Things to Do in Berlin
The grand gateway to Unter den Linden Boulevard and Tiergarten Park, the Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) is one of Berlin’s most recognizable landmarks. Built by Prussian kings, this monumental gate stood strong through World War I and the Cold War, becoming a symbol of reunified Germany and a poignant reminder of Berlin’s tragedies and triumphs.
At the height of the Cold War in 1961, socialist East Germany erected the Berlin Wall as an imposing concrete barrier that divided Berlin's eastern and western sides for nearly 30 years. In 1989, toward the end of the war and the fall of East Germany and communism in Europe, the wall's demolition began, thus reunifying Germany. Today, sections of the wall remain as permanent reminders of the days when the country (and Berlin) was divided.
A somber yet striking memorial stretching over a 4.7-acre (1.9-hectare) plot in the center of Berlin, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Denkmal für die Ermordeten Juden Europas) was opened in 2005 to remember and honor the some 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
A history museum of the Third Reich, Topography of Terror is housed in the former headquarters of the Gestapo secret police and the SS. Artifacts, photos, and videos examine the history of Hitler’s Germany on the site where the fate of Nazi political opponents was decided and the genocide of the European Jews, Sinti, and Roma was organized.
One of Berlin’s central meeting places, Alexanderplatz is full of attractions, buildings, restaurants, and shops. It’s a major hub for the U-bahn and S-bahn railway, buses, and trams, and houses the TV Tower (Fernsehturm), a famous Berlin landmark. The city center of East Berlin, Alexanderplatz also features a lot of socialist architecture.
Once one of three Berlin Wall border points, bridging the divide between the Allied-occupied West Berlin and Soviet-occupied East Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie is one of the most important Cold War sites in Berlin. Today, a recreated guard house marks the site where numerous confrontations, escape attempts, and protests took place, and the adjoining Checkpoint Charlie Museum is a moving tribute to those who risked their lives to escape from East Germany and bring about the fall of the wall.
The seat of Germany’s Parliament and one of Berlin’s most recognizable landmarks, the Reichstag building is an impressive feat of 19th-century architecture, with a futuristic glass dome and classical columns on its facade. The structure stands proudly on the River Spree’s southern bank, a stoic reminder of Berlin’s turbulent history.
Führerbunker translates from German to “leader’s bunker” and is the site of Hitler’s fortified underground air raid shelter. He died here by his own hand in the last days of World War II. Today all that remains at the site is an information board marking the bunker’s former location.
Step into Berlin’s Nicholas district (Nikolaiviertel) for a look at what the city was like during the Middle Ages. Though many of the buildings were built after World War II, St. Nicholas Church (Nikolaikirche) remains the city’s oldest church, dating back to 1230. Today, the quaint area offers a break from the hustle and bustle of Berlin.
Named for the lime trees lining its central pedestrianized strip, Unter den Linden is one of Berlin’s most famous thoroughfares, and the former hub of historic Berlin.
Many of the avenue’s once palatial buildings are being restored, and it’s a popular location for embassies, shops, outdoor cafes, museums and educational institutions.
A walk along the Unter den Linden is especially magical at night, when the trees are lit up, and during the autumn colors of fall.
More Things to Do in Berlin
A symbol of a unified Germany, Potsdamer Platz in central Berlin was once a busy square with a major railway station. Second World War bombings completely destroyed it and then the Berlin Wall divided it, before being redeveloped into a thriving social and cultural hub.
Soaring 1,207 feet (368 meters) over Alexanderplatz, Berlin’s TV Tower (Berliner Fernsehturm) is Germany’s tallest structure. Built to mark the 20th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic in 1969, the tower was intended to be a symbol of East Germany’s achievements as a socialist society. Today it’s one of the capital’s most visited landmarks, affording 360-degree views over the entire city.
Museum Island (Museumsinsel) is the apex of culture in Berlin. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the middle of the Spree river, hosts five world-renowned museums that are all architecturally and historically significant. Each museum features different collections, from ancient artifacts to romantic and impressionist works.
Located in Berlin’s Mitte district, the Gendarmenmarkt is arguably Berlin’s most magnificent public square, attracting a cluster of high-end restaurants and hotels, especially around Charlottenstrasse. Come wintertime, travelers come from all over Europe to shop at the square’s spectacular Christmas market and skate at the festive ice rink.
The imposing Berlin Cathedral dominates the eastern end of Unter den Linden and Museum Island. With its three copper-roofed domes and richly decorated interior with gilded decorations, Berliner Dom (as it’s called in German) is one of the few landmark buildings in the area that was not destroyed in World War II.
East Side Gallery is perhaps one of Berlin’s greatest displays of repurposing war remnants for the better. It uses nearly 1 mile (1.3 kilometers) of the old Berlin Wall as a canvas for commissioned pieces by artists from all over the world. The art is constantly changing and is a powerful symbol for tolerance, diversity, and urban art.
