Berlin

Brandenburg Gate

Berlin is the capital of Germany and an important stop on a European tour.  It is a location of much historical significance (especially recent history) that will have you fascinated with its stories.  As a result of its history, Berlin is a mixture of buildings spanning many centuries. 

Things you MUST see/do:

Berlin Wall– After World War II, Germany (and its capital Berlin) were separated into four parts.  One part was given to each of the ally forces in the war (England, France, United States and Russia).  Due to tension between the Russians and the western countries, the Berlin Wall was built on August 13, 1961.  This wall was erected by the East German Communist government to separate West Berlin (part of West Germany at the time) from East Germany (including East Berlin).  The wall surrounding West Berlin was erected overnight and nobody was allowed to cross between West Germany and East Germany after this time without permission of the East German government to avoid defections.  It caused families and friends to be separated for decades.  There was actually two layers of walls separating East and West Germany, creating a “death strip” in between the two walls.  This is an area that many individuals tried to cross in their attempts to reach West Berlin.  Most were killed by guards that were in towers along the wall.  The wall remained until 1989, when it was brought down and Germany was reunited.  There are many segments of the wall that separated a city for decades still standing and definitely worth seeing.

The Reichstag Building – Originally the building was built to house the German Government (called the Reichstag at the time).  After a major fire in 1933, the building fell into disrepair and was not used for many years.  In 1989, the signing for the reunification of Germany took place here.  At this point, the Reichstag was rebuilt to be the new house of parliament.  It was at this time the viewing bubble was added to the top of the building.  The building has an interesting architectural design and it is worthwhile to take the elevator to the roof and get some amazing views of Berlin.

Brandenburg Gate – Directly across from the Tiergarten to the east is the only remaining gate that was the entrance to the city of Berlin.  Brandenburg Gate is an iconic location where many important events have occurred.  During World War I and World War II, in an effort to show the might of the the army, german forces in the thousands were marched through this gate on their way to the area now known as Museum Island.  During the Communist Era, Brandenburg gate was in the “death strip” or “no mans land” between the two walls that made up the Berlin Wall, and therefore was not passed through for decades.  It is an impressive structure to view.  Many of the buildings currently surrounding the gate have been built since 1989 and therefore display more modern architecture, as this was an area in between the two Berlin Walls and was cleared of all buildings during Communist occupation of Berlin.

Museum Island (Berliner Dom) – A location within walking distance of the Brandenburg Gate.  Museum Island is a beautiful island, as it is set between the two branches of the Spree River in central Berlin. It is called Museum Island because it contains numerous museums including the Altes Museum (the Old Museum), the Neues Museum (the New Museum), the Old National Gallery, the Bode Museum and the Pergamon Museum.  The steps of the Altes Museum is where Hilter gave many of his speeches during World War II.  The Neues Museum was nearly completely destroyed during World War II and has since been rebuilt.  The island is also home to the Berliner Dom, a beautiful cathedral right next to the Altes Museum.  Although the location has been home to many churches throughout the centuries, the current structure was completed in 1905.  It was badly damaged during World War II, but Germans managed to repair most of the damage.  However, if you look at the exterior of the building closely, you can still see bullet holes.

The Holocaust Monument – It is located one block south of the Brandenburg Gate.  This monument was built to remember the victims of World War II.  The monument is a series of unmarked concrete rectangular blocks of varying sizes arranged in a grid on 19,000 square meters in the heart of Berlin.  It is said to be designed so that the viewer could interpret the monument in a way that meant something to them.  There is a subterranean visitor center where you can see a list of names and stories of Jewish families and individuals victimized by the Nazis.  This is a must visit for us to remember our past mistakes, so they are not repeated.

Checkpoint Charlie – A short subway ride from all the other sites in Berlin above (it is walkable if you like being active) is Checkpoint Charlie (as named by Western Allies).  This was the location of the main crossing point between East and West Berlin where there was a break in the Berlin Wall.  Most people or objects that passed from East Germany and West Germany (or vice versa) between 1961 and 1989, went through this checkpoint.  The official checkpoint building is no longer at this location (it has been moved to the Allied Museum), but the location has been turned into a tourist hotspot with a replacement hut set up and “crossing guards” (they are actors) with whom you can get your picture taken.

Travels4Couples highly recommended EXPERIENCES:

Take a Historic Walking Tour of the City Despite our attempts to fill you in on the major locations you should see in Berlin, we could not possibly fill you in on all the details each location has nor could we list all the historically significant spots to visit.  A guided tour of the city is the perfect way to see the city and ensure you get all the details of history that exist.  They can show you to places that are difficult to find if you don’t know exactly where to go (like the location of Hitler’s bunker and the “Empty” Library Monument to honour the loss of numerous books written by Jewish people).

Sample traditional German Cuisine – There are many good choices for cuisine in Berlin.  Of course there is the famous bratwurst, but we would recommend you try a twist on the traditional and try currywurst.  This is bratwurst sausage covered in a curried sauce and curry powder and it is delicious!  The german beer is always tasty, but for an out of the ordinary drink try the Radler (a mix of beer and 7up) or Diesel (a mix of beer and cola).  Although these may at first sound as if they would taste awful, we assure you they are actually quite tasty and refreshing!

Visit the Berlin Zoo – If you have limited time in Berlin, you may not have time to visit the zoo.  This is a city so rich in history, you should not miss that.  However, if you are there for a longer time, the Berlin Zoo is a great way to spend a day.  The zoo is one of the largest in Europe and they have the largest variety of animals.  As a result, there is lots for you to see and each animal is interesting in their own way.  If you go in the late spring or summer, they usually have quite a few baby animals that you can see and they are good for a few laughs and “awws” as they play around.

Go to the East Side Gallery – This is the largest section of the Berlin Wall still standing.  It is located just outside the city, but can be reached by the metro (get off at Ostbahnhof station).  This section has been retained and covered in murals by hundreds of artists showing the turbulent history of Germany and other parts of the world and is called the East Side Gallery.  You can walk the entire length of the wall and see all the murals, then hop on the train station at the other end to return to the central part of the city.

Travels4Couples #1 ROMANTIC thing to do in Berlin:

Stroll through the Tiergarten – Directly across the street from the Reichstag to the south, is the former hunting gardens of the German royalty, called the Tiergarten.  The park has been excellently maintained, is located in the center of Berlin and is a great place to spend some time.  It is the perfect romantic setting for a walk or bike through the many trails and paths or to just find a spot to sit and relax.  The Tiergarten has been host for some exciting events and festivals in Berlin as well.  For example, in 2010 during the FIFA World Cup, there were large television screens and a stage set up throughout the park.  Tourists and locals alike came down to watch the game and catch some musical performances before and after the games.