10 Things to see in Berlin
A city full of history.
For someone like me who sleeps little there is Berlin, the city where you never have to sleep… I sent some Greetings From Berlin in my previous post highlighting some good to know points and interesting facts (also bits about the food and drink). In this post I focus more on the sights to see and there are a few that are definitely worth the visit. If you are limited for choice or only have a day or two, then try to fit these 10 must-see attractions into your schedule.
First things first...
To have access to the city’s transport system is a good idea. (Unless you are opting for the Welcome Card which includes access). It’s available 24 hours a day and it works. Berlin’s main transport company is the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe. The BVG app can be found here for download.
It allows you access on the busses, the underground U-Bahn, trams and ferry network. Once you have the app, you can buy various tickets ranging from Day Tickets, a 7 Day Ticket and there are even Tourist Tickets like the City Tour Card or Welcome Card which include discount offers.
Depending on your plans, this is well worth it.
Traffic Light Tower.
This traffic light tower is located in Potsdamer Platz and is a replica of the first ever traffic light tower in Europe that was erected at this same location in 1924.
One amazing thing in Germany is how everyone obeys the traffic lights. In South Africa people weave through cars and walk even when the lights are red, even when there are cars coming.
Not here. If it’s red, you wait.
I later learned it is in fact illegal to cross a red light. No wonder people look at you like you are some kind of rebel…. 🤔
Where to start.
Depending on the area you’re in, you may choose to start right there, but if you would like to know the best starting point, I would point out Berlin’s most famous landmark, the emblem of the city, …The Brandenburg Gate. It is in the Mitte district and is a meeting point for many tourists.
The Brandenburg Gate
This beautiful arch structure is an 18th-century neoclassical monument in Berlin. At the top of the arch is statue that is known as the ‘Quadriga’. It is of the goddess of victory driving a chariot pulled by four horses. She holds onto an iron cross rod.
The Gate is a symbol of unity and freedom.
There are a couple of attractions within walking distance of the gate, like:
The Acadamy of Arts,
the French and US Embassies,
and the gorgeous luxury Adlon Hotel.
The Hop on Hop off bus passes by here too and about a million people come to the gate for the annual New Year’s Eve party. I hear it’s quite a show!
Tiergarten district is where you can find many of the historic landmarks in Berlin. It is also home to the most popular inner-city park in Berlin, Tiergarten Park. Probably the biggest garden I’ve ever been in. Still it is only the 2nd largest in Berlin, and 3rd largest in Germany. It is scattered with monuments.
I can imagine how beautiful it looks in the cold winters with snow, and green in summer. This year Germany is experiencing a mild winter, meaning trees with no leaves, but no snow… Still breathtakingly beautiful.
The Victory Column
2.6kms down the road from the Brandenburg Gate is The Victory Column, a monument of Victoria, the goddess of victory, gold-plated and standing proud in the middle of Tiergarten park.
The official residence of the German President. It’s situated next to the Spree River not far from the Victory Column. Some parts are closed to visitors and so one of the best ways to view it is from the water. There is a 2.5-hour boat cruise that will take you past the palace as well as the Berlin Catheral and Museum Island.
This is home to the largest selection of species in the world, it’s even got a giant panda! It’s also the oldest zoo in Germany.
The Holocaust Memorial
Also known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
Concrete grey slabs, thousands of them lay in a grid style on a slope. They differ in height so it gives the impression of a maze as you walk in between the alleys.
There were 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust.
I can’t even imagine. I mean the population of Berlin is about 3.7 million. This is so heart breaking.
The Libeskind Building
The building is designed by the American architect Daniel Libeskind.
It’s a cold and grey building with concrete, titanium and zinc used throughout. The walls are angled and there are many zigzags as you walk along the hallways. The building is very empty which creates the feeling of void and it has no heating or air-conditioning installed.
It has many rooms branching off from the main hallways, but there were 3 installations that really caught my eye.
1) The Garden of Exile is much like the Holocaust Memorial, in that it holds slabs of concrete, except that these are standing tall. It is has 49 stelae in a 7 x 7 layout with olive bushes growing atop which are a symbol of hope.
2) The Holocaust Tower or the “Voided Void” is a concrete silo and it has an opening where daylight can penetrate through. The walls don’t allow for sounds to travel through clearly and it has a very morose feeling.
3) The Shalekhet (Memory Void) is one of the 5 voids, and it holds the Fallen Leaves exhibition. It is one of the symbolic spaces on the ground level of the building. More than 10,000 faces with open mouths cut from heavy round iron plates, cover the floor.
Checkpoint Charlie was the best known crossing point between East and West Berlin.
The Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall was a barrier that divided Berlin. It was split between the Communist East Berlin and Democratic West Berlin. The wall was built in 1961 and demolished in 1989.
The East Side Gallery is a 1.3km long open-air gallery that consists of murals painted on the remains of the Berlin Wall. Here are some of my favorites. You can view them all on my Instagram.
All the must sees...
Berlin is big. It is impossible to cover all the must-sees in a day or two. You do get a feeling of wanting to just settle in and live the Berlin life a bit longer. If you do have more time, it’s easier to discover the beautiful buildings and interesting attractions by district.
Here are some of the spots not mentioned above by area:
Unter den Linden, Schlossbrücke bridge, the State Opera, the Comic Opera, the Armoury, the Crown Prince’s Palace, Alexanderplatz square, the 365-meter Television Tower, the Gendarmenmarkt, Friederichstrasse, Museum Island.
City West – Charlottenburg, Wilmersdorf, Schöneberg, Tiergarten, Moabit
Ku’Damm (short for Kurfürstendamm), Charlottenburg Palace, Kulturforum, Tiergarten, Olympic Stadium, Savignyplatz, Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church, Deutsche Oper, the Reichstag, Potsdamer Platz, Philharmonie, Gemäldegalerie, the Neue Naionalgalerie, Berlin Zoo.
East Central – Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg
The Mercedes Benz Arena, and Berghain, Speicher, Matrix, Karel Duba, Non Tox – all party venues, Mauermuseum Haus
North – Spandau, Tegel, Reinickendorf, Pankow, Weissensee, Gesundbrunnen, Wedding
Bernauer Strasse (a section of the wall is in this street with a strip of No Man’s Land).
East – Lichtenberg, Hohenschonhausen, Marzahn, Hellersdorf
Stasi Prison, Gardens of the World, Tierpark
South – Steglitz, Zehlendorf, Tempelhof, Neukölln, Treprow, Köpenick
Kunst und Genuspeicher, Treptower Volkspark, the Plänterwald forest, The Bridge of Hearts, Insel Der Jugend, Molecule Man, Archenhold Observatory, the Neuköllner Oper, the Böhmisches Dorf, the castle Britz, the Britzer Garten, the Hufeisensiedlund, Wrangelschloss Palace, Wannsee lake and Grunewald forest, Pfaueninsel (peacock island), Brückemuseum.