Tours and Things to Do in East Berlin

This post is a review and comparison of Cold War-themed guided tours as well as a self-guided tour of things to see and do in East Berlin. Scroll down in this post for a map that takes you to the highlights in East Berlin, accompanied with descriptions.

 

COLD WAR BERLIN WALKING TOURS

The best way to get up close and experience the history behind this moment in time is to take a walking tour. Some of the most important locations tied to the Cold dWar are best experienced on foot. If you don’t want to miss anything significant, consider one of the following highly rated options.

Each of the tours mentioned below is only €14 for adults and includes a guided journey through Berlin’s most historic neighborhoods.

 

 


Insider Walks

This is one of the most trustworthy tour companies in Berlin. Their Cold War walking tour visits locations such as the Berlin Wall, the trail of the death strip, and Bernauer Strasse. Discover how the Stasi kept Germans under surveillance, how many people tried to escape, and what it was actually like to live in this divided city.

Tours are offered Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday all year round. Each trip begins at 10:00 am and lasts for approximately 4 hours with one planned stop for refreshments. They also offer 24-hour advance cancellation.

Insider Tours enjoys a full 5 out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (read the reviews) for their Cold War Berlin Tour. Most guests were very impressed with their tour guides, leaving positive comments about their knowledge and passion for the subject. 

Ticket Prices

  • €14 – Adults | €12 – Seniors/Students
  • @ 10:00 am on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays
  • 4 hours
  • 24-hour advance cancellation for full refund
  • More information and to book online.
  • An AB Zone Day Ticket is required for this tour

TIP: This tour is included for free with the Berlin Pass and 28% off with the Berlin Welcome Card.

 


Berlin Walks

Original Berlin Walks is one of the longest operating tour companies in the area with roughly 20 years of experience. Their Cold War walking tour will take you to East Berlin, site of several important locations in the history of this city. Your guide will point out areas of note such as the Brandenburg Gate, The Palace of Tears, The Death Strip and the Berlin Wall Memorial.

Much like their competitors, tours last approximately 4 hours and begin at 10:00 AM. They also offer 24-hour advance cancellation. This excursion is only offered on Tuesday and Saturday. 

This company also has a full 5 out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (read the reviews). It’s pretty clear that most guests absolutely adore this walking tour. Many reviews indicate that their tour guides are both intelligent and informative. Several customers were stricken by the emotionally powerful experience of visiting these locations and learning the sometimes dark history behind them.

Ticket Prices

  • €14 – Adults | €12 – Seniors/Students
  • @ 10:00 am on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays
  • 4 hours 
  • 24-hour advance cancellation for full refund
  • More information and to book online.

An AB Zone Day Ticket is required for this tour.

Tip: This tour is 25% off with the Berlin Welcome Card.

 


New Europe Tours

Much like their competition, New Europe Tours is also a highly respected service in Berlin. Their Cold War walking tour runs a bit shorter than the rest at an average rate of about 3 hours total.

On this trip, you will visit locations such as the Ghost Stations, the Berlin Wall, and the Death Strip. Unlike the other companies on our list, this tour is offered Tuesday through Sunday at 14:30 (2:30 pm). Like other companies, they offer 24-hour advance cancellation for full refund.

With a full 5 out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (see the reviews), this company falls in line with all of the other services on our list. Although their Cold War tour has received a handful of negative reviews, an overwhelming majority of customers have reported that their experience was excellent.

Some reviewers described this trip as fascinating, indicating that their guides were terrific. Most guests were very appreciative of everything they learned about on the tour. 

Ticket Price

  • €14 for Adults | €12 for Students
  • 14:30 (2:30 pm) Everyday but Mondays (Off-season has restricted schedule)
  • 3 hours
  • 24-hour advance cancellation for full refund
  • More information and to book online.

An AB Zone Day Ticket is required for this tour

Tip: Save 30% off of this tour with the Berlin Welcome Card

 


Berlin Kompakt

If you’re looking for a slightly shorter walking tour, this might be your best bet. Clocking in at only 2 hours in length, Berlin Kompakt’s Divided Berlin tour is much shorter than the services offered by their competitors. Ticket prices are very affordable and their tour guides provide commentary in English, German, Chinese and Russian. Visit important sites such as Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Berlin Wall. 