Standing 67 meters (220 feet) high and topped with a 35-tonne gilded figure of Victoria – the Roman goddess of victory in battle – the Berlin Victory Column was inaugurated in 1873 to commemorate Germany’s (or Prussia, as it was called then) victory over Denmark in the Danish-Prussian War of 1864. Lovingly nicknamed ‘Golden Lizzie’ by Berlin locals, the sandstone memorial was designed by German architect Heinrich Strack and sits on a red granite base adorned with columns; it originally stood in Königsplatz, which is today’s Platz der Republik. In the run up to World War II, the column was moved to the center of the Tiergarten park as part of Hitler’s plan to rebuild Berlin as the grandiose capital city of the Third Reich. The viewing platform at 50 m (164 ft) gives panoramas over the gardens and down the Strasse des 17 Juni 31 to the landmark Brandenburg Gate – ironically today a symbol of Germany’s freedom from tyranny – but visitors have to climb 285 steps up a winding spiral staircase to get there.
Bebelplatz is a public square in the central ‘Mitte’ district of Germany’s capital city, Berlin. Today it is best known for being the site where some 20,000 newly banned books were burned by bonfire in 1933 on order of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, because they conflicted with Nazi ideology. The square is surrounded by notable historical buildings, including the German State Opera (Staatsoper); St. Hedwig’s Cathedral (built in 1747 and modeled after Rome’s Pantheon, it was the first Catholic church built in Germany after the Protestant Reformation); and the former Royal Prussian Library (Alte Bibliothek) which is now part of Humboldt University.
All of the buildings on Bebelplatz were destroyed in World War II and reconstructed afterward. An easily overlooked monument in the center of the square simply contains a pane of glass, which the visitor can look through to see many rows of empty bookshelves underground. A nearby plaque quotes the 19th-century German poet Heinrich Heine with, ‘Where they burn books, at the end they also burn people.’
The Berlin City Hall (Rotes Rathaus), with its striking façade, is one of the German capital city’s most important landmarks. Named the “Red City Hall” because of the materials used in its construction, the brick building was completed in 1869. The neo-renaissance building was designed as a multi-winged complex, in round-arch style, featuring three inner courtyards and a 243-foot (74-meter) tower.
Since 1991, the Rotes Rathaus has served as seat of the Governing Mayor and the Senate of Berlin. There are several rooms well worth visiting inside the Rotes Rathaus. The Hall of Arms, with windows that represent all the emblems of Berlin, and the emblems of all the districts of the city, is used as a reception room for guests of state. The Grand Ballroom is used for larger events like receptions and ceremonies. One of the most beautiful rooms is the Pillar Hall, with its orange-colored, groin-vaulted ceiling and its many busts. Formerly home to the building’s library, the Pillar Hall now hosts exhibitions and events. The hallway on the third floor holds the portraits of every honorary citizen of Berlin, painted by Rolf Dübner.
The alternative Friedrichshain district, formerly located in East Berlin, was one of the most damaged areas of the city during World War II. It is connected to the trendy Kreuzberg district by the castle-like Oberbaum Bridge (Oberbaumbrücke) and is now home to some of the city’s best clubs and bars, including the notorious Berghain.
Mitte is the central neighborhood in Berlin, where visitors will find the bulk of the city's attractions, as well as many restaurants, bars and clubs. It’s the best base to explore Berlin’s historical and cultural center.
Brandenburg Gate, the only surviving city gate in Berlin, is one of the most recognizable sights in the city. It was the symbol of the border between East and West Berlin for decades and was isolated from both sides until the wall came down. Also in Mitte is the Berlin TV Tower (Fernsehturm), one of the tallest structures in Europe and therefore a great place for views of the city. It's located near Alexanderplatz, a big square in the center of the city where you'll find lots of shopping and the hub of Berlin’s public transportation system.
The Reichstag Building is the seat of the German government, located just a short walk from Brandenburg Gate. Free audio tours are available (with reservation) in the glass dome, where you can learn about the government and see the city from a new vantage point. Museum Island is also located in Mitte, near the impressive Berlin Cathedral. On Museum Island, you'll find five of Berlin's most popular museums: Pergamon Museum, Bode Museum, Neues Museum, Altes Museum, and Alte Nationalgalerie.
A former hunting ground for Berlin’s aristocracy, Tiergarten Park is Berlin’s green heart. Measuring 0.8 square miles (2.1 square kilometers), it features shaded pathways, gardens, lakes and streams, and wide-open parkland. Locals and travelers alike come here for picnics and to run, walk, and cycle along the trails.
Berlin’s most famous shopping street, Kurfürstendamm is on par with New York’s Fifth Avenue and Champs-Elysees in Paris. Affectionately referred to as “Ku’damm” by locals, Kurfürstendamm is an elegant tree-lined boulevard running through the heart of West Berlin and crammed with shops, cafés, bars, restaurants, and hotels.
One of Germany’s most visited museums, Berlin’s Pergamon Museum is renowned for its impressive collection of art and antiquities from Turkey and the Middle East. Located on Berlin’s UNESCO-listed Museum Island, the Pergamon is split into three permanent exhibitions—the Collection of Classical Antiquities, the Museum of the Ancient Near East, and the Museum of Islamic Art—which together chronicle over 2,000 years of history.
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