Berlin, Germany’s bustling capital, is one of our favourite places in the world. The city clings on to its rich history and quirky culture offering many diverse sights and things to do.
Berlin definitely has something for everyone, our top 7 list is made up of the best things we did in the city over 4 days. We got to see Berlin in all of its glory in a short space of time and most of the activities were completely free!
We saw wonderful political messages here including the ‘Fraternal Kiss’ which replicates a moment of fraternal embrace between Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honeckerback in 1979 during the 30th anniversary celebration of the foundation of the German Democratic Republic. This is arguably the most famous part of the gallery.
The East Side Gallery is a 1.3km section of the Berlin Wall decorated in wonderful street art focusing on equality and freedom. It is located on Mühlenstraße in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg.
By visiting the Gallery at night, we were able to appreciate the artwork without having to maneuver around other tourists.
We also got the opportunity to experience a couple of beers at nearby Kreuzberg , a place offering a cultural nightlife experience with something for everyone.
The building that hosts the Topography of Terror exhibition was once the headquarters of the Secret State Police during the Third Reich (Nazi State) from 1933 to 1945. It has its own prison, offices for the SS Security Service and the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Main Office for State Security) on site.
Now attracting over 1 million visitors per year, the exhibition walls are lined with documentation from the war complete with rare imagery and audio accounts from those affected by Adolf Hitler’s regime. The focus of the information centers around the history of terror institutions and crimes committed in the immediate vicinity by the Nazi government.
The victim accounts were gut wrenching and really hit us hard as we slowly shifted around the exhibition. We saw some people in tears as they heard the audio accounts of victims and their families involved with Nazi-initiated terror. It was an educational experience as we learned how the Nazi party merged with other state institutions from the heart of Berlin. Unlike our experience at Auschwitz in Poland, the exhibition equally focuses on the perpetrators as well as the victims. This lured extra emotions such as anger and we saw a lot of visitors shaking their heads as they read through the literature, most likely in disbelief.
The fact that the Topography of Terror is located on an authentic site used by the Nazi regime makes the whole experience genuine. We would find ourselves wondering what terrible decisions had been made on the very spot we were standing.
A significant piece of the Berlin Wall stands outside the grounds of the Topography of Terror. The wall stands in its original location and visitors are able to touch it.
Though it was an experience pulling on all strings of emotion, the Topography of Terror really gives you a feel of Berlin’s history and how German officials are painstakingly documenting what happened here during a dark period of their past.
On par with the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, this is one of our favourite buildings in Europe. Built as a protestant church in the late 1890s, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was badly damaged during a bombing raid in 1943. The building now consists of a church with a damaged spire and an attached foyer. In 1963, construction of a separate belfry with a chapel was completed and visitors can now enter all parts of the building for free. The ground floor is a memorial hall to Kaiser Wilhelm who was the last German Emperor (Kaiser) and King of Prussia. The people of Berlin have nicknamed the church “der Hohle Zahn” which means “The Hollow Tooth” due to how it looks today.
The building is a poignant reminder of World War II. There is a free museum as you walk in telling the story of how the building was erected and destroyed. The remainder of the painted ceiling gives a true reflection of the attention to detail made by the artists involved in the initial decoration.
The modern chapel, Foyer an der Gedächtniskirch, currently holds concerts and religious events. The blue glass reflects light beautifully onto the statues making it a great place to sit and relax.
A beautiful organ sits at the back of the chapel, some visitors have arrived in time for a rendition of Bach which is put on regularly by the church.
Thinking this would be an easy ‘ride’ up into the sky for an incredible view of the city, we ended up being absolutely petrified on the Berlin Hi Flyer! One of us had a fear of heights and the other was just as scared as we reached the peak of our incline! This is not for the faint-hearted but it is a fun way to see the city in all of its glory.
The Berlin Hi Flyer takes up to 30 people in an enclosed carriage beneath a balloon which is 22.5m in diameter. Helium gas takes passengers 150m up in the air suspended on a steel cable 22mm in diameter. Although passengers are not physically able to fall out, a delicate wind can move the balloon in different directions. The balloon will not fly in wind speeds over 13m/s.
