Berlin for example - it's a normal weekday there. Some German public holidays are not observed nationally, only in some provinces, normally there's a north/south devide as they are normally either protestant or catholic holidays, this being one of them.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:59 AM on December 4, 2010

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