Before I start getting into the real meat of our travels in Berlin (aka the posts where I chatter on unnecessarily and include far too many pictures), I thought for today I’d just touch on some of the places we saw on our self-guided walking tour of Berlin’s famous sights. There is a free walking tour of Berlin that came highly recommended to us, but the times for that tour never matched up with our schedule, so we simply made our own that included most of what we would have seen on the free tour, plus a few other things that interested us.
As long as you’re in good shape, you can cover all of the sights on our walking tour of Berlin easily in one day. I suggest plotting the locations out on Google Maps before you head out, though, just in case – the distance does come to around 9km. Wear comfy shoes!
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Our tour begins at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial. Here, over 2,700 concrete slabs of varying heights, arranged in rows on uneven ground, memorialize the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust. I’m not entirely sure what the artist’s intention here was, but to me, it looked a lot like a cemetery with over-sized gravestones. (A very cold, sterile cemetery at that.) When we visited, a light rain had just passed through leaving water droplets on the concrete, resembling tears. If you’d like to explore deeper, there is a free exhibition center beneath the field of concrete slabs, but since we hoped to complete our walking tour by the day’s end, we didn’t pay it a visit.
Address: Cora-Berliner-Straße 1, 10117 Berlin
Walking just a block or so north from the Holocaust Memorial, you’ll quickly hit Pariser Platz where the famous Brandenburg Gate stands. Brandenburg Gate has been a prominent landmark in the city since it was built in the 18th century, but it took on even more meaning after the wall came down in 1989 as it came to symbolize the freedom and reunification of Berlin. Other popular sights to visit here or come back to later are the Tiergarten, one of Berlin’s prettiest public parks, and the Reichstag Dome where German Parliament meets.
Address: Pariser Platz, 10117 Berlin
DZ Bank Designed by Frank Gehry
If you’re not into architecture then you can probably skip this one, but if you are, while you’re in Pariser Platz, make a stop into the DZ Bank building. Designed by Frank Gehry, this is the most unusual entrance to a bank I’ve ever seen. Unless you’ve got business to conduct inside or are part of a tour, you won’t be allowed in any further than the front, though, no matter how sweetly you smile at the security guards.
Address: Pariser Platz 3, 10117 Berlin
Museum Island and the Berliner Dom
Museum Island, a UNESCO world heritage sight, is an island in the middle of the Spree River. Five world-renowned museums are here, as well as Berlin’s most famous cathedral, the Berliner Dom. Truthfully, this is a place where you really need to spend a whole day, or days even, but even though we knew we wouldn’t have time to go in anywhere, we still wanted to see the museum complex and the outside of the church. If we were to return to Berlin, I’d definitely set aside a full day to explore more here, particularly in the Pergamon. (Museum Island is a good distance from everything else on this list, so if you intend on visiting another day when you have time to enter the museums, I’d leave it off of the walking tour!)
Address: Am Lustgarten, 10178 Berlin
The TV Tower
Unless you plan on going up inside of it, you really needn’t walk all the way to the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) to see it. Standing tall at over 1,200 feet, it is the highest structure in Germany and easily seen from practically anywhere in central Berlin. Funny story – this was unintended by the architect, but when the sun shines a certain way on the dome, it’s reflection appears on it in the form of the cross, earning the TV Tower the nickname, ‘The Pope’s Revenge’! It’s quite expensive to go up in the tower, but you’re guaranteed a pretty sweet view at that height!
Address: Panoramastraße 1A, 10178 Berlin
Walking back in the direction of Potsdamer Platz, you’ll come across Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstraße. This was once the most famous crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War, but is now a bit of a tourist trap. Two very unenthusiastic guys stand outside the famous border crossing dressed in uniform and holding flags, and for a couple euros, you can have an awkward picture taken with them. Right. We’d had fair warning before we visited that this wasn’t a place we’d want to linger, so we simply snapped a picture and moved on. There is, however, a museum here dedicated to the history of the Berlin Wall that we heard was pretty good, but I can’t personally attest to whether it’s worth the entrance fee.
Address: Friedrichstraße 43-45, 10117 Berlin
Original Pieces of the Berlin Wall
As you make your way to Potsdamer Platz, make sure you stop at the small memorial in front of the Bahnhof station where pieces of the Berlin Wall have been preserved in their original location. The pieces of the wall have been covered by just a few pieces of bubble gum, making it look pretty tacky, but if you don’t have time on your visit to make it over to the Berlin Wall Memorial, this smaller memorial will still give you a ton of information about the wall and the war. A longer stretch of the wall has been preserved over at the former SS headquarters nearby, so if you have time, you might want to check that out, too.
The Sony Center
Only a few steps away from the pieces of the wall at Potsdamer Platz is the Sony Center. By now on your walking tour, it’s probably getting close to evening which happens to be the best time to see this great work of architecture. Brightly colored lights illuminate the dome overhead, as well as the fountain in the center, and the reflection from those play off of the many mirrored windows surrounding the complex. There’s a huge theater here, as well as a number of shops, restaurants, and bars. Besides popping in to take a few pictures, we didn’t stick around because everything here was a bit out of our price range. If you come in the daytime, it’ll look like an entirely different place, but still an interesting sight to see.
Address: Potsdamer Platz, 10785 Berlin
The Victory Column
The final stop on our walking tour of Berlin – the Victory Column, located in the Tiergarten. During the day it’s possible to climb to the top for a small fee, but I think it’s worth a visit at evening, too, to see it all lit up. Built in 1873 to commemorate the German victories over Denmark, Austria, and France, the Victory Column was originally in another location closer to the Reichstag, but the Nazis moved it after they occupied Berlin, sparing it from being destroyed during air raids in 1945. Even after the war, this monument risked destruction by the French until a British-American vote vetoed it. My favorite part is the statue at the top, known as Goldelse, or Golden Lizzie.
Address: Großer Stern, 10557 Berlin
A final tip – if you follow the same route we did, you’ll end in the Tiergarten, most likely very, very hungry after all the walking. I highly recommend eating at the restaurant/biergarten located here, Cafe Am Neuen See. The view from the biergarten is lovely, and the ambiance inside the restaurant, especially on a cold winter’s day, is hard to beat!
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