Places to visit in Berlin

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The whole city is steeped in history, and there's far more to see than can be covered in three or four days. So, the trick is to plan your time there carefully so that you see the sights that you think will be the most important, and then consider as you leave whether you need to come back. It's worth remembering that the city varies wildly between the blazing heat of summer and the bitter cold of winter.

Reichstag Well worth a visit to the dome. Nowadays you have to pre-book days or sometimes weeks in advance - see link. Our tip is to also book the restaurant if only for their excellent tea/coffee and cakes!
Unter den Linden
Literally, 'under the lime trees'. Looking westwards from its eastern end at the Spree with the Brandenburg Gate at the end is one of the world's great vistas. Retail-wise it's entirely forgettable, but you've got Friedrichstrasse to make up for that.

Brandenburg Gate Berlin's icon. Having for so many years seen it surrounded by barbed wire and the empty space of the Wall's 'Death Strip' it's a joy to be able to simply stroll through it.
Christmas Markets
There are over 50 Christmas Markets in Berlin, and you'll find one close to most of the tourist sites. They usually start in the last week in November and carry on right through to Christmas Eve.

Russian War Memorial (West) This memorial was built by the Russians immediately at the end of WW1; in fact, its construction was completed before the end of 1945 at a time when the entire surrounding area was a levelled wasteland. There are two Russian tanks and two fieldguns on display. During the Cold War it was continously guarded by Russian soldiers.    

Museum Island
On the island in the middle of the Spree close to Unter den Linden there are five major museums. On a brief visit to Berlin there wouldn't be time for more than one of them if you intended to get an overall impression of the city and its landscape.

Neue Wache The 'New Guardhouse' on Unter den Linden has been a national memorial since the closing days of the Weimar Republic in 1931. Since then a succession of regimes have used it to suit their own political agendas. Initially, it mourned the victims of WW1, then the Nazis used it to celebrate the glorious dead who were now in Valhalla. Under the East German regime it became a monument 'to the Victims of Militarism and Fascism' and now in reunified Germany it commemorated  'the Victims of War and Tyranny', which includes those persecuted by the DDR. Ebb and flow, eh?

German Historical Museum Standing on Unter den Linden and close to Museum Island the German Historical Museum (Deutsches Historisches Museum) focuses on German history. A 90 walk-through would probably be enough for most non-Germans. Interesting, though.

DDR Museum Another museum close to Museum Island, the DDR Museum covers the period from the end of WW2 until the fall of East Germany in 1989. Seeing the propaganda that was fed as truth to East Germans and the miserable (and scarce!) consumer goods that they were grudgingly allowed even as the Internet was taking off shows that the regime would have fallen in time anyway.

Bebelplatz Seen the images and film footage of the notorious Nazi book-burnings in 1933? It all happened in Bebelplatz, just off Unter den Linden and next to the State Opera House.

TV Tower, Alexanderplatz
Close to Alexanderplatz, the tower was constructed between 1965 and 1969 as a symbol of Berlin, which it remains today, as it is easily visible throughout the central and some suburban districts of Berlin. With its height of 368 meters, it is the tallest structure in Germany. There's a revolving restaurant at 200 metres that gives superb views over the city, especially at night. You have to book well in advance if you want to eat there, and you still have to pay €12 to get into the tower, just like normal visitors, which is all a bit of a problem if you accidentally pick a foggy night and visibility is poor.

World Time Clock
The Weltzeituhr in Alexanderplatz is an absolutely wonderful piece of 1960s socialist kitsch. It displays the current time all around the world, and the cities and areas listed have a distinctly Cold War flavour.

Nikolai Quarter Berlin was founded in the thirteenth century in the area around the Nikolaikirche (Nicholas church). The whole quarter was destroyed at the end of WW2 and everything you see there today is a reconstruction, some of it not very authentic-looking. Nevertheless, it's worth a visit.

Hackescher Markt A very pleasant area with bars, restaurants and shops right by the S-Bahn that runs through the heart of Berlin. It's sandwiched between Alexanderplatz and Friedrichstrasse and is quieter than either. The 'Hackesche Höfe' are a series of courtyards, hidden away between Sophienstrasse and Rosenthaler Strasse, filled with trendy shops.

The City Palace The 'Berliner Stadtschloss' was heavily damaged during WW2 and its remains, rather than being restored, were dynamited in 1950 for political reasons by the East German regime. On the site was then built a rather nondescript 1970s bronze glass building that was used as the East German Parliament. This was itself demolished in 2006/08 and a replica of the original Stadtschloss is now being constructed, even though there are insufficient funds to complete it. It's exciting to watch it rising from its own ruins.

