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For most of the latter part of the 20th century, Berlin was emblematic of the division between East and West. When the Berlin Wall was brought down in 1989, the city had two very distinct societies, both socially and economically. However, more recent decades have seen Berlin embracing unification and rebuilding itself as a cosmopolitan, exciting and efficient modern European capital.
More than 100 streets have been reconnected, and signs of the Wall's existence have all but disappeared. But years of division are still reflected in the new city's architecture, with a modern city of skyscrapers, retail centres and urban developments in the West contrasting with the remains of the pre-war city in the East.
For nearly 30 years, the Wall sealed off the imposing Brandenburg Gate from the West, but now traffic passes through it freely. Similarly, Alexanderplatz, which was one of the main centres of 1920s Berlin and post-war East Germany, has once again become one of the city's focal centres. The site of the infamous Checkpoint Charlie that ensured no one illegally crossed over from East to West is now a museum, and visitors can see the East Side Gallery, a surviving chunk of the Wall riotously decorated by street artists.
Apart from its unique historical status, Berlin is once again a vibrant centre for the arts, with many museums, galleries and theatres. At the Kulturforum, visitors will find a number of impressive museums and concert venues from the spectacular Berliner Philharmonie concert hall to the Picture Gallery, which houses a vast collection of European paintings from the 13th to 18th centuries.
Berlin also boasts a fantastic nightlife, enjoying a vast array of venues and scenes catering to an extreme range of tastes and delights. Berlin's calendar is also packed with festivals and parties, from the Berlin Pride Celebration in June to Jazz Fest Berlin in November. All this contributes to an ever-evolving city, which ensures no two holidays to Berlin are ever the same.
The Brandenburg Gate is impressive and symbolic, built with sandstone in 1791 and consisting of 12 massive Doric columns. The massive gate is topped with a stunning statue of the Goddess of Victory facing east towards the city centre, which was added in 1794. The gate is closed to traffic, as is the adjacent Pariser Platz, a square at the end of the beautiful Unter den Linden Boulevard. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, new buildings have been built to designs closely following those destroyed in WWII. It's easy and worthwhile to hire a guide for the area because the Brandenburg Gate has an intriguing history and a special place in the German culture.
The infamous border crossing point in the Berlin Wall dividing West and East Berlin has now become something of a shrine, with the addition of a museum: the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. While the original metal shed is now on display at the Allied Museum, the soldier's post can be visited and tourists can be photographed under the border sign. The museum's permanent exhibition charts the lifespan of the wall, displays objects used to get under, over or through the wall, as well as the stories of those defectors who risked their lives to win their freedom. It hosts lectures and film screenings, and also houses temporary exhibits focusing on general human rights.
The remains of the Berlin Wall have now become the largest open-air art gallery in the world. The longest section is given over to graffiti artists from around the world, demonstrating their skills on the 4,318 foot (1,316m) concrete canvas and turning it into a Berlin landmark. Some of the best known paintings are Dimitri Vrubel's Brotherly Kiss and Gunther Shaefer's Fatherland. The gallery is billed as an international memorial for freedom, the art reflecting the idealism and excitement of the time when the wall was pulled down in 1989.
The Berlin Jewish Museum in Lindenstrasse has gained an international reputation for its significant architecture and unique exhibitions. The bulk of the museum is housed in an intimidating windowless and doorless building situated alongside the yellow Baroque edifice of the Berlin Museum. Visitors enter through the Berlin Museum to explore exhibition rooms clustered around a main axis void, designed to signify the empty and invisible aspects of Jewish history. The museum and its displays are beautifully designed and can be emotionally overwhelming, mixing personal stories, interactive exhibits and mementos with more formal and informative history.
One of the most popular galleries in Berlin, the historic Hamburger Bahnhof in the central Tiergarten district, exhibits an extensive contemporary art collection. Built in 1846 but badly damaged during World War II, this former train station offers 107,639 square feet (10,000 sq metres) of space filled with works by the likes of Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys and Roy Lichtenstein. The permanent display is the Marx private collection, but there are changing exhibitions and good examples of transavanguardia and minimalism. The gallery holds regular free guided tours for the public, with times displayed on the website.
