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BERLIN

13 ways to have fun in Berlin for free

While Berlin can be slightly more expensive than many of its eastern neighbours, there are several free experiences the capital has to offer. Why not try out one or two over the weekend?

Berlin Tempelhofer Felt at sunset
People play sport on Berlin's Tempelhofer Feld in the evening sunshine. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

Living in a major city can be challenging when you’re on a budget, but people often forget that you can enjoy some great experiences without spending a single cent. 

We’ve gathered together some of the most fun and interesting activities you can take advantage of in the buzzing city of Berlin. And the best part? All of them are completely free. 

Museums

  • Visit a museum

There are many museums in Berlin that are free entry, including the Allied Museum, Anti-War Museum and German Museum for the Blind. 

What’s more, the first Sunday of every month is designated “Museum Sunday”, where a huge number of museums offer free entry. 

Participating museums include the Bode-Museum, Deutsches Historisches Museum, Jüdisches Museum Berlin, Neues Museum, and more. For the full list, see here

  • Get a panoramic view of Berlin 

For a 360° view of Berlin, head to the roof terrace of the Humboldt Forum. A much cheaper option compared to the TV tower, and you’ll still see the famous sights of Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Cathedral and Museum Island. Book your slot in advance here.

Plus, if you go on Museum Sunday, you’ll be able to enjoy both the exhibitions and the scenic views free of charge. 

READ ALSO: The one way to beat the January blues in each German state

History

  • Visit the Reichstag Dome

One of the most important landmarks in German history, Germany’s main government building features a huge glass dome – intended to symbolise transparency in politics – that allows you to view your MPs in action. While visiting is free, you need to book a place in advance on their website, and slots can fill up fast. 

To find out more about the history of this iconic building, see our article here.

Reichstag

The sun sets over Berlin’s famous Reichstag building. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm
 
  • Pay respects at a memorial 

It can be a sombre experience learning about the darkest period of German history, but still worth a visit.

The Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe) in Mitte consists of thousands of concrete slabs of different sizes, creating a sense of disorientation, to remember the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

The site also features an underground information centre, with photographs, diaries, and letters of those who lost their lives. 

You can also take a tour of the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp located just outside of Berlin in Oranienburg.

To learn more about all the horrors of the Nazi era, head to the Topography of Terror, a history museum on the grounds of the former Gestapo headquarters. 

Exercise

  • Take a walk in Tiergarten + Siegessäule

Tiergarten, at 520 acres, is one of Berlin’s largest parks featuring lots of greenery and the famous “Straße des 17. Juni” leading from the Brandenburg Gate to the Siegessäule.

The Siegessäule, or “Victory Column”, while originally commemorating the Prussian War, has become a key symbol and route of Christopher Street Day, Berlin’s gay-pride parade.

Climbing to the top of the column (including all 285 steps) will only set you back €3, and the outlook from the viewing platform is well worth it on a clear day. 

  • Go rollerskating at Tempelhofer Feld

This massive field was once home to Tempelhof Airport – where the famous Berlin Airlift of 1948/49 took place – until its closing in 2008. 

Since opening as a park, Tempelhofer Feld has become one of the largest urban open spaces in Berlin, with over 300 hectares to skate, bike, jog and more. It is also a great place to watch the sunset. 

Tempelhofer Felt

Berliners walk and roller-skate down a former runway on Tempelhofer Feld. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm
 
  • Other sports

If Tempelhofer Feld isn’t enough to fill your fitness craving, there are many other free sports facilities. 

From the beginning of May through to the end of September you can make use of the tennis courts on Harbigstraße in Charlottenberg. To book a place, call the number on their website

You can also find ping pong tables in various parks across Berlin – all you need to do is bring the equipment.

And if that isn’t enough, why not grab your bike and spend some time cycling the famous Mauerweg that follows the trail of the old Berlin wall, or exploring many of the other rural and urban cycle routes in and around the city?

READ ALSO: Riding the Radweg: A guide to touring Germany by bike

  • Take a dip in a lake

When the weather eventually gets warmer in the summer months, there’s nothing Berliners like to do more than cool off in one of Berlin’s many lakes. Grab your trunks/swimming costumes and picnic baskets and enjoy the nature Berlin has to offer.

Some popular destinations are Plötzensee in Wedding, Krumme Lanke and Schlachtensee in Steglitz-Zehlendorf and Müggelsee in Treptow-Köpenick. If you’re after a (fairly) well-kept secret, we also love Flughafensee (literally: Airport Lake) that’s in a gorgeous forest next to the now-defunct Tegel Airport. 

Flughafensee

A group of youngsters jump into Flughafensee on a hot summer’s day. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Paul Zinken

If you can’t wait that long, brave souls might be interested in taking part in weekly ice dip organised by people affiliated with Ice Dippers Berlin. Though official events have been postponed due to the pandemic, there are still groups of people gathering at various lakes around Berlin such as Plötzensee and Weißensee on a weekly basis and beginners are welcome.

