A few days in Berlin will probably not be enough to get to know this fascinating city but, it will give enough time to see all the main sights and maybe take a short trip out of town. A visit to Berlin should start at its most famous landmark: the Brandenburg Gate. The focal point of the celebrations that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, this imposing structure has become the symbol of the reunified city.
There are a number of reminders of the Berlin Wall that divided the city from 1961 to 1989 including Checkpoint Charlie, probably the best known crossing point between East and West Berlin. A replica of the sign warning about “entering the American sector” can be seen there and a small private museum, Haus am Checkpoint Charlie nearby can be visited. Nowadays Checkpoint Charlie has become a major tourist attraction in Berlin with people queuing up to have their picture taken in front of the guard house with actors dressed as military policemen.
A more somber and poignant experience, is a visit to the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse; stretching along a mile on the former site of the Wall, it includes the Visitors Center, open-air grounds with a section of the Wall, the Chapel of Reconciliation and the Documentation Center with a viewing platform from where the all area can be seen to get a better understanding of the layout of the fortification, one of the watchtowers from where guards were patrolling the Wall can also be seen here.
A section of the Berlin Wall can also be seen at the East Side Gallery; here the wall have been painted with colorful images including the famous “socialist fraternity kiss” between Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker; unfortunately in recent years a number of these paintings have been spoiled by graffiti left on them by tourists.
Another popular attraction in Berlin is the Reichstag, the Parliament building; the original building has been restored and a glass dome designed by the renowned architect Sir Norman Foster has been added. A visit to the Reichstag dome is free of charge and can be booked in advance online to avoid spending a long time queuing up on the day for available tickets. A lift takes visitors to the roof terrace and from there, a spiral walkway goes all the way to the top; there is the option to hire a handheld guide in different languages (at no extra charge) that gives some insights of the Reichstag and points out the different buildings that can be seen in the distance, one of them is the German Chancellor office; located in a building opposite the Reichstag, is not open to the public.
For a quick lunch break while in the area, the nearby Hauptbanhof (Berlin Central station) has many places serving food; a favourite dish with the locals is currywurst, a steamed and then fried pork sausage covered in ketchup and curry powder, often served with French fries or a bread roll, it is sold in kiosks and many other places all over the city.
Getting around Berlin is very easy thanks to the excellent public transport network which includes underground and overground trains, buses and trams. To save money on both transport and entrance fees to major attractions it is worth buying the Berlin Welcome Card (valid for up to 5 days) which can be booked online or purchased in a number of locations in the city; a more expensive option covers the entrance fees to the museums on Museum Island. On the island of the river Spree, near Berlin Cathedral, there are five museum: the Pergamonmuseum which contains the famous Pergamon Altar (closed to the public for renovation until 2019), the Bode Museum, the Altes Museum (Old Museum), the Neues Museum (New Museum) and the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery). On the opposite side of the river is the DDR Museum an interactive museum giving an insight of life in the former East Germany.
And it is in what was once East Berlin that another famous tourist attraction is located: the Berlin TV Tower; tickets for its observation deck can be booked in advance online; there is also a bar and a restaurant where tables can be reserved to celebrate a special occasion and enjoy the views.
The area below the tower, Alexanderplatz is very busy day and night and, the World Clock in the square is a popular meeting point. Alexanderplatz station is a major hub of Berlin transport network with trains going to and from Berlin Schönefeld Airport. Trams and buses also pass through Alexanderplatz with the number 100 bus running all the way to the Berlin Zoo, stopping at a number of popular tourist locations en route.
Berlin Zoo opened in 1844, it is one of the most famous zoos in Europe, maybe in the world. Badly damaged during World War II, it was restored and nowadays is very popular with both visitors and locals for its wide variety of animals including penguins, hippos and polar bears; in 2006, Knut, a polar bear cub born in captivity at the zoo but rejected by his mother and raised by zookeepers, became the zoo most famous resident until his death in 2011.
The area around the zoo includes the Europa Center, a shopping center with over 70 shops and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church. The original church was badly damaged during the Second World War, its ruins remained on this site and a new modern church and belfry was built next to it. The church is located on Kurfürstendamm, a wide avenue with hotels, restaurants and shops including many designer shops. The famous department store Kaufhaus des Westens (usually abbreviated to KaDeWe) is located nearby.
To escape the hustle and bustle of the city, a relaxing stroll through Tiergarten, Berlin main urban park, will help to unwind and “recharge the batteries”. Tiergarten is also the name of the diplomatic district where many foreign embassies are located; Bellevue Palace, the official residence of the President of Germany can also be seen here.
For a bird’s-eye view of the area, a platform on the top of the Victory Column offers the opportunity to take pictures of Berlin skyline stretching from the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz to the TV Tower at Alexanderplatz. The Victory Column is accessed through an underpass at the Tiergarten roundabout and, to reach the viewing platform, it is a steep climb up a narrow staircase.
Back on the ground, other notable places to see in Berlin are the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial and the Topography of Terror. The Holocaust Memorial, not far from the Brandenburg Gate, consists of concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern with visitors encouraged to walk around them; a place of reflection and contemplation on one of the most horrific crimes in history. The Topography of Terror is a documentation center on the site of the headquarter of the Secret State Police (the SS) with three permanent exhibitions both inside and outside the building. Another section of the Berlin Wall can also be seen here. Next to the Topography of Terror is Martin-Gropius-Bau, originally a museum now an exhibition hall; opposite is Abgeordnetenhaus (House of Representatives), the state parliament building.
A trip to Berlin can be combined with a visit to nearby Potsdam. The capital city of the Brandenburg region, it can be reached directly from Berlin by train in about one hour. The tourist sights are spread out between the city center and the large Sanssouci Park where many buildings can be found including Sanssouci Palace, with fountains and terrace gardens and a replica of the Historic Mill of Sanssouci.
Potsdam, it is a pleasant city with beautiful squares including Luisenplatz with the Brandenburg Gate and many historical buildings and sights.The Glienicke Bridge, also known as the Bridge of Spies because it was used to exchange spies captured during the Cold War is a major landmark of Potsdam.
The city was chosen as the location for the Potsdam Conference in 1945 where the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union met to discuss and make decisions about Europe after the Second World War.They all met at Cecelienhof Palace; situated in the 102.5 hectars Neuer Garten (New Garden), it is has been converted into a luxury hotel but parts of the building are open to the public and a small museum can be visited; a much photographed sight is the Soviet red star on a flower bed in front of the palace. Another architecturally interesting building, not far from Cecilienhof Palace is the Dairy, built to supply the royal court of Frederick William II of Prussia, it has also been converted and it now houses a restaurant.
For people short on time on a visit to Potsdam, a number of hop on hop off bus companies offer tours with stops at all the main sights with a running commentary in different languages, all at very similar prices. A visit to both Berlin and Potsdam can probably fit into a long weekend but for a deeper understanding of both places and the chance to visit other locations closed by, a week or longer is recommended.