Vising any new place can be a daunting task; there are so many unique historic and cultural things that make up a city, it can be hard to decide where to go, what to see, and how to devote your time to. This 'city guide' is designed to take some of the anxiety out of your travels so you can truly enjoy your destination and all it has to offer.
This week, we are highlighting Berlin, Germany. One of the most pivotal cities in history, Berlin has been both the center for art and culture, and world conflict and international scrutiny. Today, the history of the city can be seen everywhere - in memorials, museums and houses of worship, but also in its bustling city center, art galleries and avid youth culture. Berlin has embraced every side of itself and is now a wealth of history, pride and unity that is definitely worth the visit.
Berlin Wall-constructed in 1961, the 3.6 meter-high wall was a 'death zone' for anyone who tried to cross the 155 km divider between East and West Berlin. A total of 192 people were killed in an attempt to cross the border. Today, much of the wall is gone, but there are still remnants of it around the city and the path of the wall is commemorated by an unbroken cobblestone line throughout Berlin.
Berlin Wall Art Gallery- One of the best places to see the wall is the famous East Side Gallery. The largest remaining section of the Berlin Wall was painted with murals by 118 artists from 22 countries in 1990. Many of the gallery's murals were inspired by the collapse of communism -- keep a look out for one of the most notorious, the Brotherly Kiss, showing former East German leader Erich Honecker kissing ex-Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. It is located along Mühlenstrasse between Warschauer Strasse and the Ostbahnhof.
Oststrand- while you're at the Gallery, walk around to the opposite side of the wall to find Berlin's biggest urban beach, Oststand (aka East Beach). This unexpected haven is a great place to grab a beer at the bar, sit back in a lawn chair and play in the sand. The 7000 square-meter beach features a sand volleyball court, a soccer field, playground and picnic area. Stop by for a drink and a great view of the Spree River.
Look up!- Berlin is covered in beautiful and diverse graffiti from artists all over the world, including the The Kunsthaus Tacheles (Yiddish for straight talking). In the center of Berlin, this 9000 square-meter building on Oranienburger Straße is in the cultural heart of young Berlin and is a haven for artists looking to express themselves. Walking by, you can't miss it; every inch of the building is covered in huge, colorful graffiti-style murals. Every level of the building contains galleries of different artists working and selling their art. Behind the building, an artist collective of outdoor sculptures stands amidst metal-workers and craftsmen. The building is constantly under threat of closure, so visit to support the artist's cause and pick up a souvenir that no one else will have!
The Reichstag- Germany's parliament building was originally constructed 115 years ago, but after a fire broke out in 1933, much of the building had to be rebuilt. Today, it is open to the public for free tours and an opportunity to climb to the top and see the city from the roof-top glass dome. Visitors are welcome any day, from 8am-midnight, but if you want to avoid hour-long lines, come in the early morning or late at night; either time provides a beautiful view of Berlin.
Brandenburg Gate- Built in 1791, the gate has seen much of Berlin's history and is considered one of Europe's most famous landmarks. The Quadriga, a statue consisting of the goddess of peace driving a four-horse triumphal chariot, is mounted above the gate. Used by both Napoleon and Hitler in their campaigns, the Gate surprisingly survived the World War II bombings, but was badly damaged. It was fully restored in 2002, and now you can walk under it in all its former glory. The gate is located west of the city center at the junction of Unter den Linden and Ebertstraße, immediately west of the Pariser Platz; around the corner from The Reichstag.
The Topography of Terror- This tribute to the victims of the Third Reich is built upon the former headquarters of the SS and Gestapo. Visitors can read witness stories, view photographs and maps of concentration camps, and gain a deeper understanding of the calamities endured by not only Jews but homosexuals, communists, gypsies and anyone else in opposition to the Nazi Party. It's totally free and is located at Niederkirchnerstraße 8.
Holocaust Memorial and Museum- When traveling in Berlin, it is almost impossible to escape its checkered history and the measures the city has taken to commemorate it. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a memorial in Berlin to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, designed by architect Peter Eisenman. It consists of a 19,000 square meter site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs, arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. The columns vary in height from 0.2 to 4.8 m. According to Eisenman, the columns are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.
The adjacent information center is an underground museum, which is located below the field of pillars. It offers an exhibition on Nazi terror in Europe and holds the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims. The names are projected on the walls of a room, while a short biography is read over loudspeakers. All texts in the exhibition center are in English and German. The memorial and museum are located at Cora-Berliner-Straße 1, 10117 Berlin, a short walk from the Brandenburg Gate.
Museum Island- Located on the northern edge of an island in the Spree River, this complex holds 5 internationally significant museums that are all part of the Berlin State Museums. In 1999, the museum complex was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
The Altes Museum (Old Museum) was built in 1830.
The Neues Museum (New Museum) finished in 1859. Destroyed in World War II, it was rebuilt under the direction of David Chipperfield for the Egyptian Museum of Berlin and re-opened in 2009.
The Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) was completed in 1876 to host a collection of 19th century art donated by banker Joachim H. W. Wagener
The Bode Museum on the island's northern tip opened in 1904 and exhibits sculpture collections and Late Antique and Byzantine art.
The Pergamon Museum was completed in 1930. It contains multiple reconstructions of historically significant buildings such as the Pergamon Altar and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon.
New Synagogue- A remnant of Berlin's once large Jewish population, the Synagogue was built in 1866. After suffering bomb damage during the war, it has now been fully restored and is open to the public. The synagogue also houses a Jewish Centre with a permanent exhibition on the history of the building and of Jewish life in Berlin, along with a series of temporary exhibits related to Jewish people and culture.
Oranienburger Strasse 28-30, Mitte. Open: Sun-Mon 10: 00 am- 8:00 pm, Tue-Thu 10:00 am-6:00 pm, Fri 10:00 am-5:00 pm (May-Aug); Sun-Thu 10:00 am- 6:00 pm, Fri 10:00 am -2:00 pm (Sep-Apr). Dome open Apr-Sep.
Rent a Bike!
Berlin is well known for its highly developed bike lane system. It is estimated that Berlin has 710 bicycles per 1000 residents. Riders have access to 620 km of bike paths including approx. 150 km mandatory bicycle paths, 190 km off-road bicycle routes, and 60 km of bike lanes on the roads. Renting a bike is the cheapest and fastest way to get around Berlin.
Keep an eye out for bears!
The Berlin Buddy Bears were originally conceived in 2001. Various artists painted approximately 350 bears to appear in the public domain as decorative elements along the streets of Berlin. 4 different bear designs (one standing on all 4 paws, one standing on 2 legs, one standing on its head and one in a sitting position) were seen in the city center. Nowadays, these Berlin Buddy Bears are exclusively presented on private premises, in front of hotels and embassies as well as in the foyers of various office buildings. Look out for their brightly colored designs.