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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Berlin

Berlin is a bewitching, charming city. In less than a lifetime, the German capital has gone through the trials of a World War and been split down the middle during the Cold War, only to make a comeback as one of the world’s trendiest cities. Shaped by figures as diverse as David Bowie and Karl Marx—and with world-class architecture, mythic nightlife, delicious food, and buzzing culture—the city has an irresistible pull on travelers. There are a variety of ways to discover Berlin. Walking tours offer on-the-ground context to understanding the city’s past, while a Segway or bike tour can cover more terrain in a shorter period of time. Historical highlights include walking the Unter den Linden to the Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) and visiting the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Holocaust Memorial); the rebuilt Reichstag, the famous The Berlin Television Tower (Berliner Fernsehturm); and Checkpoint Charlie. Local guides also offer off-the-beaten-path visits, specializing in Potsdam, East Berlin food tasting, Jewish heritage tours, and more. The Berlin Wall is, of course, one of the fundamental elements of the city, and part of it has been turned into the East Side Gallery memorial. The old blockade covered with street art sits at the edge of the alternative neighborhoods of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. Here, creatives have sparked a wave of galleries, start-ups, and a laid-back lifestyle that’s made the city a cultural trendsetter in Germany and an irreplaceable part of modern Europe.
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Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor)
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The Brandenburg Gate (or Brandenburger Tor) is one of Berlin’s original city gates, erected in 1791. It marks the entry to the Under den Linden avenue as part of the ceremonial boulevard that led to the Prussian monarchs’ royal seat.

The classical monument is topped by a chariot driven by a winged goddess, which was briefly carted off to Paris by Napoleon as booty.

During the Cold War, the Brandenburg Gate could not be accessed from East or West Germany, making it a particularly poignant symbol after reunification.

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Checkpoint Charlie
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"You are leaving the American sector."

Memorialized in film and print, Checkpoint Charlie is the most famous symbol of Cold War era Berlin.

Marking the border crossing between the American Sector (Kreuzberg) and East Berlin (Mitte), only allied personnel and foreign visitors could pass through the checkpoint. Checkpoint Charlie was the most famous security point in the Berlin Wall, but for most of its life it was little more than a wooden shack and boom gates. Today a replica shed stands in the middle of Friedrichstraße.

While you’re here, drop into the Mauer Museum (Haus am Checkpoint Charlie) to learn about the history of Checkpoint Charlie, and the audacious and often tragic attempts made by East Berliners to escape from East to West.

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Reichstag
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Topped with an acclaimed glass dome designed by British architect Norman Foster, the Reichstag parliamentary building is home to Germany’s Parliament, the Bundestag.

The classically pedimented and columned building was built in the 1890s, and seriously damaged by fire in 1933 and subsequent air raids. In the 1990s the building was restored to host the parliament of the newly reunified Germany.

Visitors can step inside the multi-tiered glass dome and onto the roof terrace for 360 degree views of Berlin’s government district and the Tiergarten.

Take an audioguide tour to learn about the parliamentary goings on in the Bundestag and the history of the famous building. After taking a stroll, relax in the rooftop restaurant.

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Berlin TV Tower (Berliner Fernsehturm)
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The Berlin Television Tower,or the Berliner Fernsehturm is the city’s tallest structure at 368 metres high. It was inaugurated on 3 October 1969 just before the 20th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). For Walter Ulbricht, who was the State Council Chairman of the GDR at the time, it was one of the most important symbols demonstrating the superiority of socialist societies. The construction of the Berlin Television Tower illustrated that a better future was being built in East Berlin.

With over 1.2 million visitors a year, come early to beat the lines to go up the tower at the panorama level at 203 metres. This point offers one of the best views of Berlin on a clear day. You can look for your favourite Berlin landmarks here or at the upstairs rotating cafe, which makes one revolution every 30 minutes.

VIP ticket holders can visit at any time without waiting in line and are guaranteed the next available free seat in the Tower’s restaurant.

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Museum Island (Museumsinsel)
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Located on the northern tip of Spree Island, Berlin’s Museumsinsel (Museum Island) is an ensemble of five world-renowned museums. In 1830, King Friedrich Wilhelm III commissioned the construction of the Royal Museum - now the Altes Museum - to allow the general public to view the royal art treasures of Germany. The idea for the island was devised in 1841, when Friedrich August Stuler wanted to create a cultural center, which later became Museum Island.

