Located in the heart of Europe, Berlin is a cultural hub full of history, yet with a cool and contemporary vibe. It offers breathtaking views and incredible dishes and, literally, an island full of museums; so whether you’re a big foodie or history nut, the German city will surely satisfy your cultural cravings.
Berlin was once the capital city of the historical German state between 1701 and 1947. Thanks to Frederick the Great and Bismarck, the Prussian Empire became one of the strongest early modern civilisations. The state of Prussia was able to match the strongest European countries of the time – Austria, Sweden, France and Russia.
The second world war began in 1939 and brought death and destruction to Berlin. The Allied forces launched a series of bombing raids that killed thousands of civilians and destroyed buildings. You can still see some of the ruins today. In 1938, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler decided to destroy Jewish shops and religious buildings. But these days, Berlin boasts many Jewish synagogues.
You can also visit the Berlin Wall Memorial, which contains the last piece of the Berlin Wall that separated East and West Berlin from 1961 to 1989.
With its many hip and affordable eateries, Berlin is the perfect destination for students on a budget. Many Germans prefer a meat- and starch-based diet. In Berlin, and other parts of Germany, people eat a lot of pork and sausages. The most popular dishes are eisbein (salted pork knuckle) and currywurst (pork sausages served with a curry ketchup and chips). Another much-loved dish is schnitzel (breaded pork, veal or chicken), typically served with a salad and chips at restaurants.
If it’s rustic home cooking you’re after, head to a German-style inn, locally referred to as a gasthaus. We recommend Gasthaus Krombach on 4 Meinekestrasse, where a main meat dish such as roast pork with potatoes, sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) and pea purée would only set you back between €10 to €15 (around HK$100 to HK$150).
In Berlin, you’re surrounded by history – from the glory days of Frederick the Great all the way to 19th century Bismarck. History buffs should check out the Brandenburg Gate; around this great monument. There you can see people dressed up as cold war Russian and American soldiers.
Less than a 10-minute walk away, you will find Siegessaule or the Victory Column, which was built to commemorate the defeat of the Danish that led to German unification in 1871, and Museum Island, a Unesco World Heritage Site with five museums devoted to archaeology and art.
The Altes Museum and Neues Museum are a must-go – both house paintings and statues from the ancient to contemporary times.
If you plan on visiting more museums, it’s worth getting a three-day pass that costs €14.50 for students – that’s half the original price of €29 – so make sure you remember to bring your student card with you!
If you hope to see some of Germany’s royal palaces, you can take a day trip to Potsdam (30 minutes by train) or Dresden (two-hour train ride). If you make it to Potsdam, make sure you visit the Sanssouci palace – the summer residence for kings like Frederick the Great.
Student admission tickets are €8 each from April to October and €5 between November and March. The palace’s Bildergalerie has some paintings of Dutch and Italian masters Van Dyck, Rubens and Caravaggio on display.
In Dresden, you can stroll around the Altstadt (old town) and admire the line of historical buildings across the Elbe River. From there, you can see the Frauenkirche (a large 19th century church with a huge dome) and the Opera House on Theaterplatz (Theatre Square).
If you’re interested in exploring other parts of Germany, you can buy the German Rail Pass which costs between HK$1,620 and HK$3,640 for people aged 12 to 27, depending on how many days you’re planning to travel for.