Those who were enclosed with us were naturally wandering around us as we seized up temporarily, causing the platform to move. We found this a little frightening but we eventually managed to look up and see all of our favourite Berlin attractions from a very different angle.
Though it was a thrilling and unforgettable experience, we’re glad we did it but I don’t think we would do it again!
Located by Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate, the park offers a new growth forest that has been revived since World War II. Lathered with paths that weave in and out of open spaces and lovely little ponds, Tiergarten has enchanting greenery, stunning forest trees and beautiful wildlife, including a lone fox that we had the pleasure of spotting at dusk. One of the highlights was the Victory Column (Siegessaule) that was erected to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War.
The beautiful gold colour of the statue on top of the column reflected the sunlight perfectly making it an easy navigational marking as we strolled around the shadowing trees and forest.
After hopping almost 80 cities across the world, we have formed a grand appreciation of a city park. We include urban retreats in most of our city itineraries so we can kick back, picnic and absorb local cultures. Tiergarten fulfilled our wish as a resting spot for our tired feet right in the centre of Berlin.
There are lots of monuments scattered around the park, reflecting its rich history.We walked the entire length on foot on our ‘day of rest’ and enjoyed the peace away from the urban chaos. Lots of people passed through on bikes and the park attracts a lot of runners.
We hear there is a ‘naked section’ of the park, which we did not see, and there are also areas for ‘cruising’, which we did see! The park has a couple of eateries and seasonal flower displays such as a Rose Garden. There is definitely something for everyone in Tiergarten.
The Reichstag is the second most visited building in the whole of Germany (beneath the Cologne Cathedral). Standing since 1871, the building was subject to a battering from a fire in 1933 and the WWII shortly after. After modern restoration in 1999, it became the meeting place of the Bundestag (German parliament).
We didn’t realize tickets can be booked in advance online and were relieved to find there is a way to get them on the same day (subject to availability). Free tickets can be obtained at the Visitors’ Service building next to the Berlin Pavilion on the south side of Scheidemannstraße shown on the map below:We queued for tickets for an hour or so but it was so worth the wait. Remember, you will be entering a government building so you will need to take ID. A passport is the safest option, we saw people rejected with their driving licences and other forms of ID from their own country. You can not visit until after two hours of your approval at the Visitor’s Service so be sure to go as early as possible.
The Reichstag is open from 08:00 to 24:00 every day. We chose a 6:30pm slot that allowed us to watch the sun set over the city.
The Reichstag building is famous for its large glass dome which offers visitors a 360-degree view of Berlin. The main hall (debating chamber), where the Bundestag hold their meetings, sits on the lower floor and can be seen from inside the dome.
During the free audio tour, we learned about the history of the building and facts about the unique architecture which is incredibly advanced. The free tour is very organised where a guide will lead you on the circular pathway around the dome.
The natural light from above the dome radiates down to the parliament floor. A large sun shield tracks the movement of the sun electronically and reflects natural light to the lower floor.
As you walk higher on the inclining path around the dome, the views become more spectacular. The audio guide advises on what buildings can be seen on the outside as well as giving facts about the building itself. Once you hit the top, there is an outside area where you can capture the most spectacular photographs of Berlin.
The dome itself looks incredible from the outside:
We recommend visiting at a time when the sunsets on a clear day if possible so you can enjoy some of the most incredible colours of a late European sky.
Out of all the places in the world, we never saw a sunset quite like the one in Berlin.
For visiting information, please refer to the Reichstag’s website here: http://www.bundestag.de/htdocs_e/visits/kuppel/kupp/245686
This is a great way to see the highlights of Berlin in a short space of time with incredibly knowledgeable tour guides. We love free walking tours and we often join them on our first day arriving at a new city. Out of all of the cities in the world where we took part in a walking tour, this was the most extraordinary of them all. We saw so much in the space of 3 hours!
