I went to Berlin, Germany, for the first time this summer and it was such a great experience. Berlin is a culturally rich city with lots of things to do and it’s easy to do it on your own (or with friends/family). I went with my mom and brother and met up with my brother’s friend, Dovi, who has been living in Berlin for a couple of years. He showed us around the city all week and from our “insider’s tour,” I made a top five list of places you MUST see when you visit. In another post, I’ll have other notable places.
Berlin is an easy city to get around on foot or by subway. On the first day we were in the city, my brother and I took the subway to get around:
The subways are partially elevated and partially underground and the train cars are very short compared to the ones in New York. One interesting thing about the Berlin subway system is that it’s all based on trust - they don’t have gates that you have to pass through or anything! You have to buy a ticket and get it validated before heading onto the train, but no one checks! Well, there are people that OCCASIONALLY check, but I’m guessing it’s not very often. But, I wouldn’t recommend not validating your ticket because if you get caught, it’s a 40 euro fine (which is a little more than $40USD). A great thing about the Berlin subways is that even though it’s underground in parts, you can get cell phone/blackberry service everywhere.
1. Brandenburg Gate/DZ Bank/Reichstag/Holocaust Museum (okay, I cheated because technically that’s four different places, but they’re all very close to each other so you can catch all of them in one short walking tour).
a. Our first stop was the Brandenburg Gate:
The Brandenburg Gate is one of the major historical landmarks in Berlin. If you don’t know the history, you can look it up here. I pulled this from wikipedia to give you a short summary of what the significance is: the gate has played varying roles in Germany’s history. First, Napoleon took the Quadriga to Paris in 1806 after conquering Berlin. When it returned to Berlin in 1814, the statue exchanged her olive wreath for the Iron Cross and became the goddess of victory.
When the Nazis rose to power, they used the gate to symbolize their power. The only structure left standing in the ruins of Pariser Platz in 1945, apart from the ruined Academy of Fine Arts, the gate was restored by the East Berlin and West Berlin governments. However, in 1961, the gate was closed when the Berlin Wall was built. Another way you would know about the landmark is through Ronald Reagen, because he said “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” while he was giving a speech at the Brandenburg Gate:
b. DZ Bank
From the outside, it looks like a normal building….but if you go inside the bank, you’ll see THIS:
It was designed by Frank Gehry and I’ve heard people say it reminds them of a horse’s head. I don’t know if I can see that…but, to each his own. There are private apartments behind the work of art and the rooms on the side are actual office buildings. I’ve heard it looks pretty cool if you’re in the basement looking up, but you can’t go in unless you have a pass to get through security.
Reichstag is behind the Brandenburg gates and is home of the Germain parliament. You can actually go into the building and watch parliamentary proceedings, but David and I didn’t have time to do it (you have to reserve a spot the day before). The building suffered some damage from World War II, but in the 1990’s, was remodeled by British architect Norman Foster in the 1990s and features a glass dome over the session area:
d. Holocaust Museum/Memorial
The Holocaust Museum/Memorial is in the general vicinity of the Brandenburg Gates and Reichstag. There was a lot of controversy over construction and design of the memorial, but it was finally unveiled in 2005:
There are 2,700 stone slabs, which was designed by Peter Eisenman in 1999. There aren’t any names on the stone slabs (the designers feared it would look too much like a graveyard, which they didn’t want), but it’s meant to be somewhere people would go everyday, not just for holy reasons. Underneath the memorial is a museum:
This mirrors the idea of the stone slabs above - on each of these slabs, there is a postcard/letter/some form of correspondence between family members separated due to the Holocaust. It’s very sad to read the desperation some of the letters, especially the ones children write to their parents.
The museum is free and it doesn’t take too long to go through (there are only four rooms, one of which is a darkened room with a projector listing the names of each person that died from the Holocaust and their age).
2. Check point Charlie
Check point Charlie is the crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin, and important area during the Cold War. There’s a private museum that has artifacts from East and West Berlin:Read More...