Vacation essentials

Vay-cray time is upon us, and no matter whether you’ve opted for a quick getaway, or are sticking around for a staycation, there are a few Berlin-based start-ups that can help you out.

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Vay-cray time is upon us, and no matter whether you’ve opted for a quick getaway, or are sticking around for a staycation, there are a few Berlin-based start-ups that can help you out.

Book a tour

If an active holiday or city break is your thing, GetYourGuide might be up your street. Founded in 2009, it offers tours, attractions and activities around the world – currently boasting over 30,900 listings and promising low prices. In Berlin, the site yielded both bargains (an hour-long boat ride on the Spree for €11.90, compared to €14.00 offline) and not (a fast-track TV Tower ticket for €19.50, same as on the official site). Elsewhere in the world, you can book an Alcatraz ticket with a three-hour bicycle tour at sunset for €100.86, a full day tour of Machu Picchu from €351.48 or a guided tour of the Colosseum in Rome for €20. Bookings can be made via the website or through the free app, and the simple listings make it easy to compare activities from city to city and provider to provider. For tourists, or family visits, it’s got some decent offers, with a simple booking interface. Nothing quite tickled my fancy, but worth bearing in mind next time I have visitors and am looking for inspiration.

Speak the lingo

Travelling abroad, or even a trip to the Standesamt, can be a disaster if you don’t speak the local language. Enter Babbel. The Mitte-based language learning platform must surely be one of Berlin’s biggest start-up success stories – founded in 2007, it now boasts over one million active subscribers. Available for iOS and Android, Babbel offers courses in 14 languages (yes, including German), and works through a learning-method called “spaced repetition”, in which you are automatically tested on words and phrases you’ve previously learned to drill them into your brain. It offers only half as many languages as its American rival Duolingo, and it’s not free (€9.95 a month, less with a three- to 12-month package), but offers to teach you in half the time – a semester’s worth of Spanish in 15 hours, compared to Duolingo’s 34. Keen to brush up on my español, I signed up for an account and tried out the first lesson for free. The app was easy to download and use, and I was picking up words and phrases in no time. From the comfort of home, repeating sentences out loud was useful, but probably not the app to use when on the move (or at least not the microphone function!). I can see that many people would enjoy learning through the app in their own time, though others, like yours truly, might miss the discipline and structure of a regular class. Off to the Volkshochschule for me.

Take the plunge!

Surely the most important thing for any good Wahlberliner to know: where can you go swimming? The free Strandbadguide from Das Örtliche helps you find the nearest shore (or pool). As temperatures reached boiling point, it was time to take a dip. Opening up the app, it took me a while to suss it out – for some reason it kept placing me in central Berlin rather than my actual location, but once I got that down, it came up with a plethora of options. A handy filter helped me to find the nearest cold lake, and the app gave detailed info on the facilities available there, as well as entry price, opening times and transport details. I thought I was au fait with all the lakes in my vicinity, but it did come up with a couple of options that I wouldn’t have thought about. The app could be useful, especially if I found myself in a new part of town, but whether I’ll actually remember to use it or fall back onto trusty Google Maps remains to be seen