So you want to see Berlin. Amazing choice! Berlin is a gigantic city- three times the size of Paris; full of food, history, and culture. I knew Berlin was big, but until I decided to explore it by foot, I never knew just how big. We came for only three days with the goal of seeing all the major sights and some of the not-so-major sights. I felt like we did a lot in three days, but Berlin is just too big to do it all in the little time that we had. Here are some pointers to help you plan better…
Things to Know
Take Public Transport
- Berlin is very big. Walking to your destinations during your trip would waste a lot of time. The U-Bahn and S-Bahn are cheap and fast and will take you very close to most if not all the sights you want to see.
- Break up the city into areas, and then work from area to area. It will make conquering the city much easier. Our days were designed by areas so exploring the city naturally flowed from place to place.
If you are going to Berlin for the food, you will not be disappointed. The food in Berlin is incredibly cheap and delicious. And not just street food (you can find currywurst everywhere!) — even the restaurants here are a bargain.
See the Sites By District
The city of Berlin is broken down by districts, and that can help you a lot to keep you oriented as you go sight seeing. Like I said, Berlin is huge and you can easily get lost. Grab a map (grab 2 or 3 from your hotel) and mark it up with your favorite must sees sites.
While most of what we came to see was in the center of the city, it was extremely helpful to know if we could walk from place to place easily, or if it would be smarter to take the public transport. Plan smart and your trip to Berlin will be easy going and memorable.
What We Saw:
The historical and city center of Berlin. Here is where you will find: cafes, restaurants, and museums.
The world famous Brandenburg Gate.
During WWII the gate was used in Nazi propaganda. Nazis celebrated Hitler’s seizure of power with a lighted parade through the Brandenburg Gate.
During the Cold War and the division of Germany, this landmark stood between East and West Berlin. The Berlin Wall prevented access to the Brandenburg Gate. West Berlin was blocked, as the wall arched just outside the western limit. Plus, a smaller wall was built on the eastern side, making the gate off limits to East Berliners too.
When the wall fell in 1989 and Germany was reunited, the Brandenburg Gate became the iconic landmark of a new Germany.
Walk through the gates and you can follow the remains of the Berlin Wall. Here is a friendly (free!) walking tour through “Route You” that we did over the 3 days of our trip.
Berlin’s central park is an excellent place to relax, walk, bike, and hang out. It’s what Central Park is to New York or Hyde Park is to London; a sacred bit of greenery in the middle of the city. We ended up spending a lot of our day here just wandering. Even in the middle of winter, on a cloudy, misty day, the park is a wonderful place to walk through.
It’s one of the most beautiful city parks in all of Europe. There is a war memorial for Russian soldiers, and you can also see the Bellevue Palace, the official Berlin residence of the German President.
The Reichstag is the traditional seat of the German Parliament, but it’s so much more than a stuffy government building. We went to learn more of Berlin history, especially to see the place that propelled Hitler’s rise to power. In 1933, the Reichstag was set on fire. The outcry was to arrest the suspect ( A Dutch communist) as well as arrest 4,000 other Communists, which of course allowed him to win more seats the following March as there were less leaders campaigning against him.
Hitler exploited the Reichstag fire and used the symbolism of it’s destruction to represent the end of old governance to be replaced with himself in Power. Days after the fire, the ‘Decree for the Protection of People and State’ was penned and passed on the false premise that Communists were planning an uprising to overthrow the State. These ‘emergency’ powers marked the breakdown of the democratic process allowing for thousands to be imprisoned indefinitely without trial. Newspapers, leaflets and meetings were also banned if they opposed the Nazi Party. (1)
When the historic building was remodeled in the 1990s, it was adorned with a modern glass dome, offering a real and symbolic ability for every person to look into the parliamentary proceedings as well as providing a stunning view of the Berlin skyline.
We went inside and was given an audio guide that took us up and around the dome. The glass dome was beautiful and reflective inside, but we didn’t get much of a view on the cloudy day. If you want to take the tour you have to book it online ahead of time. Also, come early and be prepared for a line through security, this after all a functioning government building.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
The memorial is made up of 2,500 geometrically arranged concrete slabs designed to create a feeling of confusion and unease as you wander through them. Below is a museum but we didn’t go in as it was crowded. I was told the museum holds the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims.
Now, I feel like this shouldn’t have to be said, but please be respectful of this site. It is not a graveyard, but it is a memorial to the HORRIBLE history that was inflicted on people.
Keep your selfies and yoga poses and jumping in the air photos for another site. It is called “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe,” it doesn’t get much more serious than that. We were appalled at the kids jumping from pillar to pillar, there was even a couple taking pregnancy photos there. This is a solemn site, if you disrespect it you also risk being shamed by this man.
Unter den Linden
Stroll down the Unter den Linden, which stretches from Museum’s Island to the Brandenburg Gate. The street is lined with beautiful Linden trees, state Libraries, historical statues, buildings, the Dom, and embassies. One of our favorite city games is to wander and “find the embassy,” and find as many as we can. Berlin made it too easy.
Tip: Do not to make yourself suspicious, so don’t loiter or anything; BUT if you walk through the embassy streets sometimes you will get to see the street barriers pop up as embassy cars come in and out of the building garages. The guards will shoo you away so the cars have full rights as they come and go. It’s a fun sight to see.
Note: Take bus from Alexanderplatz to Potsdamer Platz and you’ll see a lot of other sights including the embassy area.
Book Burning Memorial at Bebelplatz
Strolling down the Unter den Linden, there is a relatively easy to miss memorial, but very moving: A simple glass plate set in the road showing below it an underground room with empty bookshelves. In 1933; over 20,000 published works of disapproved independent authors, journalists, philosophers and academics went up in flames at the enforcement of the Nazis. Two bronze plates warn of a foretold future and the significance of never forgetting these seemly insignificant acts:
That was but a prelude;
where they burn books,
they will ultimately burn people as well.
Heinrich Heine 1820
What We Ate
We started our morning with a quick stop at the Berlin Pavilion located near the Reichstag. We found it happily by accident on our cold and drizzly morning, so we went in. The place is set out like a cafeteria. The staff were friendly and spoke enough English to help us through the line.
There were plenty of comfortable seating spaces, both indoor and outdoor -they had what looked like a wonderful beer garden for evenings by the park. The windows were floor to ceiling which we enjoyed, watching the rain and eating our warm breakfast on a cold, windy morning.
Small Falafel/Doner Kabob Place
I don’t remember the name but I did place the location on our trip map. We had lunch of an amazing donor kabob and chicken biryani at this little tucked away eatery right across the street from the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. If you have time I sincerely hope you give it a try. Cheap and good.
View all the places we stayed and visited in Berlin.
(1) Holocaust Encyclopedia. Copyright © United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC. Retrieved on November 15, 2017. Retrieved from: https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007657