Potsdamer Platz is the heart and soul of the 'New Berlin', emerging with the fall of the Wall in 1989. The square now contains an exciting mix of restaurants, hotels, a casino, theatres and cinemas, drawing Berliners and tourists seeking culinary delights and memorable recreation. The focus of the square is the 22-storey Debis Haus designed by Renzo Piano, featuring an atrium with cathedral-like dimensions. The Kollhoff building features a panorama platform offering gorgeous panorama of the city, reached by Europe's fastest express elevator. The Sony Store is the most recent addition, consisting of eight buildings around a light-flooded arena, which also houses Berlin's popular Film Museum.
The Legoland Discovery Centre is the first indoor Legoland in the world and provides an interactive journey through a land of creativity, learning and play. Kids will love themed areas ranging from dinosaurs to ninjas. There is a fun factory where Lego bricks are made, a 4D cinema show and even miniature Berlin sights made from Lego. Consistently rated as one of the best family attractions in Berlin, it's also a great place to celebrate birthdays as there are special party rooms for hire and all sorts of exciting perks. The park is designed mainly for kids aged between three and 10.
The Story of Berlin is an interactive exhibition recounting the history of the German capital from its foundation until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It's divided into 25 themed rooms and pays attention to the feelings, thoughts and living conditions of common Berliners, excelling in recreating the atmosphere, mood and aesthetic of different periods. The museum is modern and impressively designed, with a compelling mix of historical analysis and more personal, anecdotal material. One of its main attractions is the nuclear bunker built during the Cold War in the 1970s, and admission price includes an audio tour of it.
Said to be one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, the Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin was created as a marketplace in the 17th century. During World War II most of the buildings surrounding the square were destroyed, but have since been reconstructed and returned to their former glory. The square is dominated by the beautiful concert house, a special place to catch a performance and home to the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, while other notable buildings are the twin churches of Deutscher Dom and Franzosischer Dom, identical German and French cathedrals. The Gendarmenmarkt stays busy even in winter, playing host to Berlin's best Christmas market and various concerts.
Schloss Charlottenburg is the largest and oldest palace in Berlin. The 18th-century Baroque structure was originally constructed as the summer home for Sophie Charlotte, the wife of Elector Frederick III who became the first Prussian king. The splendid interiors are festooned with masterpieces of art, including the largest collection of 18th-century French paintings anywhere outside of France. The surrounding gardens contain a mausoleum, pavilion and the Belvedere, which houses the porcelain museum. For centuries the best artists, architects and landscapers were commissioned to improve and enrich the palace, while the gardens are also lovely.
The magnificent basilica of the Berlin Cathedral was finished in 1905, standing on the site of several earlier structures. The largest church in the city, the structure holds active services, concerts and tours. Visitors love the organ, the stained glass windows and the intricate mosaics decorating the dome. The cathedral's crypt contains over 80 sarcophagi of Purssian royals, with both tours and audio guides on offer.
Considered one of the best attractions in Berlin, the huge Pergamon Museum has three main departments: the Antiquity Collection, the Islamic Art Museum and the Middle East Museum. They house parts or replicas of reconstructed monumental buildings transported from excavation sites in foreign lands. The Antiquity Collection contains the Pergamon Altar from the second century BC, as well as the Market Gate of Miletus from Roman antiquity. The main attraction in the Islamic Art Museum is the Mshatta façade originating from a Jordanian desert palace. The Middle East Museum houses the Ishtar Gate and the Procession Way of Babylon, as well as the throne room façade of Nebuchadnezzar II.
Boasting more than 30 million objects throughout its geological, paleontological and zoological collections, the Museum of Natural History in Berlin is the biggest of its kind in Germany and one of the five largest in the world. Visitors enjoy discovering extensive treasures and learning while they wander the exhibition halls, which take up a massive 71,000 square feet (6,600sq/m). Apart from the ever-popular dinosaur exhibit, highlights include sections on evolution, domestic animals, the cosmos and solar systems, minerals and more. The museum is well organised, with labels in multiple languages and audio tapes available in about 10 languages.
Children and families love nothing more than trips to the zoo or the aquarium, and Berlin's stunning Zoo-Aquarium combines both with a large focus on conservation and responsible enclosures. The facility is one of the most popular in Europe, entertaining millions of visitors each year with its immense biodiversity from rhinos and pandas to sharks and penguins. Thematic tours such as South America, Asia and Africa are on offer, while there are often special events during the year celebrating Halloween, Easter and Christmas which kids will love. The world's largest inner-city park, Tiergarten adjoins the zoo and a visit is pleasantly combined with a stroll or picnic through these beautiful gardens.
