Berlin, Germany’s capital and largest city, has a somewhat turbulent history. Badly damaged after World War Two and broken apart by the Cold War, recent years have seen the city rebuild itself – especially after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.
Despite Berlin now being known for it’s lively nightlife, cafes, bars and street art, the references to its tumultuous history can be seen throughout the city.
Growing up learning about the events around the World War and remembering the fall of the Berlin wall, it was always a city that was on my bucket list. So, when I discovered a few free days between Christmas and New Year I quickly booked in a bargain break to explore the sights Berlin had to offer.
With our base being in the lively, shopping area of Alexanderplatz – one of the best-known squares in Berlin – we were right in the hub of the city. Not only was the famous TV Tower (The Fernsehurm) visible from our hotel window, but the hive of the Christmas Markets were a stones through away. The TV Tower was on the top of our list, it’s views were reported to make a visit top of the list of things to do whilst in the city. Due to foggy, cloudy weather obstructing any views, we sadly decided to save this for the next trip.
The area of Alexanderplatz had numerous sights to explore, including the World Time Clock, and due to the season, the Christmas markets offered plenty of traditional German treats and Eggnog.
A little further East (a good walk if you are up to it) is the East Side Gallery. The open air gallery consists of numerous murals painted on to the remaining Berlin Wall and is now a heritage protected landmark.
The Berlin Cathedral Church is a sight to be seen. Nestled along the banks of the River Spree this elaborate 19th century cathedral is one of Berlin’s main landscapes.
Twenty minutes east of the cathedral you will stumble across the iconic, and most famous landmark in Berlin, Brandenburg Gate. The gate has come to represent German unity and peace since the end of the Cold War, with hundreds of thousands of people celebrating here when the Berlin Wall fell. Today, thousands of visitors flock to the landmark as part of the city’s New Year celebrations.
Minutes away from Brandenburg Gate you will find the Reichstag and the most significant historical buildings. Visitors can enter the building for free, when booked in advance, and explore the new roof dome with fantastic views of the city. If you want to visit the the dome and take in the views from this modern adaptation of this historical building make sure you book at least three days in advance. Our visit left us rather disappointed when we discovered that advance booking is imperative after a series of terrorist threats in 2010. Sadly, this meant that we missed out visiting this impressive building.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe is located on the other side of Brandenburg Gate. The outdoor memorial consists of 2,711 concrete slabs arranged on a sloping field. Designed to produce an uneasy atmosphere, many visitors have noted it resembles a graveyard. When visiting and taking in the scope of the area I found the memorial rather harrowing and somber. It is hard to imagine the suffering of the victims and the immorality of those that caused this.
After visiting such a saddening sight, Tiergarten offered peace and tranquillity. The picturesque paths and ponds was a runners dream (just a shame that I did not bring my running gear). The huge park is home to the Berlin Zoo, Victory Column and forms part of the Berlin Marathon route.
On our final day in the city we found ourselves fully immersed in yet more of Berlin’s gloomy history.
A visit would not have been complete without visiting the famous “Check Point Charlie,” the name given by the Western Allies as the well known Berlin Wall crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War.
The Berlin Wall Memorial on the border strip in East Berlin, is an open air sight commemorating the division of Berlin by the wall and the deaths that occurred there. Nearly 80 people were killed trying to cross from East to West Berlin between the years of 1961-1989, all of which can be seen at the memorial. It is estimated that around 5,000 people made a successful escape from East to West Germany during that time.
It is safe to say that, despite enjoying our visit, taking in the sights and culture, our trip left us feeling rather melancholy. Whilst the city offers a lively energy in parts, the depressing monuments and gloomy weather left me wondering what more Berlin had to offer.