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In just five days, Berlin made an indelible impression on me. It’s a fun, eclectic and, most importantly, hugely historic city. It’s not historic in the same sense Rome or Athens are, and you will not find the beautiful architecture you’ll find in Florence. However, if you are interested in 20th-century history like I am, you will love Berlin.
In the last 100 years, Berlin had undergone a few huge transformations. It saw two world wars and was almost completely destroyed in 1945 during the Battle of Berlin. Those events in addition to the Cold War all left their marks on the city. The historic sites aren’t grand old churches, but rather the remnants of the Berlin Wall that fell almost 30 years ago.
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The Old and the New Berlin
Berlin’s new energy is palpable everywhere. This is a very young cosmopolitan city. I’ve heard more Spanish, Hebrew and English than I did German. Don’t expect Bavarian-type German-ness in Berlin. Rather, you have amazing food, incredible historical sites, and a vibrant café and restaurant scene. This is also a city where you can try some of the best Turkish and Israeli food in the world.
When you go, make sure to immerse yourself in the history of the Berlin Wall by visiting many of its remaining segments, especially the East Side gallery featuring the most interesting murals you’ll ever see. The tragic events of the Second World War are also well documented and presented in many forms, including memorials and museums.
Don’t skip a visit to the Dome of the Reichstag Building. The access to the Dome and the building is free but reservations are required. I made my reservation about a week out and there weren’t that many available dates and times left. So that’s definitely something to keep in mind!
I enjoyed two very interesting walking tours: a free tour by Original Europe Tours and a Jewish History tour by Insider Tour. The free tour is a great orientation to the city, and you can get recommendations from the guide for things to see and do that you won’t find in a guidebook. I love chatting up the local guides and learning about their lives. Just make sure to tip at the end, because while the tour is offered at no charge, the guides work hard to earn their tips.
I booked the Jewish History tour on Viator (make sure to google Viator coupons and don’t forget to use a shopping portal like Ebates to save a few bucks). I thought I knew quite a lot about the history of Jews in Germany, but I still learned a ton about Jewish life in Berlin. The tour was only $15 and was well worth it.
Hilton Berlin – Getting There
Hilton Berlin came on my radar when I was writing a post about how to get a great trip to Berlin with just two cards. Centrally located, and very reasonably priced, the hotel is a great option in the Mitte area of Berlin. Berlin is very spread out, and for that reason, I wanted to stay in Mitte, where the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, and other main attractions are located.
I booked the hotel with 33,000 Hilton Honors points. Hilton doesn’t have an award chart, so I’ve seen the price fluctuate from 29,000 points to 43,000 points. The price in points will fluctuate with the demand and the price in dollars. When you book the hotel with points, you get fifth night free. Considering that Hilton points are relatively easy to acquire with a few credit card sign up bonuses and bonus category spend, this proved to be a great value. Our Hilton Honors points came from American Express Hilton Aspire welcome bonus.
We arrived at Berlin’s Tegel Airport (TXL) on a flight from Frankfurt around 1 PM. The airport is old, not very attractive and still looks stuck in the post-Soviet era. It is, basically, in the city, so it took us about 30 minutes to get to the hotel by public transport.
There’s no direct subway line or train from Mitte to the airport, but there are a few city buses that stop there. You can buy a ticket at a vending machine at the bus station which is good for two hours and costs just 2.8 euros. We took the bus first and then transferred to the subway. The subway stop is right in front of the hotel, so the location couldn’t be better.
If you are arriving in Berlin by train, the hotel is about a 10 minute Uber drive from Hauptbahnhof, Berlin’s main train station. On the way back to the airport I was traveling alone, so I took an Uber. It took me about 20-25 minutes and I paid about 28 euro. If I didn’t have a suitcase, I would’ve used public transport.
My husband has Hilton Honors Diamond status courtesy of the American Express Hilton Aspire card. I reserved the basic room, knowing that he should be eligible for an upgrade. When we were checking in, the receptionist didn’t acknowledge my husband’s status and made no mention of the upgrade. He said we were assigned a room with twin beds and I had to firmly remind him of the upgrade eligibility.
He said the only suite available could be ours at a reduced rate (because of the Diamond status) of “only 250 euro”. We declined and were given a room with the dome view on the fourth floor. This is my second trip to Germany this summer, and I’ve noticed the efficient but lackluster service by the front desk staff on my earlier trip as well.
