Sights and Festivals
Brandenburg Gate Area
Finished in 1791 as one of 18 city gates, the neoclassical Brandenburger Tor (Pariser Platz; mS-Bahn Unter den Linden) became an east–west crossing point after the Wall was built in 1961. The crowning Quadriga statue, a winged goddess in a horse-drawn chariot, was once kidnapped by Napoleon and briefly taken to Paris. It’s back in place now. Before reunification it faced east, but has since been reversed.
Just to the west of the gate stands the glass-domed Reichstaggebäude (Parliament Bldg; Tel 2273 2152;http://www.bundestag.de/; Platz der Republik 1; admission free; h8am-midnight, last admission 10pm). A fire here in 1933 allowed Hitler to blame the communists and grab power, while the Soviets raised their flag here in 1945 to signal Nazi Germany’s defeat. Today, the glass cupola added in 1999 by architect Lord Norman Foster is the highlight. Queues to visit the internal spiral walkway are long, so arrive early.
The Reichstag overlooks the Tiergarten further south again is the Holocaust Memorial (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas; Tel 2639 4336; http://www.stiftung-denkmal.de/; Cora-Berliner-Strasse 1; admission free; hfield 24hr, information centre 10am- 8pm Tue-Sun, last entry 7.15pm Apr-Sep, to 7pm, last entry 6.15pm Oct-Mar; mPotsdamer Platz/S-Bahn Unter den Linden), a grid of 2711 ‘stelae’ or differently shaped concrete columns set over 19,000 sq metres of gently undulating ground. This slate-grey expanse of walkways and pillars can be entered from any side, but presents varied sombre perspectives as you move through it. For historical background, designer Peter Eisenman has created an underground information centre in the southeast corner of the site. Highly recommended are the weekly English tours (tours €3; h4pm Sun).
Unter den Linden
Lined with lime (or linden) trees, the street Unter den Linden (mS-Bahn Unter den Linden) was the fashionable avenue of old Berlin. Today, after decades of communist neglect, it’s been rejuvenated. The thoroughfare stretches east from Brandenburger Tor to the Museumsinsel, passing shops, embassies, operas and a university.
Don’t forget to stop awhile at Bebelplatz (Französische Strasse). There’s a book-burning memorial – a chastening reminder of the first major Nazi book-burning, which occurred in May 1933 here. A window in the pavement reveals empty bookshelves below.
The so-called Museums Island (all museums Tel 2090 5577; http://www.smb.museum/smb/home/index.php; adult/concession per museum €8/4, all museums €12/6, 6-10pm Thu free; h10am- 6pm Tue-Sun, to 10pm Thu; mS-Bahn Hackescher Markt) lies in the Spree River. Of four museums, the leading venue is Pergamonmuseum (Am Kupfergraben). It houses the spectacular Ishtar Gate from Babylon, the Pergamon Altar and other antiquities.
Meanwhile, the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery; Bodestrasse 1-3) houses 19th-century European sculpture and painting, and the Altes Museum (Am Lustgarten) has art from ancient Rome and Greece, including the spectacular bust of Nefertiti.
Overlooking the ‘island’ is the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral).
A complex of shops and apartments built around eight courtyards, the Hackesche Höfe (mS-Bahn Hackescher Markt) still attracts savvy young consumers looking for fashion-forward streetwear, even though big brands such as Adidas and Hugo Boss are moving in.
Stores, cafes and restaurants are the main draw, but you’ll also find the Neue Synagogue (Tel 8802 8300;http://www.cjudaicum.de/; Oranienburger Strasse 28-30; adult/concession €3/2; h10am-8pm Sun & Mon, to 6pm Tue-Thu, to 5pm Fri, reduced hr Nov-Apr; mS-Bahn Oranienburgerstrasse).
Much further northeast, the spectacular gallery of the Hamburger Bahnhof (Tel 3978 3439;http://www.hamburgerbahnhof.de/text.php; Invalidenstrasse 50, Mitte; adult/concession €8/4, 2-6pm Thu free; h10am-6pm Tue-Fri, 11am-8pm Sat, 11am-6pm Sun; mHauptbahnhof/ Lehrter Stadtbahnhof ) showcases works by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg and Joseph Beuys.
Call it Freudian or call it Ostalgie (nostalgia for the communist East or Ost), but Berlin’s once-mocked socialist Fernsehturm (Tel 242 3333; http://tv-turm.de/; adult/concession €9.50/4.50; h9am-midnight Mar-Oct, from 10am Nov-Feb; mAlexanderplatz) has become its mostloved symbol. Erected in 1969 and the city’s tallest structure, its 368m outline pops up in numerous souvenirs. That said, ascending 207m to the revolving Telecafé is less exciting than visiting the Reichstag dome.
The needle-shaped Turm dominates Alexanderplatz, a former livestock market that became the lowlife district chronicled in Alfred Döblin’s 1929 novel Berlin Alexanderplatz, and then developed as a 1960s communist showpiece.
Today the square is an unusual hive of construction activity as it’s transformed into the next capitalist development. However, the socialist past still echoes in the retro World Time Clock and along the portentous Karl-Marx-Allee, which leads several kilometres from here to Friedrichshain.
The infamous Wall snaked through Berlin, so today’s remnants are scattered across the city. The longest surviving stretch is the socalled East Side Gallery (http://www.eastsidegallery.com/; Mühlenstrasse; mS-Bahn Warschauer Strasse) in Friedrichshain. Panels along this 1.3km of graffiti and art include the famous portrait of Soviet leader Brezhnev kissing GDR leader Erich Hönecker and a Trabant car seemingly bursting through the (now crumbling) concrete.
