The best exhibitions outside Museum Island in Berlin

Berlin, Brandenburg Gate, five European destinations just two hours from London

Berlin is absolutely crammed with history and there are museums and exhibitions around almost every corner. Museum Island is the area that most tourists make a beeline for as it houses five museums (Pergamon, Bode, Altes, Alte Nationalgalerie and Neues) in a beautiful setting. We’re on three trips and counting, so have racked up some fascinating museum experiences in the city so far. We want to share some of the best exhibitions outside Museum Island though, as it usually pays to venture further afield.

1. Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial (the Nazi regime’s ‘ideal concentration camp)

Cost?

Entry is free.

How to get there (from central Berlin)?

Take the S1 (S-bahn Wannsee to Oranienburg) from Berlin-Friedrichstrasse station to Oranienburg station. This is the last stop on the line and the journey takes around 45 minutes. Trains run every 20 minutes or so. You will need to by an ‘ABC’ ticket.

Once you exit Oranienburg station, follow the signs to the memorial by foot – it takes around 20 minutes – and is a pleasant walk through a nice suburban area.

Why visit?

Sachsenhausen was built in 1936 and was the first camp to be built under Heinrich Himmler. The new concentration camp was designed and planned by SS architects to be the ‘ideal camp’ and was a prototype for the more notorious camps such as Auschwitz. .

Between 1936 and 1945, more than 200,000 people were imprisoned, tortured and murdered in Sachsenhausen. Political opponents and those declared to be racially or biologically inferior all suffered there.

The layout of Sachsenhausen Memorial gives visitors the opportunity to learn about the history of the place within its authentic surroundings. You can stand in actual buildings were prisoners lived and were tortured and killed. The exhibitions are fantastic, so informative and incredibly upsetting at the same time.  The level of detail and explanatory historical documentation  was brilliant and really brought home where you were and what happened there not so long ago. The fact that it was one of the very first concentration camps gives it special significance and we learnt so much during our time there.

This really was an incredibly humbling visit for us, and even though it was a couple of years ago. The experience is still very fresh in my mind and I often think about it now.

2. Stasimuseum (former secret police headquarters)

Cost?

  • Adults 6 Euros
  • Students/senior citizens 4.50 Euros
  • Children (under 12) 3 Euros

How to get there (from central Berlin)?

This place is tricky to find! Take the underground line U-5 from Alexanderplatz to the Magdalenenstrasse Station. Turn left off Karl-Marx-Allee (later Frankfurter Allee) onto Ruschestrasse and the entrance appears on the right after 200 metres or so.

Why visit?

The Stasimuseum is located on the former grounds of the headquarters of the GDR Ministry for State Security (MfS) and offices of Erich Mielke, the head of the secret police for over 30 years.

This museum itself is a terrifying reminder of how all-encompassing the Stasi really were.

You can walk around Mielke’s offices and meeting rooms, which makes you think you have walked back in time – there are original wall hangings, furnishings, desks, photographs, and a telephone switchboard.

Other floors of the museum host a series of exhibitions about survivors of the GDR regime, the many ingenious methods of surveillance, propaganda and general history of the time.

We found our time there really interesting but alarming. The regime was in full swing at some point in many of our lifetimes, which is hard to get your head around.

The design of the museum within the building made the whole experience very atmospheric. Certainly not your standard museum!

3. Tränenpalast (Palace of Tears)

Cost?

Free entry.

How to get there (from central Berlin)?

Easy! Get the metro to Friedrichstrasse station and it’s right outside. Keep your eyes open though, as due to the size of the building, it might not strike you as a museum at first.  It’s also an easy stroll from other sights in Mitte such as the Reichstag and Brandenburger Tor.

Why visit?

The Tränenpalast is located just outside Friedrichstrasse Station and was the border crossing from 1962 to 1989, where East Germans said tearful goodbyes to visitors going back to West Germany.

Friedrichstrasse station was located in the Soviet sector of Berlin, but due to the layout of the Berlin wall, some trains were only accessible from West Berlin.  The Tränenpalast was effectively a departure hall, built after the volume of people became too much for the constraints of the lower level of the main building.

The tiny building itself showcases a permanent exhibition called ‘Border Experiences: Every day life in divided Germany’. It includes original artifacts, documents, photographs and audio and video recordings of eye witnesses that give a great insight into people’s experiences at the checkpoint.

The “Palace of Tears” is small, but we spent a good two hours learning about how everyday life was divided in Germany, and the pain and separation that it brought to so many people.

We could very easily live in Berlin, we love the city, the people the history and the food and drink – especially the burgers! If you’re in the city, be sure to give one of these exhibitions a visit.