Berlin is the capital of Germany and also its largest city with a population of just under 3.5 million people; recently designated the first German City of Design by UNESCO, Berlin is a historical city that in the past few years has managed to combine perfectly its historical past with the truly avant-garde.
Nevertheless, Berlin is still marked with its history, its everywhere for visitors to see. The architecture, the memorials, in the streets and plazas; even 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there are still reminders all over the city.
This year the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates were inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The six districts: Gartenstadt Falkenberg, Siedlung Schillerpark, Großsiedlung Britz, Wohnstadt Carl Legien, the Weißr Stadt and Großsiedlung Siemensstadt, were all registered for their contemporary architectural beauty.
Museums, theatres, art galleries and literary and music houses all provide a peep into Berlin’s history. However, Berlin has become the city of choice for many young travelers who come for the city’s super trendy club and fashion scene, which seem to go instinctively hand in hand.
Berlin is a city that takes you back and forward in time, not many cities can boast its exuberance for life and its braveness for embracing its history with such honesty.
We have listed a small sample of things to do and see in Berlin. See our holiday apartments in Berlin
In its day Checkpoint Charlie was one of three gateways in the Berlin Wall, which opened up the divide between the east and west; it was one of the iconic symbols of the Cold War. By 1962 it was the only checkpoint still open for foreigners to cross over into East Berlin. The name Checkpoint Charlie was derived from the international alphabet i.e A for Alpha, B for Bravo, C for Charlie… etc. Checkpoint Charlie was removed in 1990 and the original booth was removed, leaving just a line of bricks to trace the path, which once visitors followed. A replica booth has since been set up and visitors still flock to see this historic checkpoint and the original booth which can be found in the Allied Museum close by.
The Brandenburger Tor, or as it is more commonly known, the Bradenburg Gate, is a former city gate and one of the most recognised landmarks of the city, symbolising a reunited Berlin. Built in the late 1700s, it is the only remaining gate of a series, which were used to enter into the city. The Bradenburg Gate suffered extensive damage during World War II, but was fully restored between 2000 and 2002 fully regaining its original splendour.
The Berlin Wall
Not a great deal remains of the infamous Berlin Wall but what does has been used to great affect to highlight the struggles and issues of war and poverty across the globe. The Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961 to completely cut off West Berlin from the socialist regions of East Berlin and East Germany. The barrier incorporated guard towers and three checkpoints, including Checkpoint Charlie, throughout the years of Cold War and struggle between the East and West lives were lost and many in the west referred to the Berlin Wall as the Wall of Shame. On November 9th 1989 the historic opening of the border took place and restrictions on travel from east and west were lifted. Since then much of the wall has been dismantled. However, worth visiting is the East Side Gallery, which has transformed a 1316 metre stretch of the wall into an International Memorial for Freedom, depicted by works from contemporary artists from all over the globe.
The Reichstag is one of Berlin’s most historical buildings and the seat of the German Parliament. The name itself means Parliament of the German empire and housed just that from its inauguration in 1894 until 1933, when it was severely damaged by fire. The commanding neo-renaissance building was located in West Berlin before its unification, close to the Brandenburg Gate and close to the Berlin Wall before it was dismantled, during the Cold War the Bundestag (Germany’s Parliament) was moved to Bonn, however, after the unification they returned to Berlin and soon after carried out a complete renovation of the Reichstag. The design was created by architect Sir Norman Foster, who added a magnificent glass dome over the plenary hall, the dome has become of the most famous landmarks of Berlin. An elevator takes you up to the roof where you can walk around the dome.
The Berlier Dom (Berlin Cathedral), or using its proper Evangelical name Oberpfarr- und Domkirche von Berlin (Supreme Paris and Collegiate Church), is not and has never been a cathedral in the correct sense of the term, as it has never been the seat of a Bishop. However, it is the largest church in Berlin and is the epicentre of Protestant Germany, it is also affectionately known as Protestant St Peter’s. The Baroque-style church is situated on an island in the centre of the River Spree and the present structure dates back to 1905; although the church’s history dates back to the mid 1400s.
The Potsdamer Platz is an important square located in the centre of Berlin, close to the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag. It was named after the town of Potsdam, which is located around 25km outside of Berlin and marks the spot where the old road from Potsdam to the city used to enter through the city wall at the Potsdam Gate. In the early part of the 20th century, before World War II the Potsdamer Platz was one of the busiest squares in Europe, both in terms of volume of traffic and footfall. However, the square was turned to ruins after allied bombing and became no-mans land, located between American, Russian and British sectors of the city. In 1961 both the Potsdamer Platz and surrounding buildings were pulled down to construct the Berlin Wall and the square was no more. Nevertheless after the unification it was decided to re-develop the whole and the Potsamder Platz was completely renovated. The area is now home to some of Berlin’s most contemporary structures including the Sony Centre, the Debis Tower and the Kohlhof building.
The Jewish Museum opened in 2001 in an empty architect-designed building which although unused had become a Berlin visitor attraction; although the first idea to establish the museum dates back as far as 1971, the year that the Berlin’s Jewish community
celebrated its 300th anniversary. Beforehand there had been Jewish exhibitions housed in the Berlin Museum before the Gestapo shut the museum down in 1938. The creation of the Jewish Museum as it is today is an amazing achievement and has taken much perseverance from the local Jewish Associations and community. The museum now attracts over 3.5 million visitors every year and offers guided tours, concerts, events and workshops. It has a reputation as a fun and lively centre for Jewish culture and history.
The Alexanderplatz is one of the central plazas and meeting points in Berlin. Developed back in the middle ages, the square was originally called the Ochsenmarkt (Ox Market), but was renamed in the 1800s after a visit from the Russian Tzar Alexander I. Berliners just call it Alex. As with much of the city, Alexanderplatz came under severe bombing during the Second World War and many of the buildings were destroyed. After the war it became the centre of Socialist architecture, which became popular in East Berlin. Since then monuments such as the Weltzeithur (World Time Clock), the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) and the protected Fountain of International Friendship have all been constructed in Alexanderplatz.
Kreuzber is an eclectic district in Berlin known for its trendy, bohemian atmosphere. The area, which formed part of West Berlin during the Cold War, merged after the unification with the Friedrichshain district, originally part of East Berlin. It now houses
a mix of creative artists, the gay community of Berlin and the fashionistas and has become the area to move to for the young and rich of Berlin, with its loft-style apartments blocks and dot com companies headquarters. It is also home to much of Berlin’s Turkish community, which adds to the colour and diversity of the Kreuzberg.
The Berlin Zoo is Germany’s oldest and one of the most visited zoos in Europe, with around 3 million visitors every year. As with so much of Berlin the zoo was completely destroyed during the Second World War, with only 91 of 3715 animals surviving. Today the
zoo accommodates over 1,500 species and approximately 16,000 animals, making it one of the most complete collections of species in the world. The zoo also works with universities and institutes around the world to help safeguard endangered species. The zoo first opened in 1844 and was the first ever zoo in Germany; the aquarium was opened over 50 years later in 1913.