Not only does this tour company enjoy a full 5 out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide, but they also have yet to receive even one negative review. To be fair, they haven’t really been given that many reviews or ratings to begin with, but guests who have used their service were pleasantly surprised. Most visitors were very impressed with their tour guides, referring to them as both kind and professional. As with most Cold War tours, this trip was very popular with couples.

Ticket Prices

 


Brewer’s Berlin Tours

In addition to their overview tours, this company also offers a trip which focuses specifically on the Cold War. While on this 2 ½ hour excursion, you’ll visit sites such as the Berlin Wall, a Stasi guard tower, Ghost stations previously closed for decades and more. This trek is offered every Sunday regardless of weather and children up to 12 years of age are invited to join in for free. This tour is only canceled in the rare event that there aren’t enough guests to cover the costs. Tickets are reasonably priced, falling in line with most of their competitors.

Much like their competition, Brewer’s Berlin Tours currently has a 5 out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor. Most guests are incredibly impressed with their tour guides, taking the time to mention them by name and thank them for the information they provided. Although there were a few negative comments, they didn’t seem to indicate any serious problems with the service. This company is especially popular among couples, friends and visitors who decided to go solo.

Ticket Prices

  • €12 for Adults | €10 for Youth/Seniors
  • 13:00 (1 pm) Every Sunday
  • 2 ½ hours
  • AB Transport Ticket Required
  • Children under 12 tour for free

 


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COLD WAR BERLIN BIKE TOURS

If you don’t feel like walking around Berlin for several hours, a bike ride might be an excellent alternative. Surprisingly, these biking expeditions can last even longer than some of the walking tours listed above. Another advantage to riding a bicycle is that you won’t need a bus or train ticket to get from one location to the next.

Although admission prices can be a bit more expensive at an average of €25-€30, some guests may find this experience a bit more leisurely and comfortable.  Be sure to check out our full post on Berlin bike tours.
 

 


Fat Tire Tours

This might be one of the most extensive Cold War tours in Berlin. Clocking in at a total of 5 hours, their bike ride will take you past some of the most significant sites in the city. Travel alongside the Karl-Marx-Allee, see the East Side Gallery and visit the Treptow Soviet Memorial.

Each tour is conducted in English, making it easily accessible for many vacationers. Although the ticket prices for adults are a bit high at €28, the length of this tour alone ensures that you’re actually getting a pretty good deal. Tours are available Thursday through Monday.

Fat Tire Tours currently has a full 5 out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (read the reviews). Believe it or not, they have yet to receive a negative review for their Cold War bike tour. Almost everyone who has taken this trip left very positive comments about their tour guides and everything they experienced along the way. Guests indicated that there was enough time to explore Berlin’s troubled history from multiple different perspectives. 

Ticket Prices

  • €28 – Adults | €26 – Students/Seniors 
  • Mondays and Saturdays at 10:00 am
  • 5 hours
  • Includes bike rental for the trip.
  • 24-hour advance cancellation for full refund
  • More information and to book online.

TIP: This tour is included for free with the Berlin Pass and 25% off with the Berlin Welcome Card.

 


 

Free Berlin Bike Tours

Although they don’t offer a tour exclusively dedicated to covering the Cold War, this company does provide a trip which includes a visit to the Berlin Wall. On your journey, you will see memorials dedicated to the history of the wall and learn all about what life was like during this troubled period of the 20th century. Additionally, you will also see various sites where the Third Reich once held power.

This excursion runs pretty much every day at 2:15 pm. Expect your trip to take approximately 3 hours. We aren’t sure why they call themselves Free Berlin Bike Tours, as it doesn’t appear that they offer any free tours. They also offer 24-hour advance cancellation for full refund.

Nevertheless, this company has an impressive rating of 5 out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (see the reviews). Most comments focused on just how passionate the tour guides were, providing a perspective of history that they hadn’t experienced before. Some visitors even recommended this bike tour for younger riders, indicating that their group of teenagers had a blast. 

