I’ve toyed with the idea of booking flights to Berlin which depart from London early Saturday morning and return first thing Sunday morning so that I can accommodate a very cheap last minute holiday. I thought about spending the daytime sightseeing and the evening at one of Berlin’s major nightclubs, where I would dance until 6am before catching the train to the airport and going home. I said to myself the money saved from not having to book a hotel room or self catering holiday rental apartment in Berlin would allow for some more financial freedom whilst I was on holiday. A posh lunch perhaps? Or maybe just some extra beers and Currywurst.
However this idea, and the notion of staying up all night due to homelessness not to mention having to get to the airport, potentially still drunk from the debauchery the night before (and the morning), still scare me.
However what I did do is book flights which left London Heathrow at 7am (arriving 9.45am on the Saturday) and returning at 9pm on Sunday so I had a total of 34 actually hours to play with (including time to sleep). Now I’m not going to say that it was an action packed weekend away without any rest and relaxation (as Berlin is great for that), but I will say, Berlin in 34 hours is doable. The key is planning.
On the plane over to Tegel airport I started to note down areas I wanted to go back to and places I wanted to eat at. Entitled “Berlin in 48 hours” I gave each activity a cost in units of time) and a priority score (1-5), 5 being essential and 1 being something that would be nice but maybe another time. I was ruthless and at the end the list was pretty lean and listed what was going to happen when I landed.
Given the short amount of time I had in Berlin, speed and efficiency in everything I did were key, so this was circled on the plan. This is not to say I’m the enemy of spontaneity or that plans can’t “change”, but planning can help you do more of the fun stuff, and let everything that doesn’t truly matter slide.
I remember reading about the notion of free time not being free at all, but being incredible precious. This simple idea captured me and continues to inspire various vacations, including those to Berlin so that I can really “spend” my time more enjoyably that simply watching it drip through my fingers.
You can plan everything ahead, such as which area you do and don’t need to visit, how you can travel to the attractions you want to see, which underground stations they are near and where you want to go for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Wandering around aimlessly is great for discovery but it’s bad for efficiency and you might end up running over on your schedule and having to cut something juice from you Berlin travel to do list.
Lucky enough my flight wasn’t delayed and I’d packed only hand luggage so it was a speedy exit through immigration and customs before I was outside in a taxi speeding toward the city.
Taxi transfers from the airports of Berlin are widely available (no need to book), reliable and reasonably priced (around €25-35 euros one way). On the other hand, the trains are far cheaper (around €2.30-4 euros one way), but you’ll waste time getting to the train station(s), working out the ticket machine, working out where to get off and where to go when you get off of the train. Do yourself a favour, take a cab. Your time is worth more than the difference between fares for the train versus a taxi.
The Berlin bucket list had started and I could already tick off my transfer choice. I had the whole of Berlin to myself.
The following lists what I got up to, and I hope it goes in some small way to inspire you to go further, do more (even on a budget like I was), fulfil your vacation dreams, “experience Berlin comprehensively and ultimately, give your “free time” the respect it deserves by treating it like an asset and only devote it on enriching experiences.
Here goes…. Deep breath….. “during my 34 hour trip to Berlin I…”
- Cycled from Prenzlauer Berg to Charlottenburg and saw the inspiring Olympic stadium as well as enjoyed a riverside cycle along the spree to the Reichstag.
- Went for “hot stone rice bowl” in the Korean restaurant called yam yam in the Mitte district. They must have played Depeche Mode’s “all I ever wanted” about 6 times.
- Ate Currywurst at a farmers market on Kollwitzplatz
- Bought trainers at the Addidas originals store in Mitte
- Went to an antique market near the Bode museum
- Stopped to grab a beer and people watched in a deck chair by the river spree (I also write an article for solo travellers in Berlin).
- Had Sunday breakfast (of Bircher muesli and iced coffee) in the family friendly leafy area of Prenzlauer Berg.
- Went on the Alternative Pub Crawl (visited 5 bars, 1 nightclub)
- Went to the Week-End club, which is on the 15th floor of an Alexanderplatz office block and sipped a long-island ice tea from their huge roof terrace at 4am whilst looking over the beautiful city scape of Berlin.
- Went to the Mauerpark flea Market and went hunting for a nice unusual gift. One word, busy!
- Visited the holocaust memorial and walked through the columns.
- Danced to minimal house with locals in Alexanderplatz at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
- Took part in a street parade / protest, which was largely focused on following a truck (which had speakers hanging out of the back) and dancing.
- Went to another market, this time a craft market (Kunstmarkt) near the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral).
- Went to a street art gallery in Hackescher Markt.
- Enjoyed a river cruise down the Spree
- Went to the Tacheles (a former Nazi ss hq which is now an art space).
- Ate the most amazing blueberry cheesecake at Oliv in the Mitte district