When my family and I visited Berlin, Germany, we tried to see all the highlights in just three days. It is not impossible, but four or five days would have been better. We left, knowing we would like to return and spend more time in this interesting city.
I’ve grouped the highlights according to where they are located in the city. We’ll go from east to west, then southeast, and then further west. All of these highlights are within a two mile radius near the center of Berlin.
The Berlin Cathedral was finished in 1905. It was commissioned by William II, who wanted a large Protestant church, getting his inspiration from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. (Northern Germany leans more toward Protestantism, while southern Germany leans toward Catholicism). The Church is the largest church in the city and is located near the Lustgarden on “Museum Island.”
There is a small island on the Spree River that flows through the center of Berlin. The northern half of this island is home to several museums and so, has been given the name, Museum Island. We only made it to two of the museums – the Alte (Old) National Gallery and the Pergamon Museum. The other Museums are the Altes Museum, the Neues (New) Museum, and the Bode Museum.
- The Alte National Gallery houses a collection of art ranging from Neoclassical to Modernist – my favorites were the Impressionist paintings by Claude Monet and Edouard Manet. The main building was begun in 1867 and, although the interior has been renovated, the exterior still looks the same.
- The Pergamon Museum was built between 1910 and 1930. Its main exhibits are large remnants of the Pergamon Altar and the Ishtar Gate. The pieces, brought from the Middle East, have been reconstructed to look close to the originals.
Heading west down the tree-lined street, Unter den Linden, visitors will find the Brandenburg Gate. The structure, originally called the Peace Gate, has been the site of gatherings and marches throughout Berlin’s history. It is one of the most recognizable sites in the city and in Europe.
Doric columns stand to form five passageways through which people can walk – the area is pedestrian only. The gate is topped by a quadriga, four horses pulling a chariot. During World War II, the gate was damaged extensively, but it was restored after the war. The Brandenburg Gate was entirely refurbished between 2000 and 2002.
The Reichstag Building
One block north of the gate, the Reichstag Building is the home of the German Parliament. The original building was constructed in 1894, but was nearly destroyed by a fire in 1933. Some of the restorations were made in the 1960s but it wasn’t completely restored until after Germany was unified in 1990. The inscription, Dem Deutschen Volke, means, To the German People.
The new restoration, finished in 2000, includes the addition of a modern glass dome, designed by Norman Foster. From the inside of the dome, visitors can look down to see the parliament at work, signifying a government open to its citizens.
Located a block south of the Brandenburg Gate, is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The memorial, designed by Peter Eisenman and finished in December of 2004, consists of 2711 concrete slabs of varying heights. These slabs are set in a grid, although some are slightly out of line, representing the discordance that can exist in a seemingly normal society. The memorial is beautiful and hauntingly moving at the same time.
The Berlin Wall separated East and West Berlin from 1961 until 1989. Although citizens from the West were sometimes allowed to travel to the East, East Germans were not allowed to travel to the West. When the wall came down in 1989, much of it was destroyed. Of the remaining sections, some have been given to other countries for display. Several sections are on display in Berlin’s East Side Gallery. When we visited, there was an outdoor display near Potsdamer Place, south of the Brandenburg Gate.
Southeast of the the Gate, is the former location of Checkpoint Charlie, the most well-known point where the Berlin Wall could be crossed. A museum was built in 1963 near the checkpoint; it was enlarged after the Wall fell. A guard still stands at the guard house, but his most important task seems to be posing for pictures.
A little further south visitors will find the Jewish Museum. Another moving experience, this museum houses permanent and special exhibitions. It holds a large collection of Jewish family artifacts. The permanent exhibitions are housed in the Daniel Libeskind building, a unique architectural structure.
Libeskind designed the building to contain no right angles, and included “void” areas that are unlit and neither heated or cooled, only some of which are accessible. One of the voids contains an art piece by Menashe Kadishman called Fallen Leaves. The piece is a collection of 10,000 metal faces layered on the floor. Visitors are encouraged to walk on the faces, listening to the crunching metal sounds. Kaishman dedicated the work to all victims of war.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
The next two highlights can be found a little over a mile west of Checkpoint Charlie and the Jewish Museum.
The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is a protestant church that was built in the 1890s. It was heavily damaged during World War II – first in 1943, and again in 1945. Much of the damaged belfry is still standing. When the church was rebuilt in the 1960s, the plan had been to destroy the ruins, but the people wanted the ruins to remain as a reminder of the war. The old belfry stands next to a new modern belfry (on the left in this picture).
Kurfurstendam and KaDeWe
For high end shopping, head to Kurfurstendam, Berlin’s answer to the Champs Élysées in Paris. The wide boulevard is lined with boutiques, hotels, and restaurants. Designer showrooms also find a home here.
Around the corner, is Kaufhaus de Westens, or KaDeWe, the second largest department store in Europe. Begun in 1907, the store was nearly gutted during World War II. It was rebuilt during the late 1940s and 1950s. Since that time in has been expanded and renovated – it now covers nearly 650,000 square feet. We had a great time shopping there.
Time to Go Back
As I wrote about these highlights, I realized how much I would still like to see in this north German city. Maybe I should plan another trip…