Berlin

The German capital Berlin, has seen a lot of changes since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Playing a pivotal role in the European Union, the united Berlin city is now the preferred destination for architecture, culture, shopping and entertainment. After being on opposite sides of the Cold war for almost thirty years, the reunification of East and West Berlin, has created a New Berlin, assured of her place in the modern 21st Century and she has a very important part to play in the destiny and prosperity of Europe. Berlin, today, is a perfect mix of the old neoclassical and present modern high rises as the city forges its way ahead even as stark reminders of the gruesome pogroms of the 20th century stand omnipresent.

Berlin’s historical association as the German capital, its internationalism, interesting and lively nightlife, the various cafes, bars, street art, with its many museums, palaces and other sites of historic interest, make the city worth a visit. A variety of architectural styles presents a myriad of uniquely designed edifices. In spite of the severe damage in the final years of World War II and in spite of being cut into two during the Cold War, Berlin has successfully reconstructed herself exceptionally well, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, contributing to it immensely.

The economy of the two Berlins for nearly 30 years were of an opposing nature, capitalist and communist. West Berlin was showcased to the Communist world as a torch bearer of democracy and was heavily subsidised and protected by the Capitalists. This provided a gateway for freethinkers and artisans to make West Berlin their haven. With the Wall relegated to history and gravel, the unified Berlin has become the melting pot of artisans, musicians, bohemian culture , alternate lifestyles and an all pervading anything-goes attitude.

When is the best time to visit?

There is no guarantee that the warmth and beauty of the summer will sustain, in Berlin. It is hence, better to pack a jacket, as it tends to be grey and cold.

May to September is the best time to visit the city, in which, July and early August can get hot. It is when the city’s lakes welcome you!

Reaching the city

By Air
The main airport for international carriers (British Airways, Air France-KLM, United, LOT, etc.) and the domestic flights hub (Lufthansa, Air Berlin), is the Tegel International Airport located in the north-west of the city.

The base for most low-cost airlines (EasyJet, Ryanair and Germanwings), charter flights and the Eastern Europe traffic, is the Schönefeld (ICAO: EDDB, IATA: SXF), that formerly served the capital of the GDR — southeast of Berlin.

Till the much delayed expansion of eastern Berlin’s Schönefeld Airport (about 24 km – 15 miles – outside the centre) into BBI (Berlin – Brandenburg International), is complete, Western Berlin’s Tegel Airport (TXL) will continue to be used. The BBI is also known as ‘Willy Brandt’ – the international airport of the capital region. Schönefeld is now mostly used by charter and low-budgeted airlines.

Reaching the city

By Bus
The X9, 128 or 109 buses leaving from Tegel Airport, connect to various points and subway stations in Berlin. It costs 25 euros by taxi to central Berlin. The Airport Express and the slower S-bahn trains travel to city centre, from Schönefeld. The U7 subway line at the Rudow station is connected by bus 171. These 3 options require an ABC zone ticket costing 3 euros. From Schönefeld airport, a taxi ride would take 40 minutes, costing around 40 euros.

By Train

Berlin’s huge, modern central station and Europe’s largest, the Hauptbahnhof, is where all long distance trains stop. The station lies at the norther edge of the government district in central Berlin. The two former ‘main’ stations are the Bahnhof Zoo (West), the Ostbahnhof (East) and the central eastern stations – Friedrichstrasse and Alexanderplatz, where the regional trains stop.

The efficient, semi-privatized, Deutsche Bahn (DB – German Rail) has their high-speed Inter City Express (ICE), Inter City (IC) and the Euro City (EC) trains journey between the centres of many major cities, like, Munich and Frankfurt. These journeys are a much faster option than by air.

From Amsterdam, Zurich, Vienna and Budapest, there are daily night trains. Advance booking is a must and if booked much earlier it turns to be more economical, sometimes costing as low as 29 euros.

Long distance trains from the Eastern European cities like Kaliningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Warsaw, stop at Hauptbahnhof and Ostbahnhof. Prior reservation is highly recommended.

What to see

Reichstag

The Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament, returned to its traditional place in the spring of 1999, after its last meeting in Reichstag, in 1933. The glass dome was designed by the British architect Sir Norman Foster, providing a crowning glory in glass for the grey monolith. It helped lighten up the edifice and it soon became one of the city’s main attractions. The gentle rise of the ramp circling up, gives a spectacular view of the Belin rooftops but more importantly of their lawmakers down below, gently reminding the politicians that the common man is keeping a watch on the happenings.

