Updated: Dec 3, 2020
Ultra Hip and Cool, Berlin is one of the most popular cities to visit and it’s not hard to see why.
Brandenburg Gate – Berlins Front Door
One of the most recognisable landmarks in the world the Brandenburg Gate has been the site of many historical moments in Germany.
Built in the 18th century by request of Prussian king Fredrick William II, it was to represent peace. It officially opened in 1791 and was modelled on Athens Acropolis sometimes being called Athens on the spree. When it was first constructed only royalty were permitted to pass through the centre of the Gates. In 1794 The Quadriga, a four horse drawn chariot, was placed on top the gate. It is a Statue of Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory.
Over the years it has been centre stage for many historically significant events. In 1806 Napoleon stole the Quadriga and took it to Paris, it was reclaimed and taken back to Germany in 1814. In 1933 it was used as Nazi propaganda and a parade was held at the gate for Hitler to celebrate his rise to power. During WWII the gate was severely damaged and later restored. Then in 1961 the Gate became a no go zone, sitting between the Berlin Wall, and in 1989 it became the spot of celebration when the wall finally fell.
It now plays hosts to millions of tourists a year, and holds parades through to protests. Every New Year’s Eve about a million people gather at the gate to bring in the New Year with a fireworks display and concert.
2. Berlin wall / East side gallery – A City divided
The Berlin wall is a concrete wall built in 1961 that divided the East and West of Berlin.
The country was split in two in 1945 after WWII, between Soviet Union taking the East and US, France and Great Britain taking the West.
Between 1949 to 1961 an endless flow of refugees defected past the divide which at the time was only separated by bard wire, in total about 3 million from escaped from the East to the West.
In 1961 alone some 65,000 fled to the West and on August 12 of that year some 2,400 fled, the largest amount of defectors in one day.
In order to cease the defections, it was decided that a wall would be built at 12 foot tall and 4 foot wide concrete slabs.
The in-between section of the wall known as the death strip was 160 yards wide. It was patrolled by vicious dogs, floodlights, bard wire, tripwire machine guns and soldiers with orders to shoot any escapes on sight.
This did not stop the defections. Over its time some 5000 escaped either by underground tunnels, climbing the walls, jumping out windows that were adjacent to the wall, driving high speed through certain parts and even in hot air balloons.
Tragically some 171 people were killed attempting to flee.
Finally in November 1989 the end of the Wall was declared and it was announced that the people where free to cross the border. People flooded the wall so quickly that the guards had now been made aware yet of the announcement. The people demanded the gates be opened immediately officially ending the cold war.
In reality the announcement was made in error. The process of ended the travel ban was in actual fact meant to go through a lengthy approval process before being confirmed however the incorrect wording led the local residents flooding the wall and demanded it be opened. In the confusion checkpoint guard Harald Jager opened the gate with other checkpoints soon following suit.
Most famous image synonymous with the Berlin Wall is of the first defector 19 year old Conard Schumann. He was an East German border guard Corporal who leaped over the initial 3 foot high barbed wire just two day after the border was sealed.
Parts of the wall still remain today as a reminder and symbol of the cold war.
What remains of the wall has now become a memorial for freedom, the most famous section is the East Side Gallery. Soon after the collapse of the wall, artists around the world joined the celebration and began painting the remains of the wall. The east side gallery consists of 105 painting and depicts the feelings of freedom and renewed hope of the residents.
At 1316m long it is the longest continuous section of the wall still intact and can be found along the spree river.
It is considered the longest open air gallery in the world, but due to this it is in constant restoration from the exposure to the elements and vandals.
The most infamous painting is the Fraternal Kiss which shows Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and state leader GDR Erich Honecker embraced in a kiss.
3. Holocaust Memorial
In the middle of the city of Berlin sits the Holocaust Memorial officially known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
The Memorial is dedicated to the Jewish victims of the holocaust, it sits on a 19,000 m site covered in 2,711 concrete blokes in a grid pattern varying in height from 0.2m to 4.8m.
Its confronting name showcases the reality of the situation. The architect behind the project Peter Eiserman created the memorial to represents an illusion of instability in an apparent system of order.
It was originally proposed in 1993 and was finally completed and opened to the public in 2005, on the 60th anniversary of the fall of the Nazis.
It is open to public all day and night which leaves the site vulnerable to potential graffiti. To protect the memorial the blocks have been coated with anti-graffiti repellent. Shockingly the company that was chosen to cover the blocks also owned the company that produced the chemicals used by the Nazis in concentration camps.
Located underneath is a Visitor Centre, an underground exhibit where you can learn in detail the atrocities committed at the time.
It includes themed rooms such as Room of Dimensions, the Room of the Families, the Room of Names and the Room of Sites. Here are listed the names of the 6 million Jewish victims, it includes the fates of individuals, with photos and diaries as well as farewell letters.
In recent years the memorial has brought controversy with tourists taking inappropriate selfies amongst the memorial.
4. Street Art Scene - Graffiti Alley.
Berlin streets are an ode to street artists, with some of the world’s most amazing pieces on show.
