Actually, I must admit that I found Berlin to be a VERY tourist-friendly city. As if decades of unnatural state of city division have created a local spirit that tries to compete with other major tourist capitals of Europe, tries to bring back the extravagant atmosphere of the 1920s and generally tries to show open and friendly to all visitors.
Also, Berlin is a tourist-friendly city when it comes to prices - from hotels, public transportation to prices of museum entrance tickets and restaurant food.
Of course, if you want to you can always go to areas like the Checkpoint Charlie that sells the story of the Cold War in a real consumer way. If you insist on real tourist traps do not forget to buy the authentic "Made in Taiwan" piece of the "original" Berlin Wall.
I'm not really fair when I describe this exhibition as a tourist trap. For someone, who is of a certain age - like I am - and who has always been interested in history and politics - like I have been - this exhibtion is very interesting. Had I been on my own when I went there, I wouldn't have hesitated to describe it as a must-see place of Berlin. But my youngest daughter was with me and so I realized how little explanation there was. Not everyone has the time to do a guided tour and without it, most of the items are hard to understand.Considering this, it's too expensive.
Unique Suggestions: Maybe it is better with a guided tour, I don't know. When we went there wasn't a tour available. You should have a certain knowledge of German history ,otherwise it's a waste of time and money .
I was very curious how Checkpoint Charlie would look like, because I'd heard so much about it. I can totally understand that it was an impressive place when the wall was there, but now it is a touristy souvenir spot. There are even people dressed like German soldiers with whom you can go on a picture. Can you believe it?
I do not remember how much you had to pay for a photo with the Russian and American soldier at the booth at Checkpoint Charlie. Sure, I photographed them from the footpath when they were not looking at me and could not complain that I did not pay.
It seemed too strange to me to pose with those actors who were as real as the checkpoint booth which is a replica. I doubt that they would even speak the languages of the soldiers they are representing. It is just a big moneymaking machine.
Update October 2012 - More of this kind...
Who would have thought that these uniformed guys would multiply and become a nuisance? On my recent visit they ran around in front of Brandenburger Tor and posed with tourists like rockstars, holding the US American and German flags, and not even trying to stand as stiff as the original soldiers at Checkpoint Charlie. A man in bear outfit also tried to find customers to be photographed with. Up and down the promenade Unter den Linden pedalled drinking and screaming tourists on the new kind of hospitality bikes. It felt like a cheap amusement park which locals are starting to avoid. Me too.
Unique Suggestions: Photograph them as long as you want and do not pay. As long as they stand around on a public place on a public road they cannot force you to pay for taking a photo of the street, and if they stand in the middle of your photo it is not your mistake.
Fun Alternatives: You could rather ask them to hide behind the booth, so they do not disturb the composition of your photo LOL
He is of the same kind of rip-off as the wannabe soldiers at Checkpoint Charlie. And nobody would care if he was not there.
In the ten minutes we spent in this area and checked the souvenirs in the surrounding shops nobody bothered to get his passport or whatever stamped by this stamp man in his American uniform, sitting behind a desk wrapped in the American flag.
Who would want a stamp that states that you were entering or leaving the American sector in 2007 or 2008, and even pay for it?
Unique Suggestions: You just do not need this!
Berlin is in the process of adding an U-Bahn station by Brandenburgertor off of Unter den Linden. When finished it will be very convenient, but for the moment it makes a visit to the gate rather unplesant and loud. That didn't stop the tourists, and the view from the backside is relatively clean, but until 2008 I would skip this one.
Unique Suggestions: Look from Tiergarten Side
Fun Alternatives: Backside
Ladies and Gentlemen! Gnaedige Damen und Herren! This could be you! You too can stand outside an old building for half the day and enter a reconstruction of an old building that I don't think is even used for anything anymore. I'm not sure what the people are standing in line to see, but this is supposed to be Berlin's number one tourist attraction. It sure draws the crowds.
Unique Suggestions: I just snapped a couple pics of the outside of the building. Nothing is worth that line.
