Berlin is one of the top visited cities in Germany, and Europe, to state the obvious. Even if you’re not planning on touring the rest of Germany (which you should – see Bamberg, Nuremberg, Hamburg, Dresden, and Cologne to see why!) chances are that you are interested in visiting Berlin. The truth is, you can spend days exploring Berlin – from its myriad museums to monuments commemorating its historical significance and cultural value to Germany and beyond. Here are a few highlights to see over a weekend in Berlin during the day – and what you can afford to miss out on, as curated by a German and his expat wife. You would definitely have heard of some of these – but perhaps not all of them.
Where to stay
How to get around
Most of the highlights mentioned below are extremely walkable. You can take the tram to any other spots – Berlin’s sprawling geography has led to a good city-wide tram system. We recommend buying a day ticket instead of single tickets to get around – depending on where you are staying, it can be much more economical than buying single tickets.
What Not To Miss
Berlin Wall (Memorial of the Berlin Wall – Gendenkstätte Berliner Mauer)
You probably have some notion of the Berlin Wall: it was constructed during the Soviet Union’s occupation of Eastern Germany to separate East Berlin from West Berlin. There are many remnants of the Berlin Wall all around the city. Some have quirky graffiti on them that make for good Instagram pictures but we strongly suggest that you do start with the Memorial to the Berlin Wall (easily searchable on Google Maps) to see a more authentic representation of the wall and its history. Allow yourself an hour to walk around the outdoor exhibits if you’re visiting in the summer, and take in the important information: e.g. 90 people successfully crossed over from East to West Berlin, and over 138 people were gunned down trying to cross. You can hear stories from survivors, of weddings that took place in West Germany while parents looked over and wept from East Germany.
The Chapel of Reconciliation
Located at the site of the Memorial of the Berlin Wall, the Chapel of Reconciliation is place of meditation and silence. The altarpiece of the chapel is from the Church of Reconciliation, which was blasted by Soviet forces as the church was on the border of East and West Berlin – and for other reasons. Its story is beautifully represented at the exhibit.
Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)
The iconic Brandenburg Gate lives up to the hype as a “gateway” to Berlin and Germany. Built on the orders of King Frederick Wilhelm II in the 18th century, this monument has seen the passing of time during the reigns of Napoleon, the Third Reich, and the Cold War, up to today.
Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism
A 3 minute walk from the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) is the Memorial to the Sinti and the Roma Victims of National Socialism. The discrimination and systematic murder of the Sinti and Roma by the Nazi regime is little known, and it is a good outdoor exhibit to visit to learn and think about the horror and trials these groups faced (and actually continue to face to this day).
This is the German parliamentary building, where the Bundestag, or German parliament, is held (to avoid confusion between the two terms!) You can register online to go in to 1) see a parliamentary session (only in German), 2) visit the exhibition inside the dome of the Reichstag (where you can climb up to see spectacular views over Berlin, a truly memorable experience, considering the historical significance of where you are standing!) and 3) take a guided tour of the museum on the ground floor of the Reichstag. Online registration beforehand is necessary, and we would recommend booking as early as possible – at least two weeks ahead, depending on the season when you will be visiting. Make sure you have your passports with you when you line up to enter (having registered online) – you will not be allowed to enter without your passport. Arrive at least 40 minutes before the time you are due to enter – lines are not uncommon, in the summer and winter.
Berlin Victory Column
A 25-30 minute walk from the Reichstag via a green walkway will lead you to the Berlin Victory Column, commemorating the Prussian victory over Danes, Austrians, and the French between 1864 and 1871. It is sometimes referred to as “Golden Lizzy.” You can climb the tower for views over Berlin.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Head back towards the center of the city to spend some time at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This memorial consists of 2711 concrete slabs of varying heights. It has been known to induce feelings of loneliness and confusion; perhaps a mere inkling of the emotions that Jews had to face during this terrible time in human history.
There is a museum beneath the concrete representation. There can be lines to enter the museum during the summer, so plan accordingly.
Topography of Terror
This is an excellent indoor and outdoor exhibit, detailing the Nazis rise to power, the propaganda machine that they used to convert hundreds of thousands to their cause, and the systems they put in place to wage their wars against those who didn’t submit to their cause. There’s a detailed model of Berlin during the Third Reich – you can see the offices of different officials and their strategic placement throughout the city, and what stands on their destroyed foundations today. Don’t forget to visit the museum inside (for free). Allow yourself two hours to see this gallery.
As a side-note, this is Kula’s favorite stop on the Berlin tour program. We can really recommend it.
Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral)
The Berlin Cathedral is worth the minimal entrance fee to take in the immense cathedral and multi-floor exhibits inside. You can climb all the way to the top of the “dome,” (not to be confused with the German “Dom” which means Cathedral!) for views over the city as well.
If you are lucky enough to enjoy warm weather during your visit, take some time to enjoy the green outside the Berlin Cathedral.
Located a few minutes from the Berlin Dom, visit the small but informative DDR museum to learn about life in East Germany during the Soviet Union occupation. This is an excellent way to familiarize yourself about the different, tumultuous histories Berlin has stood through. Allow yourself two hours to see this museum.
Looking for respite from the museums and staggering history lessons during your tour of Berlin? Head to the “Fountain of Fairytales,” a locally-known park with beautiful sculptures and a large fountain for some relaxation.
Berliner Fernsehturm (Berlin TV Tower)
If you’re looking for commanding views over the city and perhaps a drink or meal at a revolving restaurant, visit the Berlin TV Tower.
St. Mary’s Church
This is a red-brick Gothic church located relatively close to Alexanderplatz and the Berlin TV Tower, where you can see a fresco from 1485 named the “Dance of Death.”
If you have more than a day (or two!) to explore Berlin, you can visit one or more of the five museums on “Museum Island”:The “New Museum,” “Old Museum,” “Old National Gallery,” “Pergamon Museum,” and “Bode Museum.” One ticket gains you entry to all of these museums.
There are also other museums for you to consider: The Museum for Islamic Art is close to Museum Island, and the German History Museum and Jewish Museum are interesting to explore.
What To Miss
Unless you are headed to the Berlin TV Tower (Berliner Fernsehturm), want to shop, or are passing through Alexanderplatz to get to another part of the city, there is no need to visit Alexanderplatz to simply see Alexanderplatz. It’s a plaza of restaurants and department stores, and hub for buses and trams across the city.
This is the name given by Western Allies to the best-known spot where East Berliners escaped over to West Berlin. However, there is no authentic value of visiting this spot today. There are two soldiers standing in the middle of a complex. You can take a selfie with them. You’re better off spending your time at the Berlin Wall Memorial, Reconciliation Chapel, or any of the other stops mentioned above, if you’re looking for a more authentic look into the history of Berlin and Germany in the international sphere.
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