Almost 70% of the buildings were destroyed during World War II, where the collections were divided between East and West Berlin. Since 1999, the museum has been the only architectural and cultural ensemble that was honored world heritage status by UNESCO.

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Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom)
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With its many green domes, the baroque Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom) is the city’s largest church. The classical building was built in the mid-1700s, and was extensively restored following bombing during World War II.

Audioguide tours provide in-depth information about the building’s history and artworks. Highlights include the Hohenzollern Crypt, with its royal tombs, and the monumental pipe organ. The centerpiece of the building is the soaring dome, with its stained glass and mosaics. The original dome was destroyed by Allied bombs, and its restoration was particularly painstaking.

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Berlin Hauptbahnhof
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The stylish, contemporary main railway station in Berlin was opened in 2006 by Chancellor Angela Merkel; it is built on the site of the Lehrter Bahnhof (Lehrte Station), which was demolished in 1957 after East Germany suspended rail services into its western counterpart. In 1993, the architects Gerkan, Marg and Partners were entrusted with creating a new station that befitted Berlin’s importance as the capital city of a re-united Germany, and the sleek terminus is made of glass and steel; it has five gleaming stories and is spanned by an arched glass roof. There are lines both above and underground and today the station is also a terminus for the S-Bahn (rapid transit commuter trains) and U-Bahn (metro line) services into and around the city from the Brandenburg region.

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Bebelplatz
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The Bebelplatz is a public square in the central ‘Mitte’ district of Germany’s capital city, Berlin. Today it is best known for being the site where some 20,000 newly banned books were burned by bonfire in 1933 on order of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, because they conflicted with Nazi ideology. The square is surrounded by notable historical buildings, including the German State Opera (Staatsoper); St. Hedwig’s Cathedral (built in 1747 and modeled after Rome’s Pantheon, it was the first Catholic church built in Germany after the Protestant Reformation); and the former Royal Prussian Library (Alte Bibliothek) which is now part of Humboldt University.

All of the buildings on the Bebelplatz were destroyed in World War II and reconstructed afterward. An easily overlooked monument in the center of the square simply contains a pane of glass, which the visitor can look through to see many rows of empty bookshelves underground.

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Mitte
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Mitte is the central neighborhood in Berlin, where visitors will find the bulk of the city's attractions, as well as many restaurants, bars and clubs. It’s the best base to explore Berlin’s historical and cultural center.

Brandenburg Gate, the only surviving city gate in Berlin, is one of the most recognizable sights in the city. It was the symbol of the border between East and West Berlin for decades and was isolated from both sides until the wall came down. Also in Mitte is the Berlin TV Tower (Fernsehturm), one of the tallest structures in Europe and therefore a great place for views of the city. It's located near Alexanderplatz, a big square in the center of the city where you'll find lots of shopping and the hub of Berlin’s public transportation system. The Reichstag Building is the seat of the German government, located just a short walk from Brandenburg Gate.

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Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Holocaust Memorial)
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The Holocaust Memorial, also known as The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, is an urban tribute to remember and honor up to six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Located within walking distance between the Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz, the Memorial consists of the Field of Stelae designed by Peter Eisenman and the underground Information Center. Eisenmann set up 2,711 concrete pillars - so-called stelaes - of varying heights to create a grid-like structure that can be approached from all angles. You can feel the unmarked and harrowed suffering as you walk through the pillars that rise as you continue through them. The underground and modern information center complements the outdoor memorial, where visitors can learn more about the victims of the Holocaust and deepen understanding about this tragedy.
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More Things to Do in Berlin

Gendarmenmarkt

Gendarmenmarkt

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Located in the Mitte district, the Gendarmenmarkt has gone through a few name changes. After being used from 1736 to 1782 by the military for sentry duty and housing their horses, it was known as the Gendarmenmarkt. After being damaged in the war, the square was renamed “Platz der Akademie” in 1950 in honor of the 250th anniversary of the Academy of Science. In 1991, it got its original name back.

The Gendarmenmarkt is arguably Berlin’s most magnificent square. It is best known for the triple architectural force composed of the German and French cathedrals (Deutscher und Französischer Dom) and Schinkel’s Konzerthaus (concert hall). The ‘domes’ refer to the domed tower structures erected in 1785 by architect Carl von Gontard were mainly intended to add stature and grandeur to the two buildings. Some of the most high-end restaurants, businesses and hotels are located around the Gendarmenmarkt, especially around the streets of Charlottenstrasse.

