So you’ve booked your German course in Berlin and you’re excited, even a little nervous, about your first day in the city. What now? Well, you’re not just here to study, so the first thing you should do is get out and see some of the city’s famous sights.
The Berlin Wall
When it comes to Berlin sights, they don’t get much more iconic than the Berlin Wall. Though most of it has (famously) been demolished, there are still a few places in the city where you can see it: there’s a key section next to the former Gestapo headquarters (around the corner from Checkpoint Charlie), and another to the east of which runs along the river referred to as the “East Side Gallery”.
Interestingly, where it used to run you can now see a line on the pavement. umzug berlin In these days when Berlin – and Europe in general – live at peace, it’s hard to imagine the turn of events that made such a thing possible, and the remains of the Wall stand as a time capsule of sorts and a fascinating remnant of a once-divided city.
The Brandenburg Gate
Not far behind the Berlin Wall in the iconic pilings is the monumental Brandenburg Gate. It forms a stunning gateway to Berlin’s main boulevard – Unter den Linden – and borders the equally emblematic Reichstag. Not only does the Brandenburg Gate sit on the ancient dividing line between East and West Germany, but it has been the site of some of the city’s most important events throughout history, from triumphal entrances to grand speeches. Nowadays it is a beautiful and treasured symbol of the reunited city.
The Holocaust Memorial
Directly south of the Brandenburg Gate is another testament to the city’s eventful recent history: the Holocaust memorial. The memorial covers an area of approximately 5 hectares and consists of 2,711 concrete slabs lined up in undulating rows. As you walk down the rows, you feel as if you are walking through a sea of giant tombs. It’s a suitably moving and somber memorial to the atrocities of Nazi Germany.
This is how Berlin goes in 48 hours
For two cities in one city, Berlin offers so much culture, history and nightlife that 48 hours hardly seems reasonable. This guide will help you get the most out of it in a short amount of time.
For almost 300 years, Berlin has been the center of almost all modern historical European conflicts. Unless you know the enactments of the Franco-Prussian War, the founding of the first German Reich, World War I, World War II, the Cold War and reunification, not to mention the numbers behind the events that weigh the weight of the Story alone can seem completely overwhelming.
Then there is the intense artistic side. Stroll through museums and galleries displaying ancient Persian works to the avant-garde collections of modern artists. Traveling from one side of the city to the other takes you on a journey through 20th-century politics, from fascism to communism to democracy.
In order to get a comprehensive picture in an interesting and in-depth way, a guided hike is recommended. There are several reputable and reputable companies that offer comprehensive walking tours that cover all aspects of Berlin’s history. Some specialize in specific time periods, but a more general overview is preferable. The knowledge of the guides helps bring history to life in a way no guidebook ever could.
To familiarize yourself with the central layout, you can explore the main sights on foot, either as part of a tour or on your own, armed with a comprehensive guide that likely weighs as much as you.
Few people know that during the Cold War, West Berlin was more of an island, with East Berlin just around them, as the city itself is located in the eastern half of Germany. “West” Berlin was connected to the western half of the country by a transport corridor.
Start in the center of the “capitalist west” with the sights and sounds of Bahnhof Zoo, made famous by the U2 song. This is the stop next to the Zoological Garden, home of the city’s zoo. The unique layout has the animals fenced in with moats rather than fences and some are even allowed to roam free.
The area is also around the corner from Ku’Damm, the slightly more expensive shopping district with huge mall-style department stores.
Next door is the Tiergarten, Berlin’s central green space, where many of the city’s office workers like to spend their lunch break on sunny days to unwind, often completely naked. They don’t have to run to the nearest police station as they are just participating in “frei korpo kultur” or nudism.
On the way through the Tiergarten you can see the rather impressive Seigessäule, a 70 m high golden statue, between the trees. Some may recognize it as the statue featured in Wim Wender’s film Wings of Desire, and also as the heady focal point of the Love Parade. The column is decorated at the base with bronze reliefs depicting the Prussian victories over Denmark, Austria and France, made up of captured cannons melted down.
If you continue east on Straße des 17. Juni you will arrive in front of the Brandenburg Gate. This recently underwent an extensive restoration and now shines again in its former glory as a triumphal arch. This was the symbol of Berlin during the Cold War, sitting lonely in the no man’s land between the dividing walls. The goddess Victory stands in her chariot drawn by four horses similar in appearance to those seen on the Arc du Triomphe du Carousel in Paris and above the gate of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.
In the immediate vicinity is the newly designed Reichstag, the transparent dome arches over the plenary hall of the German Bundestag. Admission is free and you can climb the spiral walkway to the top of the dome for views over the city.
Further to the right of the Brandenburg Gate is the completed Holocaust Memorial. This outdoor facility covers 19,000 square meters and consists of 2,711 granite blocks of different heights designed by the American architect Peter Eisenman. It has caused some controversy throughout its construction, not least because of its location over part of the bunker complex of the former Nazi headquarters.
