The short answer is yes! — well kind of. I didn’t believe it at first and in truth, I expected a one hour swirl around Berlin, gift shop and hand out for tip afterwards, but this was not the case. In fact, this three hour tour was guided by someone who not only knew Berlin like the back of her hand but also had a master’s degree in history. She detailed the history of WWI and WWII, and the role Germany played, resulting in the city that it is today.
The information was clear, detailed and without a doubt, left me better informed and orientated afterwards.
For me it was the ideal introduction to Germany’s capital city, a great way to orientate myself and at a price which suited my budget. It also gave me an idea of what I wanted to go back and see with more time.
How can the tour be free you ask?
What Sandeman’s do is they have a strong online presence so anyone searching for a relatively cheap day tour, will typically stumble upon their website first. Their hook for the public, is that they offer a free Berlin tour but you pay for their other tours.
Sandman’s hook for the guides, is that they have a proven ability to draw in the crowds, so the guides actually pay Sandeman’s a per person amount (say EUR4-5) irrespective of whether they receive a tip form people on the tour, and keep the rest.
This is why the answer is also no, there is no such thing as a free tour. It should come as no surprise that you need to tip your guide for their services, and also that there is no such thing as a free tour. So if you do this trip (and you should), consider what a paid tour would cost you and what a sweet deal you are receiving.
So what’s included in a free Berlin tour?
Good question, let’s get down to brass tacks. From what I understand the tour is actually 2.5 hours but our guide was on a roll so she led us around for three. I also understand they have their own order for the tour but for the most part you are hitting up the key highlights and attractions. The tour starts in East Berlin in front of the Starbucks at Brandenburg Gate, so keep an eye out for someone wearing a Sandeman’s t-shirt, and a crowd around them. Here is a list of what we saw:
Probably Berlin’s most recognised attraction and one which Napoleon’s army “borrowed,” before it was later taken back again. Crowds gather here so it’s a good idea to come back first thing in the morning or in the evening.
Site of Hitler’s Bunker
The bunker was located between Potsdamer Platz and Brandenburger Tor, but today you will find some nondescript 1980s East German concrete slab residential houses. There are no signs or plaques installed, because it was assumed there was nothing worth commemorating.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Spread across 200,000 square feet, Peter Eisenman’s 2,700 concrete slabs caused quite the controversy. They have been deliberately built at varying height to give visitors a sense of disorientation and confusion. This is a truly unique and poignant addition to a city which already welcomes diversity so spend some time here.
Checkpoint Charlie was the main entry point for visitors crossing from the infamous Iron Curtain to East Berlin when the city was divided by the wall. It was the spot where, in 1961, US and Russian tanks were literally facing each other in what was assumed to be the start of another war. It is not original but has been built to look as it would have back in the day.
The Gendarmenmarkt is a square in Berlin and a site of architectural brilliance including the Konzerthaus and the French and German Churches. The centre of the square is adorned by a statue of Germany’s renowned poet Friedrich Schiller.
The Berlin Wall
Ok, so there is officially not too much left of it and it is maintained throughout a few areas of the city, but it comes with such a dramatic attachment to history that it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed. Even though there are meagre remnants of the actual wall, the personal stories behind the once divided city are enough to bring it to life once more.
This square is situated by the Brandenburg Gate at the end of the enter den Linden. It is very beautiful and named after Paris, in honour of the anti-Napoleon Allies’ occupation in 1814.
Book Burning Memorial
The Bebelplatz is known as the site of one of the infamous Nazi book burning public events held on 10 May 1933 in many German university cities. The book burnings were initiated by the nationalist German Student Association.
Finally, if you want to dig deeper into what makes Berlin such a wonderful city, Sandeman’s offer a few other tours which are reasonably priced. We did the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial tour and the guide was incredibly knowledgable and enthusiastic (well as much as one can be at a concentration camp).
– Here are the other tours on offer:
– Nazi history with the Third Reich Tour
– Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial
– Cold War history with the Red Berlin Tour
– Prussian history with the stunning Potsdam Tour
– Modern-day Berlin with the Alternative City Tour
– Berlin’s legendary nightlife with the Pub Crawl
Finally, here is a video I made from the tour and a few other parts of my Berlin weekend.