Though these events are free, you do have the option to make a voluntary donation to a homeless shelter to support those who don’t have any choice about braving the cold. 

READ ALSO: 12 ways to improve your life in Germany without even trying

Art & Culture

  • Visit the East Side Gallery

The East Side Gallery in Friedrichshain is a permanent open-air gallery on the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall. 

After the opening of the wall, this 1.3km long section was painted by various artists from across the globe – with many pieces conveying political and social messages of freedom and reconciliation. 

Other street art can be found across Berlin – check out the “StreetArt Spotteron” app for a digital map.

  • Go see a cinema screening

Every third Wednesday of the month, visitors of the Sputnik Südstern cinema in Kreuzberg can see a free screening of a short film from aspiring and professional filmmakers. The films are usually no longer than 25 minutes, and the viewings start at 8pm. 

On other days, the cinema shows arthouse cinema, documentaries, and independent films, as well as young German and European cinema.

READ ALSO: What I’ve learned from five years of living in Berlin

  • Enjoy a music performance

Why not experience some live classical music on your next lunch break? Every Tuesday at 1pm the Berlin Philharmonic put on a free chamber concert. Just be sure to get there early to grab a spot – these events are popular! 

Other free concerts include the “Kurzkonzerte bei Dussman” in the Kulturkaufhaus, “Konzerte in der Gedächtniskirche” and the annual “Staatsoper für alle” on Bebelplatz.

Berlin Philharmonie

People queue to see a free concert at the Berlin Philharmonie. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl
 
  • Go to a reading

Dussmann das Kulturkaufhaus not only offers concerts but also free readings. Whether it’s a thriller, drama, novel or biography, there is a wide range on offer. You can find all upcoming events in the department store here.

If you’re interested in something a little more intimate, check out the events organised at cult English-language bookshop Curious Fox. They’re in the process of moving to a new location in Kreuzberg right now, but are due to reopen shortly with book clubs, poetry readings and more.

  • Little extras

Make the most of Berlin pedestrian routes with free walking tours, which you can find details of here.

Particularly helpful for tourists are over 650 free Wi-Fi hotspots, including in most U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations and onboard many trains.

Some free useful apps to download include “Die Berliner Mauer”, an interactive map of Berlin showing tours along the former wall, the “komoot Bike Berlin” app displaying bike routes across Berlin and “Flush” and “Tap” to find public toilets and drinking water fountains.

READ ALSO: Holiday like a local: Five of the best camping regions in Germany

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WORKING IN GERMANY

‘Lack of diversity is a problem’: What it’s like to work at a Berlin tech startup

Many foreigners dream of finding a job in Germany's growing startup scene. But aside from promises of free pizza, what's the culture like, is the pay good - and do you need to speak German? We spoke to two foreigners working at tech startups in Berlin to find out.

'Lack of diversity is a problem': What it's like to work at a Berlin tech startup

With over €5.1 billion in venture capital fund investments raised last year, the startup industry in Germany’s capital is booming. Startups are the fastest-growing job sector in Berlin, and more than 78,000 people are now employed in the sector.

The sector attracts highly qualified, ambitious people from all over the globe. But what is it really like to work for a Berlin startup?

We spoke to two insiders to find out. Gabriela, 36, is originally from Poland and has been a Business-to-Business Manager in a tech startup in Berlin since October last year. Giuseppe, also 36, is originally from Italy and has been working as a Human Resources Manager in various tech startups for the last seven years. 

Most important question first – do you actually get free pizza and office table tennis?

Giuseppe: These kinds of benefits have become a bit of a cliche that doesn’t really reflect the reality anymore. Yoga, soft drinks, and fruit baskets are nothing special. The real benefits are now to do with remote working and flexible working schedules. 

Gabriela: We haven’t really had many of these kinds of ‘incentives’ because we’ve been mainly working from home since I started. Only in the last month or so we’ve been going to the office at least once a week, and we do get free pizza and drinks once a month when the CEO’s give us their monthly update on how the business is going.

READ ALSO: The German regions attracting startups

Would you say that your work environment is diverse?

Gabriela: My team is a complete mix of people from different European countries. But the number of BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) people on board is not very high and there is definitely a problem with the lack of female leadership, which the company is trying to address. The CEOs are all white Germans.

Giuseppe: (Lack of) diversity is still a big problem. Most of the CEOs and the highest earners are white – usually German – guys. Women and BAME people tend to occupy lower-paid jobs. It’s a systemic issue – and there is competition among a lot of startups that are trying to show who is more diverse. 

How much German is spoken in your company?

Gabriela: Hardly any. We speak all the time in English with each other and all of our meetings are in English.

Giuseppe: It’s the same with us. I’m hearing German less and less. 

READ ALSO: How easy is it to get an English-speaking job in Germany?

Is there anything then that indicates that the company you’re working for is German?

