Your First Visit to Berlin

Now that you have settled in and gotten a first impression of the FU-BEST Program as well as Berlin as a city, hopefully gotten to know your class mates a bit and survived your busy first week, it is time to venture out and get to know Berlin in all of its glory and diversity.

In order for you to easily find things to do and learn about the must visits in Berlin, we have compiled a list of important and interesting places in Berlin which you can visit this weekend (or later down the line).

Now, Berlin is huge and there are thousands upon thousands of other places and events to explore. I’m sure we could fill an entire term with impressive architecture, arts, museums, etc., but since you will have to start somewhere, these are our recommendations:

The Brandenburg Gate

The Brandenburg Gate at the heart of Berlin

The epic Brandenburg Gate is the first sight people think of when hearing about Berlin. Serving as the main gate for the ‚Straße des 17. Juni‘ which is a broad avenue leading directly to the Siegessäule (The Victory Column), an important national monument celebrating the ‚Einigungskriege‘ (Unity Wars) which took place from 1864 – 1871.
We recommend visiting the Victory Column as well since you can tour the inside and take a nice walk through the ‚Großer Tiergarten‘ (the big animal garden), after which you can have a nice beverage in the ‚Café am Neuen See‘.

The Brandenburg Gate itself is located right next to several embassies such as the American, English, French and not too far away – the Russian embassy. At the center of the Pariser Platz (displayed on the picture), various (political) demonstrations take place almost around the clock.
My personal favorite is visiting the gate towards dusk since the composition of clouds behind the gate is different every day and looks simply incredible.

We can also highly recommend getting bikes and touring the city that way.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe

Berlin is a fun and exciting city.

But underneath that fun and diversity are various dark chapters, oppression and a genocide. It is important to be mindful – not only of the various memorials you can find all over the city, but in particular with this one.

Germans, and as a matter of fact, us as citizens of the world should never forget the atrocities that took place in Germany during the Nazi regime and as globalized citizens, we all carry the responsibility to understand that something like the Holocaust should never happen again.
As you might find out in some FU-BEST courses, genocides are comparable, however, this type of industrialized eradication of human beings has never happened on the same scale and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe will give you that impression while walking through it.

The design is specifically meant to make you feel small and irrelevant. It is supposed to scare you and send shivers down your spine to bring across the emotional helplessness of the time.

I sincerely recommend both visiting the memorial and also taking a few minutes to really take in this feeling and pay respects to the victims of the Nazis‘ hatred.

Please make sure to be respectful and not climb any of the stones.

Alexanderplatz, the Fernsehturm and the World Clock

Alexanderplatz, the Fernsehturm and the World Clock

One of the signature buildings installed in formerly Soviet-occupied cities were the enormous television towers used to broadcast domestic state media.
This is how the Berlin Alexanderturm came to be.

Located in the center of East Berlin on the Alexanderplatz, it has been an important monument ever since the Cold War and naturally lots of infrastructure developed around it. There are several malls, restaurants, bars and public transport as well as the ‚Rotes Rathaus‘ right around the corner.

In addition, it is always fun to visit the World Clock to find your own country or city and get a spacial and visual understanding for time.
Furthermore, there are various events and flea markets every other weekend, so it is always fun to be surprised by ther buzzing city life.

Museum Island and the Berlin Dom

The Berlin Dom and Museum Island

By now, you are likely tired of hearing how broad Berlin’s cultural landscape is. Nonetheless, Museum Island around the Berlin Dom is an essential place to get an idea about how Berlin became the city it is today.

Since you all received a free pass to all state museums in Berlin, we can but recommend planning a whole day or even several days exploring these exceptional museums, the grand architecture (highly influenced by Karl Friedrich Schinkel) which has gone through several eras from epic to renaissance-type buildings and, of course, the Berlin Dom itself.

Located next to the famous ‚Lustgarden‘ (garden of lust), the Dom is the biggest evangelical church in Germany and can be toured both inside and on top of the roof. Although Berlin is by far the least religious city in Germany, it goes to show how big of an influence the German church has had.

Either way, the whole area along the Spree is simply beautiful and it is absolulety worth it planning to visit the Berlin Dom.

East Side Gallery

The East Side Gallery, also formerly known as the Berlin Wall

One of the most significant modern historical remnants of the Cold War is – without a doubt – the Berlin wall.

As you probably already know or will find out in many of our classes, West Germany was the Allies‘ „bulwark“ against the Soviet Union after World War II. No matter how you think about world politics, the wall which is now adorned with several graffitis and art works, displays the main theme of our university: freedom.

Freedom of thought, freedom of mobility and freedom of information are some of the most important values in most western constitutions and democracies and the innate desire of people was on full display when the wall came down on November 9th, 1989.

As former German President Horst Köhler said: „The wall was an edifice of fear. On November 9th, it became a place of joy“.
More than 33 years later, this still holds true and as a living piece of history, the East Side Gallery serves as a reminder that walls will always create tension, hatred and limit personal freedoms.

A must visit during your term in Berlin.

The Reichstag Building

The Reichstag Building housing the German parliament

While most of you have already seen and toured the Reichstag Building, we figured it still deserves a spot on this list. Not only has this building been the focal point to many historical events (both good and bad) throughout the several regimes Berlin has been through, but you can also visit the plenary halls and even listen in on some policy-making in the process by registering for a tour here.
Additionally, if your friends or family come to visit, this is an excellent place to show off the political heart of Germany and the many facets Berlin has to offer.

