Berlin: A Tale of Two Cities

East and West. Communism and Capitalism. The Soviet Union and the USA.

During the Cold War, the Iron Curtain fell as a shroud of obscurity over Germany and slowly engulfed much of the Western World, and the Berlin Wall was the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the Communist system.

Obviously, much of the city has been developed; skyscrapers grace Potsdamer Platz and transport and infrastructure links at Alexanderplatz make Berlin one of the most accessible cities in Western Europe.

But despite this wave of advancement, much of the city’s heritage remains; in its museums, art galleries, libraries and universities.

The gulf that existed in East and West Berlin in the twentieth century between the free world and the communist world no longer exists since Germany came in from the cold.

Berlin is a city steeped in history and if you’re a culture buff like me then there’s 10 places you need to visit:

Brandenburg Gate (1+ hours)

Germany’s iconic 18th century landmark is a must-visit attraction and sits on Unter Den Linden at the heart of the historic section of Berlin.

Other points of interest along the historic boulevard include: Berlin Cathedral, the River Spree, the Alte Kommandantur building, the Zeughaus, Berlin State Opera and the main building of Humboldt University.

Reichstag (2+ hours)

You’ll be glad to know that as one of Berlin’s premier tourist attractions, the Reichstag is free to enter (though pre-booking is required).

Make sure you check out the roof terrace and the dome because it offers spectacular views of the parliamentary district and the rest of Berlin’s iconic sights.

If you pre-book you can also have access to watch a plenary sitting of the German Bundestag, listen to lectures on the history and architecture of the building, take a 90-minute guided tour of the Reichstag building and visit the German Bundestag’s historical exhibition on parliamentary history entitled “Milestones – Setbacks – Sidetracks” in the Deutscher Dom on Gendarmenmarkt.

(Lectures are only available in the plenary chamber when Parliament is not sitting). 

Admission is free and every quarter of an hour. Prior registration is required. Admission opens at 8am and closes at 12am and the last admission is at 10pm.

Tiergarten Park (1+ hour)

Just like New York’s Central Park and London’s Hyde Park, Berlin’s ‘green lung’ gives you the opportunity to escape from the bustling city centre and relax in tranquil surroundings.

Tiergarten Park was also the location of presidential candidate Barack Obama’s 2008 foreign policy address. Over 200,000 Germans gathered to hear the soon-to-be president speak at the Victory Column.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (<1 hour)

Also known as the Holocaust Memorial, the site consists of 2,711 concrete slabs arranged on a sloping field.

It’s left to the individual to interpret what the concrete slabs mean.

Definitely worth a visit.

Topography of Terror (1+ hours)

If you want to learn more about the enforcement and policing of the Nazi state make sure you visit this documentation centre.

The site was the location of the Secret State Police, the SS and the Reich Security Main Office during the ‘Third Reich’.

Admission to the permanent exhibition is free.

Public guided tours for individual visitors are free (only on Sundays) and you should sign up at the reception desk 30 minutes before the schedule tour.

Private guided tours are also available (£70 per group) and you should book online for these. The foundation also offers free workshops for English or Hebrew speaking groups (7+).

Checkpoint Charlie (<1 hour)

Perhaps most associated with the Cold War, this historical landmark is popular with tourists.

Interestingly, what you will see is not the original guardhouse.

The original structure was removed in June 1990, but the site remained an official crossing until German Reunification during October 1990.

The original guardhouse is now on display in the open-air museum of the Allied Museum in Berlin-Zehlendorf.

The Berlin Wall Memorial (<1 hour)

Commemorating the division of Berlin and the deaths that occurred, the monument on Bernauer Straße at the corner of Ackerstraße includes a Chapel of Reconciliation, the Berlin Wall Documentation Centre, a 60-metre (200 ft) section of the former border, a window of remembrance and a visitor centre.

The Visitor Centre and the Documentation Centre with a viewing platform are located on the other side of the street (West Berlin).

German Historical Museum (2+ hours)

Many artefacts and documents from the second world war are on display at this museum.

Having had the opportunity to visit some of Europe’s leading museums, I highly recommend visiting this one on Unter Den Linden.

The Permanent Exhibition of the German Historical Museum entitled ‘Germany from all ages: German History in Images and Artefacts’ provides insight into Germany’s past.

Rathaus Schoneberg (<1 hour)

An iconic historical landmark located at John F. Kennedy Platz in the borough of Tempelhof-Schöneberg in Berlin.

Rathaus Schöneberg is the city hall for Tempelhof-Schöneberg and since its construction in the early twentieth century, it has become well known as the site of US President John F. Kennedy’s famous ‘Ich Bin Ein Berliner’ speech, 26 June 1963. The square in which it sits is dedicated to the late US president and a large plaque honouring Kennedy and his visit is visible at the entrance to the building.

Since 2005, the exhibition called ‘We were Neighbours once – Biographies of Jews in Schoneberg and Tempelhof under the Nazi Regime’ takes place in the building’s exhibition hall.

The Fernsehturm (1+ hours)

Undoubtedly offering the best views of the city, this 308m-high television tower near Alexanderplatz has a lobby, observation deck and bar and restaurant.

Observation Deck prices:
Early Bird Ticket (£14) which guarantees access when the Tower opens at 9am.

Choose the date and time of your ticket with the Fast View Ticket (£17.50).

Enjoy Berlin by night with the Late Night Ticket (£14) between 9pm and 11:30pm.

Restaurant tickets are also available from £17.50 and include a visit to the Observation Deck and Bar 203.

Suggested Berlin playlist:

 

 

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