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Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall

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The notorious wall that divided Berlin for nearly 30 years was erected by East Germany at the height of the Cold War in 1961. The barrier isolated West Berlin within a heavily armed barrier of double concrete walls and gun turrets and was constructed to stop disaffected East Germans escaping to the west; it was part of a strictly enforced military fortification that separated communist East Germany from capitalist Europe.

Guards patrolling the wall’s watchtowers and mined "death strip" were ordered to shoot East Berliners attempting to escape to the west, and increasingly the wall became a canvas for protest murals and memorials.

With the thawing of relations between east and west and the downfall of communism in Poland, the Czech Republic and other central European countries, the Berlin Wall was ceremonially torn down in November 1989 with the world’s media as witness.

Sections of the wall remain as permanent reminders of the days when Germany was split.

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Topography of Terror

Topography of Terror

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The Topography of Terror exhibition and documentation center covers the history of terror during the Nazi era. The centers of this national-socialist terror between 1933 and 1945 were the Gestapo and its prison, the SS headquarters, the SS Security Service (SD) and the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Main Office for State Security). These institutions were located in the immediate vicinity of the Nazi government district, and the history of the crimes originating there is featured at Topography of Terror. There is also a second exhibition that focuses on the role of Berlin as the capital of the Third Reich.

Also on site is one of the few remaining sections of the Berlin Wall. Niederkirchnerstrasse, formerly Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse, formed part of the border between the U.S. and Soviet sectors of Berlin, and the boundary ran along the south side of the street.

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St. Nicholas Church (Nikolaikirche)

St. Nicholas Church (Nikolaikirche)

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Nikolaikirche, or St. Nicholas Church, is Berlin's oldest church and was completed in 1230. The basement floors are considered to be the oldest rooms in Berlin. The church played a significant role in Berlin's history. During the Reformation, it was the site of the first Protestant public worship service in the area when Elector Joachim II sided with Martin Luther's reforms. In 1809, the first elected city council for Berlin was sworn in at the church. In 1991, the first freely elected legislature for the newly unified city of Berlin held its first meeting in the church.

The church has undergone several additions and restorations over the centuries. It was no longer used as a church starting in 1939, and it was destroyed in World War II. After extensive restoration, the church has functioned as a museum dedicated to Nikolaiviertel, the district surrounding the church, since 1987. Visitors can climb the tower for spectacular views of Berlin.

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Neues Museum (New Museum)

Neues Museum (New Museum)

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The Neues Museum was built in the mid-1800s and was heavily damaged during World War II. Restoration work beginning in 2005 carefully preserved the facade and interior, while incorporating damage from war into the design, rather than covering it up. The museum opened its doors to the public again in 2009.

The Egyptian collection includes displays covering more than 4,000 years of ancient Egyptian and Nubian cultures. There are exhibits on the history of the collection and Egyptology itself, portraits of kings and the Berlin Green Head, which illustrates how sculpture progressed as an art form. Three chambers contain offerings dating from the Old Kingdom, as well as displays of tomb architecture and relief art. There is also an Egyptian library of antiquity and a section depicting ancient everyday life, the afterlife and the cult of the gods.

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Potsdamer Platz

Potsdamer Platz

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The huge Potsdamer Platz has been a major focal point for Berliners since the 19th century, the busy meeting point of half a dozen major thoroughfares.

Historically, the square was dominated by the enormous Potsdamer train terminal, and at the turn of the 20th century it was a major dining, hotel, entertainment and shopping hub. Potsdamer Platz was destroyed by Allied raids during World War II. Before reunification the barren area was a militarized no-go zone cut in two by the Berlin Wall; this no man’s land was one of the first areas to be breached in November 1989. Since the 1990s, Potsdamer Platz has undergone a total rebirth as the new heart and inspiring symbol of the reunified Berlin. Take in the surroundings from the Panorama Observation Deck, and seek out the only pre-WWII building, the Weinhaus Huth.

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Alexanderplatz

Alexanderplatz

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Alexanderplatz remains the largest urban square in all of Germany and is a central meeting place in Berlin, located in the Mitte District. At its center is the large railway station (Alexanderplatz) with connections to many subway (U-Bahn), tramway (Strassenbahn), city trains (S-Bahn) and buses.

Named after the Russian Czar Alexander I, who visited the capital of Prussia in 1805, ""Alex"" became a traffic hub when a train station was established there in 1882.

