Or are you better off using the city’s excellent public transport, combined with walking and maybe a bit of cycling?
Since reunification, the German government, the state of Brandenburg and private investors have poured in billions of euros in investment, both to create a reunited city, and to move the majority of the German government buildings.
There’s also been substantial investment in transport infrastructure, so is there any need to get a hire car for a visit to Berlin?
Is it worth hiring a car in Berlin?
- Hire a Trabant!
- Tropical islands paradise — for something completely different, head out to Brand, where a never-used blimp factory has been converted into Europe’s largest indoor leisure complex, complete with sandy beaches and palm trees.
Forget about the Caribbean, you can have it all under one roof just outside Berlin for a fraction of the price, and with no cramped long haul flights needed!
Although there is a shuttle bus linking Tropical Islands with a nearby railway station, it is easier to get here if you already have a hire car in the first place.
Beyond Berlin by car
- Neustrelitz – There are also numerous parks around Neustrelitz, to the north of Berlin, although again there are several train routes heading through this area as well. Taking advantage if car hire in Berlin simply gives you a gew more options.
- North-east coast – Heading towards Poland is the highly scenic, but often overlooked north-east coast. There are several different national parks on and around the island of Rugen. However, even this can be done by train — several lines around Germany’s answer to the Norwegian coastal city of Bergen are particularly scenic.
- Car City — car lovers will want to head towards Volkswagen’s Autostadt (car city) in Wolfsburg, which features the dramatic Phaeno cultural centre, designed by architect Zaha Hadid, as featured in the film The International.
However, even this most auto-friendly facility is still actually very easy to get to by train, as it is on the only dedicated high-speed rail route out of the German capital. Yet as with anywhere, car hire in Berlin will let you take the scenic route to Wolfsburg, and explore it in your own time.
- Outstanding public transport — an extensive network of underground, local and regional trains operates both within Berlin and out to surrounding towns and cities. This is supplemented by a comprehensive bus network, together with a circular ring network that makes it just as easy to get around between different suburban locations as it is to get in and out of the city centre.
In fact, I would rate Berlin has having the best public transport network of any European city of its size – only cities like London or Paris, which are both notably larger, have more extensive underground and suburban networks. For anywhere within around an hour regional train journey, car hire in Berlin is just not needed.
- Superlative station — stations don’t get any better than Berlin’s stunning new Hauptbahnhof, or Grand Central Station. This isn’t just somewhere to change trains, it is firstly a stunning engineering feat with upper-level tracks flying over the lower level in true Metropolis style, and secondly it is also a major shopping and eating destination in its own right.
Appreciating Berlin Hauptbahnhof isn’t just about the structure, the station used to be in no man’s land, and a new underground link has been built through to Potsdammer Platz, making the station a true representation of reunification core from east to west and north to south.
Berlin’s unique transport history
- Berlin Hauptbahnhof also right next to Germany’s impressive new government buildings, and the Reichstag building, with its stunning new dome, designed by British architect Norman Foster.
- Light and dark — Berlin’s renaissance means that there are plenty of impressive new buildings to look at, even if they aren’t all occupied. Berlin also has an equally impressive collection of imposing historical buildings, but this is also a city with a dark past. You will undoubtedly find that there is much more to Berlin than the glossy postcard pictures, and it is easy to spend more time in the city than you might have otherwise had budgeted for. Whereas there are many places which offer a good mix of places to see within in the city, together with places worth visiting outside, but which are best to drive to, in my opinion, Berlin has much more to offer within.
- Trabant / U2 tour –U2’s iconic album Achtung Baby, which was the starting point for the Zoo TV tour, was recorded in Berlin, and it sums up much of the mood at the time of reunification. Starting with the title track Zoo Station (which has since lost its main station buzz to the new Hauptbahnhof), you are already on the rail network, although of course the best way of exploring the Berlin of this time must surely be to take a tour in one of East Berlin’s famous Trabant cars, although this isn’t the sort of thing you pick up at the car rental desk at Schoenfeld airport.
- Elevation — between Berlin’s Zoo Station and Ostbahnhof, the railway line runs on an elevated viaduct, giving you extensive views of the city, new and old. As introductions go, this one is a must.
Beyond Berlin by train
- Dresden – Coventry’s twin city did exactly the opposite of her British counterpart, rebuilding the historic centre brick by brick, and it looks superb. However, one building that has been modernised is the city’s central station, which has been re-modelled by Norman Foster (see above). Whilst Dresden is well worth a visit in its own right, there are also a number of scenic routes available from the city, including the Labe Valley towards Prague and tourist routes to Dippoldiswalde and Radeburg.
- Poland — Berlin is also the gateway to western Poland, and cities such as Poznan and Szczecin are both within easy reach of the German capital by train.
- Car hire costs. Car hire in Germany can be quite good value in the summer, but it’s rare to find any kind of bargain here.
- Parking costs – if your hotel is in a remotely central location, then car hire in Berlin is going to be accompanied by some hefty car parking charges. Stay further out and you might get free parking, but it will take you an age to get in and out of the city centre.
Car hire in Berlin – Verdict
Conclusion — Is it worth hiring a car in Berllin? Berlin is so much more of a city to stay in than it is a base to get out and explore other areas, and even if you do want to get out of the city, it might well be just as easy to get out and about by train, especially as the network of local, regional and long-distance train services from Berlin really is excellent, even when compared to other German cities.
This leaves little reason to justify getting a hire car in Berlin, unless you want to head towards the scenic coastal areas to the north-east.
Verdict — strong no
Car hire in Berlin – notes
- Note — flights to Berlin currently operate into Tegel and Schoenfeld airports. These were supposed to have united on one single site, the new Berlin Brandt airport, which now might finally open in 2018. This brand-new facility, which is on a site adjacent to Schoenfeld airport, was supposed to open up more flights into Berlin, and offer local and regional rail connections from a station underneath the terminal building.
- Car hire in Berlin is available from both airports and a range of city centre locations, including the main Grand Central (Hauptbahnhof) Station.