Visiting many of the great cities of London, we didn’t think Berlin would be on the top of our list. But the advice from many people in London said it would be well worth the trip, and it was. It is a city very easy to navigate, and history, both recent and from the time of Frederick the Great make it very interesting from that perspective. I’ve chosen four sites that should not be missed, but if you do visit Berlin be sure to take a side trip to Potsdam. It is really not Berlin proper, but is a short trip and has a lot to offer.
Brandenburg Gate. Originally built as a triumphal arch in 1791, it has had an interesting history. After Napoleon captured Berlin in 1806 he took the Quadriga statue that sits atop the arch back to Paris. It was returned in 1814 following his defeat. As was most of the city, it was badly damaged during World War II, and after renovation saw more damage during the celebrations following the ending of the Berlin Wall. As is Big Ben in London or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it is probably Berlin’s iconic monument.
Jewish Memorial. Just south of Brandenburg Gate, this memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust has been quite controversial. It was opened in 2005, and is a city block of 2711 concrete slabs of varying heights and angles. You will be able to walk through it, and at times you will almost feel lost within its confines. At one of the corners is an underground information center.
Reichstag. This is now the Federal German Parliament, called the Bundestag, but in February 17, 1933 it was set on fire. The Nazis used this as an excuse for suspending basic freedoms. Most people would agree that the heavy security in long lines is worth the wait to go to the top.
KaDeWe (shopping). Not that shopping would be on my highlight list when visiting such a rich historical area as Berlin, but some, like Harrods in London, should be on your list. It is the largest department store in continental Europe, and one of the things that make it a great visit is the truly extraordinary food hall.
Remnants of the wall can be found here and there, and there is a museum that is quite good farther south of the Gate. Farther east within walking distance is Checkpoint Charlie, the best-known crossing point between East and West Berlin during the cold war. There now exists a sort of replica of what was a historical site, but it is basically a tourist trap.
Another place that I found quite historically significant is the location of Hitler’s wartime bunker. It is just south of the Jewish Holocaust Memorial, but unless you use a tour guide you won’t find it, as it goes completely unmarked. But speaking of tour guides, it is always best if you’re new in a city to find one. We had as our guide a chap from Liverpool who really knew his stuff, and was really into it. There was no fee, and he worked only on tips, which of course everyone obliged. They can tell stories and take you to places you might not find from a tour book. We highly recommend searching the internet for one before you visit a new city.