Story by Anne Z Cooke
Photos by Steve Haggerty/ColorWorld

Business traveler Steve St. John made the most of a four-day Berlin weekend with the Berlin Pass & its accompanying guidebook. Berlin, Germany.Why do I recommend purchasing a Berlin Pass for your next trip to Germany’s most exciting, forward-looking city?  Because it’s summer and the northern hemisphere is on vacation.  Sidewalks are jam-packed. Restaurants are overwhelmed. Tour buses block the streets and hotels turn away late-comers.

Nothing seems to stem the flow of humanity, not security worries, nor migrant riots nor temperatures so hot that the pavement sizzles. But the Berlin Pass fixes all that. It’s like walking the red carpet and winning an Oscar.

As for the tourists, I would have been one myself if an emergency hadn’t cancelled my trip. So I offered the Pass – pre-paid online – to my cousin from Norway if he promised to tell me what he thought. Steven St. John is an economist who squeezes sightseeing into long weekends. Not me. I’m a sidewalk pounder, a people-watcher, a dawdler, never loathe to stop and talk to strangers. Would he agree?

“Picking up our three-day Berlin passes wasn’t hard, but it would have been a lot easier if I’d printed out the reservation form at home and brought it with me,” he wrote me later. “I thought I'd go mobile and just show it to them on my smart phone, but their wifi connection was so weak I had trouble opening the screen.”

Fortunately, the Pass came with a detailed guidebook. It also contained a one-day train ticket (which we used to go to Potsdam) as well as a subway pass. This we used every day but it was unclear how it would be validated as people got on and off the train without ever showing their tickets. It also included a three-day museum pass and a long list of other activities: the aquarium, a riverboat tour and a bicycle tour for example.

Berlin’s “Checkpoint Charlie,” the once dreaded border between East Berlin’s repressive police state and the democratic West, lives on as a tourist site.Despite being jetlagged that first afternoon, we dropped off our luggage and headed to the Berliner Dom, Berlin's largest and grandest Protestant Cathedral and the Hohenzollern Kaisers’ (think kings) family church. But when we realized that showing the Pass would start the time clock, and we needed a walk more than a museum, we skipped the cathedral and walked to the Brandenburg Gate.

At this point, now long past our bedtime at home, we ran out of energy and had just stopped to ponder the map when we spotted a cluster of tour buses parked just north of the Brandenburg Gate. We found our bus, showed the Pass and climbed aboard for what felt like – at that moment -- a magic carpet ride.

Sightseeing tour buses really highlight the way you see a city. In addition to getting a decent view of sites and attractions that you might not have time to visit, the bus ride gives you a feeling for distances, a key to planning each day.

On Friday we walked to Checkpoint Charlie (the border gate between Berlin’s western sector and the Communist eastern sector during the cold war) to see the Mauer Museum, next door. Here we showed our Berlin Passes and were whisked straight past the ticket desk.

The Berliner Dom (also known as the Berlin Cathedral) serves as the head of Germany’s protestant churches.The museum, a collection of jumbled rooms, contains an equally jumbled but incredible assortment of clever devices and tricky ploys invented by desperate East Berliners determined to escape to the West. One exhibit was a tiny car into which one enterprising young man somehow squeezed his girlfriend.

Another exhibit showed the American officer’s uniform that an East Berliner’s girlfriend sewed for him, and which he wore to fool the border guards and walk safely across to freedom. But there were odd items there, too, like the American astronaut’s spacesuit, donated by a grateful patron.

Part of the Pass’s value depended on our hotel’s location in the southeast corner of the “Mitte” neighborhood, an ideal city center area. Redeveloped post-reunification it was ten minutes from Museum Island. We could walk everywhere we wanted to go and a subway and a bus stop were within a block.  

Instead of going to just one or two museums, we decided on a brief visit to all five Museum Island galleries, for an initial overview, and a possible revisit later. This meant a walk through the Berliner Dom, and the Neues Museum before lunch; after lunch we had a quick look at the Alte National Gallery’s collection of 19th century painting, and then went to the famous Pergamon Museum.

The I.M. Pei-designed extension to the Germany History Museum, occupying Berlin’s oldest baroque building, seems a metaphor for the transition from an often dark past to a sunlit, promising present.Totaling up our expenses, I estimated that even though we had only a couple of days to sightsee, without the Pass we’d have spent at least $100 per person riding trains, buses, and entering museums and castles. The total would have been more if we’d been in Berlin a fourth day, visited more attractions, rented bikes and taken the subway more often.

The only palaces that didn’t accept our Berlin Pass were in Potsdam, but that’s probably because they’re out of the city. All in all, having a single ticket made sightseeing a breeze.”

DETAILS: See Berlin Pass details at www.berlinpass.com. The Pass includes a guidebook, 60 attractions and the Travel Card (good for unlimited use on trains, buses and the subway). Two-day passes are (in Euros) E 109 for adults and E 59 for children. Three-day passes are E 138 and E 75. The Travel Card purchased separately is E 22. For Berlin sightseeing, go to www.visitberlin.de/en .    

CREDITS: Steve Haggerty/ColorWorld; follow Anne Z. Cooke on Facebook or at #anneontheroad.

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