Few cities, over the past century, have played a more significant role in the formation of both Germany and modern Europe. The epicentre of German history throughout the 20th century and the city that divided the country until its reunification, Berlin has seen it all. Over the past hundred years, this remarkably adaptable city has borne witness to two world wars, the rise and fall of Hitler, post-war occupation of the Western Allies and the Soviet Union and the fall of a very important wall. Along with a history that has called for constant evolution and resilience, its vibrant performing arts scene, world class museums and position as a global political hub make Berlin one of Europe’s, if not the world’s, most important cities.
For the History Lovers
As a consequence of a turbulent past century, Berlin is rich with historical sites, buildings and landmarks. To truly understand Berlin today is to understand how its past has shaped its present. An excellent way of not only taking in the most significant sights, but giving the all important historical context to them, is to take a walking tour. These tours are generally free, your guide a city expert and allow you to truly appreciate Berlin’s extraordinary history. If tours aren’t your thing and you want to go it alone, then make sure you don’t miss Checkpoint Charlie, the border control between the Soviet controlled East and Western Allies controlled West; The Monument to the Murdered Jews in Europe; the remants of the Berlin Wall; Brandenburg Gate; The Reichstag; the innocuous carpark that stands over what used to be Hitler’s Bunker. Beyond the more touristy sites, check out the excellent, free exhibition, The Topography of Terror; the Berlin Wall Documentation Centre and the former Stasi prison, Hohenschonhausen.
And that’s just scratching the surface.
For the Culture Lovers
To start with, there is an entire island dedicated to the city’s five foremost museums – the UNESCO World Heritage site, Museum Island – and here you can check out the Old National Gallery, The Old Museum, The New Museum, The Pergamon Museum and the Bode Museum. But there are 148 more museums to see for the truly committed.
Berlin’s world class art scene is maintained by regular exhibitions, openings and innovative events like the annual Gallery Weekend. The Painting Gallery is where you can get your fix of 13th-18th century masters, while The New National Gallery has a more recent focs, showcasing art from the 20th century. Also worth checking out is the Bauhaus Archive, an architecture museum.
Theatre, cabaret, opera and live music can be found in abundance, depending on what takes your fancy. Three opera houses, seven symphony orchestras and more than 50 theatres, including the Friedrichstadtpalast, Europe’s largest revue theatre, call Berlin home. For a real Berlin experience, spend a night taking a show, whether it be a classic at the Deutsches Theatre or something a touch more modern at Theatre am Kurfurstendamm.
For the Nightlife Lovers
If New York is the city that never sleeps then Berlin is the city that never stops. Be prepared to start late, peak at around 3am and dance on into the hours of the morning. Berlin’s nightclub scene is often referred to as one of Europe’s best and with over 200 clubs in the city, with a bit of research, you can find your pace. Most clubs are around the Mitte, Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg. Be prepared to pay cover charge, for strict bouncers and a widespread love of electro and techno music.
For the Food Lovers
As one of Germany’s true international cities, Berlin is a melting pot of different cultures from which Berlin’s cuisine reaps the benefits. You can dine out on traditional German fare from various regions – largely Bavarian or East German food – or take advantage of more international flavours like Korean, Italian, contemporary American, Japanese, Russian or Turkish. Being in Germany, of course, you may want to combine your eating experience with fantastic beer, so keep an eye out for breweries like the Brauhaus Südtstern that serve top German food and brew their own beer.
For the Slow Travel Lovers
If a whirlwind of historical monuments, top museums, theatre, art and a long night on the dance floor has worn you out, then you’ll be happy to know there are pockets of peace in this pacy city. Berlin is one of Europe’s greenest cities and if you are there in the Spring or Summer time, its numerous parks will be alive with locals grilling in the sunshine. You can buy your own grilling kit at the local supermarket, some good wurst and beer, and have your own impromptu barbecue.
Visit the Zoologischer Garten, the birth place of Knut the polar bear, chill in the Botanischer Garten, enjoy one of the many cafes lining the River Spree or take a guided boat ride down the River Spree itself. If you’re up for facing some crowds, wander through the Mauerpark Flohmarkt (Flea Market) – if you’re there in the afternoons, you’ll catch the Bearpit Karaoke which anyone can take part in from 3pm onwards. From one retail experience to another, if it is high end fashion you are after, then head to Friedrichstrasse in Mitte and prepare to be wowed by the French emporium Galeries Lafayette.
And remember, don’t leave Berlin without strolling down the famous Unter den Linden which will deposit you right at the Brandenburg Gate. The perfect beginning – or end – to your Berlin experience.
A Note on Getting Around Berlin
Berlin has an excellent public transport system comprised of busses, the U-Bahn (underground) the S-Bahn (above ground) and trams (mainly in the east). You can purchase various ticket types to suit your purpose from train stations and on board the busses and trams.