It’s more than 25 years since the reunified Germany assumed its present form, stitching itself together after the trauma of an East-West partition that emerged while the city was rising from the rubble of the Second World War.
But today, Berlin is one of the most vibrant, diverse and cosmopolitan cities in Europe, awash with ideas and ambition. It’s a city of culture, history, life and memorable experiences. Here are just a few sights to inspire you on your next trip to the German capital.
Monuments of the East
One of Berlin’s most instantly recognisable is the Brandenburg Gate, which has survived wars, civil unrest, and the destruction of Berlin in 1945.
Sitting glumly just behind the Wall for 30 years, it’s ironic that the Gate – commissioned in 1788 by Friedrich Wilhelm II, King of Prussia – was built to represent peace. Today, it’s a symbol of a reunited, thriving nation, and is usually the focal point of public gatherings and national celebrations.
Towering 368 metres above Alexanderplatz, the hub of former East Berlin, the TV Tower is Germany’s tallest structure, so there’s no danger of missing it. Built in 1969, it was designed as a symbol of Soviet technological might and vision, but is now as much of an icon of the reunified city as the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Cathedral.
The TV Tower
It’s possible to ascend the tower to a viewing platform, 203 metres up in the spherical “ball” near the top, for panoramic views across the city. There’s also a revolving restaurant and café, ideal for enjoying a sky-high lunch as the city gently eases past below.
Berlin’s Museum Island is a historic islet on the Spree river in the heart of the central neighbourhood of Mitte. Accredited with Unesco World Heritage Site status, it’s home to five of the city’s oldest museums. This is where you can get up close to a kaleidoscopic array of human achievement and cultural wonder. There’s classical painting in the Alte Nationalgalerie, antiquities in the Altes Museum, medieval sculpture in the Bode Museum, the breathtaking Ishtar Gate of Babylon at the Pergamon and the 3,300-year-old bust of Nefertiti at the Neues Museum. If you have time to visit only one site in Berlin, make it this one.
For remnants of more recent history, Checkpoint Charlie, once a border crossing between East and West Germany, is also worth a visit. Once a symbol of the oppressive pall over Berlin during the DDR era, it’s now a great photo opportunity, and the engaging museum details something of Berlin life under the yoke of Soviet rule.
Peter Eisenman’s Holocaust Memorial is sobering, chilling and disorientating, located, with deliberate intent, almost on top of the bunker where Hitler killed himself in April 1945. Unveiled in December 2004, the memorial consists of 2,711 stelae (slabs of concrete) arranged in a grid pattern.
The Holocaust Memorial
Eisenman says he set out to create an “uneasy, confusing atmosphere” and he’s certainly succeeded – you enter the jungle of concrete from any point and wander within (there is no admission charge). Soon, the undulating pathways and changing heights of the slabs will leave you isolated from the bustling city with an alternating sense of serenity and mild anxiety.
Walk in the park
The vast Tiergarten park in the heart of Berlin comes into its own during spring and summer, as an ideal place to lose yourself in bosky woodlands, lakes and miles of greenery. But even in winter, unless the weather is absolutely horrid, a stroll through the park makes for a wonderful respite from busy Berlin.
Pastry pit stop
During a day’s gallery-hopping in the city’s art district around Auguststrasse, stop off at Princess Cheesecake, where you can indulge in the German custom of afternoon coffee and cake. Its sweet creations blend gluten-free,low-sugar and fresh, organic ingredients, and the cheesecakes and coffees are divine. Try a classic baked cake or one of the more adventurous numbers, such as the “Mi Cariño Suave”, laden with toffee and candied almonds and topped with quark cream.
Wine and dine
Classic cocktails are enjoying a revival in Berlin, and at Schwarze Traube, a tiny speakeasy-style bar in the hip neighbourhood of Kreuzberg, you can sample some of the best the cithas to offer; owner Atalay Aktas was named Germany’s best bartender in 2013. There’s no menu: just tell the bar staff your flavour preferences and they’ll create something especially for you.
When it comes to dinner, you’re spoilt for choice in Berlin. You could try Mitte’s charmingly ramshackle Dóttir, where Victoria Eliasdottir – sister of Berlin-based artist Olafur Eliasson – is head chef of an Icelandic-themed kitchen. The menu offers clean, herby flavours and wholesome, organic character. Be sure to book ahead.
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