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Explore Berlin & Discover Its Highlights
Berlin Tourist Information
Berlin is a city that has been one of the main centers of global attention in the last century. Not only was it the capital of the German Empire and the Third Reich, it was at the frontline of the Cold War which saw the city split into East and West before eventual reunification in 1990. Germany’s capital has transformed so rapidly since then that even if you have already visited Berlin before, you will always find something new to explore and discover as it writes another chapter in its eventful history.
Not surprisingly, Berlin is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Germany and wherever you explore, you will discover something that relates to a particular period in its history. Whether it is the impressive Brandenburg Gate highlighting imperial grandeur or remnants of the Berlin Wall symbolizing Cold War division, you will find that every district, street, building and monument has its own fascinating story to tell.
Travel in Berlin
Thankfully, Berlin has one of the most sophisticated and easily navigable transport networks in Europe. The U-Bahn and S-Bahn underground railway network runs an almost 24 hour service and trains operate at regular intervals so even if you miss one train, you are very likely to find another heading to the same destination. Alternatively, you can catch the tram or bus to explore an alternative route. Some of the routes even operate as far outside as the neighboring federal state of Brandenburg where you may wish to visit the city of Potsdam which takes less than half an hour from central Berlin.
If you wish to stay in Berlin for a few days and intend to use the public transport system frequently then it is worth investing in a Berlin Welcome Card. This entitles you to free transport valid from 48 hours up to 5 days depending on the option you buy. Now you can hop straight on to the train without having to queue at the ticketing machine and you will save money overall on transport costs. There is also the additional benefit of further discounts at many numerous attractions across the city as displayed in the table below:
Places To Visit in Berlin
Districts of Berlin
Naturally, most of the main attractions and highlights of the city can be found in the central districts. Whether you are looking to explore the shopping boulevards or explore the former Communist side of the Berlin Wall, each district has its own unique character and many have undergone rapid development especially since reunification.
Mitte is the heartland of Berlin and contains many of the key historical sights of interest as well as where central government is located. Its center is Potsdamer Platz which is one of the main public squares of the city. This area may have been neglected during the Cold War but now it has transformed into a vibrant area which hosts the Berlin International Film Festival and is projected to become a major center of commerce in the city.
Berlin Mitte’s most famous landmark is the Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) next to the boulevard of Unter den Linden. This has become the most recognizable symbol of the city given its imperial splendor depicting Prussian military might and designed in the neoclassical style. When the Berlin Wall fell, the gate became a symbol of freedom and unity and was restored to its full glory in 2002.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Museum Island (Museuminsel) is located on the River Spree where not only will you find the impressive Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom) but also 5 internationally renowned museums displaying the finest artefacts from early antiquity all the way to art from the 19th century. Highlights include the Pergamon Museum which houses the Pergamon Altar, the Market Gate of Miletus and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon.
For a spectacular panoramic view of the city, there are 2 attractions that allow you to see the city from a higher altitude. Berlin TV Tower (Fernsehturm) in Alexanderplatz is a dominant structure that stands 368 m high and it is possible to climb 207 m to see the entire city. The Reichstag is the seat of the Federal German parliament and has a glass dome that is open to the public and provides a 360° view of the surrounding landscape.
Although this area was mostly under the control of the East German regime and still contains remnants of its recent Communist past, it has also grown into one of the trendiest districts for its restaurants and nightlife. There is a strong cosmopolitan culture and its liberal atmosphere attracts aspiring international artists to come and live, work and draw inspiration from this part of Berlin.
Friedrichshain is the ideal area for exploring Berlin’s Cold War past. Walk down the Karl-Marx-Allee boulevard with its “wedding cake” style architecture which served as an example of socialist planning. The East Side Gallery is an open exhibition which contains the longest stretch of the Berlin Wall still standing. Although during the Cold War period many murals were created on the west side of the wall, since 1991 the east side has also been painted to symbolize freedom of expression and unity of ideas.
Prenzlauer Berg has a nice atmosphere filled with cafes where you can relax and is popular with youths and for its art scene. Places of interest include Gethsemane Church which was a rallying point for peaceful opposition to the East German regime. Furthermore, there is the Jewish Cemetery which is the second largest in Europe with around 115,000 graves and contains a Holocaust memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives during the struggle against Nazism. The linear Mauerpark is a public park where remnants of the Berlin Wall still exist and a Flea Market operates every Sunday as well as a karaoke show in the afternoons.
Kreuzberg is one of the most popular areas in the city for its abundance of nightclubs and counterculture reputation. There are also many 20th century monuments including Checkpoint Charlie which was the old crossing point into East Berlin during the Cold War. The Topography of Terror (Topographie des Terror) was once the headquarters of the Gestapo secret police and paramilitary SS organizations during the Nazi dictatorship. Today it is a museum that shows how the police state operated during the Third Reich and how the apparatus consolidated its reign of terror. The Jewish Museum (Jüdisches Museum) is one of the largest and most comprehensive in Europe which highlights the history of the Jewish community in Germany.