Ticket Prices

  • €22 – Adults | €17 Youth (10-17) and  Students with ID | Children 9 and under €6
  • Daily at 14:25 (2:25 pm)
  • 3 hours
  • 24-hour advance cancellation for full refund
  • More info and to book online.
  • Includes free bike rental for Adults, Students and Seniors

 


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SELF GUIDED TOUR OF EAST BERLIN

 

Things to do in East Berlin

 

Some basic history to know: After World War II, Germany and the city of Berlin were split among the victorious Allies, the United States, Great Britain, France and the USSR. The Soviet-controlled zone was called the German Democratic Republic (GDR), but was a really controlled by the USSR.

Berlin was entirely within the GDR zone, but the Allies demanded that Berlin be divided among the Allies into four sectors. The USSR’s communist regime conflicted with the values of the democratic Allies and made it hard, if not impossible for East Berliners to leave for the Western sectors.

And then suddenly on August 13, 1961, the GDR began building the Berlin Wall which ran through the center of the city. A majority of the Wall was completed in just a few days and was heavily guarded by the East German police and military to keep East Germans in and Western democratic values out.

Many of the sites on this tour symbolize the dramatic, heart-breaking and sometimes deadly effect that the Berlin Wall had on millions of Berliners who found themselves on the wrong side of the Wall.

In 1989, the USSR’s growing loss of control over the East German government along with a growing grass-roots movement against the GDR caused the GDR to cave under pressure from the protest movement.

On November 9, 1989, the GDR announced relaxed travel regulations allowing East Germans to cross the borders. Almost immediately hundreds of thousands of people gathered along the Berlin Wall border crossings. This momentous night in history was the start of Berlin Wall being dismantled and a year later West and East Germany were unified into one country. Berlin was once again one city and the capital.

During our Berlin Wall tour, you will learn about the events, figures, and postwar principles that lead to the construction of the wall, and the consequences that were brought about even to this day. This tour will shed some light and perspective onto both sides of the wall, and its impact on German culture and mindset, as well as on Berlin itself.

 

 

Stop A – Checkpoint Charlie Friedrichstrasse 43 between Zimmerstrasse and Kochstrasse.

This is the most logical starting point of a tour of the formerly Communist sector of Berlin. Until reunification in 1989, the only legal way to cross the border in and out of East Berlin was to pass through official checkpoints. Checkpoint Charlie was the most important of these checkpoints because it served as the only entry and departing point for diplomats, journalists and non-German visitors.  

Check out our blog post for more information on the history of Checkpoint Charlie.

The location where the border house stood is free to visit and the ideal spot for a selfie. You can visit this site any time as it is a public street. The infamous border crossing sign at the site is not the original. The original is located at the next site on this tour.

 

 

Stop B – Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie Friedrichstrasse 44 across from Checkpoint Charlie.

The museum contains artifacts used to escape over, under, and through the Berlin Wall, including escape cars, hot air balloons and even homemade mini-submarines. The original Checkpoint Charlie sign is here as well as many photographs of the dramatic escape attempts along with the stories of the Germans who risked their lives (and some who lost them) to gain their freedom in the West.

  • Hours: Open every day of the year (even on holidays) from 9:00am until 10:00pm (22:00).
  • Admission: Adults €12.50, Students €9.50, Photo permission: €2.00; Audioguide: €3.50.
  • Admission is free with the purchase of the Berlin Pass

Stop C – Trabi-Museum

The Trabant (lovingly referred to as Trabi) was not the only car on East German roads during the Cold War, but it was the most famous car produced and owned in East Germany. Owning a Trabi was more than just a means of transportation. Cars represented freedom of movement to people who were living in an totalitarian state. This car was quite compact, but escape attempts sometimes involved hiding in the car’s trunk. The Trabi is more than just a car, it’s an enduring symbol of East German’s struggle for freedom.

