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Things to Do in Germany

Germany offers a path for every kind of traveler, whether it leads toward the castles of Neuschwanstein and Linderhof, a glass of local wine in Rhine Valley, or across to Austria's Salzburg Lake District, an area synonymous with the Von Trapp family and The Sound of Music. For history buffs, stories of the Cold War abound in Berlin, and day trips to World War II memorial sites offer a somber and significant look at the past. If you find yourself in Munich in the fall it can only mean one thing: a stop at Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival, for a taste of Bavarian brews, culture, and food.
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Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom)
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The Kölner Dom, also known as the Cologne Cathedral, is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. In the 19th century, it was the tallest building in the world. Amazingly, it would take 632 years to complete.

Begun in 1248, the Kölner Dom was commissioned as a suitable place to house the relics of the Three Kings, acquired and delivered by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Construction was predictably slow, beginning with the east wing. At some point in 1473, construction came to a stop and it remained at rest for four centuries, marked by a crane that loomed over the south tower; until 1842, when a civic organization raised the bulk of the money to finish construction. In today’s dollars, the cost for finishing Kölner Dom would be over a billion dollars. Finally, in 1880, Germany’s largest cathedral was completed.

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AquaDom & SEA LIFE® Berlin
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AquaDom and SEA LIFE Berlin is an aquarium featuring more than 5,000 aquatic animals in over 35 different displays. The AquaDom, specifically, is the largest freestanding aquarium in the world, where you can take an elevator ride through 1 million liters of saltwater and groups of various tropical fish.

The newest exhibit at SEA LIFE Berlin is the Octopus Garden. Here you can learn about the fascinating physical and mental strength of the octopus and also see the giant pacific octopus, as well as its relatives, the cuttlefish and the nautilus. At the Interactive Rockpool, you can learn about the animals that live in this sort of habitat along the coast, such as starfish and crabs, and learn what sea anemones feed on. All of the animals in this section are safe to touch, and experts are on hand to help you handle them. A variety of talks are given throughout the day at certain areas of the aquarium.

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Cologne Chocolate Museum (Schokoladenmuseum)
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Hans Imhoff, a chocolatier and businessman from Cologne, opened the Schokoladenmuseum in 1993, after retiring from the confectionary business in 1992. The museum that bears the late industrialist's name is a paen to the product of the cacao bean, from its development and primitive processing in the New World by the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs, to modern production methods and innovations. The program discusses the role of chocolate in later South American societies and among European elite. The museum sits inside a glass-and-steel structure shaped like a ship. Inside, the tour takes visitors through the process of chocolate production from the farm to the candy store, continuing through a greenhouse where two species of cacao trees are grown and then on through the industrialization of chocolate production, including vintage advertising campaigns. Miniature machinery allow guests a closer look at the production process, and the chocolate produced by these machines can be sampled.

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Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor)
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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.

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Reichstag
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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.

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Führerbunker
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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.

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Cologne Old Town (Altstadt)
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Old Town is in many ways, the heart and soul of the city. It's near the Köln Dom, surrounded by "the Ring," a ring of streets, botanical space, and promenades following the path of the old city's walls. Inside the ring and along the Rhine is a vibrant scene of bars, pubs, and restaurants. While it can get crowded, Old Town is known for its hustle and overall friendly vibe.

Tours of Old Town include tours of the Cathedral, a brewpub tour (expect to drink a lot of Kölsch), or a cruise on the Rhine. However, the best way to experience Old Town is on foot. Confident travelers may want to practice their German in this area; if you do, pay attention to speakers - Kölsch is a beer, but it's also an accent, both of which being native to Cologne. In Alter Markt Square, you'll find plenty of both, as brew pubs and bars are plentiful.

Beyond the rhythm of the bars and shops are seemingly innumerable small streets and alleys that wind through the old buildings.

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Madame Tussauds Berlin
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Madame Tussauds is the ultimate wax museum with locations the world over. Madame Tussauds Berlin has a wide variety of life-like wax figures made to look like celebrities, including actors such as Johnny Depp and Julia Roberts, and musicians such as Rihanna and the Beatles. Wax exhibits also include politicians such as Angela Merkel and Barack Obama, sports stars such as Muhammad Ali and Mesut Özil, and historical figures such as Albert Einstein and Ludwig van Beethoven. There's even a section of superheros like Spiderman and Shrek. There's also a behind-the-scenes area where visitors can get a closer look at how the figures are made. It's a complex process starting with measuring and photographing the person who will be sculpted. Great care is taken to ensure the eye color, hair color and style, skin color and even the teeth are as accurate as possible.

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Topography of Terror
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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.

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Elbphilharmonie
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The Elbphilharmonie, or Elbe Philharmonic, is a concert hall located in the Hafen City district of Hamburg. It has been under construction since 2007, and the expecting opening date is in January 2017. The concert hall is being built on top of an old warehouse building, and once it is completed, it will be the tallest inhabited building in the city standing at 360 feet. The eastern side of the building will be a Westin hotel, the lower floors will contain restaurants and a wellness and conference center for the hotel, and the upper floors will have residential apartments.

The Elbphilharmonie will be home to classical music as well as music from the 21st century. There will be a small hall with 550 seats for chamber music, jazz concerts, and banquets, as well as the Great Hall with 2,150 seats for larger performances. The building's integration with the warehouse combines the modern philharmonic building with Hamburg's history as an important port city.

