The capital of Germany, Berlin is a sprawling city located in the north east of the country, about 85km from the Polish border. It’s turbulent history is well known by most around the world.
It all started when Hitler and his Nazi Party came into power in 1933. The city’s Jewish people began to be imprisoned in nearby concentration camps and later sent to death camps such as Auschwitz, which had been set up by the Nazi’s. The Jewish population fell dramatically.
World War II saw large parts of Berlin destroyed in 45 air raids and during the Battle of Berlin. Hundreds of thousands of people died during the Battle of Berlin including an estimated 125,000 civilians.
When the war ended in 1945, the victorious powers divided the city into four sectors, the Western Allies (US, UK and France) formed West Berlin and the Soviet sector formed East Berlin. The country became split in two, East Germany and West Germany, causing dramatic political and economical tensions.
On August 13, 1961 East Germany began building the Berlin Wall completely dividing East and West Berlin. Checkpoints were put in place along the wall allowing only Westerners to pass between the East and the West. Easterners were no longer able to go beyond the wall.
With the end of the Cold War in 1989 and pressure from the East German population, the Berlin Wall fell on November 9. Most of the wall was then demolished, with little of its physical structure remaining today. The largest preserved part of the wall remaining is the East Side Gallery in Friedrichshain along the river Spree.
October 3, 1990 saw the two parts of Germany reunified as the Federal Republic of Germany, and Berlin again became the official German capital. The city boomed and was seen around the world to have a bright future ahead of it.
Berlin has come back with a vengeance.
Today Berlin has become cool and modern while still respecting its beautiful Baroque history. Gentrification of old corners of the city has made it extremely interesting on the eye. Modern glass structures sit side by side with Baroque palaces, cathedrals and bridges.
There is no time to be bored in Berlin and you could spend weeks or months exploring this city. It boasts nearly 200 museums, one of the worlds best nightlife and club scenes and countless interesting and entertaining attractions.
The city has a sense of excitement about it that I haven’t felt in many other cities. Enjoy exploring its distinctly diverse districts of Schoneberg, Friedrichshain, Mitte and Kreuzberg. And whether you want to discover Berlin’s past, present or future, I have no doubt it will seduce and surprise you.
My Top 5 Sights
This sandstone gate is the only remaining city gate in Berlin and represents the separation of what was East and West Berlin. It played a staring role with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and has since become the symbol of German unity.
Constructed from 1788-1791 it was modelled on the Propylaea, the gateway to the Acropolis in Athens. The six Doric columns support the 11 metre beam running along the top which divides the gate into five passageways. On top of the gate is a chariot drawn by four horses driven by Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory.
The area around the gate is closed to traffic making it the perfect place to spend a while people watch and taking some perfect shots of this enormous gate.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Located not far from the Brandenburg Gate, this memorial pays tribute to the Jewish people who died under Hitler’s extermination plan.
Over 205,000 square feet in size, the memorial consists of 2,711 slabs of stone in different heights ranging from ankle high to over six feet tall. The wave like pattern effect is to symbolise disorientation and instability.
Walking peacefully and respectfully through the slabs pulls on your heart and really makes you wonder how such horrible things can happen.
Next to the memorial is an underground information centre with information and personal stories of the people affected by the actions of Hitler and his Nazi party.
East Side Gallery
The longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall has been taken over by the East Side Gallery. Showcasing 101 paintings from artists all over the world, it is described as a memorial to freedom.
The paintings started to appear in 1990, not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It depicts the changing time, expresses hope for the future and speaks volumes on a triumphant time in history.
Due to the gallery being open air, the public are free to discover this extraordinary art space any time of day or night free of charge.
Located between the Spree River and Kupfergraben, Museum Island is made up of five museums. If you love museums then its a great spot to base yourself for a day or two to really be able to explore them all.
- The Altes Museum displays ancient Greek and Roman artefacts.
- The Alte National Gallery houses the largest collection of 19th century paintings and sculptures in Germany.
- The Nues Museum houses prehistoric pieces and Egyptian art.
- The Pergamon Museum contains another display of Greek and Babylonian antiquities. Also you can see The Ishtar Gate and Pergamon Altar here.
- The Bode Museum displays a large collection of sculptures, coin collections and a number of paintings.
The buildings themselves and the area around are worth a look even if your not interested in the museums.
A great way to introduce yourself to Berlin is with a walking tour. This is an especially good option if you have limited time in a city or you want someone to explain what is what to you.
Sandemans New Europe would be my recommendation. Not only are the guides knowledgeable and entertaining but the tour is also free. How can this possibly be you ask? Well, basically the guides work for tips. So if you take the tour and enjoy it you can give the guide a tip (I usually give about 10 Euros depending on my experience) and if the tour wasn’t great you can just walk away at the end with no one chasing you down for payment.
I think it is a fantastic concept as it gives the guide incentive to try really hard to educate and entertain you. Having been on a few of their walking tours throughout Europe so far, we are yet to come across a guide that didn’t get a tip from us.
