The capital city of Germany is rich with history and culture. Badly fractured during World War II and the cold war, Berlin has recreated itself into an international city with diverse cultures and architecture.
Whether you are interested in history, art or culture, Berlin has many top sights for visitors to enjoy.
Here is a list of the best things to do in Berlin for first timers:
1. The Brandenburg Gate
Built in the late 1700s, the Brandenburg gate is the only surviving city gate of Berlin. The gate is in the western part of Berlin and marks the entrance to Unter den Linden.
Used as one of the Berlin Wall crossings, the gate became a site of protest during the division of Germany and a place of celebration when the wall fell in 1989.
The gate was severely damaged in World War II and underwent extensive renovation in the early 2000s. Today it is fully restored and is the symbol of not only the turbulent history of the region, but also the reunification of East and West Berlin.
2. The Berlin Wall Memorial and Check Point Charlie
The history of the Berlin Wall began in 1961 when East Germany sealed off the eastern part of the city to stem the flood of refugees from east to west. By the time it was torn down in 1989, the four-meter-high wall extended 155 kilometers, dissected 55 streets, and possessed 293 observation towers and 57 bunkers.
Today, only small stretches of this graffiti-covered travesty remain, including a 1.4-kilometer stretch preserved as part of the Berlin Wall Memorial, a chilling reminder of the animosity that once divided Europe.
Highlights include the Marienfelde Refugee Center Museum with its exhibits relating to the one-and-a-half million people who passed through Berlin as refugees, the Monument in Memory of the Divided City and the Victims of Communist Tyranny, the Window of Remembrance, and a Visitor Center with views over the remains of the wall.
Also of interest is Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie marking the best-known crossing point between East and West Berlin and with displays and artifacts tracing the history of human rights.
3. Museum Island
Berlin’s Museum Island (Museumsinsel) is a magnificent total art work, a truly outstanding ensemble of five world-renowned museums.
Apart for the legendary bust of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti, the most famous and important cultural exhibits on show here include the breathtaking Pergamon Altar and the stunning Ishtar Gate.
In 1999, the Museum Island complex was inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage.
Alexanderplatz in Mitte is one of the best-known public squares in Berlin – and it’s certainly the biggest. Named after Tsar Alexander I, who visited the Prussian capital in 1805, most people simply call it Alex.
Since reunification, Alexanderplatz has been in a constant state of change: a shopping centre, a multiplex cinema, a department store, shops, hotels – more and more facilities are being built, yet there are still gaps. There are plans for several high-rise buildings around the square, but whether and in what form this project takes place has not yet been decided.
Only one thing’s for certain: Alexanderplatz is still the biggest public square in any city in Germany.
5. East Side Gallery
The East Side Gallery is the longest stretch of the Berlin Wall still in existence. Often described as a memorial to freedom, it showcases paintings of artists from around the world.
The artwork, which began appearing in 1990, documents the changing time after the fall of the Berlin Wall as well as expressing hope for the future. Sections of the wall have been moved to facilitate construction and other portions have been damaged by erosion and vandalism.
6. Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is in the center of the Breitscheidplatz in Berlin. The original church was built between 1891 and 1895 by Kaiser Wilhelm II. During WWII the church burned down after it was hit by an allied bomb, only the broken west tower of the church was still standing.
In 1961 a new church, consisting of 4 buildings, was constructed around the remains of the old church. The concrete and glass structure is a fascinating counterpoint to the neo-Romanesque old church that it surrounds. Photos of the original church can be found in the remaining west tower along with some of the original mosaics.
The Reichstag is the seat of the German Parliament and an historic landmark. A fire in 1933 and air raids during the Battle of Berlin in 1945 caused a great deal of damage.
The Reichstag sits near the Brandenburg Gate and was not fully restored until after the deconstruction of the Berlin Wall and the German reunification. Some historical scars, such as graffiti left by Soviet soldiers, were left as a tribute to the building’s difficult past.
The original building was designed by several architects and the mix of styles in the completed structure was somewhat controversial at the time, but now is appreciated by thousands of visitors each year. The glass dome at the top of the building provides a magnificent view of the city and visitors must register in advance to enter it.
8. Grunewald Forest
Perhaps surprisingly for such a big city, Berlin has managed to retain an area of some 32 square kilometers as forest. Known as the Grunewald (Greenwood), this heavily treed area takes its name from the Hunting Lodge built in 1542 by Elector Joachim II.
It’s a lovely natural area of mixed oak, beech, pine, birch, acacia, and poplar trees, and provides shelter for an abundance of wildlife including birds, deer, and even wild pigs.
Highlights include its three little lakes – the Pechsee, Barssee, and Teufelssee – which form part of a popular nature reserve, while in the eastern section are the larger lakes: Hundekehlesee, Grunewaldsee, Schlachtensee, and Krumme Lanke.
Together with a nine-kilometer stretch of riverbank along the Havel, the lakes offer numerous opportunities for watersports and bathing.
9. Holocaust Memorial
Near the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial is a simple, but powerful tribute to the Jews that died as a result of Hitler’s extermination plan.
The 2,711 slabs are arranged in a wave-like pattern over 205,000 square feet. Each stone is unique, varying from ankle high to over six feet tall. The paths between the slabs undulate with the overall effect being one of instability and disorientation.
There is no set pattern and visitors may walk in any direction through the peaceful, quiet stones. At the base of the memorial an underground information center offers information and personal stories of people affected by the actions of the Nazi party.