Sunday, March 15, 2015

Taking a walking tour of Berlin

Let me start this by saying that usually I hate guided tours of any kind. Just the image of someone waving an umbrella as 50 tourists follow (missing a bunch of interesting things along the way) makes me cringe. However, when I visited Berlin, a few people had recommended doing a free walking tour. I had a look online to see what kind of sites were included and it looked okay, so I decided to overcome my tour prejudice and take a chance.

There are a lot of free walking and paid walking tour companies in Berlin. If you are around Brandenberg gate at around 11am or 2pm you will see what I mean. The company I picked was Sandemans New Europe. Their tour was in English and took 2 hours. A few of the other companies that offered paid tours took 4 hours, which didn't sound very appealing in the freezing cold!! I'm sure that all the free tour companies would offer a similar kind of layout of the tour, and as I have only tried one company I can't say it is better or worse than the others!

Our tour started at 11am. Everyone was instructed to meet at a certain spot, where the massive group of people were then orderly split up into tour groups. Our guide was Seb/Sebastian who had perfect English from living in the UK for ten years and was also very knowledgeable and entertaining. 

We visited a few of the top sites in Berlin including the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the old Nazi HQ, Checkpoint Charlie and the spot above where Hitler's bunker was. Much of the information in the tour were things that I would probably not have found out had I just walked around on my own. I can always vouch for the value of local knowledge! Although the tour was quite fast paced, I didn't feel like I was going to miss anything. As it was only 2 hours, I knew that I could easily go back and revisit anything I wanted to.

I didn't have to worry about my fear of looking like a lemming either. I don't know if it was because I was so engrossed in the tour or that we actually didn't look like losers, but I didn't feel uncomfortable at all about being part of a tour. There was no waving umbrella or obnoxious tour guide dragging me along. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I was kind of sad when the tour ended! 

The only catch to the tour (which I had already assumed beforehand) is that it isn't technically free. Everyone was encouraged to give what they think the tour was worth. So although you could just walk off without paying a cent, you would look and feel like a bit of a jerk. I didn't have a problem with paying though, because it still works out cheaper than a normal tour if you want it to, without feeling cheap. Also, because the guide knows their income will be based on how awesome their tour is, it means that the free tour is likely more interesting than a prepaid tour.

I can highly recommend taking a free walking tour of Berlin. Most of them are quite short, but still pack a lot in which means that you can get a really good overview of the city. If you take the tour at the beginning of your trip, you can figure out what you want to see again and what you would be happy to skip. Also, having a local guide means you can ask them what else is worth seeing!

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