Berlin, Germany’s capital and largest city dates to the 13th century, it is located in the northeastern part of the country in a mostly flat landscape. With 3.7 million residents, it is the second most populated city proper in the European Union after London. We’ve visited Germany many times and Berlin is one of the highlights with its mixture of both classic, restored and modern architecture.
A bit of recent history is important to know about Berlin. After World War Two, the US and its Allies shared administrative responsibilities for Berlin. However, in 1948, when the Western Allies extended the currency reform in the Western zones of Germany to the three western sectors of Berlin, the Soviet Union imposed a blockade on the access routes to and from West Berlin, which lay entirely inside Soviet-controlled territory.
West Berlin was surrounded by East German territory, and East Germany proclaimed the Eastern part as its capital, a move that was not recognized by the western powers. East Berlin included most of the historic center of the city. East Germany began the building of the Berlin Wall between East and West Berlin, and events escalated to a tank standoff at Checkpoint Charlie. West Berlin was now de facto a part of West Germany with a unique legal status, while East Berlin was de facto a part of East Germany. The military manned Checkpoint Charlie was one of the only open gate area to cross from one side of Berlin to the other. It is now a tourist photo-op location.
One place you can’t miss is the impressive 18th century Brandenburg Gate, a neoclassical monument, built on the orders of Prussian king Frederick William II after the successful restoration of order during the early Batavian Revolution. Featuring 12 Doric columns and featuring a classical goddess statue on a four horse chariot. Berlin as was Germany, was reunified in October 1990. Reminders of the city’s turbulent 20th-century history include its touching Holocaust memorial and the Berlin Wall’s graffiti painted remains.
Some other city landmarks include The Fernsehturm (TV tower) at Alexanderplatz in Mitte is among the tallest structures in the European Union at 1,207 feet. The tower with its round observation area with a restaurant at top was built in 1969 is visible throughout most of the central districts of Berlin. The incredible views on a clear day from the viewing gallery are of all of Berlin. Although you might have a long wait to be seated, you can have lunch or dinner at the revolving restaurant located on top. The Tower is located right next to the Alexanderplatz regional station in a historic square rebuilt after World War II.
The Reichstag building is the traditional seat of the German Parliament. It was remodeled by British architect Norman Foster in the 1990s and now features a huge glass dome over the session area, which allows free public access to the parliamentary proceedings and really magnificent views of the city, specially at night.
The Gendarmenmarkt is a neoclassical square in Berlin, the name of which derives from the headquarters of the famous Gens d’armes regiment located here in the 18th century. It is bordered by two similarly designed cathedrals, the Französischer Dom with its observation platform and the Deutscher Dom. The two churches are French and German. In the center of the square there’s a monumental statue of Germany’s renowned poet Friedrich Schiller. It is a magical place to experience. In the surrounding streets there are some fine hotels and the impressive Galleries Lafayette Berlin, which is known for crystal jewelry and home goods as well as Christmas ornaments.
The Konzerthaus, or Concert Hall, is home of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, and stands between the two cathedrals. The Museum Island in the River Spree houses five museums built from 1830 to 1930 and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Also in the Island, The Alte Nationalgalerie, or Old National Gallery, is a gallery showing a collection of Neoclassical, Romantic, Impressionist and early Modernist artwork, part of the Berlin National Gallery, which in turn is part of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Berlin State Museum. It is the original building of the National Gallery, whose holdings are now housed in several additional buildings. A cruise along the River Spree and its canals is one many visitors enjoy.
An art, music and history lovers dream, Berlin is home to over 130 museums and more than 40 theaters and stages and 3 opera houses. There’s also a vibrant nightlife of clubs throughout the city.
Adjacent to the Lustgarten and palace is the most impressive Berlin Cathedral, emperor William II’s ambitious attempt to create a Protestant version of Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica. The huge domed structure sits alone and makes its enormity even more striking.
We also visited the very moving Jewish Museum, it has a standing exhibition on two millennia of German-Jewish history. It is definitely one museum not to miss. The large glass fronted modern Berlin Hauptbahnhof is the largest grade-separated railway station in Europe.
West of the city center, Bellevue Palace is the German President’s residence. Charlottenburg Palace, which was burnt out during World War II, is the largest historical palace in Berlin. Although we did not go inside, we experienced the exterior on our way to the historic Potsdam.
The Kurfürstendamm is one of the most famous avenues in Berlin. The very broad, long boulevard can be considered the Champs-Élysées of Berlin—lined with stylish shops, houses, hotels and restaurants. Friedrichstraße is another major culture and shopping street in central Berlin you might enjoy visiting.
Although there are more than 2 thousand public parks and gardens in Berlin, The Tiergarten park in Mitte is, at over 500 acres, one of Berlin’s largest and most popular parks. The main street that crosses the park features an impressive victory column the Siegessäule. The Berlin Zoological Garden and its aquarium, the most popular in Europe is located at park’s western end.
Berlin is a city with so much history and with lots of fascinating places to keep you interested. Every time we’ve stayed in Berlin we have found yet more fascinating and interesting places to visit.
The country of Germany has many beautiful and historic cities and places to see. Another favorite of ours is the Bavaria area near Austria. Munich and its surrounding towns and villages feature truly incredible sights. Bavaria will be another story to be told when writing about dream vacation locations. For now, enjoy the historic Berlin.