“The city in your ears” – a self-guided walk through Berlin

Woman with earphones in front of the Neptun fountain, on a self-guided walk through Berlin

Since we are stuck in Berlin by the Corona Virus-related travel restrictions, we have decided to explore our city. The city guide app “Stadt im Ohr” (The city in your ears) offers a self-guided walk through Berlin Mitte by smartphone and thus with total social distancing. As in a classical city walk, two tour guides explain the history and tell stories about the various sights. At each of the ten sightseeing spots along the walk, you can listen to a 5-minute podcast with a picture. An interactive map and direction in the text guide us along the route.

A showpiece of socialist architecture

Television tower in Berlin

A small queue is forming outside the Berlin TV Tower while we plug in our earphones to listen to the tour guide. “Tall and lean, tall and lean … very clean!” High children’s voices are singing the praise of the futuristic TV Tower that was a showpiece of socialist architecture when it was built in 1969. At 365 m height (then – it has since grown a little), it was among the highest towers in the world. The shiny metal ball holding the revolving tower café at a height of about 200 m was visible from all over Berlin.

“But the first thing proud socialist East Berliners would see when they stepped out of the elevator was –  West Berlin!,” the audio guide comments. Back then, the Berlin Wall divided the city and many citizens of East Berlin dreamed of fleeing to the capitalist West.

St Mary church in Berlin

From the TV Tower we follow the walk to St. Mary’s church, one of the oldest structures in Germany’s capital. In the middle ages, the original townships of Berlin and Kölln covered only this part next to the Spree River and today’s Museum Island. Nowadays, the old town centre is a surprisingly empty inner city area of squares and parks, dominated by the huge Neptune Fountain.

Palace of Power, Palace of People

Across the River Spree we move on to the City Palace, newly rebuilt but not quite finished. It replaces the old socialist Palace of the Republic, which in turn replaced the original palace of the Prussian kings. The new building is modelled on the Prussian palace. On the inside, however, it will house a number of museums. The northern part of the Spree island is already home to some of Berlin’s most important museums, including the Pergamon Museum and the so-called “New Museum.” To everybody’s puzzlement it is full of very old things, among them the famous bust of Nefertiti.

Bridge and Cathedral, people walk in Berlin

Walking over to the “Old Museum” (which isn’t really that much older than the “New Museum”), we cross the Prussian Kings’ Lustgarten or “pleasure garden”. Originally it was the kitchen garden of the palace, we learn, and later a kind of botanical garden. That was when tomatoes and potatoes grew here, for the first time in Prussia – for their decorative flowers, not their nutritious fruits!

People relaxing on the lawn in front of the Altes Museum in Berlin

The walk ends near the fashionable area of Hackesche Höfe, where numerous inter-connected backyards form a maze of cafés, shops, and cultural spaces. These days with the Corona restrictions, the atmosphere is rather subdued. But it is still a nice area to have some coffee and muse over our city walk.

Digital vs. personal – What is better?

The self-guided walk through Berlin worked quite well, with two different, clearly spoken voices, dialogues and some music. On the other hand we can also keep on track and stay motivated with a guidebook text we read to each other. Also we hadn’t taken into account the wind (often strong in Berlin) which our earphones weren’t up to. But then of course the noise is even more of a problem on a real guided tour with more than a handful of participants. A real on-site guide would also be able to answer questions or to adjust to previous knowledge of the participants – again only in a sufficiently small group. Our audio guide, for instance, explained what constitutes a gothic church…

Marx and Engels monument in Berlin
Marx and Engels monument in Berlin

An advantage of the podcast definitely was that you can replay parts of it or take time out for shopping or a break in between. Overall, using a city guide app may be a good option especially if you like to independently experience the city   but don’t like reading a lot. So far, most of the Stadt im Ohr guides are only available in German. We did the Mitte tour in German but there’s an English version, too: https://www.stadt-im-ohr.de/en/our-tours/mitte-schritte/

Would we try another self-guided walk through Berlin?

We might try another one of their walks in future. The app is free, but each walk costs 9.80 €. It was easy to download although it did not work the first time we tried it … In our opinion the walks are a good deal to explore Berlin.

River Spree with bridge, the Bode museum and the television tower in the background

Note: We paid for the tour download and did not receive any sponsoring to write this article.

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14 Comments

  1. The architecture in Berlin looks quite awesome. And the museum culture in Europe is commendable. In India, we need to work on museum rounds more. It’s good have to audio guide as you said, as you can listen and see at the same time.

  2. Whenever I visit a new place, I always do the self guided walking tour. And there are apps that help you map out the routes. I especially like it when it provides an audio tour with information. I have never been to Berlin till date but have it on my list. I loved the City Palace, the architecture looks stunning.

  3. Germany is on my bucket list for ages and Berlin is one of the historic cities I want to start with. All your pictures are so captivating and do justify with the post. The old museum and the bridge looked so rustic and dramatic, Thanks for this wonderful write up.

  4. Sadly we have only visited Germany for brief stops. Berlin has been on my travel wish list for a long time. What a great idea to use an audio guide to take you around the city. You Canmore at your own pace but still get insights a guide would offer. Although you might be left with unanswered questions.

  5. We too have started exploring places near us due to the travel restrictions. But we are quite amazed by them so not complaining. Berlin has so much history and the architecture here is fantastic. It was intriguing to know that potatoes and tomatoes were grown for their flowers! We too prefer a self guided tour. An audio guide lets you explore the place at your own pace which we love.

  6. It’s an exciting Berlin walking guide, with lots of useful tips. I like Berlin architecture, even its socialist parts. I had no time to get to TV Tower, but I would love to see the city from its highest point one day. I had no idea about this city guide app “Stadt im Ohr” when I visited Berlin. It’s seems great solution to experience the city and learn some facts about it. Even if each walk costs 9.80 € it’s still cheaper than with a guided tour. So, during my next trip to Berlin, I will definitely try this app.

  7. I’ve never had the experience of an app guided tour. Though a bit limiting, it seems interesting. It can cater to a visual, an auditory or a kinesthetic person who travels solo like me. Based on the photos, Berlin looks fantastic with choices for both an urban and a nature-based experience.

  8. Hmmmm. I’ve never done a tour like that, but I can definitely see advantages and disadvantages. It would probably depend on the amount of time I had, but it looks like a great place to explore either way!

    1. Dear Jennifer, we also tried the app-guided tour for the first time! It was a nice change to guided tours or just walking around with a guidebook.

  9. I always believe that the self-guided tour is more fun than the guided one. You tend to notice small things which otherwise go unnoticed. It’s great to do a self-guided tour in Berlin coz it has so much to offer. When it comes to Berline, I loved their architecture so much that I can spend days capturing it into my lens.

    1. Dear Parnashree Devi, I think both ways have pros and cons. We were especially interested in the app and enjoyed the way the information was presented. It was good that there were two different voices to listen to and the walk was interspersed with music and some fun facts.

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