Honorable Mention – Silent Picture

Stummfilm Festival Babylon Berlin

As it turns out, your visit is beginning at the start of the Stummfilm Festival (Silent Picture Festival) in Berlin at the Babylon Cinema.

Given that some of you do not yet speak German well (yet), FU-BESTers have traditionally been to Silent Picture screenings and have only given us positive Feedback about their experiences.

It is certainly worth checking out and the Festival started on August 31st and will go on until September 10, so you have enough time to find a fitting time slot. For those who are taking the „German Cinema before 1945“ course with Dr. Stiasny, this is a must-visit!

You can book the screenings here.

For more information, feel free to email us, come to the office or refer to previous Blog entries such as this.

I sincerely hope you found some interesting sights and are able to enjoy your first couple of weeks in Berlin!

And remember: no matter what you do, what counts in the end is who you did it with! So don’t be shy and ask your fellow FU-BESTers to join you on your Berlin adventures and create some unforgettable memories together!

Tips on How to Make the Most of your Berlin Study Abroad Experience


Put in real effort to learn German

40 basic German phrases and sentences you should knowWith our intensive language classes you will naturally make quick progress, but don’t hesitate to put in some extra work outside the classroom. Force yourself to speak German when you are out and about in a restaurant, at the cashier in a grocery store, or at your favorite coffee shop. Obviously, this will not work right away, but you don’t have to form complete sentences on the spot, you can also just throw in some individual German words that you’ve learnt. Trying to communicate in German in the „real“ world will make you comfortable with the language vernacular and intricacies. Unfortunately, Berlin will make this extra difficult for you. Being an international hub, you’ll find people fluent in English on every corner of the city. Still, don’t give up. Learning a language always takes time and your efforts will be appreciated by the people you are talking to.

Stay on top of your course work

Do not forget that your classes are an important part of your studying abroad experience. There is obviously value in the act of living abroad by itself, but in the best case your classes allow you to grow in your believes, opinions and knowledge. Studying abroad can put a whole new perspective on familiar issues. Some tips on how to stay motivated for your course work can be found on our blog here. 

Don’t travel too much

It might be tempting to spend every weekend in a different city, especially if you have never been to Europe before. Understandably, you want to make the most of your four months in Europe (so little time), but don’t let this take over your Berlin/Germany experience. You made Germany your home base, so go out and explore the country that you are calling your home for the next foreseeable time.

This issue is exactly what one of our former FU-BESTers experienced and here is what she had to say about it:

What makes Germans so orderly? - BBC Travel

I wish that I had explored Germany more! I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to spend most weekends in Berlin. To truly live abroad for a semester, you need to learn your city and discover what it is like to be a true Berliner! I do feel like I spent a good deal of time in Berlin, but not enough throughout the rest of Germany. While I traveled to places like Paris and Rome, I missed Schloss Neuschwanstein and Hamburg. There are so many wonders located right in Germany a mere train ride away, and I wish I had been able to see them all during my time in Berlin; however, I have decided that I simply must go back and see everything that I missed.

Travel enough

Having said this, Berlin’s central location makes it perfect for a quick getaway to France, Italy or Spain and you should definitely take advantage of this. Just pick the destinations you are most desperate to see. This way you can still spend quality time in Berlin and will also keep your budget in check.

Go grocery shopping and buy what you usually would not buy at home

Maybe you are the adventurous shopper when it comes to food anyway, but if not, try to get out of your comfort zone. Can you spot food that you usually never buy at home? Now is the time to try stuff. Look for new German inspired recipes that are worth trying. Pinning down a traditional German food is hard, but we would confirm that Germans do like their potatoes. So we suggest trying this recipe.

Go cold turkey on Starbucks & Co

This goes along with our previous point about trying new things. You get accustomed best if you shop and eat locally. And although you will definitely find a Starbucks or McDonald’s easily, it is so much more fun to test local coffee shops (for example Five Elephant in Kreuzberg, which is also famous for the best cheese cake in town!) and local burger joints (for instance Kreuzburger in Kreuzberg and other locations).

Berlin: Inside Five Elephant's New Mitte Cafe

Do not get sucked into the international bubble

This is an easy trap to fall in to. Since you are constantly surrounded by fellow international students, it can be easy to get lost in your international bubble. However, this might prevent you from having a true living abroad experience. You can find our attempt to give you a little ‚how to‘ (get out of the international bubble) on our blog here.

Get to know the Berlin way of life

Or better: get to know and be open to the new way of life that you’ll be living abroad that might sometimes be less comfortable than what you are used to. This sounds like an obvious given, but some students are still surprised by how much they need to adjust to their new environment.  For instance, a common complaint is the „commute issue“: most students in Berlin have a pretty long commute. One hour from door to door is nothing out of the ordinary. It is not ideal, but accepted by everyone. Living close to campus is not the reality for most students, since the vast majority prefer to live in more central districts. In Germany, and Berlin specifically, life does not happen on campus, but in the city itself. This might be different from how things are at home, but don’t stress about your daily commute. Take it as an opportunity to ease in and out of your day, read, listen to podcasts, observe Berliners, … .

Don’t stress yourself and have fun

We think it is a good idea to be aware of all of these points and also maybe implement one thing or another into your daily life in Berlin. That being said, stressing about any of these issues would have quite the opposite effect. You have decided to study abroad, because you want to have an experience. This experience will most likely consist of both ups and downs, which is part of studying abroad. This lets us believe that the best tip of all is not to stress yourself out too much and go with the flow of living abroad.

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