What to see in Berlin, Germany
Berlin has a vast array of museums. Most museums charge admission for people 18 years of age or older – usually €6 to €10 for the big museums. Discounts (usually 50%) are available for students and disabled people with identification. Children under 18 years free.
Most museums are closed on Mondays; notable exceptions include the Neues Museum and the Deutsches Historisches Museum, which are open daily. Museumsportal Berlin, a collective web initiative, offers easy access to information on all museums, memorials, castles and collections and on current and upcoming exhibitions.
Topography of Terror, Niederkirchnerstraße 8 – This open-air museum documents the terror applied by the Nazi regime. It consists of excavated prison cells located directly under a remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall. The border between Berlin-Mitte (formerly East Berlin) and Kreuzberg (formerly West Berlin) runs for some 200 meters along Niederkirchnerstraße. Behind what remains of the Wall here is now home to the permanent exhibition Topography of Terror on the site of the most important institutions of the Nazi persecution and terror apparatus between 1933 and 1945. This is the only free museum in Berlin to encourage visitors and it is well worth going to. It’s as it says, topography or the terror from the Gestapo and SS leading up to the war and during.
Museumsinsel. Literally “Museum Island”, this area is best known for the vast Pergamon-Museum, which houses an extensive collection of ancient Greek, ancient Middle-Eastern and Islamic art and architecture, Photography is allowed but be careful of what you lean or rest on, the staff is fussy!
Other museums which belong to the Museum Island are the Altes Museum (with the Egyptian and the antique collection), the Alte Nationalgalerie (with mainly German paintings of the 19th century) and the reopened Bode-Museum with its fantastically presented sculpture collection and Byzantine art. The recently reopened Neues Museum houses the Egyptian collection, Neanderthal and other prehistoric archaeological finds, and some of the treasures unearthed at Troy. This is the only museum on Museums Insel that requires a timed entry ticket. It’s best to get a timed ticket online ahead of time as time slots fill up quickly.
Kulturforum located close to Potsdamer Platz is another cluster of cultural buildings, museums among them. Some of them are Gemäldegalerie thousands of European paintings from the 13th to the 18th century, works from Dürer, Raffael, Tizian, Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Rubens; Neue Nationalgalerie (closed during renovation), designed by Mies van der Rohe, with art from the 20th Century (there are also temporary exhibitions during which the permanent collection is usually not on display) and Musikinstrumenten-Museum a part of the Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung PK that has an amazingly wide range of historic and unusual instruments on display.
Museen Charlottenburg – Schloss Charlottenburg (Charlottenburg Palace, Belvedere with Porcelain Manufactory (KPM), Mausoleum, New Pavilion), Museum Berggruen, Bröhan Museum, Museum Scharf-Gerstenberg
Museen Dahlem – in the district of Dahlem three museums are located: Museum of European Cultures the biggest of its sort in Europe. Ethnologisches Museum again one of the world’s most comprehensive museums (Well worth a visit for its splendid collection of Pre-Columbian archeology). Museum of Asian Art.
Deutsches Historisches Museum in the Zeughaus, Mitte, Unter den Linden 2. German historical museum covering everything from prehistory right up to the present day. One can spend many, many hours here!
Museum für Naturkunde, Mitte, Invalidenstraße 43. Near the main railway station. Natural science museum with a big collection of dinosaur skeletons, fossils and minerals.
Hamburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwart, Moabit, Invalidenstraße 50-51.Museum for Contemporary Art located in former train station. Big halls filled with artworks made since 1960s.
Jüdisches Museum, Kreuzberg, Lindenstraße 9-14. Jewish Museum. Learn about the history of Jews in Germany. Permanent exhibition on two millennia of German-Jewish history, changing exhibitions and impressive modern architecture by Daniel Libeskind. There is also a small unrelated Jewish Museum at the Oranienburger Straße Synagogue.
Berlinische Galerie, Kreuzberg, Alte Jakobstraße 124-128 is the city museum for modern art, architecture, and design. The museum is just around the corner from the Jewish Museum.
Technikmuseum. Few branches, most interesting at Trebbiner Straße 9 (Kreuzberg), about midway between Gleisdreieck and Möckernbrücke U-Bahn stations. Steam trains & engines, aircraft & flight, ships & sailing, and much more.
Berlin Wall Memorial (Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer), Gesundbrunnen/Mitte, Visitor Center: Bernauer Straße 119, Documentation Center: Bernauer Str. 111 – The central memorial site of German division, located in the middle of the capital. – Open-Air Exhibition and Memorial Grounds: All year round Mo. – Su. 8am – 10pm, Visitor Center and Documentation Center: Tu. – Su. 10:00am – 6:00pm. The outdoor grounds are open daily 08:00–22:00. Admission free.
Mauermuseum at Checkpoint Charlie. This museum is situated at the most famous historical checkpoint between the two Berlins.
DDR Museum, Karl-Liebknecht-Straße 1. A small museum just over the river from the Berliner Dom. It can be extremely crowded and it’s a small place. All the displays are in German and English, gives a good insight into life in the former GDR.