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More Things to Do in Germany

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie

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"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.

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KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens)

KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens)

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A shopping landmark, the KaDeWe is Berlin’s most famous trademark department store. Since 1907, this luxurious and extravagant center has been lowering its iron gates for customers for an exciting shopping adventure.

You can find some of the most famous fashion designers for contemporary apparel including Derek Lam, Ralph Lauren, Rachel Zoe, Theory and Alice & Olivia. Indulge in famous beauty products such as Diptyke, Marni and Sisley. High-end services include a wedding and gift service, a hotel and home service, an on-site tailor, and salon. At the top of the plaza, there's an amazing food section. You'll find artisan chocolates, fresh baked pastries, restaurants, wine shops and more! We specifically like the champagne bars and chocolate bars that provide lounges with a view to match.

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Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Holocaust Memorial)

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Holocaust Memorial)

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The Holocaust Memorial, also known as The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, is an urban tribute to remember and honor up to six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Located within walking distance between the Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz, the Memorial consists of the Field of Stelae designed by Peter Eisenman and the underground Information Center. Eisenmann set up 2,711 concrete pillars - so-called stelaes - of varying heights to create a grid-like structure that can be approached from all angles. You can feel the unmarked and harrowed suffering as you walk through the pillars that rise as you continue through them. The underground and modern information center complements the outdoor memorial, where visitors can learn more about the victims of the Holocaust and deepen understanding about this tragedy.
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Gendarmenmarkt

Gendarmenmarkt

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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.

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Hohenzollern Bridge (Hohenzollernbrücke)

Hohenzollern Bridge (Hohenzollernbrücke)

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The waters of the mighty Rhine split Cologne in half, and the city is united across a series of seven bridges, with none more splendid than the spans of the Hohenzollernbrücke, which stretch 1,342 feet (410 meters) across the river in three great steel arches.

This spectacular city landmark is almost as famous as Cologne’s twin-spired Gothic cathedral – the largest in Europe – and was completed in 1911, with four railway lines joining Cologne to cities across Europe. German troops destroyed the bridge at the end of World War II in the face of advancing Allied soldiers but it rose phoenix-like once more in 1948. Today it is both a pedestrian and rail bridge with around 1,200 trains passing over it daily and pairs of equestrian bronzes punctuating both ends.

A curious tradition has recently grown up around the Hohenzollernbrücke; lovers affix padlocks to its sides and throw the key into the Rhine in exchange for eternal love.

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Museum Island (Museumsinsel)

Museum Island (Museumsinsel)

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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.

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Berlin Victory Column (Siegessäule)

Berlin Victory Column (Siegessäule)

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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.

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Berlin TV Tower (Berliner Fernsehturm)

Berlin TV Tower (Berliner Fernsehturm)

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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.

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Marienplatz

Marienplatz

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Marienplatz serves as Munich's city center with a variety of historic town hall structures and shopping markets. At the center of the square, the Mariensaule, the column of St. Mary, exhibits a statue of the Virgin Mary and the "four putti" symbolizing the city's triumph over war, pestilence, famine, and heresy. Visitors flock to Marienplatz at 11 am, 12 noon, and 5 pm each day to watch the famous animated Glockenspiel (carillon) in the New Town Hall made of 43 bells and 32 figures. The best views of the show can be found on the top floor of the Hugendubel bookstore and the Cafe Glockenspeil.
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Bebelplatz

Bebelplatz

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The 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 the 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.

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Potsdamer Platz

Potsdamer Platz

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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.

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Nikolaiviertel (Nicholas Quarter)

Nikolaiviertel (Nicholas Quarter)

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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.

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Karl-Theodor-Bridge (Alte Brucke)

Karl-Theodor-Bridge (Alte Brucke)

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The Old Bridge in Heidelberg is a sandstone pedestrian bridge that goes across the Neckar River linking the old town on one side with the Neuenheim district on the other. It was built in 1786, and even though there were several other bridges before it in this location, it was the first one made of stone. On the city side of the bridge, there are two towers that once formed part of the city walls. They contain old dungeons which were used to hold criminals. Between the towers, you can see a plaque honoring the Austrian troops who helped defend the bridge against an attack from the French in 1799.

Another feature visitors will notice is a statue of a monkey holding a mirror. The monkey represents the idea that neither those who lived within the city walls nor those who lived outside the city were any better than the other, and that they should look over their shoulder as the cross the bridge to remember this.

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Old Heidelberg University (Alte Universitat)

Old Heidelberg University (Alte Universitat)

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The Old Heidelberg University, Germany's oldest university, was build in the early 1700s. It now holds the Rector's Office, the Old Assembly Hall, and the University Museum. The museum shows the history of the university beginning with its foundation in 1386 through today. Exhibits, portraits, and documents explain this history in three different sections. There's one about the Palatinate electors, one about the Baden era, and one about the twentieth century. In addition to the permanent exhibits, every few months there is a new special exhibit opens.

In the square in front of the building is a fountain of a lion, called Löwenbrunnen. The lion was the symbol of the Palatinate. At the back of the Old University, visitors can see the student prison, which was in use until 1914 and is now one of the most popular attractions in the city. Students could be put in the prison from two days to four weeks depending on the offense, although life there was quite comfortable.

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