No other city has seen more change in modern history than the German capital of Berlin. In the past hundred years alone, the old Prussian city saw the rise and fall of Hitler’s Nazi regime, was razed almost completely to the ground, before being captured and split down the middle by democratic West and the communist East. Today’s Berlin was born in 1989, at the fall of the Berlin wall. Nothing says fresh start like the city today, in which thrives a reborn German culture, brand new architecture, and the finest arts and entertainment in the country.
In light of Em’s recent visit, we thought we’d give you five essential things to see and do in Berlin. If you’re visiting the city this summer, don’t miss them!
The Berlin Wall
One of the most iconic symbols of the Cold War and 1960’s culture, the wall which once separated East and West Germany is now a very popular tourist attraction. As we found out, throughout the Cold War many East Germans planned their great escapes over (or under) the wall. A few succeeded, though most did not. One reason you need to see the Berlin Wall is to view the amazing street art – painted in protest during the Cold War. If you want a little preview, check out this awesome photo Emily took!
Also, some souvenir shops have taken to selling small fragments of the wall for you to buy. Keep in mind if you want a really cool gift!
Do a Walking Tour
Sam did this in 2014, and he thinks it’s the best way to see this great city. One great idea that has popped up in many European cities is the business of Free Walking Tours. The idea behind free walking tours is that there is no upfront cost to them, although you are expected to tip the guide what you think it was worth.
Let us say, it’s well worth your money (if you feel obliged to pay). The company Sam went with was Sandeman’s New Berlin Tours, and it was the best thing he did in Berlin. The tour covered all major historical and modern attractions, and the guide, Zabi, really brought the areas to life with storytelling and facts from Berlin’s dark past. If history doesn’t really interest you, Sandeman’s also offer an Alternative City Tour, which exhibits the city’s street art, bars, nightclubs, cultural trends and more. It’s fantastic value!
See the Jewish Memorial
Very close to the city centre lies the Jewish Memorial, which commemorates the lives of the millions of Jews slaughtered by Hitler’s brutal Nazi Regime. Designed by American Peter Eisenman and opened in 2005, the memorial is made up of grey stone slabs, almost casket-shaped and of varying hights and sizes, arranged in an orderly fashion on a grey sloped surface. Walking through the memorial is sobering and thought provoking, and was designed to create a sense of uneasiness but a sense of order in the viewer.
Make sure you visit the memorial, pay your respect for those killed by the atrocities of war, and leave a very different person.
Since its rebirth in 1989, Berlin has taken on a completely unique youth culture, with subcultures, trends, and music scenes popping up left right and centre. The nightclubs here lead the world in electronic genres, and there are stories of parties being held in factories, abandoned buildings, and even on bridges. These clubs open Friday night and don’t close until Sunday afternoon, so if you’re going out, you’re guaranteed to be in for a wild weekend!
If clubbing isn’t your thing, go bar hopping! The streets of Berlin are filled with bars, and a simple walk at night (with an open bottle of beer or wine in hand) is sure to lead you to a string of amazing bar experiences. Em went on a pub crawl with her Topdeck crew yesterday, and had a spectacular night. Sam in 2014 went for a simple walk for pizza, and ended up staying up all night with a whole group of Americans, watching a crazy band play in an absurd musical style!
See the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag Building
Some more essentials with fantastic history! The Brandenburg Gate were once the traditional gates of Berlin, constructed in the 18th century. The Reichstag, also known as the German parliament building, is a very famous government building that was once the centre of Hitler’s regime. There is a dome on the roof, and for a small fee you can climb up the interior stairs to the top of the dome. It’s worth a look!
Visit Checkpoint Charlie
If you’ve seen all Berlin has to offer and still want more, you should walk over to Checkpoint Charlie. Once used in the Cold War as an American crossing between East and West Germany, today it has been accurately recreated. With a guard’s hut, sandbags, American flags, and even actors dressed as Allied soldiers, it is a good reminder of Berlin’s past, and is worth a picture or two!