The capital city of Germany is rich with history and culture. Badly fractured during World War II and the cold war, Berlin has recreated itself into an international city with diverse cultures and architecture. Explore some top tourist attractions in Berlin that still bears the scars of the recent past.
Built in the late 1700s, the Brandenburg gate is the only surviving city gate of Berlin. The gate is in the western part of Berlin and marks the entrance to Unter den Linden. Used as one of the Berlin Wall crossings, the gate became a site of protest during the division of Germany and a place of celebration when the wall fell in 1989. The gate was severely damaged in World War II and underwent extensive renovation in the early 2000s. Today it is fully restored and is the symbol of not only the turbulent history of the region, but also the reunification of East and West Berlin.
The Reichstag is the seat of the German Parliament and an historic landmark. A fire in 1933 and air raids during the Battle of Berlin in 1945 caused a great deal of damage. The Reichstag sits near the Brandenburg Gate and was not fully restored until after the deconstruction of the Berlin Wall and the German reunification. Some historical scars, such as graffiti left by Soviet soldiers, were left as a tribute to the building’s difficult past. The original building was designed by several architects and the mix of styles in the completed structure was somewhat controversial at the time, but now is appreciated by thousands of visitors each year. The glass dome at the top of the building provides a magnificent view of the city and visitors must register in advance to enter it.
Near the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial is a simple, but powerful tribute to the Jews that died as a result of Hitler’s extermination plan. The 2,711 slabs are arranged in a wave-like pattern over 205,000 square feet. Each stone is unique, varying from ankle high to over six feet tall. The paths between the slabs undulate with the overall effect being one of instability and disorientation. There is no set pattern and visitors may walk in any direction through the peaceful, quiet stones. At the base of the memorial an underground information center offers information and personal stories of people affected by the actions of the Nazi party.
Five museums comprise Museum Island which is located between the Spree River and Kupfergraben. As with many of the structures in Berlin, the old museum buildings were nearly destroyed during the Second World War but are now open. The Altes Museum displays ancient Greek and Roman artifacts, while the Alte Nationalgalerie houses the largest collection of 19th century paintings and sculptures in Germany. The Nues Museum houses prehistoric pieces and Egyptian art, including the bust of Queen Nefertiti. The Pergamon Museum contains another display of Greek and Babylonian antiquities. The Ishtar Gate and Pergamon Altar are here. Finally, the Bode Museum displays a large collection of sculptures, numismatic (coin) collections and a number of paintings.
One of the best known crossing points of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie resonates with emotional and historical significance. Named by the Western Allies, the border crossing bore an ominous sign stating “You are leaving the American Sector”. This was the single crossing point for members of the Allied forces and foreigners. The guardhouse which once stood here is now on display at the Allied Museum in Berlin-Zehlendorf. A replica of a U.S. Army guardhouse stands at the crossing, and cobblestones are used to designate the former border spot. The best documentation on escape attempts and the original Checkpoint sign can be found in the museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie.
This beautiful boulevard lined with linden trees is one of the main east-west routes through Berlin. The trees were first planted in the mid 1600s and are cared for and cultivated by the city. Over the centuries the boulevard has been extended and now stretches from Museum Island to the Brandenburg Gate. Greatly damaged during the war, Unter den Linden has been renovated and is currently lined with many architectural sites and other tourist attractions in Berlin including the German Historical Museum, the Staatsoper, Altes Palais and the Palace Bridge.
There are many different ways to see the Berlin Wall while in the city. If places like Checkpoint Charlie feel too touristy, head to the Berlin Wall Memorial, known in German as the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer. It’s a memorial to the countless men, women and children who died while trying to get across the wall. There is also an adjacent documentation center on Bernauer Straße with additional exhibits and information, although much of it is in German. From the viewing platform, you can see what once was the no-man’s land between East and West Berlin.