Stop D – Brandenburg Gate

This massive neoclassical structure was built in 1791 and was originally part of a wall that surrounded Berlin. It was the main entrance to the city and it is the only gate that remains today. It was modeled after the “Propylaea,” the ancient entrance gate to the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

 

Brandenberg Gate East Berlin Tour

 

On August 14, 1961, one day after the Berlin Wall was erected, the Brandenburg Gate was closed and became a symbol of a divided city. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, thousands of both West Berliners and East Berliners came together at the Gate and celebrated. The Gate now stands for the unification of a people once separated for almost 30 years. Free to visit all hours.

For more detail and history see our blog post.


Stop E – Reichstag
Platz der Republik 

This apparently indestructible building is one of Berlin’s most famous icons. It was built in 1894 as the home to the German Empire’s government. Bombings during World War II heavily damaged the building but it has since been restored and is now the seat of Germany’s parliament.

Atop the Reichstag is a glass dome with incredible a 360-degree view of the city. It is free to visit but advance registration required. Dome hours: 8am-12:00am (24:00). Last entry 10pm (22:00).

Note: Berlin City Pass has the option to choose a ‘Skip-the-Line’ Dome ticket.

 

 

Stop F – Traenenpalast in the Friedrichstrasse Banhof Station

Built in in 1962, immediately after the Berlin Wall went up, the Friedriechstrasse railway station was the main departure hall for crossing from East to West Berlin. For Berlin families and friends forced apart by the Cold War, this station was the scene of heartbreaking goodbyes accompanied by tears, hence the name Tränenpalast (Palace of Tears). It is now a museum with displays about the impact of the division between East and West Berlin had on its people.

 

Berlin Palace of Tears

 

A short touching podcast from National Public Radio can be heard at “Berlin’s ‘Palace Of Tears,’ A Reminder Of Divided Families, Despair”. Hours: Tuesday to Friday from 9 am-7 pm (19:00); Sat-Sun and public holidays 10 am-6 pm (18:00). Admission: free.

Stop G – Berlin Wall Memorial  Bernauer Strasse from Gartenstrasse and Schwedter Strasse

The Memorial grounds run 1.3 km along with several sites along the way. Bernauer Strasse was chosen for the Memorial because it is the ultimate symbol of a divided city. When the sudden construction of the Berlin Wall began on August 13, 1961, the effects of the swift and severe division of Berlin were especially vivid along this stretch of Bernauer Strasse.

Many apartment buildings located on the north side of the street formed the boundary between East and West Berlin. Overnight, families, friends, and neighbors who lived on this street were cut off from one another. Before the East German government was able to relocate the buildings’ residents and seal up the buildings, residents on the communist north side of the street attempted to escape (some successfully) to the democratic south side of the street by scaling down the buildings with rope or leaping from their windows into nets provided by the authorities of the democratic West Berlin.

 

 

The open-air exhibitions can be seen every day from 8am-10pm (22:00). Other sites have specific hours which we have listed below.  There are no fees to visit any part of the Memorial grounds. If you have less than 60 to 90 minutes to spend, we recommend the below sites. For those with more time or interest in gaining a deeper history of the Wall, Memorial website offers maps for two other tours based on your interest and time-frame. Start your tour at west end of the Memorial.

  • The Visitor Center corner of Bernauer Strasse and Gartenstrasse  

The center offers information about the Memorial and other Berlin Wall sites in the city. They show two short films throughout the day about the history of the Berlin. The center is free to enter and open daily 10am-6pm (18:00). Closed on Mondays.

  • Berlin Ghost Station NordbahnhofNordbahnhof “Ghost Station”

Inside the Nordbahnhof S-Bahn station, you can see an exhibition about this former “ghost station”. Prior to Wall’s construction, this station had exits on the East and West sides of Berlin and was used by East Berliners to attempt escaping to the West. Eventually the Nordbahnhof station was sealed and heavily patrolled. It was no longer used and became a ‘ghost’ station. The exhibition includes information about those who did successfully escape to the West through the station.  Open to viewing during the hours of operation of the Nordbahnhof S-Bahn station.

  • Berlin Wall Monument

This is the national monument dedicated to the “victims of Communist tyranny and to the memory of German division”. The monument combines preserved remains of the original border fortifications on Bernauer Strasse with artistic design.

