Things to Do in Berlin
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.
The Brandenburg Gate (or Brandenburger Tor) is one of Berlin’s original city gates, erected in 1791. It marks the entry to the Under den Linden avenue as part of the ceremonial boulevard that led to the Prussian monarchs’ royal seat.
The classical monument is topped by a chariot driven by a winged goddess, which was briefly carted off to Paris by Napoleon as booty.
During the Cold War, the Brandenburg Gate could not be accessed from East or West Germany, making it a particularly poignant symbol after reunification.
Topped with an acclaimed glass dome designed by British architect Norman Foster, the Reichstag parliamentary building is home to Germany’s Parliament, the Bundestag.
The classically pedimented and columned building was built in the 1890s, and seriously damaged by fire in 1933 and subsequent air raids. In the 1990s the building was restored to host the parliament of the newly reunified Germany.
Visitors can step inside the multi-tiered glass dome and onto the roof terrace for 360 degree views of Berlin’s government district and the Tiergarten.
Take an audioguide tour to learn about the parliamentary goings on in the Bundestag and the history of the famous building. After taking a stroll, relax in the rooftop restaurant.
The huge Potsdamer Platz has been a major focal point for Berliners since the 19th century, the busy meeting point of half a dozen major thoroughfares.
Historically, the square was dominated by the enormous Potsdamer train terminal, and at the turn of the 20th century it was a major dining, hotel, entertainment and shopping hub. Potsdamer Platz was destroyed by Allied raids during World War II. Before reunification the barren area was a militarized no-go zone cut in two by the Berlin Wall; this no man’s land was one of the first areas to be breached in November 1989. Since the 1990s, Potsdamer Platz has undergone a total rebirth as the new heart and inspiring symbol of the reunified Berlin. Take in the surroundings from the Panorama Observation Deck, and seek out the only pre-WWII building, the Weinhaus Huth.
"You are leaving the American sector."
Memorialized in film and print, Checkpoint Charlie is the most famous symbol of Cold War era Berlin.
Marking the border crossing between the American Sector (Kreuzberg) and East Berlin (Mitte), only allied personnel and foreign visitors could pass through the checkpoint. Checkpoint Charlie was the most famous security point in the Berlin Wall, but for most of its life it was little more than a wooden shack and boom gates. Today a replica shed stands in the middle of Friedrichstraße.
While you’re here, drop into the Mauer Museum (Haus am Checkpoint Charlie) to learn about the history of Checkpoint Charlie, and the audacious and often tragic attempts made by East Berliners to escape from East to West.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the East Side Gallery was the result of what remained. It is longest segment of the Berlin Wall that is still standing and the world’s largest open-air gallery, showcasing over 100 murals over 1.3 kilometres along the Mühlenstrasse, which is parallel to the River Spree. Artist interpretations are a mix of optimistic and political statements.
Some of the more famous and most photographed images on the wall include a boxy East German Trabant car that appears to burst through the wall called “Test the Best” by Birgit Kinder; and “The Mortal Kiss,” a fraternal communist kiss between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German boss Erich Honecker. Many of the images became weathered from taggers and tourists adding their own graffiti to their favorite pictures on the wall. In 2009, forty of these works of art were restored.
Located on the northern tip of Spree Island, Berlin’s Museumsinsel (Museum Island) is an ensemble of five world-renowned museums. In 1830, King Friedrich Wilhelm III commissioned the construction of the Royal Museum - now the Altes Museum - to allow the general public to view the royal art treasures of Germany. The idea for the island was devised in 1841, when Friedrich August Stuler wanted to create a cultural center, which later became Museum Island.
Almost 70% of the buildings were destroyed during World War II, where the collections were divided between East and West Berlin. Since 1999, the museum has been the only architectural and cultural ensemble that was honored world heritage status by UNESCO.
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 notorious wall that divided Berlin for nearly 30 years was erected by East Germany at the height of the Cold War in 1961. The barrier isolated West Berlin within a heavily armed barrier of double concrete walls and gun turrets and was constructed to stop disaffected East Germans escaping to the west; it was part of a strictly enforced military fortification that separated communist East Germany from capitalist Europe.
Guards patrolling the wall’s watchtowers and mined "death strip" were ordered to shoot East Berliners attempting to escape to the west, and increasingly the wall became a canvas for protest murals and memorials.