If you continue to Berlin-Mitte, you will reach Checkpoint Charlie. Only a few remnants remain of the original checkpoint, the hut by the road is a replica. There were three checkpoints between East and West, this being the only one with vehicle access.
The Checkpoint Charlie Museum is small and houses a collection of wall memorabilia as well as harrowing accounts from survivors and non-survivors who attempted to cross the border. Across the street is Café Adler, the old American CIA offices were upstairs where agents would keep an eye on their Russian colleagues across the street.
Berlin-Mitte is the cultural center where many of the city’s most important landmarks are located. Opposite the Humboldt University on Unter den Linden is Bebelplatz, where the first Nazi book burnings took place. The Staatsoper organizes world-class concerts and performances under the direction of conductor Daniel Barenboim. Since the spectator seats are arranged in a circle around the orchestra pit, every seat is good.
The Gendarmenmarkt is a square surrounded by the cathedral Franzosischer Dom and its twin, the Deutscher Dom, as well as the rounded Konzerthaus.
If you follow Unter den Linden in an easterly direction, you will reach the Museum Island.
The most striking feature here is the Palace of the Republic, which looks more like a dairy and stands incongruously opposite the Neo-Renaissance Berlin Cathedral. For objects that are more aesthetically pleasing to the eye, the top-notch Pergamon Museum is a far more appealing option.
It is worth spending a few hours looking at the ancient artifacts from Persia, including Roman, Greek, Islamic and Oriental classics. Some of the most notable sights are the Ishtar Gate from Babylon, the Pergamon Altar from Asia Minor, and the Market Gate from Greek Miletus.
As you head west, you may have noticed a prominent tall tower with a spherical shape perched on a spike. This is the TV tower built by the communist East to signal its technological prowess during the Cold War in the West. As an example of tasteless communist-era architecture, it cannot be compared, but the view from the top is sensational. At least you don’t have to look at it from the inside.
Down on the other side of the train station is Alexanderplatz, the center of Berlin Mitte and another shopping mall, Galeria Kauthof.
Berlin has a variety of international dining styles to choose from. From Indian, vegan, Asian, Turkish to traditional Bavarian dishes with bread sausage and potatoes.
For later you have the choice between the hard core or the soft variant. Berlin’s legendary nightlife moves from the mainstream to the sidelines. Dance clubs cover house, hip-hop, RnB, trance and techno. Legacy haunts include Tresor and WMF, but emerging hotspots include Watergate, Icon, and Delicous Donuts.
For the more relaxed approach, there’s the Red Rooster, the Oscar Wilde or the Haifisch Bar. Plenty of beer, cocktails and a little less eardrum noise. You can always try an evening with the Philharmonie at the State Opera, cheap performance tickets for a great evening.
Or if you’re feeling extra adventurous, there’s the Kit Kat Club. The dress code is “smaller the better” and as far as the dance floor goes, anything goes and is usually allowed.
There are plenty of bars, clubs and local meeting places around Oranienburgstrasse in Mitte. A popular place is Tacheles. A former department store that was bombed out during the war and practically left to decay. Squatters moved in and over the years it has been transformed into an art forum, café and bar. For a real feel of urban graffiti lifestyle and boho culture, this is a great place to start an evening.
The morning offers a few options depending on your preference. For history and art buffs, the museums have informative exhibitions, either the Museum Island and the rest of the museums or the German-Russian Museum, where World War II ended on May 8, 1945. If the Cold War piques your interest There is the Stasi Museum, which documents the intense surveillance of the population by the Stasi, arguably the most feared police force of modern times.
For a combination of art, history and architecture, there is the Berlinische Galerie, a real one-stop shop that showcases Berlin’s creative side over the last 120 years with photos, models and paintings.
For those looking to build on their understanding of the Holocaust, an S-Bahn ride and moderate walk will take you to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in Oranienburg. This was a “model camp” built by the Nazis and opened in 1936. Over the next nine years, 220,000 men passed through the gates and about 100,000 died there.
Time for a shopping spree. Potsdamer Platz has a special place on the Berlin skyline as the flood of construction after the Wall came down meant that most of these squares were filled with cranes. The architects were excited about the possibility of building some state-of-the-art skyscrapers with shopping malls and of course the Sony Center.
If you can still bear a museum, here is the Film Museum, which takes you behind the scenes of many well-known German films and their special effects.
Head to Kreuzberg and next to the Carl Herz Ufer you’ll find the Van Loon Barge, where you can enjoy a hard-earned beer on the deck in the sun and watch it reflected in the water. They also serve food here or you can visit some of the other delicious restaurants like “Hasir” for the best Turkish in town or “Austria” for the best Wiener Schnitzel.
If you’re staying in the Kreuzberg area, there are plenty of jazz bars to chill out in for the rest of the night, including Yorkschlosschen and Junction Bar. If your energy isn’t quite drained, you have the option of going on a pub crawl to do, mingle with fellow travelers and meet up with schnapps and the various German beers.
So, after putting your feet up, absorbing an incredible amount of history, and drinking more than a few wheat beers, you should find that you understand this amazing city better. It should be an unforgettable 48 hours.