Ah Berlin, a city that dusted off the ashes from two world wars, rising from the ruins to become a sophisticated, avant-garde, cosmopolitan metropolis with museums, Michelin starred restaurants, a BARRY’S Boot camp (my fave!) and a visible penance for the atrocities of the Nazi regime.
I’ve always been enamored with the idea of visiting Berlin. Once a city divided by the polarity of austere communism and flagrant capitalism, underground clubs and the color black still reign the nightlife. My German friends don’t understand the concept of sarcasm, but why would they? Decades of dark, plain communist living and German practicality doesn’t allow for such frivolous comedic punctuation in living your everyday life. Comedy is just simply not efficient or fairly purposeful, therefore why would you even have sarcasm?
In taking a quick break, and a few days to roam the city, I put together a few highlights. The sprawl of the bustling city can be intimidating, and their public transportation daunting. Visiting in the fall, you might find it quite pleasant. The crowds of the summer have dispersed and temperatures are fairly cooler (but thanks in part to global warming and varying climates, this Fall still saw temps in the high twenties!).
Berlin is quite a compact city, so it’s possible to spend a day and hit some of the major draws utilizing your own two feet or their ah-mazing public transportation system. If attempting the subway, please plan your trip in advance. Like New York City, the trains are numerous, and use the same tracks, therefore (like us) you may find yourself in the opposite direction of your destination!
One of the most iconic monuments in the city is the Brandenberg Gate, a towering stone structure symbolizing the gateway to the city. Originally built in the 1700’s , you’ll no doubt recall this monument from such favorite historical events like when Napoleon marched through on his victory parade, or when Hitler spoke to his legions of fans as head of the Nazi Socialist Party. It now serves as a symbol of German unity, bringing together the two formally separate areas of West and East Berlin. Unfortunately on the dates that we visited, we just missed climate activists bringing their colorful art to the area 🙂 A quick search online should provide pictures of the structure, sans rainbow trim.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
About a block away from the Brandenberg Gate is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. A series of black concrete boxes take up almost a city block, creating a maze of which one can walk through. The gray concrete boxes provide an ominous directionless atmosphere, meant to evoke the overwhelming magnitude of the loss of life. Each of the rows are straight and neat, but the topography of the area rises and sinks, giving one the impression of either being over or below the concrete blocks. As one wanders through the different sized blocks, they sink deeper and deeper into the earth, towering over you. One can’t help but feel overwhelmed and drowning in the uniform towers. It is worth a stop to feel, at least for a moment, the overwhelming loss of humanity from a dark time in Germany’s history.
Just around the corner from the Brandednberg Gate you’ll find the Reichstag, a historical government building with a beautiful glass atrium. Originally built in 1894, it has subsequently survived two world wars, and was recently modernized to include exhibitions and host ceremonial events. Because it serves as the legislative core of the German government, you will need to register in order to tour the building. During busy seasons, register early to get your preferred time slot. Take time to wander through the spiral walkway, admire the vista of the city in the background, and learn a little about the history of German politics in the meantime.
TV Tower (Fernsehturm Berlin)
Perusing the skyline of Berlin, one can’t help but notice the TV Tower, one of the tallest structures in the EU. While the main function is the location of several TV and Radio transmitters, it also serves as an observation deck, restaurant location, and bar. I really can’t tell you anything else about the history of this spot, except to say it is a great place to get a drink and watch the sunset.
Berlin Wall Memorial
Last but not least, any trip to Berlin is not complete without a visit to one of the most significant historical landmarks of modern history, the site of the former Berlin Wall. The monument has only stood since 1998, but prior to that time, the separation of east and west stood since the end of the second world war. Most of the wall is now taken down, but you will find remnants of former sections, decorated with images of peace and tolerant coexistence, as well as a museum, complete with stories from both East and West, of people existing within the separation. This museum pairs well with the history from the DDR museum.
DDR Museum (Bonus Stop) Deutsche Demokratische Republik
The DDR Museum or Deutsche Demokratische Republik is a fun, hands on museum, giving you an interactive experience of what it was like to live in East Germany prior to the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. One can wander through the museum to experience how life was like in East Berlin, from propaganda posters, to television channels on TV. You can rummage through a makeshift apartment to examine clothes or products available in East Berlin. All the exhibitions are accompanied by an explanation outlining the historical significance of the product in everyday East Berlin life.
Hope you enjoyed some of my favorite places to visit in Berlin. Have you traveled to this location? What are some of your favorite spots in Berlin?