Climbing the tower at the Berliner Mauer Dokumentationszentrum (Berlin Wall Documentation Centre; Tel 464 1030; Bernauer Strasse 111; admission free; h10am-5pm; mS-Bahn Nordbahnhof ) you overlook a memorial across the street – an artist’s impression of the death strip behind an original stretch of wall.
In Kreuzberg, the renowned sign saying ‘You are now leaving the American sector’ still stands, marking the position of Checkpoint Charlie (cnr Friedrichstrasse & Zimmerstrasse). Nearby, the touristy Haus am Checkpoint Charlie (Tel 253 7250;http://www.mauermuseum.com/; Friedrichstrasse 43-45; adult/concession €12.50/9.50; h9am-10pm; mKochstrasse/Stadtmitte) chronicles tales of spectacular escape attempts, including through tunnels, in hot-air balloons and even with a one-man submarine.
From the Reichstag, you can see the Tiergarten’s carillon (John-Foster-Dulles-Allee; bus 100 or 200) and the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of World Cultures; John-Foster-Dulles-Allee). The latter was erected during a 1950s building expo and is nicknamed the ‘pregnant oyster’.
Further west is the Siegessäule (Victory Column; bus 100 or 200), a golden angel built to commemorate 19th-century Prussian military victories. Be aware that there are better views than those from the column’s peak.
A short walk south is a cluster of embassy buildings and museums, including the Bauhaus Archiv (Tel 254 0020;http://www.bauhaus.de/index+M52087573ab0.html; Klingelhöferstrasse 14; adult/concession €7/4 Sat- Mon, €6/3 Wed-Fri; h10am-5pm Wed-Mon; mNollendorfplatz), with Modernist objects from the influential Bauhaus design school. The school itself survives in Dessau (see http://www.bauhaus-dessau.de/index.php?en), not far from Berlin.
The Berliner Philharmonie (1961; http://www.berliner-philharmoniker.de/) and yet more stunning art museums lie a little to the east in the Kulturforum (www.kulturforum-berlin.de), south of Tiergartenstrasse. Check the website to see if anything appeals.
This postmodern temple to Mammon was erected in 2000 in the former death strip. Under the big-top, glass-tent roof of the Sony Center (mor S-Bahn Potsdamer Platz) and along the malls of the Lego-like DaimlerCity, people swarm in and around shops, restaurants, offices, loft apartments, clubs, a cinema, a luxury hotel and a casino – all revitalising what was the busiest square in prewar Europe.
There’s a Filmmuseum (Tel 300 9030; http://www.deutsche-kinemathek.de/; Potsdamer Strasse 2, Tiergarten; adult/ concession €6/4.50; h10am-6pm Tue-Sun, to 8pm Thu) and ‘Europe’s fastest’ lift to the Panorama Observation Deck (http://www.panoramapunkt.de/de/willkommen.html; adult/concession €3.50/2.50; h11am-8pm).
But, as ever in Berlin, the past refuses to go quietly. Just north of Potsdamer Platz lies the former site of Hitler’s Bunker. To the southeast lies the Topographie des Terrors (Tel 2548 6703; http://www.topographie.de/en/topography-of-terror/nc/1/; Niederkirchner Strasse; admission free; h10am-8pm May-Sep, to dusk Oct-Apr), a sometimes shockingly graphic record of the Gestapo and SS headquarters that once stood here.
The Jüdisches Museum (Tel 2599 3300; http://www.juedisches-museum-berlin.de/main/EN/homepage-EN.php; Lindenstrasse 9-14; adult/concession €5/2.50; h10am-10pm Mon, to 8pm Tue-Sun, last entry 1hr before closing; mHallesches Tor) is as much about the Daniel Libeskind building as the collection of Jewish-German history within. Designed to disorient with its ‘voids’, culs-de-sac, barbed metal fittings, slit windows and uneven floors, this stillsomehow- beautiful structure swiftly conveys the uncertainty and sometime terror of past Jewish life in Germany.
West Berlin’s legendary shopping thoroughfare, the Ku’damm has lost some of its cachet since the Wall fell, but is worth visiting for old times’ sake. Here you’ll find the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche (Tel 218 5023; Breitscheidplatz; hMemorial Hall 10am-4pm Mon-Sat, Hall of Worship 9am-7pm), which remains in ruins – just as British bombers on 22 November 1943 left it – as an antiwar memorial. Only the broken west tower still stands.
The one-time secret police headquarters now houses the Stasi Museum (Tel 553 6854; House 1, Ruschestrasse 103; adult/concession €4/3; h11am-6pm Tue-Fri, 2-6pm Sat & Sun; mMagdalenenstrasse). It’s largely in German, but worth a visit to see the cunning surveillance devices and communist paraphernalia.
International Film Festival Berlin
(Tel 259 200; http://www.berlinale.de/en/HomePage.html) The Berlinale, held in February, is Germany’s answer to the Cannes and Venice film festivals. Christopher Street Day (Tel 2362 8632; http://www.csd-berlin.de/) Held on the last weekend in June, Germany’s largest gay event celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2008. B-Parade (http://www.b-parade.de/) Held each July, Berlin’s huge techno street parade is the Loveparade’s successor. Fuckparade (http://fuckparade2009.blogsport.de/) Each August, this anti-establishment, anti-gentrification demonstration dances to its own non-commercial techno beat.