The tour usually runs twice a day, once in the morning and again in the afternoon, and sign up begins in front of Starbucks at the Brandenburg Gate about 15 minutes prior to the start of the tour. Running for about three hours (depending on how slow your group walks and much your guide talks) you will be taken to a lot of the main sights in Berlin including the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Site of Hitler’s Former Bunker, Luftwaffe HQ, parts of the Berlin Wall, The Former SS headquarters, Checkpoint Charlie and many more.
The guides know their stuff and will entertain and educate you with interesting and sometimes funny stories about the history and sights of Berlin. (For more info on Sandermans New Europe tours visit their website here.)
Other Notable Sights
Alexanderplatz – largest square in Berlin. Within the square visit the Berliner Fernsehturm (Berlin TV Tower) for great views and Berlins biggest shopping area.
Gendarmenmarkt – Berliners believe this square is the most beautiful in all of Germany.
Bebelplatz – Location of the Book Burning Memorial.
Reichstag – Home of German Parliament, this modern glass domed building is one of the symbols of Berlin.
Unter den Linden – Beautiful boulevard leading through the heath of Berlin from the Brandenburg Gate to Schlossbrücke bridge. Lined with Linden trees.
Potsdamer Platz – Square on the junction between the old East and West Berlin.
Checkpoint Charlie – best known crossing point of the Berlin Wall.
Tiergarten – Sprawling parklands in the heart of Berlin. Home to the Berlin Zoo and Schloss Bellevue, the home of the German President.
Charlottenburg Palace – This centuries old palace is the largest in Berlin and is architecturally beautiful.
Berliner Dom – Berlin’s main cathedral.
Just like most major European cities you will find all of the big international chain hotels in Berlin as well a great range of innovative boutiques and budget designer hotels and hostels that Berlin is famous for.
Wombats Hostel Berlin is where I stayed and I couldn’t fault it. Its a reasonably priced hostel with rooms ranging from private rooms with own bathroom to multi-bed dorms with shared facilities. We stayed in a double room with private bathroom which to our surprise on arrival was on the top floor with our own balcony overlooking the city.
The room is an average size based on others throughout Europe, was super clean and furnished entirely with IKEA style furniture. Facilities in the room included a small neat bathroom, wardrobe and a small table and chairs.
Located a 10-15 minute walk from the centre of town with the surrounding area full of bars, restaurant and cafes. There is a subway entrance across the road making it easy to get around town if you don’t want to walk.
This is a very social hostel with lots of areas to hang out and meet other travellers. Amenities include free Wi-Fi, rooftop bar with pool table and outdoor terrace, elevator, guest kitchen, laundry facilities, breakfast at just a few Euros and an awesome wall of attraction, restaurant, bar and tour recommendations.
Air: There are currently two major airports servicing Berlin. Schoenefeld aiport is located 18km from the city centre and is where most low cost airlines such as Ryanair and easyJet arrive. To get into the city centre from Schoenefeld Airport, take the Airport Express train from Berlin Schoenefeld Flughafen station which is a six minute walk from the airport terminal. Trains depart every 30 minutes and tickets cost just 3,20 Euro. In a taxi you are looking at about 45 Euro. The second airport, Tegel, is located a bit closer to the city centre and is serviced by mostly major airlines. Getting into the city is easy using the Airport Express Bus which drops at Charlottenburg and Alexanderplatz stations costing just 2,60 Euro. A taxi will cost you around 25 Euro. Having said all of this at the end of 2015 a new airport will open in Berlin and both the above mentioned airports will close. So ensure you check where you are arriving/departing before heading to the airport.
Train: Most trains arrive/depart from Berlin Hauptbahnhof which is located in the city centre and well connects to the public transport system. The station is a destination in itself with all the amenities you can think of. Domestic trains arrive/depart for most major German cities and international trains arrive/depart for neighbouring European countries.
Bus: Buses arrive/depart from over 300 destinations across Germany and Europe at Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof (Central Bus Station) in Charlottenburg. Again this is well connected with the Berlin public transport system.
Berlin has a fantastic integrated public transport system. An interconnected three-zone system allows you to go from bus to underground (U-Bahn) to surface rail (S-Bahn) to ferry and tram with only one ticket.
Zone A: Berlin’s inner city up to and including the urban rail ring.
Zone B: Outside the urban rail ring up to the city boundary.
Zone C: Greater Berlin, including the City of Potsdam.
An English translation is provided on ticket vending machines at each station making it easy to buy tickets. A single ticket between zones A & B is 2,30 Euro and a day ticket is 6,30 Euro. The price of your ticket will depend on how many and in which zones you plan to travel.
Fare cards for visitors are also available in 48 hour, 72 hour and 5 day passes. These also include entrance to attractions and discounts. Visit the BVG website for more details and prices.
Over to You
I would love to hear about your experiences and sightseeing/accommodation recommendations in Berlin so I can add and improve this page. Find out how you can contribute to this page and our other Destination’s of the Week by clicking here.
For more pictures of Berlin check out my Pinterest board.
All prices and information above are current at the time of publishing this post.