  • Documentation Center and Viewing Platform

Here you can get background information on the history of the Berlin Wall through an audiovisual exhibition. You can also visit the viewing platform from where you can see a long section of the border area, including an intact section of the wall, the security zone and the watchtower. The center is free to enter and open daily 10am-6pm (18:00). Closed on Mondays.

  • Kapelle der Versöhnung  (The Chapel of Reconciliation)  

Built in 1894, this chapel stands on the site of the former Protestant Church of the Reconciliation Parish. After the Wall was built in 1961, the Church of the Reconciliation was located in the “death strip”, the area between the inner Berlin Wall and the outer Berlin Wall. The church was no longer accessible to anyone except East German military personnel who used it as a watchtower.

Eventually, its uselessness caused the GDR to destroy the church with explosives.  After German reunification, the church property was returned to the Reconciliation Parish with the condition that it be used for religious purposes. A new chapel was built and the original altar piece that survived the demolition now hangs above the exposed cellar staircase of the older church.

 

Berlin DDR Museum

Stop H – DDR Museum Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse 1

This museum offers you the chance to leave politics behind and focus on the everyday life of East Germans. This interactive museum gives you a chance to take a simulated drive in a Trabi, watch state-run TV in a socialist living room and experience what it was like to be interrogated by the dreaded Stasi.

  • Hours: Daily 10am-8pm, except Saturday 10am-10pm (22:00).
  • Admission: Adults 9.50€; Students: 6€.
  • Learn more.

 

Berlin Nikolaiviertel

Stop I – Nikolaiviertel (nearest transport to the quarter S-Bahn Alexanderplatz, U-Bahn Klosterstrasse). Nikolaiviertel (St. Nicholas Quarter) is a small neighborhood along the River Spree where Berlin was founded in the early 13th century. Prior to World War II, the area had some of the oldest buildings in Berlin.

Unfortunately, those buildings were destroyed during the war. During the Cold War, this neighborhood was in East Berlin and remained a heap of burnt out buildings and rubble until 1979, when reconstruction of the neighborhood began for Berlin’s 750th anniversary. What you now see in Nikolaiviertel is in fact a recreation of what it once was. Although it may not be the real thing, it is a lovely, historic looking area to stroll along car-free streets and browse the quaint shops and restaurants along the River Spree.

 

Stop J – East Side Gallery along Mühlenstrasse between Warschauer Strasse and the Ostbahnhof. This outdoor ‘art gallery’ is publicly accessible around the clock. This former 1316 meter stretch of the Berlin Wall is the opposite of what the Wall stood for- oppression of expression. Now this section of the former wall offers the ultimate freedom of expression. In 1990, a united Berlin invited artists from all over the world to paint on the Wall. The East Side Gallery has 106 paintings and this is one of the most dynamic, exciting and inspiration sites in all of Berlin. Use our post, How to Visit the East Side Gallery, to find out how to get there, the best times to go and what you can expect from your visit.

 

Berlin East side gallery

 

 

Stop K – Stasi-Museum Ruschestrasse 103, Haus 1

From 1950 until 1989, the East Germany’s secret police, known officially as the Ministry of State Security (Stasi), operated from this complex. The Stasi kept tabs on anyone whom they believed to be a threat to the state. The Stasi had agents in the post office reading people’s mail, they broke into homes and planted bugs and conducted surveillance on anyone who expressed any discontent with the GDR regime. At the museum you can see low-tech, yet highly effective surveillance devices (think James Bond on a budget), lightless cells used for interrogation and the office of the obsessively tidy Stasi Director, Erich Mielke. More importantly, you will get a sense of just how intimidating and sometimes deadly the Stasi could be. Admission: Adults 6€; Students age 12+ 3€. Hours: Mon-Fri 10:00am-6:00pm (18:00). Weekends and holidays: 11:00am-6:00pm (18:00).

 

Berlin Stasi Museum

 

This concludes your self-guided tour of East Berlin and the Berlin Wall. There is so much more to see and do in Berlin and we offer tours and self-guided tours, as well as our blog with helpful information.

 


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Written by Courtney Shapiro

 

 

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