Alexanderplatz took on its present form in the 1960’s after being ravaged in World War II. After the war it became the center of East-Berlin and used as a showcase of socialist architecture. This resulted in some unattractive buildings like the former Centrum department store and the Berliner Fernsehturm (TV Tower). In 1969 two more monuments were added to the square, the Weltzeituhr (World Time Clock) by Erich John and the Fountain of International Friendship.

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Berlin Victory Column (Siegessäule)

Berlin Victory Column (Siegessäule)

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Standing 67 meters (220 feet) high and topped with a 35-tonne gilded figure of Victoria – the Roman goddess of victory in battle – the Berlin Victory Column was inaugurated in 1873 to commemorate Germany’s (or Prussia, as it was called then) victory over Denmark in the Danish-Prussian War of 1864. Lovingly nicknamed ‘Golden Lizzie’ by Berlin locals, the sandstone memorial was designed by German architect Heinrich Strack and sits on a red granite base adorned with columns; it originally stood in Königsplatz, which is today’s Platz der Republik. In the run up to World War II, the column was moved to the center of the Tiergarten park as part of Hitler’s plan to rebuild Berlin as the grandiose capital city of the Third Reich.

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Kurfürstendamm (Ku'damm)

Kurfürstendamm (Ku'damm)

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Affectionately known as the Ku’damm, this elegant tree-lined boulevard is a major thoroughfare in Berlin’s west.

The Berlin equivalent of Paris’ Champs-Elysees, the Kurfürstendamm avenue is lined with shops, hotels and historic cafes. Before World War II, the Ku’damm was the heart of nightlife in Berlin, and before reunification it was West Berlin’s major shopping strip. Today, it’s a lively stretch for strolling, shopping and dining.

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KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens)

KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens)

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A shopping landmark, the KaDeWe is Berlin’s most famous trademark department store. Since 1907, this luxurious and extravagant center has been lowering its iron gates for customers for an exciting shopping adventure.

You can find some of the most famous fashion designers for contemporary apparel including Derek Lam, Ralph Lauren, Rachel Zoe, Theory and Alice & Olivia. Indulge in famous beauty products such as Diptyke, Marni and Sisley. High-end services include a wedding and gift service, a hotel and home service, an on-site tailor, and salon. At the top of the plaza, there's an amazing food section. You'll find artisan chocolates, fresh baked pastries, restaurants, wine shops and more! We specifically like the champagne bars and chocolate bars that provide lounges with a view to match.

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Berlin Zoo and Aquarium

Berlin Zoo and Aquarium

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Meet Knut the polar bear at the Berlin Zoo, along with a massive variety of marine creatures at the Zoo Aquarium.

Berlin’s zoo celebrates diversity, from pandas to rhinos, and protects, studies and breeds the world’s most comprehensive collection of species.

Many of the enclosures are historic and re-create a range of enclosures, from carnivores to birds. One of the newest enclosures is the glass-domed Hippopotamus House.

At the adjacent Aquarium you can see tiny jellyfish and huge crocodiles, reptiles and tropical fish.

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Humboldt University of Berlin

Humboldt University of Berlin

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Humboldt University was founded in Berlin in 1810 and is the city's oldest university. It was founded by the liberal Prussian educational reformer and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt. He was the first to introduce the unity of research and teaching, and his university model strongly influenced other European and Western universities. Teachings began with the four classical faculties of law, medicine, theology and philosophy. The university was originally called Frederick William University and later Universität unter den Linden due to its location, but in 1949 its name was changed to Humboldt-Universität in honor of both its founder Wilhelm and his brother, naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. Today Humboldt University ranks among Germany's top ten universities and has educated 29 Nobel Prize winners. It has more than 33,000 students, including several thousand students from other countries, and 185 degree courses.

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Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche)

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche)

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The battered shell of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church stands as a poignant reminder of the destruction of war.

Destroyed by Allied bombers in 1943, the church remains in its shattered condition as a monument to peace.

The church vestibule is now a memorial hall, with mosaics, sculptures and information panels. Important displays include the original damaged Crucifix and the Cross of Nails, created from nails collected from the destroyed Coventry Cathedral in England.

Free 30 minute tours provide an overview of the history of the building, both as a Protestant church and anti-war memorial. A new church surrounding the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church hosts evening music services and choral and organ recitals.

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