There are dozens of reasons to visit Berlin. The German capital has been an economic and cultural center since the Middle Ages. It has been home to pioneers in almost every art and science, as well as a famed military power with many different historical battles.
Whether tourists want to see opera in one of the world’s great cities, watch their famed film festival or hear the symphony with almost impossible-to-get philharmonic tickets, Berlin is full of opportunities to be surrounded by arts and culture.
Those who love the nightlife can enjoy a vibrant club scene that lasts all night, welcomes many different kinds of lifestyle choices and has many world-renowned locations.
People come for the centuries of architecture that include influence from Medieval times and the kingdom of Prussia. Though much of Berlin was damaged during WWII, many of the most iconic landmarks were rebuilt. Or, for those who love the visual arts both ancient and modern, there are many opportunities to visit one of the dozens of Berlin museums like the Jewish History Museum, Asian Art Museum, or Natural History Museum featuring remains of the first bird, Archaeopteryx.
They come to absorb WWII history in locations like Treptower Park, the museum of tears, and the Holocaust Memorial. Berlin is also the birthplace or former home of famous idols, from Marlene Dietrich to Vladimir Nabokov to Gunter Grass and the Grimm Brothers. If the trip is short, and there is not time to enjoy everything, here are some of the must-see destinations of this ancient and modern city:
Along the river Spree sits Brandenburg Island, the north end boasting a section that was once the home of the town of Colln. This medieval city to old Berlin dated back to 1237. Today, it is considered a part of the Mitte District of Berlin, and home to five world-famous museums. This includes:
The Altesmuseum old museum)- this Greek agora-styled building was originally created when Berlin was a part of the Kingdom of Prussia to house the Royal family’s collection. This was a collaborative effort between Kings Friedrich Wilhelm III and IV and Karl Friedrich Schinkel to promote the bourgeoisie concept of allowing private art to be viewed by the public. It is also home to the state’s collection.
The Bode Museum has a different kind of presentation and is the brainstorm of its first curator, Wilhelm Von Bode. Multiple styles were organized by themed rooms that mixed a combination of sculpture, painting and craft. It was recently reopened in 2006 after a large renovation, but the aesthetic of Bode’s original display style, which is rather unique, has remained intact.
The Neues Museum (“New Museum”) was created in the 1800’s to house the ancient artifacts that were being rediscovered in Ancient Egypt. It was damaged and rebuilt after the bombing of Berlin, and is home to such wonders as the iconic bust of Nefertiti.
The Alte Nationalgalerie (old national gallery) was a dream for a long time, but finally came to life when banker Johann Heinrich Wagoner donated 262 paintings to begin the collection. It hosts a number of different artistic styles, including Neoclassical, Romantic, Biedermeier, Impressionist and Modernist styles.
The collection of the Pergamon Museum is so large that the museum regularly sells multi-day passes in order for people to see the entire collection. Often listed as the must-see museum in Berlin, and compared to the Louvre in Paris, the Pergamon has some unique and dynamic displays such as a sized-to-life reconstruction of the gates of Babylon.
This iconic arched gate sits on the location of an ancient city gate that was the entrance from Berlin to the city of Brandenberg an der Havel. Architecturally, it is a neoclassical triumphal arch. Symbolically, it was a sign of peace that was commissioned by King Wilhelm II of Prussia in 1787. It was a part of the eighteen gates within the customs wall, as Berlin was changing from a fortified city to a center of business.
The gate consists of twelve doric-styled columns arranged into a double row. Originally,this entrance in and out of the city was designed to have different sections of the gate open to passage from different classes. The commoners were only allowed to pass in and out of the outermost passages on each side. Only the royal family was originally allowed to pass through the central section. This privilege was later also extended to the Pfuel family during the 1800’s, and to the coaches of ambassadors who were coming to present their credentials to council.
Atop the gate sits the famed quadriga, a sculpture of the Peace Goddess Eirene, and the reason that this was once called the Peace Gate. The Quadriga became an important symbol in Prussian and later German history, and was used as a symbol for the end of several wars, and the start of the peace procession after the end of the Napoleonic Empire.
Suffering considerable damage in World War II, the gate became a checkpoint between East and West Germany after the Berlin Wall was erected, and the Brandenburg gate became the site of many protests, and was shut down during the final days before the fall of the gate.
The official name of the Holocaust Memorial is the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.” It was designed by famed architects Buro Happold and Peter Eisenmann. This monument is a collection of 2711 concrete “stelae.”
The design is abstract, and designed to create a feeling of unease in the visitor to honor the unease that all should feel about the tragedy of the holocaust. The stelae are arranged in a sloped grid, slightly askew, in a way that is meant to defy anyone’s ability to order them. This design is the winner of the second of two contests to create a public memorial acknowledging this tragedy.
Additionally, there is a Place of information that is designed to help personalize the experience for visitors. On the outside, a timeline that leads up to the final solution greets people, before the building divides into four rooms. The Room of Names holds the names of all known Jewish holocaust victims. The Room of Families focuses on the fates of a few specific families during this time. The other two rooms contain artifacts from the transport and internment of the Jewish people. This includes letters that were written and thrown from trains, and that often never made it to their intended destinations.
The memorial received mixed reviews from many different groups. Some Jewish community members believed it to be unnecessary. Other criticism comes from the fact that Jews were not the only victims in the holocaust, and the homosexuals, gypsies, and people with conditions like dwarfism were not mentioned or honored in the memorial. Whether for or against the idea, the quiet emptiness of this gridded memorial is an unnerving and unforgettable experience that reflects well the emptiness that many feel over the idea of such a terror happening in this world.
This stately German building was created to house the German “Diet”, or parliamentary government. The building was constructed between 1884 and 1894, mainly funded with wartime reparation money from France, a result of Prussia’s victory over France in 1871. Paul Wallot, was the ultimate designer of this Neo-Baroque building.
The building became a central part of the German government. It was the symbol for a more democratic system when the first brick was symbolically laid by Wilhelm I, and when the abdication of Wilhelm II following WWI occurred. It was from the balcony of this building that the public announcement was made that the republic of Germany was to be formed.
Finally, this building secured the power of the Nazi Party over its primary rival, the German communist party in 1933, when a mysterious fire was set that destroyed most of the building. The fire was blamed on a Dutch Communist named Marinus Van Der Lubbe, and this allowed the recently elected Nazi Party leader, Adolf Hitler, to push for strong sanctions against all German communists. It can be said that the destruction of this building was the major turning point of power for Nazi Germany.
It was partly reconstructed after WWII but the central dome and most of the ornamentation were removed. During Berlin’s division the West German parliament assembled here once a year as a way to indicate that Bonn was only a temporary capital. After the unification of Germany the decision was soon made to move the German Parliament from Bonn to Berlin, which resulted in a renovation of the building in the 1990’s. The design by Sir Norman Foster added a glass dome over the plenary hall. At first the subject of much controversy, the dome has become one of the city’s most recognized landmarks.
Today, it is the second most visited building in all of Germany, behind the Cologne cathedral.