An exhibit on the Reichstag’s history in German and English, is at the base of the dome.

The Reichstag building was brought back to ‘life’, from its slumber on the Mauerstreifen, the military zone between the two sides of the wall, when the Federal Government was decided to be moved to its capital to Berlin. The entirely modernised building is now a powerful architectural showpiece.

The tours of the building are free. Book your tour to confirm your reservation at scheduled times, through the north portal. Continuous threat to the security has resulted in the need for individual visitors to register in advance to visit the glass dome and terrace.

https://visite.bundestag.de/BAPWeb/pages/createBookingRequest.jsf?lang=en

Book in advance as individual entry is limited to a maximum per day.

Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)

The moniker magnet of Berlin is the Brandenburg Gate. It was built in 1791, and was just one among many old city gates around the city. The Pariser Platz square lies immediately behind the Brandenburg Gate. The city’s important edifices like the Hotel Adlon, the Akademie der Künste (Academy of the Arts), etc., are located in this square. From the symbol of division during the Cold War, the Brandenburg Gate now stands tall as the symbolic landmark of the German reunification.

Berlin Television Tower

The Fernsehturm, the television tower of Berlin, can be seen even from a good distance. It is 368 m tall, and is the tallest building in Berlin. It was built in the 1960s. A 360 º view of the city can be enjoyed from atop the tower.

Located near the Friedrichstraße Berlin’s shopping street in the Mitte district, Gendarmenmarkt is one of the city’s spectacular squares. The Concert House, designed by Schinkel, the Deutscher Dom (German cathedral) and the Französischer Dom (French cathedral) are three examples of the architectural expertise of the capital city.

Berlin Cathedral

A significant specimen of the late 19th century architecture, the German cathedral Berliner Dom, has near it the German Historical Museum and the Museum’s Island. The Catholic St.Hedwigs Cathedral stands on the side of Berlin’s boulevard Unter den Linden.

Kurfürstendamm

The most elite neighbourhood of the city and the home of the most exclusive brands, is Kurfürstendamm (or Ku’damm, for short) extending from the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church on Breitscheidplatz to Berlin’s Halensee neighbourhood. KadeWe, Europe’s largest departmental store is located on a Ku’damm extension, on the street Tauentzienstrasse (Tauentzien, for short). The Zoological Garden, Germany’s oldest zoo is an interesting kids’ attraction.

Zoological Garden

There are 16,000 animals which includes 1,500 different species, in this oldest zoo of Germany. There are also a predator, a hippo and a nocturnal animal house. Europe’s largest aviary is located in this zoo. There is also an aquarium, which can also be visited separately and contains biotopes for sharks, piranhas and fish from the coral reefs.

Charlottenburg Palace

Erected as the summer residence of Sophie Charlotte, the first queen of Prussia, the Charlottenburg Palace, is one of the landmarks of Berlin. The palace and the surrounding district are named after her. The later generations of the royal family remodelled and expanded the palace, to suit the trend of their time. This is the reason behind various styles of architectures seen inside the palace. The old palace has its rooms designed in the baroque style, with its porcelain cabinet and the new wing was designed in the opulent Rococo style for Frederick the Great, in 1742. The mausoleum of Queen Louise, the Belvedere, with its world-renowned collection of KPM porcelain and the new pavilion are situated in the palace gardens.

Museum Island

Located in the heart of the city, Berlin’s Museum Island is an UNESCO World Heritage site. It is famous with the locals and tourists alike. This museum island is home to priceless cultural treasures. From the cradle of civilisation in Mesopotamia through Classical Greece, Rome, Egypt, Byzantium, the Islamic World and Middle Ages, to the modern age and the 19th century Romanticism, it is a fascinating tour through art and culture, in the Museum of the Ancient World, New Museum, Old National Gallery, Bode Museum and Pergamon Museum.

The Berlin Wall Memorial and Documentation Centre

Home to the Memorial to the Victims of the Wall, a Documentation Centre and the Chapel of Reconciliation, the Berlin Wall Memorial (Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer) is located between the districts of Wedding and Mitte, on Bernauer Straße. The section of the wall and watchtower that have survived, help visitors to get a feel of the turbulent and violent history of the wall.

Perched on the former border strip at Bernauer Strasse, it includes a piece of the Berlin Wall with border strip and watchtower. It provides a look into the construction of the border facilities and its workings and leaves an indelible impression on the visitor about the wall that once divided the entire country and the world too.

