Just Back From: Insider Journey to Berlin with Jamie Sewell

Indagare’s VP of Sales Elise Bronzo and eight curious travelers explored Berlin and its surrounds this past fall on our first Insider Journey to the German capital with  archaeologist and expert historian Jamie Sewell. This special trip offered a window into Berlin’s complex and layered history, from its Roman and medieval roots, through the Imperial period, the Third Reich and the Cold War, to modern day. Having lived in Berlin for over two decades—and having excavated many projects around the city, including Nazi bunkers—Jamie combined his local familiarity and academic expertise to give our travelers an intimate understanding of how Berlin has grappled with its fraught past and transformed into a vibrant contemporary culture capital. Each of our travelers brought their own stories to share about the World Wars and Cold War, making the trip profoundly moving. And, of course, everyone indulged in the best that today’s Berlin has to offer, including the city’s luxurious Hotel de Rome—where they stayed—and top restaurants and art galleries.

All of our Insider Journeys feature exclusive, behind-the-scenes access to fascinating destinations, with expert guides and meetings with local tastemakers and specialists. Interested in learning more? Click here to see our upcoming trips and join now.

Thoughtful Preparation

Before the trip, travelers had the opportunity to virtually meet Jamie in our Global Experience club, History’s Darkest Days: Berlin and the Third Reich. Over four one-hour sessions, he covered the rise of the Nazi party, World War II and the legacy of wartime Berlin. It concluded with a live stream walking tour of the city, which primed participants for what they would soon see in person.

The club was accompanied by a recommended reading and watching list, which we’ve included at the bottom of this article to help you prepare for a future trip to Berlin.

“It was also incredibly valuable to learn about the city in advance through the virtual history club meetings. Having that base of knowledge and then an expert with us as we walked through the city was an integral part of what made the trip so fabulous.” — Club & Journey participant Susan Merlin

Expert Guide Jamie Sewell Brings the Past to Life

Jamie Tour Guide
Courtesy Indagare
Jamie Sewell Historian and Expert Guide
Courtesy Indagare

Many of the historical sites in Berlin were destroyed by the wars, and Jamie, who has a background in theater, in addition to his doctoral studies and hundreds of archaeological excavations, was able to inspire the group’s imagination and make monumental moments in history come to life through his expert storytelling abilities.

He helped our travelers feel the gravity of the bunker where Hitler committed suicide—which is now a parking lot—and the café-lined, bustling streets that were once been divided by the Berlin Wall. According to traveler Susan Merlin, Jamie “transformed those moments with stories and personal anecdotes that brought this history to life.”

The Benefits of Group Travel: A Collective History

All of our travelers arrived with their own stories of how the World Wars and the Cold War affected them and their families.

As Indagare trip host Elise explained, “It was a journey inward as much as it was to discover Berlin on its own. It had a very deep impact on all of us, not only because of the personal journey that we went through individually, but also because of the collective story that we are now able to tell about our experience in Berlin, which wouldn’t be possible if any single person on the trip hadn’t joined.”

One traveler’s story that profoundly impacted Elise was Jill Jordan’s. She crossed into East Berlin via Checkpoint Charlie while studying in West Germany in the sixties. Jill recalls the Eastern Bloc being in ruins. No one wanted to interact with her because the Stasi was tracking everyone who spoke with someone from the West. On the way back to West Berlin, she recalls being terrified when Eastern soldiers stopped and questioned her. She still had Eastern money stuffed in her sock, and bringing it back to the West was illegal. Luckily, they did not find it, and once she was safely back in the West, she had the unique experience of being invited to a backroom of Checkpoint Charlie by some young American soldiers. They showed her their sniper gun set up and pointed out a red dot on the other side of the wall, which they explained was the East pointing their weapons at the West.

Jill came on the trip to compare this memory with an experience of Berlin today. Even after attending the virtual club sessions and diligently studying Berlin’s history on her own, she was shocked by how much the city has changed: “When we were walking down Unter den Linden, which is the main drag there, I said to Jamie, ‘I’ve never seen this before.’ And he said, ‘No, if you went through Checkpoint Charlie into Eastern Germany, then you saw this.’ He said it was all in complete ruins in the sixties, and now it’s completely built up with beautiful embassies, hotels, and restaurants.”

After years of studying, things came full circle for Jill when the group arrived at Checkpoint Charlie, which now stands in the company of a McDonald’s and KFC.

“I just stood there, and I said, ‘Yes. Now I’ve done that. I’ve accomplished what I wanted.’”

Why Go Now and What’s New

IJ Group in Berlin
Courtesy Indagare
Berlin Synogague
Courtesy Indagare
Berlin Germany
Courtesy Indagare
Berlin, Germany
Courtesy Indagare

Says host Jamie Sewell: “The city has undergone dramatic changes in its physical appearance almost constantly during the last two hundred years. Its latest guise, as the new capital of the reunited Germany, is the product of more than thirty years of construction. The vision of what Berlin would eventually become after German reunification is close to being realized. There have never been more diverse high-quality restaurants and hotels than now. The restoration of the historic center is virtually complete. Berlin is looking fabulous.”

Berlin is a city finding itself after a dark and tragic past. Susan Merlin perfectly describes it as, “A city of contrasts. It has a very cosmopolitan feeling, with a young, vibrant food and art scene, and yet it retains its remembrance of things past.”

With many museums, delicious restaurants and a robust art and shopping scene, we recommend the German capital for history lovers and trendsetters alike. Discover some of our tips below!

