visit in Berlin
[Berlin home page] [Public transport] [Where to stay] [Places to eat] [Walks and Excursions] [Berlin Walls]
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.
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
'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
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.
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
|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.
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
|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.
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.
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.
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
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
|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.
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
|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.
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.
'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.
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.
Zoo (West Berlin)
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
'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
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
|The Story of
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 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
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.
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.
of the Wannsee Conference
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
German painter, Max Liebermann built himself a beautiful
villa by Lake Wannsee and created beautiful gardens. The
villa and its grounds have been restored.
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
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.
'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.
gallery features Berlin art from 1880 to 1980 and is
particularly suited to people who like what is broadly
called 'Modern Art'.
[Berlin home page] [Public transport] [Where to stay] [Places to eat] [Walks and Excursions] [Berlin Walls]