With the thawing of relations between east and west and the downfall of communism in Poland, the Czech Republic and other central European countries, the Berlin Wall was ceremonially torn down in November 1989 with the world’s media as witness.
Sections of the wall remain as permanent reminders of the days when Germany was split.
More Things to Do in Berlin
Alexanderplatz remains the largest urban square in all of Germany and is a central meeting place in Berlin, located in the Mitte District. At its center is the large railway station (Alexanderplatz) with connections to many subway (U-Bahn), tramway (Strassenbahn), city trains (S-Bahn) and buses.
Named after the Russian Czar Alexander I, who visited the capital of Prussia in 1805, ""Alex"" became a traffic hub when a train station was established there in 1882.
Alexanderplatz took on its present form in the 1960’s after being ravaged in World War II. After the war it became the center of East-Berlin and used as a showcase of socialist architecture. This resulted in some unattractive buildings like the former Centrum department store and the Berliner Fernsehturm (TV Tower). In 1969 two more monuments were added to the square, the Weltzeituhr (World Time Clock) by Erich John and the Fountain of International Friendship.
The Berlin Television Tower,or the Berliner Fernsehturm is the city’s tallest structure at 368 metres high. It was inaugurated on 3 October 1969 just before the 20th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). For Walter Ulbricht, who was the State Council Chairman of the GDR at the time, it was one of the most important symbols demonstrating the superiority of socialist societies. The construction of the Berlin Television Tower illustrated that a better future was being built in East Berlin.
With over 1.2 million visitors a year, come early to beat the lines to go up the tower at the panorama level at 203 metres. This point offers one of the best views of Berlin on a clear day. You can look for your favourite Berlin landmarks here or at the upstairs rotating cafe, which makes one revolution every 30 minutes.
VIP ticket holders can visit at any time without waiting in line and are guaranteed the next available free seat in the Tower’s restaurant.
Located in the Mitte district, the Gendarmenmarkt has gone through a few name changes. After being used from 1736 to 1782 by the military for sentry duty and housing their horses, it was known as the Gendarmenmarkt. After being damaged in the war, the square was renamed “Platz der Akademie” in 1950 in honor of the 250th anniversary of the Academy of Science. In 1991, it got its original name back.
The Gendarmenmarkt is arguably Berlin’s most magnificent square. It is best known for the triple architectural force composed of the German and French cathedrals (Deutscher und Französischer Dom) and Schinkel’s Konzerthaus (concert hall). The ‘domes’ refer to the domed tower structures erected in 1785 by architect Carl von Gontard were mainly intended to add stature and grandeur to the two buildings. Some of the most high-end restaurants, businesses and hotels are located around the Gendarmenmarkt, especially around the streets of Charlottenstrasse.
The Lilliputian Nicholas Quarter is an area that was developed around Berlin’s oldest parish church, the Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas’s Church), dating from 1230. The area now tries to maintain its medieval character; its cobblestoned lanes worth a quick stroll if you are in the surrounding borders of Rathausstrasse, Spandauer Strasse, Mühlendamm and the Spree River. Though there are many gift stores, cafes and restaurants in the quarter, you will find locals elsewhere.
The main attractions, in addition to the St. Nicholas church, include the Ephraim Palace, a masterpiece of palace architecture of the 18th century Berlin. Equally beautiful is the Baroque style Knoblauch house built in 1760, which offers insight into world of the upper middle class world through its rooms and valuable furniture.
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.
The battered shell of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church stands as a poignant reminder of the destruction of war.
Destroyed by Allied bombers in 1943, the church remains in its shattered condition as a monument to peace.
The church vestibule is now a memorial hall, with mosaics, sculptures and information panels. Important displays include the original damaged Crucifix and the Cross of Nails, created from nails collected from the destroyed Coventry Cathedral in England.
Free 30 minute tours provide an overview of the history of the building, both as a Protestant church and anti-war memorial. A new church surrounding the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church hosts evening music services and choral and organ recitals.
Affectionately known as the Ku’damm, this elegant tree-lined boulevard is a major thoroughfare in Berlin’s west.