The tour started at Alexanderplatz, the central shopping area of the city, where we walked by the Berlin Fernsehturm (TV Tower). We learned it is one of the tallest freestanding structures in Europe!
Be sure to check out the World Clock, one of Alexanderplatz’s well-known features.
The clock functions as a revolving cylinder with the world’s 24 time zones listed by the names of major cities in each zone.
We were completely overloaded by the number of extraordinary buildings across the city as we approached the Berliner Dom, also known as the Berlin Cathedral, including an abandoned former communist building now occupied by squatters!
We were taken to Neue Wache which is right beside the Berliner Dom. It has a haunting memorial of a mother cradling her dead son in a dark room that is lit by a gap in the ceiling. The building was restored following heavy bombings during World War II. This is where the start of story of World War II begins on the tour.
Visiting the Humboldt University, where the great Albert Einstein once studied, was one of the highlights of the tour.
The University has been standing since 1810 and during the second World War, the Nazi regime took 20,000 books written by authors who they considered to be ‘degenerates’ and opponents and burned them in the square outside. A beautiful memorial of an underground library now sits in the square containing empty shelves capable of holding 20,000 books. The tribute really gives perspective on how many books, some original copies, were destroyed here.
We passed through the beautiful Gendarmenmarkt, a bustling public square lined with stunning buildings such as the Konzerthaus Berlin and the Französischer Dom.
There is an impressive window display belonging to a famous chocolate shop in Gendarmenmarkt called Fassbender & Rausch, who are known for their Berlin building replicas made entirely out of fancy confectionery.
As we wandered through the streets and roads of the city, our tour guide told us about the Ampelmännchen. Ampelmännchen translates to ‘little traffic light men’ and it is the symbol shown on pedestrian signals in the former East Germany.
Knowing about this treasured symbol of Berlin made it more fun trying to spot them across the city!
As we approached the famous Checkpoint Charlie, we walked over what once was the Berlin Wall.
Checkpoint Charlie was one of the highlights of the tour, with fake guards where the real guards once stood, it really gives you a feel of what it was like in the segregated city between 1961 and 1989.
We also got to see a big slab of the Berlin Wall still standing in its original location.
Our guide told us many facts about the wall including stories of those who tried to get over to the other side. He told us about the Strelzyk and Wetzel families, who on September 16, 1979 attempted escape from East Germany to West Germany in a homemade hot air balloon. Berlin have since paid tribute by offering tourists the chance to experience a 150m flight on the world’s largest captive hot air balloon held to the ground by a large steel cable offering amazing views of the city. We came back to this on the day after the walking tour, see item 4 for more!
The most surprising part of the walking tour was stopping by a car park outside a block of apartments near the Holocaust Memorial. If we hadn’t experienced the walking tour, we would never have known that this was the alleged location of Adolf Hilter’s bunker.
If the stories are true, this is where Hilter would have killed himself. Only a small sign by the car park indicates what once stood here, it is very hard to spot if you are walking by. Our guide told us the location is kept under wraps as the government do not want anybody paying tribute to Hilter in any way.
Just across the road stands the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe also known as the ‘Holocaust Memorial’. Our guide insisted there was no explanation as to why it was built the way it was and to use our imagination as we walked through. Our thoughts were how claustrophobic we felt weaving in and out of big dark blocks, feeling lost and often alone, how we imagined it would feel being inside a gas chamber. We found it eerie and emotional and it is a fitting tribute to all who lost their lives during World War II.
We even saw a wandering fox here, probably lost weaving in and out of the big concrete maze.The final leg of the tour ends in Pariser Platz (Paris Square) where we were told the French army once took over Berlin and named the square after their great capital. Our guide told us that the Goddess Victoria on the top of Brandenburg Gate is purposely facing the French Embassy to give the impression that the ‘Germans are always watching them’.
It was in Pariser Platz where we saw the famous hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby son over the balcony during a moment of madness!
The tour ended in a surrounding of top class street performers, hustling souvenir stalls and a buzzing atmosphere. This was our favorite walking tour in the world so we tipped generously as the guides rely on these tips to make a living!
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