Alexanderplatz

The central square and traffic junction in Berin’s Mitte distcrict, Alexanderplatz, is one of the city’s most visited squares. It is the site of some of the top attractions in Berlin. Called lovingly as ‘Alex’ by Berliners, it was once a cattle market in the Middle Ages and a military parade square and an exercise ground for nearby barracks until mid-19th century. It is named in honour of Alexander I, the Tsar of Russia, on his visit to Berlin in 1805. More recently, on November 1989, a million people gathered here, the largest anti-government demonstration in history, against the GDR regime, not long before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The 365 metre TV tower is Berlin’s tallest edifice with its globe (that was remodelled as a pink football during the 2006 World Cup Event) with a rotating viewers’ platform. The popular meeting places are the Brunnen der Völkerfreundschaft (Fountain of Friendship amongst Peoples) and the World Time Clock erected in 1969. Designed by Peter Behrens, the Berolina House now houses a large retail clothing store. The Alexa shopping mall and a multiplex cinema draws film fans daily.

Checkpoint Charlie

The Wall Museum House at Checkpoint Charlie, very close to the crossing point between the two Berlins, recreates the story of the Wall and the stories of those who escaped through, under and over it! This was an infamous hot spot with the non-Germans during the Cold War, as the border crossing was manned by the Soviet military in east Berlin’s Mitte district and a few meters away in the south by the US military in west Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. In October 1961, the tension between the superpowers led to a standoff between the Soviet and American tanks. There is a replica of an American guardhouse and signage, plus cobblestones marking the old border, in the touristy intersection.

The events that led to the construction of the Wall, the original tools and devices, the recordings and photographs that show how east Germans escaped to the west (with an ingenious miniature submarine!) are all exhibited in this modest museum.

It is still a must-see sight in Berlin resonating history and emotions, in spite of the fact that there is very little lift to recall the ambience of pre-1989 days, after much debate about what should be left and preserved for posterity.

This is now New Berlin’s entry point, to a new kind of American sector. With its Manhattan style office district, the Friedrichstraß and its new buildings designed by international architects like Philip Johnson, who created the American Business Centre, is the result of millions in corporate investment that helped rebuild the central part of Berlin in the 1990s.

Potsdamer Platz

The busy centre of the city before the World War II, which was a no-man’s land from 1945 till the fall of the wall, the Potsdamer Platz now enjoys the presence of Sony Centre, skyscrapers and shops. It is the main place for celebrities, not just during film festivals!

Berlin Holocaust Memorial

Located in Mitte on a former ‘death strip’ where the wall once stood near Brandenburg Gate, is Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial, Berlin’s amazing monument to the Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide of World War II. With its serious grey façade, the memorial includes an underground Ort der Information (Information Centre) that is located on the south-eastern side of the memorial grounds. It is accessible through two flights of stairs or a lift.

The centre focuses on the diverse memorial sites across Germany, documenting the issue of genocide. An example of this in Berlin is the Stolpersteine (tripping stones) initiative, that has plaques on street pavements, outside house’s main entrance, commemorating the deported Jewish residents. Open day and night, the monument allows a relaxed walk through the concrete slabs.

East Side Gallery

Put up in a single night in 1961, the Berlin Wall introduced a cruel reality that anyone trying to escape to the West stood the risk of being shot. The 160 kilometre Berlin wall had a concrete part that ran up to 112 kilometres. Of this, the east side gallery is 1.3 kilometre-long on the Friedrichshain side of the river Spree. When it was declassified, hundreds of artists painted images on the wall. In a city full of vibrant graffiti, this particular stretch is peculiar, as it is officially sanctioned! It is a colourful memorial to freedom and the jubilation of that period. The graffiti is fading fast due to weather or vandalism. The proposal for its restoration is ridden with controversy, of artists objecting to the originals being painted over.

Outside Berlin
Potsdam

Twenty Five km southwest of central Berlin, on the Havel river, is Potsdam, the capital and a crown treasure of the federal state of Brandenburg. The former Prussian royal seat, easily reached by S-Bahn, makes a popular day trip from Berlin, with its beautiful gardens and palaces that won the UNESCO World Heritage status in 1990.

The Schloss Sanssouci was the private retreat of King Friedrich II (Frederick the Great) who was also the mastermind behind many of Potsdam’s spectacular parks and palaces. These miraculously survived WW II with not a single shrapnel hitting it! The Schloss Sanssouci was chosen by the Allies after the shooting stopped, for the Potsdam Conference of August 1945, to lay the groundwork for Germany’s post war future.

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