Gabriela: I think the presence of a strong labour law reminds you that you’re in Germany. In our company, there’s an employees representation group and certain clear rules. You know that you won’t be suddenly dismissed once you’ve passed your probation time.

Giuseppe: Yes, the labour law is what I would point to. It’s not easy to get rid of employees in Germany – there is a more robust framework that affects the environment and culture. 

What is the salary like?

Gabriela: I think it’s competitive. My company does salary benchmarking every summer to see what the standard is across the industry and adjusts its pay accordingly.

Giuseppe: Salaries have gone up a lot in the last few years and you could even say they are booming now. A ‘normal’ engineer can expect to earn at least €85,000 per year, and if you are in a serious leadership position, you can expect to earn up to €180,000.

READ ALSO: Do internationals face discrimination in the workplace

A woman working from home throws money in the air. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

Would you say that it’s a high-pressure environment to work in?

Gabriela: For me, there isn’t the kind of pressure that if you don’t perform you won’t get the money you should be getting. Instead, my company is trying to get you to think that your own success is intertwined with the success of the company. There are good incentives to work hard and we have also a certain amount of shares in the company, so if it does well we benefit too.

Giuseppe: I personally feel pressure, but I love what I do, so for me it’s fine. But I have seen a lot of cases of people burning out – especially young people. I think because there are a lot of young managers, who get into leadership roles without having the tools or strength to resist the pressure.

How do you find the work-life balance? 

Giuseppe: I feel like I’m working all the time, but again, that’s because I love my job and I want to, it’s not necessarily the expectation, it’s not like in the US. In Berlin tech startups, there is a tendency to slow down around 6pm.

Gabriela: For me, the work-life balance compared to previous jobs is very good. Telecommuting is great, there are flexible starting times and last-minute holiday requests are usually approved. I think it’s very good for people with children and more complex schedules. 

How many days holiday do you get?

Gabriela: We get 28 days holiday per year.

Giuseppe: We get between 23 and 30 days holiday per year, depending on how long you’ve been working in the company.

What are the career progression opportunities like?

Gabriela: Very dynamic. For myself, I don’t see a clear career path at the moment, but I see a lot of movement happening and people moving to different roles. There is a feeling of being in a constant state of change. 

Giuseppe: If you join a startup at the right time, you can very easily become a manager very quickly.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to boost your career chances in Germany

What was different about working for a Berlin start-up than you expected?

Gabriela: I thought that working from home would be easier, because I hadn’t done that much before, but I find it much harder to be engaged than I expected. I think a lot of startups (in Berlin) are struggling now to find the right balance between the competing interests of their employees – some of whom want to be fully remote and others who want to come more regularly to the office.

Giuseppe: Before I started working for tech startups I had this romantic image that they were all led by geniuses with big ideas who started in their garages. But in reality, I’ve found this emotional, big-dreaming side to be lacking. There are a lot of people who work for startups who just see it like any other job.

A work team exchanging ideas with notes on a whiteboard.

A work team exchanging ideas with notes on a whiteboard. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

What are the best things about working for a Berlin tech start-up?

Giuseppe: You can make an impact with what you do, to build a product and say it’s mine. There is also creativity and freshness in the team dynamics. I was deeply unhappy in the years I spent working for big corporations because I didn’t know what the goal was. In startups, the objectives are clear.

Gabriela: You can grow with the company, and there are a lot of positions opening all the time, and it’s very common for startups to promote internal talent.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The German regions attracting startups

What are the worst things about working for a Berlin tech start-up?

Gabriela: Sometimes it can be hard to keep up with the pace of change. It sometimes feels like we are constantly onboarding new people or people are changing roles and there is a slightly chaotic feel to things. The buzzword “agility” is used and abused, and sometimes means staff is expected to go along with anything and everything.

Giuseppe: In the tech start-up world here there seem to be a lot of people who get into the top jobs because they speak a lot, not necessarily because they are the most competent. There is a lot of networking and self-promotion required to push yourself forward. It’s also not a good environment for people who don’t like change, because things change a lot. 

Do you think Berlin is a good place for foreigners to work?

Gabriela: Yes, definitely. You have a lot of choice when it comes to places to work – so it’s unlikely you’ll have to stick at a job which
you don’t like. It’s also a big help for foreigners that most startups in Berlin don’t require German language skills.

Giuseppe: Definitely. For me, the mix of cultures and ideas in the workplace is really inspiring and motivating. And, of course, the city of Berlin itself is full of cultural events and has a great night life – so it’s a great place to live for when you want to detach from work too.

Do you have any advice for anyone thinking about joining a tech start-up in Berlin?

Giuseppe: Try to develop an entrepreneurial mindset instead of an employee mindset as soon as possible. Always look for opportunities, don’t take things personally, don’t think about what happened yesterday, and focus on the now. 

Gabriela: Be open-minded and be prepared for change. 

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