That’s three days. If you have as this short a time as I did in a city rich with history and culture, you’d be insane not to plan in advance. Lucky for you, I’ve done the agonizing research on what to do and where to go in German’s second largest city. Here’re the top eight places to visit.
1. The Berlin Wall
No one should leave Berlin without making a pilgrimage to the Berlin Wall. It may be just a long stretch of brick wall, but its fall represented a milestone in modern history. For those of us who live in peaceful times, the wall is a reminder that we should not take peace for granted.
There are three sections now left standing. One remains near the site of the Gestapo headquarters, halfway between Checkpoint Charlie and Portsdamer Platz; the second section was turned into a memorial in 1999, at Bernauer Straße; the third section, the East Side Gallery, runs along the Spree River. This stretch is also known as the international memorial for freedom and the one you should visit. 105 artists from around the world painted their thoughts of the wall on this stretch.
Tip: the East Side Gallery stretches over 1km, so to soak in all the artists’ works, it’s advisable to rent a bicycle and cycle alongside it.
2. Summer palace of Federick the Great (Sanssouci)
There are a few opulent castles dotted around the city, but I picked this because of the vast garden in the heart of the castle grounds, perfect for an afternoon of lounging and a feast for your eyes. The castle is erected Rococo style, with one opulent room after another.
Admittedly, after the 4th room, it all gets repetitive and you grow disdainful at the lavishness of the ornately designed ballrooms from floor to ceiling. The gardens are a highlight though. An ornamental garden, it’s an ideal spot to relax the afternoon away, and to rest your eyes after all that rich décor.
3. Holocaust Memorial
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe lies near the city center. Architect Peter Eisemann designed this memorial with over 2,500 geometrically arranged pillars. Nearby, at the sombre underground museum, there are detailed stories and images of life during the Nazi occupation arranged in different exhibits based on periods. Large empty spaces allow visitors to take their time with each section. To me, it was a gracious salute to the Jews who have perished.
4. Brandenburg Gate
Much like the Berlin Wall, no visit to Berlin is complete without a pit-stop at the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin’s former city gate. This landmark structure divide East and West Berlin during the Cold War. While it used to symbolise Europe’s tumultuous history, the fall of the wall saw this gate emerge as a landmark of the birth of a new Germany and a symbol of hope and unity.
5. Checkpoint Charlie
This is the renowned crossing point between Socialist controlled East Berlin and the allied controlled West Berlin during the Cold War.
Nicknamed by the Americans, Checkpoint Charlie was the symbol of the Cold War. With the dissolution of the Easten Bloc, the building at Checkpoint Charlie was kept intact as a reminder of that uncertain period. It was relocated to the Dahlem neighbourhood in Berlin, next to the Allied Museum.
6. The Reichstag
One of the more interesting buildings in Berlin, the Reichstag houses the German Parliament. The original building saw its fair share of disasters, first with a fire, followed by damages endured during World War II. It was rebuilt in the 90s and adorned with a modern glass dome, where visitors can enter to take a peek into parliamentary proceedings, but more excitingly- a stunning view of the Berlin skyline.
Tip: If you plan to visit, visit in the late afternoons or evenings, where the queue lines are shorter. You’ll be just in time to see golden specks falling over the city at dusk.
7. The Memorial Church of Berlin
It looks like a sad state from the outside but this Protestant Memorial Church of Berlin is one of the city’s most important landmarks. Heavily damaged by air raids during World War II, the structure was preserved as a war memorial. If you go up close, you can even spot bullet holes on the church’s façade.
Despite its mournful exterior, the church’s interiors are surprisingly untouched, with beautiful mosaic artwork filling the ceilings.
Adjacent to this memorial church and a stark contrast is a modern concrete church with blue stained glass windows.
8. The Potsdamer Platz
If you feel you need some modern architecture after all the historic sights, head to the Potsdamer Platz. Essentially a shopping center, it’s probably Berlin’s most contemporary structure, with movie theaters, restaurants and retail shops. One of the highlights is the dome of the Sony Center, lit with different colors at night. Do note that restaurants here are pricier though.
Did you know: I found an interesting fact while crossing roads- traffic lights between the East and the West feature different traffic light men (known as Ampelmännchen). The west features a generic human figure while the east has a male figure wearing a hat. And if you’re standing right at the junction of East meets West, you’ll be able to catch the two different men in action.
If you plan your routes well, it’s possible to visit all these places and more in just three days. Do you have any additions to this list of places to visit in Berlin? What do you think of the city?
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