See & Do
Religious Site, Mitte
A church has stood here since 1536, but this enormous version dates from 1905, making it the largest 20th-century Protestant church in Germany. The royal Hohenzollerns worshiped here until 1918, when Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and left Berlin for Holland. The massive dome wasn't restored from World War II damage until 1982; the interior was completed in 1993. The climb to the dome's outer balcony is made easier by a wide stairwell, plenty of landings with historic photos and models, and even a couple of chairs. The more than 80 sarcophagi of Prussian royals in the crypt are significant but to less-trained eyes can seem uniformly dull. www.berlinerdom.de.
Once the pride of imperial Berlin and the city's premier landmark, the Brandenburger Tor was left in a desolate no-man's-land when the Wall was built. Since the Wall's dismantling, the sandstone gateway has become the scene of the city's Unification Day and New Year's Eve parties. This is the sole remaining gate of 14 built by Carl Langhans in 1788-91, designed as a triumphal arch for King Frederick Wilhelm II. Its virile classical style pays tribute to Athens's Acropolis. The quadriga, a chariot drawn by four horses and driven by the Goddess of Victory, was added in 1794. Troops paraded through the gate after successful campaigns—the last time in 1945, when victorious Red Army troops took Berlin. The upper part of the gate, together with its chariot and Goddess of Peace, was destroyed in the war. In 1957 the original molds were discovered in West Berlin, and a new quadriga was cast in copper and presented as a gift to the people of East Berlin. A tourist-information center is on the south side of the gate.
The gate faces one of Berlin's most significant historic squares, Pariser Platz, a classicist piazza with bank headquarters, the ultramodern French embassy, as well as offices of the federal parliament. On the southern side, Berlin's sleek Academy of Arts, integrating the ruins of its historic predecessor, and the DZ Bank, designed by star architect Frank Gehry, are next tol with the new American embassy built on its prewar location. Unter den Linden (S-bahn).
Address: Pariser Pl., Berlin, Germany
The once-bustling street of cafés and theaters of prewar Berlin has risen from the rubble of war and Communist neglect to reclaim the crowds with shopping emporiums.
Heading south from the train station Friedrichstrasse, you'll pass hotels, bookstores, and, south of Unter den Linden, the car showrooms of the Lindencorso and several upscale clothing stores. Standing at the corner of Französische Strasse ("French Street") is the French department store Galeries Lafayette (Französische Str. 23, Berlin, Germany, PHONE: 030/209-480). French architect Jean Nouvel included an impressive steel-and-glass funnel at its center, which is surrounded by four floors of expensive clothing and luxuries as well as a food department with counters offering French cuisine.
Religious Site, Western Downtown
A dramatic reminder of World War II's destruction, the ruined bell tower is all that remains of the once massive church, which was completed in 1895 and dedicated to the emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm I. The Hohenzollern dynasty is depicted inside in a gilded mosaic, whose damage, like that of the building, will not be repaired. The exhibition revisits World War II's devastation throughout Europe. On the hour, the tower chimes out a melody composed by the last emperor's great-grandson, the late Prince Louis Ferdinand von Hohenzollern.
In stark contrast to the old bell tower (dubbed the Hollow Tooth), are the adjoining Memorial Church and Tower, designed by the noted German architect Egon Eiermann in 1959-61. These ultramodern octagonal structures, with their myriad honeycomb windows, have nicknames as well: the Lipstick and the Powder Box. Brilliant, blue stained glass from Chartres dominates the interiors. Church music and organ concerts are presented in the church regularly. www.gedaechtniskirche.com. COST: Free. OPEN: Old Tower Mon.-Sat. 10-6:30, Memorial Church daily 9-7. Zoologischer Garten (U-bahn and S-bahn).
Neighborhood/Street, Western Downtown
This busy thoroughfare began as a riding path in the 16th century. The elector Joachim II of Brandenburg used it to travel between his palace on the Spree River and his hunting lodge in the Grunewald. The Kurfürstendamm (Elector's Causeway) was transformed into a major route in the late 19th century, thanks to the initiative of Bismarck, Prussia's Iron Chancellor.