Occupying an abandoned movie theatre, this museum displays the history of the Allied forces in Germany during World War II and their peacetime presence until 1994. The Allied Museum's collections include all kinds of military memorabilia: airplanes, motor vehicles, weapons, uniforms, documents, photos and other artefacts, including the original Checkpoint Charlie shed. One section focuses on the years 1945 to 1950, covering the end of the war and the Berlin Airlift, while another explores Germany's Cold War experience between 1951 and 1994, featuring large pieces of the Berlin Wall illustrating the history of West Berlin as an island in the Soviet zone. The museum also organises periodic events such as lectures, film screening and special exhibitions.
The Reichstag is one of Berlin's most famous buildings and the seat of Germany's parliament since 1894. Enduring a volatile history, its 1999 renovation saw the building gutted, leaving only the facade and the addition of a glass-domed atrium providing stunning panoramas of Berlin. Tours are on offer but visits are done by contacting the Reichstag beforehand. Although the office is helpful there are thousands of people making this request so advance planning is required to avoid disappointment. There are free audio tapes available in a number of languages.
Despite its dramatic and sombre history, Berlin is arguably one of the finest cities in Europe for families to explore, offering kids on holiday a multitude of activities and attractions, from the world's largest inner-city park to Legoland and everything in between.
Active families will enjoy heading out to areas such as Großer Müggelsee for a spot of swimming, boating or hiking. Wannsee is perfect for escaping to the outdoors and is a welcome break from traditional sightseeing. Animal and nature lovers will go wild for the Berlin Zoo-Aquarium and the Berlin Botanical Gardens, which offer plenty of space for children to run around and let off steam. The many impressive public squares in the city also provide areas for amusement and lots to keep young minds busy and happy.
When the weather turns bad and outside activities are few and far between, kids can head to one of Berlin's indoor playgrounds or one of the more enticing museums, such as the Museum of Natural History which could take up most of the day with hundreds of exhibitions.
Berlin has a continental climate with cold winters, hot summers and mild autumn and spring seasons. The weather in summer (June to August) is mostly pleasant and sunny, with long days and temperatures averaging 73°F (23°C), but Berlin's climate is unpredictable and the weather can rapidly change. Winters (December to February) can be cold and damp, with the temperature hovering around freezing. Snow falls between December and March, but Berlin seldom stays covered in snow for long. Rain can fall all year round and it is always a good idea to have an umbrella in Berlin, no matter what the season. The wettest months are June and August, and the driest months on average are October and February. Berlin is a year-round travel destination because so much of the city's appeal lies in its cultural and historical attractions, which are fabulous regardless of the weather. The most popular time to visit Berlin is in the summer months when the sidewalk cafes, parks and gardens can be enjoyed to the utmost and there are numerous fun summer events.
Restaurants in Berlin are melting pots of culture and gastronomic delight. The city's culinary traditions have been immensely influenced over the years by its vibrant immigrant community, with authentic international cuisines growing to cement a firm place on the city's food scene.
The flagship dish of Berlin is the simple yet satisfying boulette, a combination of fried meatball and hamburger often accompanied by Berliner Weiße, a traditional mix of sour beer and juice. The highly popular Doner Kebab from Turkish influence is one the most popular fast food dishes, while German favourites like beer and pretzels are stocked in abundance.
The central Mitte borough, which also contains many of the prime tourist sights, is the best bet for eating out in Berlin. Brimming with a wide variety of restaurants, Oranienburger Street is a particularly enticing option, featuring a buzzing atmosphere and many of the city's most popular restaurants.
This unique restaurant serves food in completely dark rooms by blind waiters. The idea is that diners will concentrate more on the taste of the food if other senses are deprived, and it seems they are right. The unseen food is delicious and the unusual sensation of eating in the dark is novel and fun, with plenty of giggling in the restaurant.
One of the trendier places to dine in Berlin is the Dachgarten in the rooftop dome of the Reichstag. From the dome in the historic centre of Berlin, there are amazing views across the city. The menu is delightful too, including healthy traditional cuisine like the light fish and venison dishes. Reservations are vital unless you wish to join a long queue, and your best bet of getting a table is at breakfast.
An elegant and opulent dining experience, Heising serves up high-quality French cuisine. All meals are served on KPM porcelain and beautifully presented, from salmon tartare with fresh mango to guinea fowl with truffle essence. The restaurant is open daily for supper, from 7pm. Reservations are recommended.