Berlin Cathedral I first saw the 'Berliner Dom' in 1968 when it was still pretty much a burned out, blackened ruin. Since then it's been sensitively restored, and the coffins (with contents!) of the Hohenzollern dynasty have been installed in the crypt.   

River Spree boat trip The Spree is to Berlin as the Thames is to London and the Seine to Paris. It's well worth considering a boat trip through the centre of Berlin, as long as the weather's fine and there's an English commentary!

East Side Gallery After the fall of the Wall most of it was pulled down fairly rapidly but a one mile-long section was left standing along the Spree. It was then decorated with artworks along its entire length, some of which have since become extremely famous. In 2010 there was a lot of effort put into restoring it to its 1990 condition by repairing weathering and re-painting over the grafitti. The most famous inages are the one of the former East German leader, Erich Honecker, kissing Leonid Brezhnev, and the one of a Trabant breaking through the Wall.
Berlin Wall Memorial, Bernauer Strasse When I first went to Berlin in 1968 there was already a museum explaining the history of the Wall and exposing it for the totalitarian disgrace that it was. This was in Bernauer Strasse, a street one side of which had been destroyed to construct the Wall. There are famous images of people jumping to safety from upper floor windows as East German soldiers tried to stop them. The exhibition was long ago moved to Friedrichstrasse - see Haus am Checkpoint Charlie below. After 1989 a Memorial was constructed on Bernauer Strasse, consisting of a short run that included all of the elements of the border, i.e. both walls, the 'Death Strip', watchtowers, tank traps etc. Well worth seeing.
Gendarmenmarkt Possibly the loveliest area in all of Berlin, sitting just south of Unter den Linden and east of Friedrichstrasse. The square was pretty much re-constructed after WW2; it has the French Cathedral to the north and the German Cathedral to the south with the Konzerthaus in between. It's at its most attractive in December when the square is taken over for the most prestigious of Berlin's many Christmas markets - they even charge for entry!

Checkpoint Charlie This was the main crossing point used by the military and diplomats, and in the autumn of 1961, only months after the Wall was erected, American and Russian tanks faced each other across the border as political tensions reached boiling point. Nowadays, it's hard to imagine how so much much drama could have been contained in such a confined space.
Haus am Checkpoint Charlie This museum covers more than just the Berlin Wall; it also deals with the Cold War itself, which sets the division of Berlin in its wider political context. You need to allow at least 2 hours to get around it properly.

Topography of Terror Close to a heavily-damaged section of the Wall this open-air exhibition is set in the basement of a Gestapo interrogation building. There is now an indoor exhibition as well, but we haven't visited that yet.   

Jewish Museum The building housing this museum was specifically designed to be disorientating and confusing to its visitors, and is a important element in Berlin's determination to make its peace with its past, especially in educating young Germans in understanding that what took place in Germany under the Nazis and before they were born must never happen again.    

Holocaust Memorial
The 'Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe' consists of almost 3,000 concrete slabs of varying heights arranged in neat rows on sloping ground a little to the south of the Brandenburg Gate. It was opened in May 2005, 60 years after the end of WW2.           

Potsdamer Platz When I first visited Berlin in 1968 Potsdamer Platz was a vast empty space on the eastern side of the Wall. Before the war it had been the city's equivalent of Piccadilly Circus and now it was simply wasteland. As soon as the Wall fell there were moves to reconstruct on the site, and over the next ten years it became Europe's biggest and most prestigious building site.
Watch Tower
The watchtower on Erna-Berger-Strasse represents a popular model of a watchtower introduced in the late 1960s along the Berlin and other inner-German borders. It consists of a slender rounded shaft within which an iron ladder leads to the octagonal observation deck on top, creating the characteristic mushroom shape of the entire structure.
Berlin Zoo (West Berlin)
The zoo claims to be the most visited zoo in Europe, which is remarkable considering that, along with the wooded Tiergarten in which it sits, it was completely destroyed by the end of the war. Its mission is 'to display the animals in as close to their natural environment as feasible', and this certainly comes across as you walk around it.

Memorial Church The 'Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche' was built in the 1890s but heavily damaged in wartime bombing. After the war it was left in its ruined state and a new church and bell-tower was built next to it. The daylight streaming through the blue glass of the new church is well worth seeing.
KaDeWe KaDeWe is a typical German abbreviation - it's short for 'Kaufhaus des Westens', or Department Store of the West. It's the German equivalent of Harrods, and its food hall is simply breathtaking. There's also a lovely self-service restaurant in the glass-roofed 'Wintergarten' on the roof -we always call in for tea and the most exquisite fresh cakes.

