Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Berlin
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Madame Tussauds is the ultimate wax museum with locations the world over. Madame Tussauds Berlin has a wide variety of life-like wax figures made to look like celebrities, including actors such as Johnny Depp and Julia Roberts, and musicians such as Rihanna and the Beatles. Wax exhibits also include politicians such as Angela Merkel and Barack Obama, sports stars such as Muhammad Ali and Mesut Özil, and historical figures such as Albert Einstein and Ludwig van Beethoven. There's even a section of superheros like Spiderman and Shrek. There's also a behind-the-scenes area where visitors can get a closer look at how the figures are made. It's a complex process starting with measuring and photographing the person who will be sculpted. Great care is taken to ensure the eye color, hair color and style, skin color and even the teeth are as accurate as possible.
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.
"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.
More Things to Do in Berlin
The Oberbaum Bridge, or Oberbaumbrücke in German, was built in the late 1800s and crosses the River Spree to connect the neighborhoods of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain in Berlin. The bridge has mock medieval turrets and seven arches. It's a two level bridge with the lower level for cars and the upper level for the U1 U-bahn trains.
During the Cold War, this bridge was a landmark dividing East Berlin from West Berlin. Armed guards patrolled the banks of the river, and the bridge was one of the crossing points from west to east only. The U-bahn line that crossed the bridge had to terminate at an earlier stop, but a few years after reunification, the train was reconnected and once again went across the bridge. Today the bridge is decorated with street art and graffiti. There is a nearby beach on the banks of the river, which used to be no man's land blocked by barbed wire. Also near the bridge is the famous East Side Gallery.
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.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the East Side Gallery was the result of what remained. It is longest segment of the Berlin Wall that is still standing and the world’s largest open-air gallery, showcasing over 100 murals over 1.3 kilometres along the Mühlenstrasse, which is parallel to the River Spree. Artist interpretations are a mix of optimistic and political statements.
Some of the more famous and most photographed images on the wall include a boxy East German Trabant car that appears to burst through the wall called “Test the Best” by Birgit Kinder; and “The Mortal Kiss,” a fraternal communist kiss between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German boss Erich Honecker. Many of the images became weathered from taggers and tourists adding their own graffiti to their favorite pictures on the wall. In 2009, forty of these works of art were restored.
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.
The Deutscher Dom, or German Cathedral in English, was built in the early 1700s in Berlin and was originally known as the Neue Kirche, or New Church. The church was badly damaged during World War II and was slowly rebuilt in the 80s and 90s. Today it is a museum and no longer holds religious services. The permanent exhibition on display is called "Wege - Irrwege - Umwege" which roughly translates to “Paths - Meanderings - Detours” and explains the historical development of the liberal parliamentary system in Germany.
Berlin’s Central Park is Tiergarten, a huge stretch of parkland, formal gardens and leafy walkways in the city’s west.
Until the 1830s the parkland was used as a hunting ground. Today it houses the home of the German President, an array of public sculptures and memorials, canals and lakes, and a network of lovely shady avenues. The park’s avenues merge on the 66 meter (216 foot) Victory Tower, topped with a gilt angel. If you’re feeling fit, you can climb the 285 steps to a platform at the top to catch stupendous views of Berlin.
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.
AquaDom and SEA LIFE Berlin is an aquarium featuring more than 5,000 aquatic animals in over 35 different displays. The AquaDom, specifically, is the largest freestanding aquarium in the world, where you can take an elevator ride through 1 million liters of saltwater and groups of various tropical fish.
The newest exhibit at SEA LIFE Berlin is the Octopus Garden. Here you can learn about the fascinating physical and mental strength of the octopus and also see the giant pacific octopus, as well as its relatives, the cuttlefish and the nautilus. At the Interactive Rockpool, you can learn about the animals that live in this sort of habitat along the coast, such as starfish and crabs, and learn what sea anemones feed on. All of the animals in this section are safe to touch, and experts are on hand to help you handle them. A variety of talks are given throughout the day at certain areas of the aquarium.
The Führerbunker, translated to English means "Leader's bunker" was part of a subterranean bunker complex which was constructed in two major phases, one part in 1936 and the other in 1943. This bunker was a defensive military fortification designed to protect the inhabitants from falling bombs or other attack; in this case, the Führerbunker was to protect Adolf Hilter during WWII, and was the center of the Nazi regime. Hitler married Eva Braun here during the last week of April 1945, shortly before they committed suicide.
The Bunker can be found at Wilhelmstrasse 77 near the corner of In den Ministergärten and Gertrud-Kolmar-Strasse, a short walk from Potsdamer Platz. It may be difficult to find independently as it is located in a grey apartment block backed onto a desolate car park, bordered by small wooden posts. You will find an information sign detailing the history of the site, which replaced a plaque that was there in 2006.
Friedrichstrasse runs north to south through the center of Berlin, while during the Cold War, the Berlin Wall cut through this street. The Friedrichstrasse S-bahn and U-bahn station was on the East, but trains from the West were still able to stop there so passengers could transfer lines. However, they could not leave the station without proper paperwork.
Today the street is a major shopping and residential area. However, due to its history, it is also a popular tourist spot. Photography exhibits at the Friedrichstrasse station show the stages of the station's history from 1961 when the wall went up to 1989 when it came down. At the Berlin Wall History Mile information board at the Friedrichstrasse border crossing, you can learn about Oct. 27, 1961, when Allied and Soviet tanks conflicted over the right to unrestricted movement in both parts of Berlin for the Allied forces.
Named for the lime trees lining its central pedestrianized strip, Unter den Linden is one of Berlin’s most famous thoroughfares, and the former hub of historic Berlin. Many of the avenue’s once palatial buildings are being restored, and it’s a popular location for embassies, shops, outdoor cafes, museums and educational institutions. A walk along the Unter den Linden is especially magical at night, when the trees are lit up, and during the autumn colors of fall.
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.
The Lilliputian Nicholas Quarter is an area that was developed around Berlin’s oldest parish church, the Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas’s Church), dating from 1230. The area now tries to maintain its medieval character; its cobblestoned lanes worth a quick stroll if you are in the surrounding borders of Rathausstrasse, Spandauer Strasse, Mühlendamm and the Spree River. Though there are many gift stores, cafes and restaurants in the quarter, you will find locals elsewhere.
The main attractions, in addition to the St. Nicholas church, include the Ephraim Palace, a masterpiece of palace architecture of the 18th century Berlin. Equally beautiful is the Baroque style Knoblauch house built in 1760, which offers insight into world of the upper middle class world through its rooms and valuable furniture.
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