Berlin is a city which has undergone massive change in the last few decades. It has been at the epicentre of some of the most significant events of the last century, and is a must-visit if in Germany.
Exploring it today, it’s almost hard to believe that this was a city divided in two for nearly thirty years. It’s only the surviving parts of the Wall and subtle differences in architecture that bring it out, as well of course as the burden of history that seems to hang in the air. It’s a fascinating place to explore, and I’ve never been short of things to do on my various visits. Here are some of the most essential sights for your visit.
Situated on the Museum Island, the Berlin Dom is Berlin’s main cathedral, and very impressive it is too. I’d recommend heading up to the top of the dome itself for a great view and to orientate yourself in the city.
The East Side Gallery
The longest surviving section of the former Berlin Wall has been given over to artists to decorate as a symbol of the freedom of the city. This 1300 metre section of wall is now home to over 100 paintings that depict various visions on the theme of freedom.
As it’s all done on the wall, it is essentially officially sanctioned street art, which leads me on to…
The Street Art of Berlin
Berlin has long been home to political movements, and one of the ways that is expressed is through street art. I’m a big fan of street art, and if you love it too, then you will adore Berlin.
To really get a handle on it, I’d advise taking a specific tour. I did an alternative walking tour of Berlin, which was free (guide tip optional but recommended), and covered some of the highlights as well as locations you might not find so easily alone.
The Reichstag has been the seat of power in Germany for a long time. It was significantly damaged during the war, and has undergone numerous reconstructions, with the most recent being after reunification, and the decision to make Berlin the capital of Germany once more.
These days it’s the most second visited visitor attraction in Germany, and for good reason.
Nothing represents Berlin quite like the Brandenburg Gate, which stands next to the Reichstag. It has stood since 1791 and has witnessed some of the 20th centuries’ most iconic moments.
It was here that US President Ronald Reagan spoke of reunification, of peace, of the tearing down of the wall. Two years after his speech, that happened.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis. That is a monstrous number of lives. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also referred to as the Holocaust Memorial, is a huge installation of 2,711 blocks open to visitors to explore and interpret.
It is also home to a museum, which tells the story of the genocide. It is not an easy place to visit, but should be on your itinerary nonetheless.
These days Checkpoint Charlie is kind of a tourist trap, where entertainers dress up as border guards and pose for photos. In its day though it was the most notorious crossing point between East and West Berlin, so is still worth a moment or two of your time.
There’s also a museum featuring stories of border crossing attempts, both successful and not, which while a little dated and cramped, is still a fascinating insight to the lengths people went to.
I think this is my favourite location in Berlin, particularly at sunset. It’s an abandoned city centre airport, still home to all the facilities that you would expect, including the runway, which has been given over to public use.
On sunny days it fills with people enjoying the weather, kite-surfing, cycling, jogging and more. If you’ve had a busy day in the city, take a few beers along to this park and just enjoy people-watching and the sunset. There is no better way to get a feel for the people who call this city home.
And that just scratches the surface of what Berlin has to offer the visitor! It’s the kind of city that can take a little while to get to love, as it doesn’t have the classical charm of many other European cities, but look a bit below the surface and you’ll be surprised by what you might find!