Haveli is consistently rated very highly by tourists and is a great option for those seeking out delicious Indian food at good value. It serves anything from homemade cream cheese paneer to an array of saags, kormas and vindaloos. The restaurant is family-run, the portions extremely generous and the food delicious.
Emulating a Paris bistro, the Weinhaus Huth is an interesting dining venue not just because of its charming décor or outstanding menu. It's actually the only original building left on the Potsdamer Platz, having survived the ravages of war and the demolition of the Berlin Wall. Highlights on the menu include tarte flambee and fresh oysters.
You cannot beat the thin base pizzas that keep customers flocking to this lively restaurant in Charlottenberg. The XII Apostel is trendy and popular because of its novel idea of offering 12 pizza varieties, one named for each apostle of Jesus Christ. The biggest and tastiest is reputedly the Judas. The décor is flashy Italian Renaissance and the atmosphere is usually busy and bustling.
Zur Letzten Instanz is an historic establishment off Alexanderplatz providing hearty German comfort food such as Eisbein, potato dumplings, suckling pig, cabbage and tankards of beer. It's also the oldest restaurant in Berlin, documented as far back as 1525, and has enjoyed such esteemed patronage as Napoleon Bonaparte himself. The name was inspired by a nearby courthouse and means 'without further appeal'. The restaurant is open Monday to Saturday, 12pm to 1am.
Traditionally a popular and fashionable spot to dine after the theatre, Ganymed has been around for decades serving good food in generous portions, gamely continuing to do business in East Berlin throughout the Cold War years. There are two formal dining rooms, with one overlooking the Spree. Examples of menu highlights are goose liver terrine, Eisbein, schnitzels, mussels in Choron sauce and pheasant breast wrapped in Black Forest ham.
The coveted Golden and Silver Bears of the Berlin International Film Festival are the symbol of achievement in one of the top events in the film industry. The Berlinale has become one of the biggest and most reputable festivals in the international business of artistic media and film, where world-class filmmakers launch their latest projects. Aside from screenings, there are also filmmaking workshops and opportunities for young producers and directors to screen their own one-minute films. The Berlin International Film Festival attracts many celebrities and has an impressive red carpet turnout which delights the many spectators. For details on what is showing and what's on every year check the official website listed below.
The gay pride parade on Christopher Street Day has its origins in New York's Christopher Street, which was the site of violence between customers in a gay bar and raiding police in June 1969. It's a huge, colourful festival with hundreds of thousands of participants, including many heterosexual revellers and supporters of the cause. The organisation's core belief is that ignorance and fear is at the root of homophobia and that raising awareness greatly improves the lives of LGBTQ+ people by encouraging pride and public support. This enormous party is spectacular, overwhelmingly popular and has become an important day on Berlin's calendar.
Set in one of Europe's most beautiful squares, Classic Open Air stages the romantic summer sounds of classical music presented by internationally acclaimed musicians, conductors and composers. The concert series attracts large crowds to evenings of music under the starlit sky, against the romantic backdrop of the Gendarmenmarkt's stunning architecture. The shows aren't limited by genre, having included opera, jazz, stage musicals, pop, soul, swing, blues and more. The performances are also visually impressive as they include fireworks, light shows and lasers. For more information check out the official website for details on the programme, the price of tickets and suggestions about accommodation.
During the festive season, more than 40 Christmas markets pop up in Berlin. They attract visitors with traditional arts and crafts, Christmas lights and decorations, along with aromas of glühwein, gingerbread and roasted nuts. Santa Claus, fairytales and puppetry are there to entertain children while shoppers browse antique toys and dolls, candles, woodwork and a variety of traditional goods. The suburb of Spandau allegedly has Europe's largest Christmas market, where stalls spread throughout the Old Town. As people yearn for a less commercial Christmas experience, they enjoy the nostalgia and charm of traditional gifts and decorations. Nothing is mass-produced and the atmosphere is old-fashioned, with Berlin boasting some of the best of these markets in Germany.
Taking runners past most of the famous sights of the historic city, the annual Berlin Marathon is one of the most popular in the world and ends at the imposing Brandenburg Gate. It's an extremely popular race and the limit of 40,000 runners is generally reached a few hours after entries open for the event. The route is interspersed with about 80 live music stages where bands urge on competitors and entertain spectators. This remarkable music marathon makes the race even more special: some participants are even lucky enough to have requested songs played for them as they approach the finish line.
