With around 3.5 million inhabitants Germany’s capital is by far the biggest city of the country. The fact that nearly 15% of them are originally from a foreign country accounts for Berlin’s special charm. In difference to nearly every other European capital, Berlin is rather one of the cheaper cities to live in, but there is a huge difference between seperate districts.
The government district
Situated next to the Pariser Platz, the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) is one of the best known landmarks of Germany (you can even see it on the German 10, 20 and 50 cent coins). The only sustained town gate became a symbol for the reunification since the Berlin Wall used to run right through it - separating the eastern from the western part of Berlin for nearly thirty years. Its architecture is inspired by the Acropolis in Athens. The political district is located all around this impressive building.
Within a few minutes walk from the Brandenburg Gate you can reach the Reichstag, home of the Bundestag (German Parliament). With the relocation of all governmental affairs from Bonn to Berlin in 1999 the building was completely renovated and reopened. You can walk inside the glassy dome of the building for free. Around the Reichstag many governmental buildings have been sited, for example the Bundeskanzleramt (German Chancellery).
On the other side of the Pariser Platz there is the Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe). The monument, designed by Peter Eisenmann, was opened in 2005 to commemorate the approximately six million jewish victims of the Holocaust. 2,711 concrete pillars of varying sizes to walk between constitute a different idea of memorials then you might be used to. You can enter the monument from every side. The character of the pillars creates a feeling of unease.
The East Side Gallery is, on the one hand, the world’s longest constant open air exhibition and on the other hand it is the largest preserved part of the Berlin Wall. Along 1,316 meters you can gaze at about 100 paintings of different artists.
The Alexanderplatz, often referred to as “Alex”, constituted the center of East-Berlin and was supposed to be the center of the whole GDR. Surrounded by wide avenues and Stalinist buildings, the Fernsehturm (television tower) is the highly visible emblem of the Alexanderplatz. An elevator lifts you up to get a breathtaking view over Berlin at around 200 meters high. Close by there is the Rotes Rathaus (Red Town Hall) which is the domicile of Berlin’s mayor.
Shopping & Leisure
The city center of former West Berlin can be found around the Kurfürstendamm. Besides the ruin of the protestant Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche (Emperor Wilhelm Memorial Church) that was destroyed during WWII (and has never been rebuilt to remind everyone of the devastating war), you will find Berlin’s most important shopping mile including many notable brands. The Kaufhaus des Westens [KaDeWe] (Department Store of the West) is located at the end of this street. Germany’s most famous department store is the biggest of its kind on the whole European continent and offers nearly everything one could think of.
Another way to spend your time around the Kurfürstendamm is visiting the Berlin Zoo. Amongst others started by the famous scientist, Alexander von Humboldt, it is Germany’s oldest zoo. Its variety, with more than 15,000 animals, makes it one of Berlin’s highlights.
Culture & Clubbing
More than any other place, the Potsdamer Platz creates a tremendous metropolitan atmosphere. Completely rebuilt after the reunification, it is one of Berlin’s most visited spots. There is a huge accumulation of bars, restaurants and cinemas. Furthermore it is the setting for several events like the Festival of Lights and last but not least for the world famous Berlinale, one the most important film festivals in the world.
Berlin offers an almost unlimited spectrum of music and culture. For example it is the hometown of Germany’s most successful band abroad: Rammstein. The Hackesche Höfe with a variety of clubs and bars are a common place to start a night out in Berlin. If you prefer electronic music you have to visit the Berghain, or at least try to get in. The club was elected “Best Club in the World” once and it is probably the most exciting location to party. Maybe most remarkable are the common marathon party nights lasting from Saturday until Monday morning.
Unter den Linden (Under the lime-trees) is one of Berlin’s most beautiful boulevards. Many of the city’s most popular museums are situated there as well as the state opera house and the main building of the Humboldt Universität. You will not be able to visit all of them so pick the most interesting ones or just enjoy the unique atmosphere of this street.
The city’s most famous culinary specialties can be enjoyed on almost every corner. You definitely have to try an original Currywurst (sausage with curry sauce) or a Döner Kebab. The prevalent form (served in a pita bread with salad, tomatoes and cabbage) of this originally Turkish dish was invented in Berlin. Since they say the district Kreuzberg was its birthplace it is probably the best place to have one.
Getting to Berlin
- Plane: Currently there are two existing airports in Berlin: Schönefeld and Tegel. While the first one is about 20 km outside the city the second one is bigger and within the urban area of Berlin. Both can be reached easily by bus from the center. To Schönefeld there are also several local trains. With the opening of the new airport Berlin-Brandenburg (estimated in spring 2014) that is situated next to the airport Schönefeld, both of the other airports will be closed.
- Train: Berlin has several stations connected to inter urban rail services. Most important is the Hauptbahnhof (main station) which is located near the center. It offers many intercity connections and is directly tied to the public transport system of the city.
- Car: Berlin can easily be reached from every cardinal direction. All motorways lead to the Berliner Ring, with exits to all different areas of the city. Keep in mind that you need a pollution badge to enter the central city with your car.
- Coach: From the Zentraler Omnibus Bahnhof ZOB (central coach station) you can reach many German cities and also some cities in eastern and northern Europe. Due to legal restrictions in order to protect the Deutsche Bahn (German railway) the network is far away from its potential capability.