You could spend a whole day wondering the streets gazing at the art work. From large murals to the tiny blink and you’ll miss it pieces.
Most popular is the Hackescher market also known as graffiti alley in Mitte neighbourhood. From the outside it seems like just a tiny alley, but it is filled with walls of graffiti often updated year on year sometimes weekly so there is always something new to see no matter how often you visit.
It has a maze like feel with intertwining alley ways, and houses some of the most interesting pieces from well known artists as well as sculptures.
There are plenty of street art tours on offer throughout Berlin however if you like to wander at your own pace the best spots include Kreuzberg, Teufelsberg, east side gallery, Dircksenstrasse and Friedrichshain.
Look out for particular interesting pieces such as El Bochos Lucy Cat, a character who through satire attempts to kill her cat in odd ways, the huge mural Astronaut by Victor Ash created in 2003 and is the world’s largest stencil or Vhils who creates his art with explosives!
5. Checkpoint Charlie – point of no return
In the dead of the night a white line was drawn. The small gesture would affect a whole country forcefully driving families apart.
It was the beginning of the Berlin Wall, halving the city into East Vs West.
Checkpoint Charlie became the crossing point gate, First set up in 1961 only foreigners were able to pass through.
Created to keep East Berliners from defecting to the west, the checkpoint is the site of many escapes. To escape defectors often had to be creative, on one occasion a man removed the windshield of a rented convertible and sped under the border barrier. This was repeated one more time by another until guards installed metal poles. Another, a photographer who set up his gear at the border and while pretending to take photographs casually hopped over the border.
It was also the scene of a showdown between American forces and German East Forces almost igniting WWIII. The incident began simply enough when US diplomat Allan Lighter attempted to cross to East Berlin to watch an opera. He refused to show his paperwork on grounds only Soviet Officials had this authority to request this which in turn bankrolled into a 16 hour standoff.
Refused entry, he promptly left the border and returned with armed US soldiers and military jeeps. When the East German soldiers still refused him entry, he again returned with ten tanks!
East German Soldiers retaliated with their own tanks of about three dozen at the checkpoint!
The standoff held for 16 hrs and was only adverted when JFK spoke to soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and convinced him to withdraw.
The checkpoint was also at times used as a prisoner swap point and has been dramatised in many cold war drama movies.
After 30 years the wall came down and residents were finally able to move freely across the border.
The famous checkpoint was removed and placed in the Allied Museum and a replica has been set up for tourist to view as a reminder of the cold war.
Next to the old checkpoint sits another Museum the Mauermuseum Museumhaus. The museum began when the wall was first erected and doubled as a refuge for defectors. Founded by Dr Rainer Hildebrandt, it was often referred to as the Island of Freedom as it was also used to help East Berliner escape. It was located in the last building outside the border and here they would often gather to hatch escape plans and keep an eye on movements through a small window.
Escapees would often donate their escape tools to the museum, on display is a hot air balloon, rigged cars, chairlifts and even a small submarine as well as other memorabilia on the history of the Wall.
6. Berlin TV Tower
This imposing TV tower sits in central Berlin and is visible from almost every point of the city.
Original intended as a symbol of communist power today it signifies unity of Berlin and Germany
At 368 m high it is Germany’s tallest structure. It is home to a viewing platform for panoramic views of the city as well as a restaurant that rotates every 30 mins.
There are 986 steps leading up to the viewing deck but if you don’t fancy the walk you can take any of the two high speed lifts that take 40 secs to reach the top!
It plays hosts to a million of visitors a year but for safely purposes only allows 400 people at a time in the sphere including staff.
It was constructed in 4 years starting in 1965 and ending in 1969. The push to complete the structure asap was in order to demonstrate communist efficiency.
It is not only a viewing platform and restaurant but also a TV tower as originally intended with over 60 radio and TV programs broadcasted via the tower.
7. Treptower Park/Soviet War Memorial
Treptower Park located along the spree river and is the largest park in Berlin.
Here among the serenity and beauty of the park sits the Soviet War memorial.
The monument opened in 1949 and commemorates the 80,000 soviet soldiers who lost their lives in the final leg of WWII in the Battle of Berlin in 1945.
It is one of three memorials in Berlin and is the final resting place for 7000 of the 80,000 soldiers.
Of all the imposing towering structures reminiscent of Russian architecture, the centre piece is a Statue of a soviet soldier 12m tall holding a sword and a German child standing over a shattered swastika. It is said to commemorate Sergeant of guards Nikolai Masalov who risked his life under heavy fire to save a 3 year old German girl.
Enter via large triumph arch then follow the path aligned with weeping willow trees. This leads up two giant soviet flags made of red granite with two statues of grieving soldiers standing guard.
It is the largest soviet war memorial outside of Russia, and to this day visitors still lay wreaths each year for the fallen who fought to liberate Berlin.
8. Alexanderplatz – Shoppers Paradise
Referred to locally as Alex, centrally located in the heart of Berlin, this is one of the cities most visited squares. Close to many attractions and sights it sees half a million locals and visitors travel through on a daily basis.