Where We Stayed

Hotel de Rome Berlin Outdoor Dining
Courtesy Hotel de Rome
Hotel de Rome Berlin Dining
Courtesy Hotel de Rome
Hotel de Rome Sunset
Courtesy Hotel de Rome

Like most of Berlin, Hotel de Rome provides a fresh take on what once was. Located in the heart of the city, in the former headquarters of the Dresdner Bank, the hotel is simultaneously old and contemporary. The swimming pool is located in the former jewelry vault, and the director’s office is now an oak-paneled suit. The hotel also has a stunning rooftop terrace with a phenomenal view of Berlin’s skyline.

Where We Explored, Ate and Shopped

Museum Island

Jamie Sewell at Museum Island
Courtesy Indagare
Neues Museum Berlin Museum Island
Photo by Sydney Lapin, courtesy Indagare
Berlin IJ at Museum
Courtesy Indagare
Bode Museum Berlin Museum Island
Courtesy Indagare

This complex of six world-class museums is the perfect way to get acquainted with Berlin and Europe’s rich history. Soon, there will be a series of underground tunnels connecting them all. You can buy a one-day pass to see all of the museums. The Pergamon Panorama—an exhibition at the Pergamon Museum designed by the artist and architect Yadegar Asisi—is a must-see. The 360-degree digitized picture transports visitors back to 129 AD, depicting what life was like in the ancient Greek city of Pergamon.


Potsdam Germany
Courtesy Indagare
Bridge of Spies Berlin
Courtesy Indagare

An hour’s drive from the heart of the city, nestled along the Havel River and decorated with 21 palaces, villas and spectacular gardens, the town of Potsdam is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It served as a residence for the Prussian Royal family from the 16th to 20th centuries, and was the site of the Potsdam Conference, where Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and United States President Harry Truman ended World War II.

Prenzlauer Berg

Lined with restored pre-war buildings, this neighborhood is where many young professionals and families live.

  • Dinner at Café Frieda was one of the highlight meals on the trip. The seasonal market restaurant changes their menu daily.
  • Finish off with a nightcap at Kink, a trendy restaurant with creative cocktails and a beautiful terrace.


Formerly a part of East Germany, this borough in the heart of Berlin is surrounded by beautiful artisan shops, restaurants and courtyards.

  • Neighborhood bakery SOFI is a must for fresh bread and pastries—make sure to go early, because they sell out quickly.
  • Zur Letzten Instanz is the oldest restaurant in Berlin and fantastic for traditional food.
  • Housed in a former Jewish girl’s school, Mogg serves German comfort staples and has the best pastrami on the block. Perfect for lunch, it does fill up quickly, so reservations are recommended.
  • A favorite shop on the trip for sustainable women’s fashion was Rau. It’s owned by up-and-coming designer Martina Zeppelin née Rau, who studied under Vivianne Westwood and Alexander McQueen.
  • Pineapple Factory Gallery is a great find for the vintage lover.


A young, hip district known for its diverse and experimental cultural life.

  • Voo Store is a fashion and design concept space with trendy clothes that highlights the young character of the area.
  • Side by Side sells rare vintage finds.
  • Stop by Eszra for local wine and small-bite plates to share.
  • Explore how international Berlin has become at Markthalle Neun, a historic market with fabulous food from Turkish bakeries to Polish delis.

Related: Berlin — Five Neighborhoods to Know

Recommended Reading and Viewing


On the history of the Third Reich:

  • The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy, Adam Tooze, 2006
  • The Third Reich, A New History, Michael Burleigh, 2000
  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer, 1959

On the early days of the Hitler regime in Berlin and Germany:

  • In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson, 2012

On Berlin during the war:

  • Berlin at War: Life and Death in Hitler’s Capital, 1939-1945, Roger Moorhouse, 2010

On the battle for Berlin:

  • Berlin: The Downfall, 1945, Anthony Beevor, 2002

The best biographies of Hitler:

  • Hitler: Volume I: Ascent, 1889–1939, Volker Ullrich, 2016
  • Hitler: Volume II: Downfall, 1939-45, Volker Ullrich, 2020
  • Hitler: 1889–1936: Hubris, Ian Kershaw, 1999
  • Hitler: 1936–1945: Nemesis, Ian Kershaw, 2020


  • The U.S. and the Holocaust (available on Apple TV), Lynn Novick & Ken Burns, 2022
  • Samí Blood, Amanda Kernell, 2016
  • Bridge of Spies, Steven Spielberg, 2015
  • Argo, Ben Affleck, 2012
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Tomas Alfredson, 2011
  • The Way, Emilio Estevez, 2010
  • Valkyrie, Bryan Singer, 2008
  • The Lives of Others, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006
  • Munich, Steven Spielberg, 2005
  • The Bourne Supremacy, Paul Greengrass, 2004
  • Downfall (original title Der Untergang), Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004
  • The Truce, Francesco Rosi, 1997

Television Series

  • Kleo (available on Netflix), Hanno Hackfort, Richard Kropf & Bob Konrad, 2022
  • A Perfect Crime (available on Netflix), Jan Peter, Georg Tschurtschenthaler & Torsten Striegnitz, 2020
  • Babylon in Berlin (available on Netflix), Henk Handloegten, Tom Tykwer & Achim von Borries, 2018
  • Deutschland 83 (available on Amazon Prime), Anna Winger & Jörg Winger, 2015
  • Band of Brothers (available on HBO Max), David Frankel, 2001

All of our Insider Journeys feature exclusive, behind-the-scenes access to fascinating destinations, with expert guides and meetings with local tastemakers and specialists. Interested in learning more? Click here to see our upcoming trips and join now.

– Karina Atkins on March 14, 2023

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