I am afraid that my expectations for good service were raised by spending some time in Asia a couple of months ago. We’ve never received a better welcome than at Asian hotels. I always had the impression that they really liked to make their guests as happy as possible. I am glad I knew the rules of Hilton Honors programs about upgrade eligibility. The Aspire card has a steep annual fee, so it’s not unreasonable to expect a room upgrade that comes with status when the hotel is far from being sold out.
Our room was in the front of the building, facing a small street and a beautiful Deutscher Dome. I was a little concerned at first about the traffic noise, but the street is pretty quiet and with the windows closed, you can’t hear a thing.
Our room wasn’t huge, but rather typical for a big European city. We had a nice king bed, a desk and a big shelf/counter. Both of us prefer rooms that have real desks because we both have to do some work while traveling. A big counter was perfect for all our stuff. The closet had ample room for everything, including a few shelves, plenty of hangers and a safe.
The room has a small minibar of the kind that electronically tracks anything removed from it. There’s a tiny area for personal use. Hilton Honors members get two free water bottles a day.
The sleep quality, the most important aspect of any hotel stay for me, was great. Black out curtains blacked out all the light, and they even overlapped by about 10 inches of fabric. This is super important to me, because I can’t sleep if there’s any light. Those few extra inches of fabric make a huge difference, and I wish more hotels were less stingy with curtains.
The bed was comfortable and the mattress was on a firm side, which is very typical for Germany. We had nice pillows and a lovely white duvet. The air conditioner was efficient and quiet. Hilton gets A+ for sleep quality!
The bathroom isn’t huge but has excellent lighting and a makeup mirror. The corner sink and vanity had plenty of room for all our things.
I really don’t like the tub/shower combo, the tub is usually very high and I am always afraid I’ll slip and fall. I wish all hotels just had walk-ins showers, but sadly, the tubs are very common in Europe.
Executive Lounge and Breakfast
Gold and Diamond members get free breakfast and Diamond members have access to the executive lounge. The lounge served light dinner from 6-8 PM. and breakfast in the morning. We stopped at the lounge on the first night and found it very crowded. There were no seats at all during the cocktail hour. I’ve checked it out on another night too, and the food selection was pretty much the same: sandwiches, cheeses, soup and light salads.
The lounge also provides wine, beer and soft drinks. It is open all day and offers hot and cold drinks.
The buffet area at the lounge was very small, so I figured we’d have a better breakfast at the main restaurant. And I was not wrong! The breakfast at the Beletage restaurant was really great. The food selection was huge with almost anything you could wish for.
On offer were the amazing German breads and pastries, smoked salmon, a made to order egg station and hot dishes. There were also many kinds of fruit, cereal, yogurt and fruit.
I can’t eat gluten or dairy, and I was so happy to see a good gluten-free bread selection and soy yogurt! It’s always such a treat when my dietary restrictions don’t get in the way of a good meal.
My husband said the beautiful apple muffins and the pretzels were incredible, so do try some if you stay there.
If you are lucky enough to snag a seat by the window, you’ll have a great breakfast view!
There’s a restaurant on the first floor, but it’s quite expensive so we didn’t eat there. Berlin has tons of great and inexpensive eats, so there’s no need to break the bank with hotel restaurants. However, there aren’t a ton of places to eat in the immediate vicinity, and many are closed on Sunday.
But I can recommend two great and inexpensive places nearby. One is called Nanoosh, and is in the next block. It serves Mediterranean and middle eastern type of food and has some of the best hummus I’ve had. The other is called 4You café and is just a couple blocks down the street and has delicious Russian food, also at very reasonable prices.
Spa and Gym
The hotel has a nice sized gym with all the standard equipment and it’s open 24 hours.
A tiny indoor pool is adjacent to the spa.
The changing rooms have saunas. No swimsuit is needed in the sauna in Germany.
While the hotel is starting to look a little dated, it still provides a great value in a great location. Berlin doesn’t have a defined city center as some other European cities, so being close to the subway is paramount. There is a subway station right in front of the hotel, so getting back to your room at the end of a full day of exploring is a snap. The area isn’t very lively at night, which was fine with me. I hope to visit Berlin again soon, and if the price in points is acceptable, I’ll definitely stay there again.
Editors Note: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.