The Berlin Jazz Festival is one of the world's premier jazz festivals and a highlight on the Berlin musical calendar, with a range of concerts taking place all over town and in a variety of different settings, from casual jazz clubs to large arenas. Some of the best in the business have graced its stages, such as Lee Konitz and the legendary Herbie Hancock. World music bands also feature on the programme, bringing a lot of originality and range to the festival. Berlin is always a great city to visit for lovers of jazz music, but Jazzfest truly showcases the city's jazz scene.
Berlin follows close on Amsterdam's heels for the title of Europe's most liberal city, offering avant-garde setups, trendy bars, risque underground clubs, artistic local hangouts and world-class performing arts. Berlin's nightlife expanded rapidly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, with locals excited to take advantage of a new type of social freedom. The clubbing scene in Berlin is now one of the most competitive and stimulating in the world.
The Mitte district is one of the trendiest, boasting some of the city's most popular party spots but often flooded with tourists. New clubs regularly spring up in Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain, while Kreuzberg is fast becoming a go-to hangout with locals, and is distinguished by its edgy atmosphere. Schoneburg offers some superb cafes and saunas and is quite big with Berlin's gay community, as is Nollendorfplatz.
There are plenty of neighbourhood pubs serving local brews and old favourites, while cabaret is still a popular pastime in Berlin, with many cabaret clubs dotted around this vibrant city. Live music venues dominate much of the city, showcasing both well-known and amateur acts in just about every type of atmosphere, from intimate eateries to grungy music halls.
The German capital can give even the most seasoned of shopaholics a run for their money, offering plenty of opportunities for shopping sprees with establishments such as high-end fashion stores, humble flea markets and enticing antique emporiums.
Luxury designer boutiques are found lining the streets at the west end of Kurfürstendamm and in Friedrichstraße. All the different shopping precincts have their own distinctive style and the best outlets are often tucked away in back alleys or quiet courtyards.
The main shopping districts are the Kurfürstendamm, Breitscheidplatz and the bargain-friendly Budapester Strasse and Tauentzienstraße. One of the trendiest shopping spots is the Schönhauser Allee, with countless independent shops boasting the latest fashion and young independent designer labels which can be snatched up for a song.
Most major stores are open from about 9.30am to 8pm during the week and between 9am and 4pm on Saturdays. They're also usually closed on Sundays, except for smaller ones in the main train stations.
The Berlin public transport system is efficient, if expensive, and the combination of buses, trams, ferries, the U-Bahn (underground) and S-Bahn (commuter rail) covers every part of the sprawling city and its surrounds. The U-Bahn and S-Bahn are the best ways of getting around. Buses reach the parts of the city that cannot be reached by train, and East Berlin has a network of modernised pre-war trams. One type of ticket is valid on all forms of transport and fares are divided into three colour-coded tariff zones. Driving in Berlin is easier than in most big cities but still not recommended. Traffic is heavy and parking difficult to find and expensive. Taxis and ride-sharing apps are both plentiful, while cycling is a fun and cheap way to get around. There is an extensive network of bike paths around the city, and bikes can be taken onto most forms of public transport, provided a bike ticket is purchased.
Berlin is teeming with history and its key attractions bear testimony to that. The sobering Checkpoint Charlie and Jewish Museum serve as stark reminders of Germany's complex past, and history buffs enjoy exploring all the museums and memorials the German capital has to offer. The remains of the infamous Berlin Wall are now the Eastside Gallery, the largest open-air gallery in the world, displaying graffiti from more than 118 artists from around the world.
Younger travellers enjoy visiting the Legoland Discovery Centre, while the historic Hamburger Bahnhof, one of the most popular art galleries, is a must for culture lovers. The Potsdamer Platz is a wonderful place to explore, boasting a fantastic mix of restaurants, shopping centres, hotels, a casino, theatres and cinemas. The Kollhoff-Tower located in the square features a panorama platform which offers breathtaking views of the city, reached by Europe's fastest express elevator.
The Berlin Museum ticket, which is valid for three consecutive days, allows free entry to about 40 museums, while the Berlin Welcome Card offers discounts on most of Berlin's major attractions, as well as free travel on public transport within the city. Prices depend on how many days the card is required for. Both cards can be bought online or from railway stations and tourist information centres.
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