Story of Berlin. Kurfürstendamm 207-208i, close to the Uhlandstraße metro, the last stop on the U1. Museum in the centre of a mall. In addition to the history (including the World Wars), culture, transportation, architecture and an exhibit of life in the city since medieval times, it is unique to feature an authentic cold-war era bunker. The 20 minute tour is included in the cost of the entrance ticket, and is at the top of each hour, alternating in German and English.
Stasi Museum. At the northeast corner of Frankfurter Allee and Ruschestraße is a complex of buildings housing hospitals and clinics. In the communist era, all these buildings belonged to the Stasi with their massive apparatus for spying on East German citizens, including opening tens of thousands of pieces of mail every day. Now just one of these buildings is used as museum of the Stasi. It is almost impossible to find from the street address since the number is out of sequence with the rest of the street. Walk up Ruschestraße from Frankfurther Allee. On the right side of the street, there is a small sign for the Stasi Museum at the entrance to the clinic complex. Walk in and go straight ahead to the far end of the car park.
Private art galleries
As Berlin is a city of art, it is quite easy to find an art gallery on your way. They provide a nice opportunity to have a look at modern artists’ work in a not-so-crowded environment for free. Some gallery streets with more than about a dozen galleries are Auguststraße, Linienstraße, Torstraße, Brunnenstraße (all Mitte, north of S-Bahn station Oranienburger Straße), Zimmerstraße (Kreuzberg, U-Bahn station Kochstraße) and Fasanenstraße (Charlottenburg).
Galerie Eigen & Art, Auguststraße 26. One of the most famous German art galleries, home to the Neue Leipziger Schule (Neo Rauch et al.)
loop — raum fur aktuelle kunst, Jägerstrasse 5, 10117. Known for being the “incubator” of future famous Berlin artists. Primarily featuring sculpture video, and painting.
There are some historically interesting and architecturally remarkable churches.
Berliner Dom— The biggest and most impressive church in Berlin, built at the turn of the century (19th/20th) as an expression of imperial power. Located next to the museum island. You can climb on top of the dome for a beautiful view over the Berlin center.
The Twintowers of the Deutscher Dom (German Cathedral) and the Französischer Dom (French Cathedral) face each other at the Gendarmenmarkt in Central Berlin, flanking the Konzerthaus.
Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche— Highly symbolic church, dating back to 1891-95, with two modern buildings designed by Egon Eiermann in 1961, a hexagonal bell tower and an octagonal worship hall, aside the ruins from World War II.
Marienkirche— Located near Alexanderplatz, this is not only the highest church tower in Berlin (90m), but also one of the oldest churches left in the historical center of Berlin (which is totally torn down in this area). Entrance is free and inside are many treasures from the old days.
Nikolaikirche— The oldest church in Berlin, dating back to the beginning of 13th century (at least the stones next to the ground). Does not serve as a church. Changing exhibitions inside.
St. Hedwigs Kathedrale— Domed Church located at Bebelplatz/Unter den Linden, the oldest (mid 18th century) and one of the biggest Catholic churches in Berlin, interior was redesigned in a modern style in the 1950s – but still many treasure chambers in the basement.
New Synagogue (Neue Synagoge) Oranienburger Straße – Today the building houses the Centrum Judaicum foundation which opened in 1995, an institution for the preservation of Jewish memory and tradition, a community congregation centre for study and teaching. Until the infamous Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938 when the Synagogue was attacked by Nazi thugs and heavily damaged, Jewish citizens had enjoyed full equality and civic rights, enshrined in the 1850 Prussian constitution.
Franziskaner Klosterkirche— Located in the eastern section of Berlin near Alexanderplatz, the lesser-known “Franciscan Abbey” church is a ruin of an early gothic style abbey which sustained heavy damage from Allied bombers in 1945. Left in a roofless and ruined state as a reminder of the cost and horrors of war, the Abbey now serves as a museum and open-air exhibition space for art, sculpture, and theater productions.
Landmarks with observation decks
While Berlin has relatively few high-rise buildings, there are several monuments with observation decks. Probably the most famous of all is the TV Tower near Alexanderplatz, the tallest tower in Germany and second highest in Europe.
Berliner Fernsehturm, Alexanderplatz. This TV tower is Germany’s tallest construction at 368m high. The observation deck is 204m above ground. Be wary of the weather changing; the fog can come in during the rather long queues and you may not be able to see anything at the top when you eventually reach it. There is a rotating restaurant at the top spinning 360 degrees in just 30 minutes and a bar in the observation deck. You need to buy tickets from the ticket office, and then join a separate queue to get into the tower.
Reichstag building – Bundestag – The German Parliament building, near the Brandenburg Gate, was renovated by Sir Norman Foster and reopened in 1999 with a spectacular new glass dome, which offers a great view of Berlin. Visitors may book free tours of the building and enter with confirmed reservation at scheduled times through the north portal. Due to continued terrorist threats, individual visitors now need to register in advance to visit the glass dome and terrace. Book well in advance as individual entry is limited to a daily maximum.
