While often overlooked when compared to Europe’s other major capital cities such as London, Paris, Rome and Amsterdam, Berlin has emerged as one of the continent’s premier cultural capitals and tourist destinations in the years since the collapse of its eponymous wall. While it is not known for its beauty, the city is renowned as being one of Europe’s cultural capitals, with a plethora of invaluable artistic institutions, a thriving nightlife and a trendiness that is the envy of cities across the world. Berlin is one of the hottest cities on the globe, and for good reason.
The defining symbol of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall functioned as both a literal and figurative barrier between capitalist Western Europe and Communist Eastern Europe for nearly 30 years between 1961 to its collapse in 1989. The most recognisable modern landmark of the city, the Berlin Wall’s collapse catalysed the reunification of East and West Germany, and its remains function today as a potent reminder of the country’s recent history and former divisions. Today, the Berlin Wall remains a focal tourist attraction, with a number of auxiliary sites, most notably the East Side Gallery, an open-air gallery specialising in street art and the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, which specialises in the history of the Wall itself. One of the most important historical sites of the 20th Century, the Berlin Wall is an essential destination for those visiting the German capital
Modern-day Berlin is notably renowned for its thriving, bustling nightlife, which is considered to be an indispensable part of its culture. Its superclubs, such as Berghain, Watergate and Tresor attract tourists from all corners of the world, but are known for their staunch selectivity. For music and clubbing aficionados, Berlin is a world capital, with after hours events tailoring to all kinds of tastes. For those wanting an authentic Berlin experience, a night at one of the city’s top clubs isn’t a bad place to start.
One of Berlin’s most recognisable historical buildings, the Reichstag Building dates back to the turn of the 20th Century, having opened in 1894. Initially housing the Imperial Diet of the German Empire, it fell into disrepair following a devastating fire in 1933 shortly after Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. It was not until the aftermath of the Cold War in 1990 when the building was finally afforded an extensive refurbishment. It is difficult to believe that such a magnificent site remained neglected for so long, but since its reconstruction it has become one of the city’s major tourist sites, the second-most visited in the country-known both for its historical significance and the glass dome, which offers stunning views of the city.
Another iconic site of Germany, the Brandenburg Gate was built at the end of the 19th Century in 1791 under the instruction of Prussian King Frederick William II. The Brandenburg Gate is notable for its distinct neoclassical design and its huge significance in German political history over the past 200 years. The gate has been the site for a number of political processions, being first utilised for this purpose by Napoleon Bonaparte following his military victory over the Prussians in 1806. During the 1930’s and 1940’s, the Brandenburg Gate was a notable symbol of Nazi power, and despite sustaining considerable damage towards the end of the Second World War, it was successfully restored through joint efforts of East and West Berlin, thus outliving the conflict and the Nazi co-opting of its likeness. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the cessation of the Cold War, the Brandenburg Gate became a prominent symbol of unification and freedom. Today, it remains a valuable celebratory symbol and plays host to a number of national celebrations, most notably the German National Football Team’s World Cup victory rally in 2014.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
In close proximity to the Brandenburg Gate is one of Berlin’s most recent landmarks – the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Built between 2003-2004, the memorial has quickly become one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks and a popular tourist site for those paying their respects to those lost in the atrocious genocide of the Second World War. Consisting of over 2700 concrete slabs designed by esteemed American architect Peter Eisenman and renowned British engineer Bruno Happold, the memorial is one of the essential destinations in Berlin.
One of the city’s most recognisable landmarks, the Fernsehturm Berlin is a television tower located in the city’s centre. The tallest structure in the country and the second-tallest in the entirety of Europe, the tower was built in the 1960’s by the Communist GDR as a symbol of supremacy. While the collapse of Communism has seen the tower shed this image, it remains one of the city’s most recognisable symbols. Today, it retains its function as a television tower whilst also hosting a restaurant and events space. A timeless and iconic building synonymous with the city.
Berlin is a city known for its cosmopolitan urban grit, but for those looking for a quick escape to more serene surroundings, the Grunewald Forest is an ideal destination. Located on the city’s Western outskirts, the Grunewald Forest encompasses over 7000 acres and is the city’s largest area of greenery. Featuring an ample amount of lakes and ponds, the forest is one of the city’s most beautiful spots and certainly worth a visit for those seeking a contemplative reprieve from the hectic urban centre.
Arguably the city’s most significant cultural centre, Museum Island is located in the Mitte district in the centre of Berlin. A complex comprised of the city’s most significant museums – the island includes the Altes (Old) Museum, which dates back to the early 19th Century and specialises in antiquities. The Neues (New) Museum, built initially in the mid-19th Century, was redeveloped in 2009, is known for its neoclassical design and impressive collection of Ancient Egyptian artifacts including the iconic Nefertiti Bust. The Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), built in the mid-19th Century, is one of the city’s most impressive art collections, specialising in neoclasical, impressionist and early modernist art. The Bode Museum, built in the early 20th Century specialises in Late Antiquities and the Pergamon Museum, built in 1930 after 20 years of construction, is known for its recreations of iconic ancient structures such as the Ishtar Gate. An additional museum, the Humboldt Forum, is due to open in the Berlin Palace in 2009, hosting the pre-existing Museum of Asian Art and Ethnological Museum of Berlin. For those looking for their cultural fix in Berlin, this is the best place to start.
The city’s largest palace, Charlottenburg has been likened to Berlin’s answer to Versailles. Built at the turn of the 18th Century, it is known for its lavish design and baroque architectural influences. Despite sustaining considerable damage during the Second World War, the reconstruction effort has seen the palace return to prominence as a major tourist attraction. The palace’s main draw is its vast and beautiful baroque-style gardens, which flank the palace.
One of the city’s quirkier museums, the DDR Museum is an essential destination for those looking for cultural and historical enlightenment. The DDR Museum presents an authentic impression of life in East Germany during the Cold War, functioning as a time capsule of a world that, while a far cry from modern-day Berlin, existed just thirty years ago. One of the most informative and unusual museums in the city, it is certainly worth a visit for those wanting to learn more about life in Cold War-era Germany.