Named after the Russian Tsar Alexander the First, the square was originally a cattle and wool market and a thriving trade centre.
It later became popular for military parades and exercises, now days it is a modern shopping centre and transit junction as well as a popular meeting spot.
Here you can visit some of Berlins attractions such as the TV tower, the Weltzerituhr (a large clock built in 1969 which displays the time of 148 countries), and the fountain of international friendship.
It is home to several large department stores for a spot of shopping and plenty of bars, pubs and restaurants.
Every year it hosts the Christmas markets and a smaller version of Oktoberfest.
9. Museum Island – museumathon
This 1999 Unesco listed site is located along the spree river in the central of Mitte Berlin.
It is made up of five museums, the Altes Museum, Neus Museum (new museum), Old National Gallery (added in 1876), Bode Museum (1904) and Pergamon Museum (added in 1930.)
The museums not only houses interesting and unique collections they are also a work of art themselves with grand entrances and opulent hall exhibits. The grounds outside the museums are beautifully crafted and are a perfect spot for resting in the sun on their lush greens lawns.
The Cluster of grand museums began in 1797 with its first exhibit on the grounds. In 1830 the first official museum was built the Altes (Old Museum), some thirsty years later the Neus Museum (New Museum) was added and the remaining added and completed by 1930.
During WWII museum island was badly damaged and the Neus in ruins. After the war when the Berlin wall went up the museums found themselves in East Germany. They were restored all except for the Neus. It remained in a damaged state up until ten years after the fall of the Berlin wall. Restoration and refurbishing began for all museums and was modelled and influenced by the Louvre.
Pergamon Museum opened in 1909 attracts about one million a year making this the most popular of the five.
With 2000 years of history within its wall, it houses treasures from the Ancient East and artefacts from iron, Asia Minor and Egypt.
It consists of three wings, the Antiquity collection, the Islamic art museum and Middle East museum. Highlights to see include the 17m high roman market gate of Miletus from the 2nd century AD, Ishtar gate of Babylon and a statue of a man praying dated around 2400 BC.
Bode Museum opened in 1904 displays sculptures and a vast collection from medieval to late 18th century.
It includes a Sculpture gallery and a museum of Byzantine Art and a sculpture of Venus and Mercury created in 1745.
Highlights of this museum include a large coin collection of half a million coins and medals where you can view such coins as Greek coins dating back to 470 BC, the Pazzi Madonna made from marble by Donatello in 1420 and an antique roman sarcophagi from 300 BC.
Neus Museum (New Museum) opened in 1855 it closed it doors in 1939 due to WWII and remained in ruins until 1999. It took ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall to rebuild the museum. Now you can explore the history of Europe and the Middle East from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages as well as Egyptian antiques.
Highlights include the Bust of Egyptian queen Nefertiti, silver vessel treasures thought to be from ancient Troy and the oldest exhibit in museum an axe head from the Stone Age that is 700,000 years old.
Old National Gallery opened in 1876, this museums design was inspired by the Acropolis in Athens. Its displays include paintings and sculptures from the neoclassical period.
The museum began it life after the death of a local banker. When Joachim Heinrich Strack passed away he left in his will his collection of paintings to the state for all to enjoy. Architect Friedrich August Stuler felt that the collection deserved its own building that was worthy of the art and created the now Old National Gallery.
Highlights are artworks of Adolph Menzel from 1845 and statues of princesses Luise and Friederike of Prussia dating from 1797.
Altes Museum – was the first museum of the five and opened in 1830. Originally meant to house the Prussian royal family art collection, it is now home to art sculptures from ancient Greece and the Roman Empire including busts of Caesar and Cleopatra.
Highlights of this museum include over 1300 coins from 7th century BC to 3rd century AD, the largest Etruscan art outside of Italy, and a treasure vault of valuable jewels and gen stones.
10. Topography of Terror
This is an outdoor / inside museum built on the former headquarters of the SS and Gestapo.
The original site was destroyed during WWII and has been reinstated as a memorial to those who lost their lives and suffered during Hitler’s regime.
Its lists are in chronological order of the rise and fall of the third Reich from the holocaust and the aftermath.
The only part that remains and is now on display in its original state are the cells where political prisoners were tortured and killed.
Outside the museum you can also view the longest remaining original portion of the outer of the berlin wall.
It is at times a confronting museum however necessary to highlight the atrocities committed in the hope history will not be repeated.
The museum was completed in 2010 and is now home to three permeant exhibitions
The permeant displays are The Topography of Terror: Gestapo, SS and Reich Security Main Office on Wilhelm- and Prinz-Albrecht-Straße.
Here displayed over 800 square meters, this part of the museum depicts the Nazis reign of terror, their rise and how they gained control.
Second permeant display houses the display - Berlin 1933-1945: Between Propaganda and Terror’ Exhibit. This displays focuses on life under the rule of the third Reich and its reach across other cities and countries.
The third display is the Site – The history of the site, it focuses on the fall of the regime and its aftermath.
The museum also hosts regular temp exhibits and educational programs.