Berlin is the capital city of one of the most prosperous European countries but bar the abundance of beer and the edgy nightlife, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Obviously I knew it would be a city with a rich history but I had no idea what form this would take. When one imagines Paris, the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe come to mind; when one imagines London, one sees Big Ben and the London Eye. But what about Berlin? I really struggled to think of one specific iconic monument in quite the same way.
So here are ten of the top things to do whilst visiting Berlin!
This magnificent gate is based in Mitte, West Berlin. Most of Berlin was very badly bombed during the last few stages of WWII and very few monuments and structures survived in one piece. Amazingly, the Brandenburg Gate survived the war and still stands tall today. It was built during the time of the Prussian Kings in the C18th and is a symbol of both Germany’s difficult history and the peace in Europe now. If you wander quite a way down from the gate, you’ll find the Victory Column too.
In my opinion, this is the most beautiful building in Berlin. This building looks glorious in the summer sun and the intricate stonework as you get closer is really impressive. The only downside is that it looks a bit grubby now and could do with a bit of a clean!
The Reichstag Building was one of the coolest buildings we visited as the restored outside has a classical style, but the main tourist attraction is the glass dome at the top, which is very modern. The glass dome is really interesting because it is eco friendly and the reflecting mirrors of the centre piece provide light to the chamber where the government gathers. If you look hard enough, you can vaguely see down into the chamber below and see the seats set out in a circular pattern.
What’s more, the dome is actually open topped and rain and snow can fall straight down the middle of the mirror feature. At least, we were told it falls straight down the middle but there was a spot of rain when I was up there and I still got a little damp!
As you walk around the glass dome from the bottom to the top you are treated to a history of Germany via the free audioguides. These work automatically depending on where you are standing in the dome and what view you are looking at, which means you can do this at your own pace.
You can buy tickets at the ticket office but there are unlikely to be any available tickets for the same day so I’d recommend buying them in advance online. This also means you’ll avoid the queues! Buy tickets here.
Berlin Wall – East Side Gallery
The East Side Gallery is where you’ll find the iconic Berlin Wall art. Unfortunately half of the wall is mostly graffiti with nothing particularly interesting to look at but the further you walk, the better the art gets. Once you reach the section that has these metal barricades in front of it, you’ll know you’ve reached the treasured pieces of wall art. It’s a shame that they needed to put up barriers to stop people graffitiing it but it’s an even greater shame that despite the barrier someone still managed to slip through. It’s well worth walking up and down the East Side Gallery a few times to see what slogans and quotes people have written on it over time.
Berlin Wall Memorial
The Berlin Wall Memorial is the more historical/museum-type section of the wall. Here, they have preserved the wall exactly where it was and even left markers as to where different traps were laid for people trying to escape over the wall so you can visualise just how intricate these barricade was. There are lots of little posts with writing on them explaining what all the different parts are and whilst from afar it may look like a little bit of rubble and some poles, once you’ve read these history cards, you’ll understand the real significance of this memorial.
I have to admit I was a little disappointed by Checkpoint Charlie but it is still well worth a visit. There is a small area detailing the history of the Checkpoint along with some more pieces of the Berlin Wall. There is a small media centre too but you have to pay a small fee for this while the rest of the exhibit is free.
You can also see the real sign that was erected at Checkpoint Charlie during the war, warning those approaching that they are entering American territory. This is where I was a little disappointed. Near the sign they have three German men dressed up as US army officials with whom you can take photos with. However, although they were very willing to take photographs, they were also larking around and pulling funny signs at the camera, which I didn’t think was appropriate.
Topography of Terror
The Topography of Terror was the most historically interesting place we visited in Berlin. It is both an indoor and an outdoor museum and the day we visited it was scorching so make sure to pack some sun cream if you’re visiting during the summer months!
Here you’ll find a very detailed account of the Nazi reign of terror as the museum is based on the site of the Gestapo and SS headquarters. If you want to do this museum properly I suggest setting aside around one and a half hours for you to get around the whole place, reading all the info.
This square is one the prettiest we came across in Berlin as all the buildings here were in the old classic style. A lot of Berlin is very modern as the majority of the city was badly bombed during the war and lots was not restored. There are lots of restaurants around as well as people trying to entertain tourists, such as this guy blowing huge bubbles!
Conveniently, most of the museums in Berlin are located in one place: Museum Island. Unfortunately pretty much all of these museums charged around €10 to enter, which is a shame as in lots of other European countries, museums are free for young people. For this reason, we didn’t go into any of them but it’s still well worth visiting this area of Berlin as each museum has a very different design and they’re all beautiful.
The Holocaust Memorial is one of the most harrowing places to visit in Berlin but what surprised me most was that this memorial was only opened in 2005. It consists of rows and rows of large concrete blocks of varying different sizes from knee height to well over 2m tall. There’s also an information centre where you can read more about the lives of specific Jewish families during their persecution by the Nazis, which is really well made in my opinion, and is a must-see for those interested in history (and, indeed, those who aren’t – no one can escape the past!).
A couple of other things I would really recommend visiting if you’ve still got time is Potsdamer Platz, — Platz, where the Nazis burned loads of books in 19– and finally Charlottenburg Palace, which is a short train ride away from the centre of Berlin.
Any other sights in Berlin that I’ve missed?
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