The Story of Berlin
This interesting museum on the Kurfürstendamm covers the long history of Berlin, and part of it is built in a preserved Cold War nuclear fallout shelter.
Hohenschönhausen Hohenschönhausen is the site of the infamous detention centre run by the Stasi in which those seen as opponents of the East German regime were held prisoner, interrogated, tortured and generally subjected to gross abuses of human rights. Some places in Berlin you feel the need to re-visit, but almost definitely not Hohenschönhausen - it's a ghastly, emotionally taxing place.
Officially known as the 'German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst', this is the building in which the German armed forces surrendered to the Russians in May 1945. Situated in the East Berlin suburbs the museum is really quite unique in that it portrays the war and its conclusion almost entirely from a Soviet perspective. I found the propaganda in this museum quite fascinating; the whole place seems to have been set up to remind the East Germans of their guilt and of the inherent superiority of the Soviet forces. The exhibits are labelled in Russian and German only; English-speaking visitors have to request a loose leaf folder containing translations. The whole place needs a substantial re-vamp, but given that the Russian government still has an involvement the chances of this seem slim.  

Russian War Memorial (East) The Russian War Memorial in Treptow Park is full of Soviet symbolism and is yet another display of their dominance of the hated Germans. The huge statue that forms the centre-piece shows a Soviet soldier holding a child and an enormous sword whilst crushing a broken swastika underfoot - hardly subtle. You get to it on the S-Bahn followed by a 15 minute walk.     

Potsdam is to the south-east of Berlin at the furthest extent of the S-Bahn network and the town was the site of the residence of the Prussian kings and German Kaisers. The Sanssouci palace is the most well-known building on the extensive site, but also worthy of note is the Cecilienhof, where the post-war Potsdam Conference took place.

House of the Wannsee Conference
In January 1942 Heydrich called a conference to discuss and plan The Final Solution, i.e. the extermination of the Jews. The conference took place in a house on the shores of Lake Wannsee in West Berlin, and this event was dramatised in 'Conspiracy', a 2001 film starring Kenneth Branagh; the film was shot in this very house in the same room where the conference had taken place. The house is now a Holocaust memorial.
Formerly an independent town beyond the boundaries of Berlin Spandau is now part of the city. It can be reached quite easily from the centre of Berlin on S-Bahn line S5 and U-Bahn line U7. Make sure you visit the Citadel (Zitadelle).

Schloss Charlottenburg
 Charlottenburg Palace is the largest palace in Berlin, dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. It now contains a number of small historical collections, such and silver and porcelain. A 1 hour tour of the interior with an audio-guide is well worth it. The best way to get there is on the M45 bus from the Zoo station.

Käthe Kollwitz Museum
Käthe Kollwitz is a renowned German artist, a copy of whose Pieta is the centrepiece of the Neue Wache memorial on Unter den Linden. She was famous for her pacifist and anti-war attitude and, predictably, was seen as an enemy by the Nazis.

'One of the world's finest collections of European art from the 13th to 18th century', situated close to the Philharmonie. One of the top tourist attractions in the city and well worth a visit if you have time.

Botanical gardens Founded in 1679 and situated in Dahlem in south-west Berlin. Beautiful and extensive gardens and woodland. From Friedrichstrasse take the S1 S-Bahn to Rathaus Steglitz, where you cross the road and take the X83 bus to Konigin-Luise-Platz - only three stops. Total journey time from Friedrichstrasse is a mere 26 minutes.

Max Liebermann Haus
A famous German painter, Max Liebermann built himself a beautiful villa by Lake Wannsee and created beautiful gardens. The villa and its grounds have been restored.

This red brick tower was constructed in the late 19th century as a memorial to Kaiser Wilhelm 1st. It was opened to the public in 1899. You can climb to the top of the 180 foot tower but be warned - its 204 steps are fairly challenging! However, the view from the top towards Berlin is wonderful.

Kreuzberg War Memorial
In the Viktoria Park in the south of the city is the 'Prussian National Monument for the Liberation Wars', commemorating battles from 1813 to 1815 against the dominant French, concluding with Waterloo. It's interesting that this was possibly the period of time when Germany started to think of itself as a nation rather than as a loose collection of German-speaking states, leading to the victories from 1864 to 1871 against Denmark, Austria and France that led to the expansion of Prussia into what became Germany.

Deutsches Technik Museum
The 'German Museum of Technology' is probably most interesting to children with an interest in trains, boats and planes. There are quite a few whole aircraft on show and even more locomotives and carriages.

Berlinische Galerie
This gallery features Berlin art from 1880 to 1980 and is particularly suited to people who like what is broadly called 'Modern Art'.

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