Even in the 1920s, the Ku'damm was still relatively new and by no means elegant; it was fairly far removed from the old heart of the city, which was Unter den Linden in Mitte. The Ku'damm's prewar fame was due mainly to its rowdy bars and dance halls, as well as the cafés where the cultural avant-garde of Europe gathered. Almost half of its 245 late-19th-century buildings were completely destroyed in the 1940s, and the remaining buildings were damaged in varying degrees. As in most of western Berlin, what you see today is either restored or newly constructed. Many of the 1950s buildings have been replaced by high-rises, in particular at the corner of Kurfürstendamm and Joachimstaler Strasse.
Located on the Ku'damm is the KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) the largest department store in Europe. Built in 1907, it has been extended several times through the years. On the top floor is the Wintergarten restaurant. You can buy practically anything in the store, with the main attraction being the gourmet's paradise, with the largest collection of foodstuffs in Europe.
Mauermuseum-Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie
Military Site, Kreuzberg
Just steps from the famous crossing point between the two Berlins, the Wall Museum—House at Checkpoint Charlie tells the story of the Wall and, even more riveting, the stories of those who escaped through, under, and over it. The homespun museum reviews the events leading up to the Wall's construction and, with original tools and devices, plus recordings and photographs, shows how East Germans escaped to the West (one of the most ingenious contraptions was a miniature submarine). Exhibits about human rights and paintings interpreting the Wall round out the experience. Come early or late in the day to avoid the multitudes dropped off by tour buses. Monday can be particularly crowded. www.mauermuseum.com. COST: EUR9.50. OPEN: Daily 9 AM-10 PM. Kochstr. (U-bahn).
On the site of one of Berlin's two original settlements, this unique complex of four state museums is an absolute must. The Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery, entrance on Bodestrasse) houses an outstanding collection of 18th-, 19th-, and early-20th-century paintings and sculptures. Works by Cézanne, Rodin, Degas, and one of Germany's most famous portrait artists, Max Liebermann, are part of the permanent exhibition. Its Galerie der Romantik (Gallery of Romanticism) collection has masterpieces from such 19th-century German painters as Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Caspar David Friedrich, the leading members of the German Romantic school.
The Altes Museum (Old Museum), a red marble, neoclassical building abutting the green Lustgarten, was Prussia's first building purpose-built to serve as a museum. Designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, it was completed in 1830. In 2005 it became the temporary home of the Egyptian collection, which traces Egypt's history from 4000 BC and whose prize piece is the exquisite 3,300-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti. The permanent collection of the Altes Museum consists of everyday utensils from ancient Greece as well as vases and sculptures from the 6th to 4th century BC. Etruscan art is its highlight, and there are a few examples of Roman art. Antique sculptures, clay figurines, and bronze art of the Antikensammlung (Antiquities Collection) are also housed here; the other part of the collection is in the Pergamonmuseum.
Even if you think you aren't interested in the ancient world, make an exception for the Pergamonmuseum (entrance on Am Kupfergraben), one of the world's greatest museums. The museum's name is derived from its principal display, the Pergamon Altar, a monumental Greek temple discovered in what is now Turkey and dating from 180 BC. The altar was shipped to Berlin in the late 19th century. Equally impressive is the gateway to the Roman town of Miletus and the Babylonian processional way.
To experience the vibrant energy of the new Berlin, there is no better place to visit than Potsdamer Platz. During the Roaring Twenties, it was Europe's busiest plaza and a bustling entertainment center. After World War II, the square was leeft as a derelict wide open space, a no-man's land beside the Berlin Wall. With reunification, the square was redeveloped by various international businesses and became Berlin's largest building project. Today, Berlin's hub in once again a dynamic center. The Belsheim Center, Filmmuseum Berlin, Potsdammer Platz Arkaden and Stella usical Theater Berlin are some of the attractions located here.
Government Building, Tiergarten
After last meeting here in 1933, the Bundestag, Germany's federal parliament, returned to its traditional seat in the spring of 1999. British architect Sir Norman Foster lightened up the gray monolith with a glass dome, which quickly became one of the city's main attractions: you can circle up a gently rising ramp while taking in the rooftops of Berlin and the parliamentary chamber below. At the base of the dome is an exhibit on the Reichstag's history, in German and English. The best way to visit the Reichstag dome without waiting in line is to arrive at 8 AM.
