My Personal Favorite Sights In Berlin
The following is a list of sights that I would recommend for anybody visiting Berlin to check out and put on their to do list. The order is random and I gave up thinking about how to prioritise it, but these are things that can be achieved in two to three days sight seeing.
1) Brandenburg Gate
This certainly is a must for everyone visiting Berlin to put on their things to do list. Almost completely destroyed during WWII it was restored to its former glory. It stood right on the divide of East and West Berlin essentially being a closed gate for many decades of oppression in the DDR. It was in front of this gate where President Reagan famously said "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." on June 12, 1987.
Being probably the most iconic of Berlin's attractions, and a reason it is at the top of my top ten list for Berlin, it draws in lots of tourists, but due to the size of the square in front of the gate it doesn't seem over crowded. Do try and make an effort of visiting here during the day and at night time when the Quadriga (the chariot with Victoria, the Roman Goddess of Victory) is illuminated.
If your budget allows it why not get a table in the Café of Hotel Adlon and watch the world go by with a direct view of the Brandenburg gate; but be warned a €20 note will not buy you much more than a small beer and a coffee.
This is an incredible building that has been magnificently restored since German reunification and the move of the German parliament from Bonn back to Berlin, earning it a place on the top 10 things to do. Queues can vary in length, but there are markers that indicate how long the waiting time will be, but we found that late afternoon is a better time.
The idea of the glass dome on top of the building is twofold, first to provide natural light and heat to save on energy and second as a symbol to demonstrate the openness and transparency of the German parliament. When I last visited it in 2009 access to the dome was open to all visitors, but apparently this is not restricted to registered visitors. If you are planning a visit to Berlin then I would really recommend registering as the views are fantastic and it is really difficult to take bad photo from inside the dome.
Easily got to by public transport, this is a beautiful palace with huge and picturesque gardens constructed 300 years ago. Despite being extensively damaged during WWII restoration work has definitely brought it back to its former glory.
The palace itself houses a fantastic museum with a very interesting audio guide available in lots of languages. Once you are done with a tour of the inside, I would highly recommend exploring the magnificent gardens to the back of the palace.
4) Checkpoint Charlie
A very historic place often featured in spy movies, this was one of the main crossing points between East and West Berlin. At the height of the Cold War, during the Berlin crisis in 1961, Checkpoint Charlie was the scene of a standoff between US and Soviet tanks pointing their guns at each other. Thankfully soldiers on both sides decided not to pull the trigger which could have triggered WWIII.
A replica of the guard house can be spotted from far away, as depending on what direction you are coming from you will either see a photo of a US or Soviet soldier on top of it. This should definitely be on everyone's list of top ten things to do in Berlin.
5) Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
This is a very unique landmark in Berlin consisting of 2711 concrete slab perfectly aligned on a sloping area. This has the effect that when you walk in between the slabs in some parts you can over the slabs and in other parts you are surrounded by them.
There are several interpretations of the meaning or idea behind the design, but I got the following impression. 2711 slabs seems to be an arbitrary number, there is both symmetry and asymmetry and if you weren't told what it was you probably would guess that it was a memorial for one of the worst crimes in history.
But maybe that is one way to look at it: it just doesn't seem to make sense; just like the holocaust just doesn't make sense.
6) DDR Museum
This museum is a great way to experience what life was like in the DDR. It is a very interactive place that not only showcases the evils of the socialist dictatorship and the Stasi, but also shows things like the Trabi (a "car"), typical home décor and clothing.
You can really spend hours walking around this city centre park and it is a great way to relax after a busy day sight seeing. Originally designated as a hunting ground, hence the name Tiergarten which translates as Animal Garden, it is today a place of recreation.
Pretty much in the centre of the Tiergarten is the Siegessäule, or Victory Column, which was designed in 1864 to celebrate Prussian victory over Denmark. By the time it was completed in 1873 Prussia had also defeated Austria and France. While there are differing opinions about its heritage and historic meaning, it is still a great landmark of Berlin.
8) Soviet War Memorial
The Soviet War Memorial is located half way between the Brandenburg Gate and the Siegessäule. It was built to commemorate fallen Soviet soldiers especially the 80,000 that perished in the battle and fall of Berlin in 1945. About 2,000 soldiers were actually buried on the site of the memorial which cannot be missed with its statue of a Soviet soldier on top.
If you walk through to the back of the memorial you will see pictures of Berlin taken just after the war ended, which gives an indication of the utter destruction that the war caused.
This is a great place to shop during the day, although bear in mind that you find a lot of high end designer shops here so you may have to be happy with window shopping. At night time it is one of the happening places for restaurants and Cafés and the selection is immense.
If you like cars, especially BMWs you should take a look at the showroom of the BMW dealer on the Ku'damm. It is home to one of the rarest, and in my opinion, most beautiful roadsters ever made, the BMW 507.
10) Berlin Wall
Hastily designed and erected in the early 60s the Soviet propaganda machine introduced it as the "Antifaschistischer Schutzwall" or Anti-facist Protection Wall. In reality its sole purpose was not to protect from intruders but to stop people from leaving East Germany for the free West Germany.
The longest piece of wall still standing (but not in its original location) leads up to Checkpoint Charlie and you will also see some isolated pieces around the city. One such isolated piece can be found at the Potzdammer Platzt where construction activity has created some very modern high-rises.. Throughout most of the city you will see a line on the foot path depicting where the wall once stood.
While last on my list this definitely something everyone should put on their top 10 list.