What to see
Alexanderplatz has been among Berlin’s most well-known squares for several centuries, and is one of the city’s major transport hubs. It was between the late 1800s and the early 1900s that the square really began to gain its notoriety, with the building of a large market and a department store. Sadly, the Second World War saw it mostly destroyed, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that it started to take shape as we see it today. After the reunification of Germany, it held its place as one of the capital’s most important squares, and between 1956 and 1969, Germany’s tallest building, the Berlin TV Tower (Berliner Fernsehtrum), was built here.
The Pergamonmuseum was purpose built to house the relics found in the ancient city of Pergamon (found in the Turkish city of Izmir), and it was after these magnificent pieces that the museum was named. While the museum building itself is boasts some rather extravagant architecture, perhaps its most impressive piece is the altar from the district today known as Bergama. The Pergamon Altar was dedicated to the Greek Gods Zeus and Athena, and is widely regarded as one of the finest masterpieces of the Hellenistic era. The reliefs on the altar are an astonishingly detailed depiction of the battle between the Gods and the Titans. Another of the museum’s most important artifacts is the Agora Gate of Miletus, again taken from Turkey, this time from the ancient city of Miletus in Aydın. The gate stands at an amazing 17 meters tall, and would have served as an entrance to the market of the ancient city. The Pergamonmuseum is also home to Babylon’s famed Ishtar Gate, as well as sculptures, reliefs, architectural fragments, coins, vases and mosaics from all over the world. It’s one of the best museums in the city and is certainly worth making time for. However, due to restoration work, the Pergamon Altar and the hall of Hellenistic architecture are currently closed to the public and won’t be reopened until 2019.
Hamburger Bahnhof Museum of Contemporary Art
The Hamburger Bahnhof Museum of Contemporary Art (Hamburger Bahnhof-Museum für Gegenwart) is one of Berlin’s most important art museums. It was used as an exhibition hall as of 1906 after being decommissioned as a railway station, but its location in the buffer zone between East and West Germany saw it abandoned for many years. Lovingly reconstructed by German architect Josef Paul Kleihues, the building reopened in 1996 as the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum of Contemporary Art, and is now one of the city’s leading contemporary art venues.
The city’s first Jewish Museum was opened on Oranienburger Strasse in 1933, but was soon closed by the Nazis in 1938. In 1976 a “Society for a Jewish Museum” formed, which eventually led to a competition held by the Berlin government to design a Jewish Museum. The competition was won by renowned Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind in 1988, and building began in 1992. Commemorating exiled Jews from all over the world, the museum’s doors opened in 2001 and through a range of pieces, it documents Jewish history from its origins through to the Holocaust. One of the museum’s most striking features is the Garden of Exile. Filled with a series concrete pillars, its stark, claustrophobic atmosphere are intended to reflect the experience of European Jews.
The Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburg Tor) is one of the few structures in Berlin which remained standing after the Second World War, and is still one of the city’s major icons. A sculpture of the Goddess of Victory riding her chariot, otherwise known as the Quadriga, stands proudly atop the gate. The sculpture was actually removed by Napoleon after he defeated the Prussians in 1806 and was taken to Paris. The Quadriga was restored to its rightful place after the Prussians defeated Napoleon in 1814, and on the orders of Prussian General Ernst von Pfuel, the olive wreath once held by the goddess was replaced with a majestic scepter. The gate, which Hitler exploited as one of the symbols of the Third Reich, was on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, but was soon to become one of the defining icons of a united Germany. Today, while the gate is certainly impressive by day, the way the Brandenburg Gate is illuminated at night makes it appear all the more magnificent. Whatever time of day you visit, be sure to have your camera at the ready, as it makes for some excellent photographs.
During the Cold War, there were three checkpoints through which crossings between East and West Germany could be made, coded A (Alpha), B (Bravo) and C (Charlie). Checkpoint Charlie was the most famous of the three, and it was only high-ranking officials, foreigners and ambassadors who could cross over to the Soviet-controlled side of the Berlin Wall. Now standing in the center of the city, the checkpoint was in use between 1961 and 1990. Today, you’ll see a tall mast where Checkpoint Charlie used to stand, with a large image of a traditionally dressed Soviet soldier on one side, and American soldier on the other. You can have your photograph taken here, and see where one of the most notorious boarders in recent history once stood.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Inaugurated 60 years after the end of World War II on May 10, 2005, this monument commemorating the Holocaust covers an area of 19,000 square meters. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Denkmal für die Ermordeten Juden Europas) is made up of 2,711 unnamed, undated stone blocks of varying sizes. After visiting the information center attached to the memorial, you can’t help but feel the somber atmosphere of the place, as you reflect on the largest genocide the world has ever known. Though obviously the main purpose of the memorial is to remember one of the greatest tragedies in history, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe also affords the opportunity to take some striking photographs.
Museum Island is the name given to the northern half of an island in the middle of the Spree River, and is home to no less than 5 world-famous museums. Museum Island is located in the heart of the capital, close by the Berlin Cathedral and Schlossbrücke Bridge, so you’ll have plenty of opportunity to visit it while you’re in the city. The oldest museum on the island, the Altes Museum (Old Museum), was opened in 1830 and is known as Berlin’s “treasure chest”. The Neues Museum (New Museum) opened in 1859, and is home to a large pre-historic collection as well as a collection from Ancient Egypt. Its most famous piece is the bust of Queen Nefertiti, which is guarded behind glass screens. Be sure to keep your camera in your bag, as photographs aren’t permitted, and the guards are not likely to cut you any slack. The Bode Museum opened in 1904 and is famous for its Byzantine art. The Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) opened its doors in 1876, and exhibits paintings by names like Monet, Manet and Renoir. The Island is also home to the Pergamonmuseum, which displays the Pergamon Altar found in the Bergama district of Izmir, as well as many other archaeological finds from all over the world.
St. Nicholas’ Church
St. Nicholas’ Church (St. Nikolai-Kirche) is Berlin’s oldest church, and while it was all but destroyed during World War II, it was restored to its former glory in 1984. With its two large spires, it’s one of the more eye-catching churches of the city, and today it serves as a museum which plays host to a wide range of events. Along with exhibitions and other artistic displays, there is also a weekly organ concert at the church. The acoustics of the church compliment the sound of its magnificent organ is such a fantastic way, it really is worth checking the venue’s calendar to see if you can catch one of these unforgettable performances.
One of the 19th century’s most important architects, Paul Wallot, won the 1884 competition to design and build the Reichstag Building, which would serve as the seat of power in Berlin between 1984 and 1933. After being badly damaged by a fire in 1933, it was abandoned by the Nazis. In fact, the Nazis used the fire as a pretext to change the political landscape of the country for their own interests. The Reichstag Building wasn’t fully restored until after the reunification of Germany, but it stands proudly, with the large, central glass dome it’s most eye-catching feature. You can climb to the top of the dome, and look down into the chamber below – the fact that you can watch politicians from above is a symbol of the country’s dedication to democracy and the rights of its citizens. If you do indeed wish to climb up and look down from the dome, you’ll be required to fill in a registration form beforehand.
What to eat
Königsberger klopse are meatballs made of mince, onion, egg and a mixture of herbs. The meatballs are then boiled, with the resulting broth mixed with egg yolk, roux and cream to make the sauce. The meatballs are plated up, covered with the sauce and served with boiled potatoes and capers. You might find that different meats are used in their preparation, but the secret to really good meatballs is to let them soak in brine before cooking. You’ll find Königsberger klopse is restaurants all over Berlin, so be sure to try this traditional Prussian dish.