Completed in 1894, the Reichstag housed the imperial German parliament and later served a similar function during the ill-fated Weimar Republic. On the night of February 27, 1933, the Reichstag burned down in an act of arson, a pivotal event in Third Reich history. The fire led to state protection laws that gave the Nazis a pretext to arrest their political opponents. The Reichstag was rebuilt but again badly damaged in 1945. The graffiti of the victorious Russian soldiers can still be seen on some of the walls in the hallways. Tours of the interior are only given to groups who have applied in advance by letter or fax. The building is surrounded by ultramodern new federal government offices, such as the boxy, concrete Bundeskanzleramt. A riverwalk with great views of the government buildings begins behind the Reichstag. www.bundestag.de. COST: Free. OPEN: Daily 8 AM-midnight; last admission 10 PM. Reichstag dome closes for 1 wk 4 times a yr. Unter den Linden (S-bahn).
A grand reminder of imperial days, this showplace served as a city residence for the Prussian rulers. The gorgeous palace started as a modest royal summer residence in 1695, built on the orders of King Friedrich I for his wife, Sophie-Charlotte. In the 18th century Frederick the Great made a number of additions, such as the dome and several wings designed in the rococo style. By 1790 the complex had evolved into a massive royal domain that could take a whole day to explore. Behind heavy iron gates, the Court of Honor—the front courtyard—is dominated by a baroque statue of the Great Elector on horseback.
The Altes Schloss is the main building with the ground-floor suites of Friedrich I and Sophie-Charlotte. Tours leave every hour on the hour from 9 to 5. The upper floor has the apartments of Friedrich Wilhelm IV, a silver treasury, and Berlin and Meissen porcelain. It can be seen on its own.
The Neuer Flügel, where Frederick the Great once lived, was designed by Knobbelsdorff, who also built Sanssouci. The 138-foot-long Goldene Galerie (Golden Gallery) was the palace's ballroom. West of the staircase are Frederick's rooms, in which his extravagant collection of works by Watteau, Chardin, and Pesne is displayed.
The park behind the palace was laid out in the French baroque style beginning in 1697 and was transformed into an English garden in the early 19th century. In it stand the Neuer Pavillon by Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Carl Langhan's Belvedere teahouse, which overlooks the lake and the Spree River and holds a collection of Berlin porcelain.
The Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte (Museum of Pre- and Early History) traces the evolution of mankind from 1 million BC to AD 1,000. It's opposite Klausener Platz (to the left as you face the palace). www.spsg.de.
The quiet greenery of the 630-acre Tiergarten is a beloved oasis, with some 23 km (14 mi) of footpaths, meadows, and two beer gardens. The inner park's 6½ acres of lakes and ponds were landscaped by garden architect Joseph Peter Lenné in the mid-1800s. On the shores of the lake in the southwest part, you can relax at the Café am Neuen See (Lichtensteinallee, Berlin, Germany), a café and beer garden. Off the Spree River and bordering the Kanzleramt (Chancellory) is the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of the World Cultures, www.hkw.de), referred to as the "pregnant oyster" for its design. Thematic exhibits and festivals take place here, and it's also a boarding point for Spree River cruises.
Unter den Linden
The name of this historic Berlin thoroughfare, between the Brandenburg Gate and Schlossplatz, means "under the linden trees"—and as Marlene Dietrich once sang, "As long as the old linden trees still bloom, Berlin is still Berlin." The grand boulevard began as a riding path that the royals used to get from their palace to their hunting grounds (now Tiergarten). Lining it now are linden trees planted after World War II, embassies and consulates, cafés and shops, a university, museums, and two opera houses.
Garden/Arboretum, Zoo/Aquarium, Western Downtown
Germany's oldest zoo opened in 1844 and today holds more species than any other zoo in Europe. Home to more than 14,000 animals belonging to 1,500 different species, the zoo has been successful at breeding rare and endangered species. New arrivals in 2005 and 2006 include Ivo (a popular male gorilla), roadrunners, and a pair of Barbary lions. Check the feeding times posted to watch creatures such as seals, apes, hippos, crocodiles, and pelicans during their favorite time of day. The animals' enclosures are designed to resemble their natural habitats, though some structures are ornate, such as the 1910 Arabian-style Zebra house. Pythons, frogs, turtles, invertebrates, and Komodo dragons are part of the three-floor aquarium.The Zoo is also home to Knute, the world famous 6 month old polar bear. www.zoo-berlin.de.