This district was traditionally one of the most affluent areas of the city and contains beautiful monuments and parks. As this was the main cultural center of West Berlin during the Cold War, there is also a wealth of shopping boulevards and it still has a vibrant atmosphere today.
Charlottenburg is one of the wealthiest parts of Berlin, this area was once popular with the Prussian royal family during the German Empire and contains the magnificent Charlottenburg Palace (Schloss Charlottenburg) built in the 17th century. It also contains a large and impressive park right next to the River Spree. There is also the neo-Romanesque Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche) which was badly damaged by Allied bombing during the Second World War but has had a modern structure built between 1959 – 1961 to now display a contrast of classical and contemporary styles.
Tiergarten is a locality known for its enormous urban park. The natural scenery provides a welcome break from the concrete landscape and contains many impressive monuments the further you travel towards the center. At the heart of the Tiergarten, you will find Victory Column which is a monument commemorating Prussian victories on the road to German unification in the 19th century and was once the site of a speech made by Barack Obama who would later become President of the USA. Right next to the park you can find Berlin Zoo (Zoologischer Garten Berlin) which is one of the most famous zoos in Germany which looks after around 20,500 animals.
Kurfürstendamm (Ku’damm) is a large boulevard that is often referred to as the “Champs-Élysées of Berlin” due to its impressive array of boutique stores and cafes. Naturally, it is one of the most popular shopping districts in the city especially if you are looking for some high end fashion. The avenue runs for 3.5 km and you can find luxury brands including Cartier, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Rolex and much more. Located nearby, you can also visit the Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) on the extreme end of Schönberg. After Harrods in London, this is the largest department store in Europe and just like its British counterpart, one of its main highlights is the food hall based on the 6th floor with over 30 gourmet counters with produce from Germany and from all around the world.
Explore & Discover Outside Berlin – Potsdam & Sachsenhausen
If you decide that you would like to explore further outside of the city of Berlin into the neighboring state of Brandenburg, then the good news is that is that many of the sights are only less than an hour away by S-Bahn. If you opt for the ABC Tarriff Zone option for your Berlin Welcome Card, then you will be guaranteed free travel to locations including Potsdam and Sachsenhausen.
Potsdam is the capital of the German Federal State of Brandenburg. Over a century ago, this was the main residence of the Prussian and Imperial German monarchy and thus it is sometimes known as the “Versailles of Germany”. The city retains its royal charm as you will find many former royal palaces that are open to the public.
The Sanssouci Palace was the summer residence of King Frederick the Great and is famous for its Rococo style of architecture. It has a charming park with neoclassical monuments celebrating Ancient Greece and Rome. Cecilienhof Palace is one of the most recent royal landmarks built and was also the site of the famous Potsdam Conference where UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill, US President Harry Truman and Soviet leader Josef Stalin met to discuss how to manage the post-WWII world and lay the foundation for the Cold War. These landmarks have the honor of UNESCO World Heritage status which was granted in 1990.
There is also a charming Russian colony named Alexandrowka. Here you will find picturesque Russian cottages as well as an Orthodox Church. There is also a nice café and one of the houses has been converted into a museum where you can view what life was like for the Russian community in the past two centuries. The Dutch Quarter contains 134 houses built in the Dutch style in the 18th century, it is noticeable because of its red brick style.
Sachsenhausen was once a concentration camp used during the Third Reich from 1936 – 1945 and then remained in use by the Soviet Union as a special camp for their own prisoners including Nazis and Nazi collaborators until 1950. Although many of the original building have been removed, a memorial obelisk was constructed by the East German government containing red triangles which was the badge that communist political prisoners were made to wear during their imprisonment.
Today, the museum is opened to the public where people can understand the horrors of the Holocaust and the suffering of the many racial, social and political groups deemed by the Nazi regime to be sub-human. Sadly, this perception created by the National Socialists reflected their treatment of the prisoners especially Soviet PoWs where 10,000 were executed and many other inmates died from the appalling conditions that got worse as WWII progressed.
Although Sachsenhausen serves as a cruel reminder of one of the darkest periods in recent human history, the aim of the exhibition is to help humanity strive to create a better world and a more tolerant society where genocide becomes a thing of the past.
Explore & Discover Berlin Today
The districts and attractions highlighted are only a handful of examples of areas worth exploring around the city of Berlin and its surrounding area. The fact is you could easily spend at least a few days immersing yourself in the history of the city and imagine what life was like in Imperial times as well as under National Socialism, Communism and today’s liberal and democratic culture. Berlin has been through a lot especially in a relatively short period of time, however, the future of the city looks optimistic as it embraces multiculturalism and is heading in a progressive direction while also retaining a strong German character and welcoming people from all over the world.