Fun Alternatives: You really aren't far from Unter den Linden and Tiergarten, there is plenty to eat and see and drink and do. You mihgt also want to see the glass wall etched with articles of the German Grundgesetz (Constitution)
I was looking for any parking place for my car close to the New National Gallery (Neue Nationalgalerie). It was Sunday before midday at the end of February. The toll parking lots around were full as a few events took place around, I suppose (surely the concert in a philharmony). I had to drive around doing right-turn circles about 30 min when unexpectadly I saw a car leaving its parking place :-))).
Unique Suggestions: Keep smiling and either drive around like crazy or stop at one place among numerous already parked cars and watch for any leaving car.
Fun Alternatives: Don't drive a car or drive such half-a-car like on my picture - 2-passanger Smart car of very smart length.
Good news: public transportation is very efficient in Berlin :-).
What can I say - you have to go to see one of Berlin's most famous spots.... but it is probably the most touristy place in Berlin where you could lighten your wallet easily.
The shops here charge practically double.
Unique Suggestions: Go, see & do but if you feel the need to purchase - wait until you get to a souvineer shop elsewhere.... especially bits of the Berlin Wall... although I should stress now, having done this, I then discovered that the actual / specific Checkpoint Charlie suvineers such as iron on patches are unique to these few shops - I couldn't find those elsewhere.
Fun Alternatives: Other than Charlie Checkpoint suvineers, all others can be bought cheaper in shops away from the checkpoint.
It's very hard to find free public conveniences in Berlin, there are plenty of WCs around but most charge €0.50, some even €1 to use in train stations.
Unique Suggestions: Keep some small change with you just in case you need to go. Of course you could go into a bar / cafe to use theirs but some people aren't comfortable walking into a place just to use their WCs.
Fun Alternatives: I found some free toilets in the middle of the Tiergarten, at the roundabout at the Berlin Victory Column there are ornate entrances to the underpasses and at the one Strasse des 17 Juni, opposite the one with the cafe, there are some round the side.
The Rough Guide had Cafe Sybille listed as one of the top places to go while in Berlin, I'm not quite sure why. I stopped in while on my way to explore Friedrichshain, and I felt as if I was in a suburban starbucks. It seemd very weird, almost as if they were closed, and the menu wasn't that great so I had a tea and found a much more happening place to eat lunch in Friedrichshain. I must say, the staff was friendly, but that didn't make up for the altogether strange vibe. A whole half of the place didn't even have the lights turned on and I think I was the only customer inside.
Unique Suggestions: Use the restroom and keep on walking down Karl Marx Alle.
Fun Alternatives: Walk a few more blocks and turn off to the interesting and hip side streets of Friedrichshain. There you will find great cafes, restaurants, bars and shops.
Beware of the actors in front of Checkpoint Charlie and Brandenburg Gate! Two of the more popular attractions in Berlin are the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie, each popular for different reasons. However, in front of each of these areas stand actors dressed in soldier uniforms or other types of costumes (bears, movie characters, etc.).
Beware of trying to get your photo taken with them – they charge you for the privilege and can be rather demanding. I observed the ones at Checkpoint Charlie covering themselves in the flags they were holding to avoid having their photo taken by people that were on the sidewalks and not willing to pay their price.
If you want a photo with these people, be very sure you understand the cost beforehand so there are no surprises afterwards.
A must, off course, to see Checkpoint Charlie. The trap is all the souvernir sellers who want to sell you "real uniforms", "real" parts of the wall, "real" stamps in your passports and so on. We bought a couple of things anyway, it is a part of the whole experience ;-)
I was unpleasantly surprised that after check-in and going through customs, I found myself in a 30m2 room, waiting for the plane.
Unique Suggestions: So, after check-in, have your coffee at one of the bars/restaurants in the hall, and don't go through customs until your boarding time is announced.
Fun Alternatives: Stay in the hall where check-in is.
Cheaters are out to find victims for their „Find the Lady“ game in the streets, especially in the eastern center of Berlin. The easy winnings are tempting. But there is no chance of winning. You can only lose!
Unique Suggestions: Keep your cellphone at hand - should you run into one of these traps, usually near the cathedral, the TV Tower or Unter den Linden, call the police immediately. Take a photo of those gamblers and cheaters who are organized groups, mostly from former ex Jugoslavia or other East block countries,
Fun Alternatives: DO NOT PARTCIPATE - though it is tempting. But the winners you will see are ALL BELONGING TO THE CRIME GANG
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