The Berlin equivalent of Paris’ Champs-Elysees, the Kurfürstendamm avenue is lined with shops, hotels and historic cafes. Before World War II, the Ku’damm was the heart of nightlife in Berlin, and before reunification it was West Berlin’s major shopping strip. Today, it’s a lively stretch for strolling, shopping and dining.
The stylish, contemporary main railway station in Berlin was opened in 2006 by Chancellor Angela Merkel; it is built on the site of the Lehrter Bahnhof (Lehrte Station), which was demolished in 1957 after East Germany suspended rail services into its western counterpart. In 1993, the architects Gerkan, Marg and Partners were entrusted with creating a new station that befitted Berlin’s importance as the capital city of a re-united Germany, and the sleek terminus is made of glass and steel; it has five gleaming stories and is spanned by an arched glass roof. There are lines both above and underground and today the station is also a terminus for the S-Bahn (rapid transit commuter trains) and U-Bahn (metro line) services into and around the city from the Brandenburg region.
Berlin’s Central Park is Tiergarten, a huge stretch of parkland, formal gardens and leafy walkways in the city’s west.
Until the 1830s the parkland was used as a hunting ground. Today it houses the home of the German President, an array of public sculptures and memorials, canals and lakes, and a network of lovely shady avenues. The park’s avenues merge on the 66 meter (216 foot) Victory Tower, topped with a gilt angel. If you’re feeling fit, you can climb the 285 steps to a platform at the top to catch stupendous views of Berlin.
The Topography of Terror exhibition and documentation center covers the history of terror during the Nazi era. The centers of this national-socialist terror between 1933 and 1945 were the Gestapo and its prison, the SS headquarters, the SS Security Service (SD) and the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Main Office for State Security). These institutions were located in the immediate vicinity of the Nazi government district, and the history of the crimes originating there is featured at Topography of Terror. There is also a second exhibition that focuses on the role of Berlin as the capital of the Third Reich.
Also on site is one of the few remaining sections of the Berlin Wall. Niederkirchnerstrasse, formerly Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse, formed part of the border between the U.S. and Soviet sectors of Berlin, and the boundary ran along the south side of the street.
To experience the pomp and majesty of the Hohenzollern Dynasty, pay a visit to Charlottenburg Palace (or Schloss Charlottenburg), Berlin’s largest palace.Built in the 17th and 18th centuries, the palace combines rococo and baroque decor and architecture, and is surrounded by landscaped gardens in the manner of Versailles.
Visitors can tour the baroque rooms of the Old Palace, and the rococo apartments of Frederick the Great in the New Wing. German porcelain is displayed in the Belvedere building, and the marble tombs of famous Hohenzollerns lie in the mausoleum.
The treed grounds are ideal for leisurely strolls, and the restored Orangery now operates as a cafe.
The Führerbunker, translated to English means "Leader's bunker" was part of a subterranean bunker complex which was constructed in two major phases, one part in 1936 and the other in 1943. This bunker was a defensive military fortification designed to protect the inhabitants from falling bombs or other attack; in this case, the Führerbunker was to protect Adolf Hilter during WWII, and was the center of the Nazi regime. Hitler married Eva Braun here during the last week of April 1945, shortly before they committed suicide.
The Bunker can be found at Wilhelmstrasse 77 near the corner of In den Ministergärten and Gertrud-Kolmar-Strasse, a short walk from Potsdamer Platz. It may be difficult to find independently as it is located in a grey apartment block backed onto a desolate car park, bordered by small wooden posts. You will find an information sign detailing the history of the site, which replaced a plaque that was there in 2006.
The New Synagogue in Berlin is a Moorish-style building that was built from 1859 to 1866. It was designed by Eduard Knoblauch, though he did not live to see it finished. The synagogue was built with a highly visible, large dome and had refined steel construction of the galleries and roof. It could seat 3,200 people, and it was the largest Jewish place of worship in Germany. By 1933 it was the center of the Jewish community for the 160,000 Jewish citizens of Berlin. Unfortunately it suffered great damage during the bombings of World War II. After extensive repairs and renovations, the New Synagogue reopened in May 1995. Today the Centrum Judaicum foundation is housed here. It is an institution for the preservation of Jewish memory and tradition and includes a museum. Exhibits trace the history of the synagogue, and guided tours show visitors the open space behind the restored facade, which was once the main synagogue room.
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