Berliner Funkturm— 150m high lattice tower with open-air observation deck 124m above ground. The only observation tower on insulators! Located in the Western fair district, outside the city centre.
Siegessäule (Victory Column), Tiergarten. An old (1865-1873), 60m high monument with panoramic views of the very centre of the city. Unfortunately there is no elevator, so be prepared for 285 steps. The statue of Victoria on the top is the place where the angels congregate in the famous film Der Himmel über Berlin by Wim Wenders. It has also become something of a symbol for the annual Love Parade techno music festival.
Kollhoff Tower, Potsdamer Platz . The fastest elevator in Europe takes you approximately 100 meters high. Daily 10:00-18:00.
Berlin does not attempt to hide the less savory parts of its history: a visit to the Topography of Terror (Niederkirchnerstraße 8), for example, provides interesting but sobering insights into the activities of the Gestapo in Berlin during the Nazi years (1933-1945). Many of the walking tours also discuss scenes both of Nazi activity and of Cold War tension and terror.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Opened in the spring of 2005, this gigantic abstract artwork covering an entire block near the Brandenburg Gate, including an underground museum with extensive details on the Holocaust and the people who died during it. The blocks start out at ground level on the outer edges of the memorial, and then grow taller towards the middle, where the ground also slopes downwards. 3.5 million Visitors in the first year make it one of the most visited memorials in Berlin – and it’s worth it, as it’s one of the most impressive memorials in Berlin.
Remaining Section of the Berlin Wall
Berlin Wall— A large stretch of intact Wall can be found to the east of the city center along the River Spree in Mühlenstraße near the Oberbaumbrücke.
Known as the East Side Gallery, it is a section of the wall that is preserved as a gallery. This can be easily reached from Ostbahnhof or Warschauer Straße. It has many beautiful murals, politically motivated and otherwise. Another place to try is near the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum, currently under reconstruction. Two small pieces are also in Potsdamer Platz and in its neighbourhood at the corner between Ebertstraße and Bellevuestraße).
Visit Places to see Berlin Wall –
Opposite Topography of Terror – Niederkirchnerstraße (opposite the museum). You’ll find the best bit of wall running along Niederkirchnerstrasse, opposite the Topography of Terror. It’s a short walk from Checkpoint Charlie. A stretch of the old wall, unmolested and atmospheric with a picture tour of the Nazi rise. There is also a free museum. (Address: Niederkirchnerstraße 8, 10117 Berlin)
East Side Gallery – (Address: Mühlenstraße 3-100, 10243 Berlin)
Berlin Wall Memorial / Berliner Mauer Gedenkstätte – Berlin Wall Memorial is undoubtedly the best place to see the wall and learn about it and about life during the DDR days. (Address: Bernauer Str. 111, 13355 Berlin)
Potsdamer Platz The last original segments of the Wall at Potsdamer Platz and Stresemannstraße were torn down in 2008. Six sections were later erected in front of the entrance to the Potsdamer Platz station. Just around the corner is one of the last Watchtowers left standing in the city. (Address: Outside Potsdamer Platz S-bahn station, 10785 Berlin)
Domfriedhof St. Hedwig (Intersection of Liesenstraße & Gartenstraße) Domfriedhof St. Hedwig, Liesenstraße 8, 10115 Berlin / St. Hedwig-Friedhof I, Liesenstraße 8, 10115 Berlin / Dorotheenstadt Friedhof II, Berlin
Berliner Mauer in Bösebrücke (Address: Bornholmer Str. 70, 13359 Berlin)
Gutspark Groß Glienicke / Berliner Mauerreste (Address: Am Park 14B, 14476 Potsdam)
Remains of the Wall at the cemetery Invalidenfriedhof It is not widely known but at the Invalidenfriedhof you can still see very well where the Berlin Wall was. Some parts are still there to check out. Watchtower Berlin Wall at Kieler Strasse At Kieler Strasse, near the Invalidenfriedhof, you can find one of the most interesting watchtowers of the Berlin Wall. Not only because it is one of the few remaining watchtowers. But mostly, because it is a small museum for the first victim of the Berlin Wall: Gunter Litfin. His brother Jurgen runs the watchtower and museum. (Address: Scharnhorststraße 33, 10115 Berlin)
Mauerpark (Address: Bernauer Straße 63-64, Berlin)
Schlesischer Busch The East German border installations once ran in parallel to the Flutgraben channel. This former border strip between Treptow and Kreuzberg has become a green zone along the length of the Flutgraben. A few metres of the hinterland Wall painted after the fall of the Wall have been preserved. The Schlesischer Busch watch tower also remains and now hosts a changing series of exhibitions. (Address: Lohmühlenstraße 1, 12435 Berlin)
Parlament der Bäume (Parliament of Trees) memorial / Wall memorial at the Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus.
Berlin Wall Memorial (Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer). Often missed by tourists but an absolute must for anyone interested in this part of the city’s history. It’s a memorial to those who died crossing so you won’t, fortunately, get the tackiness of the Checkpoint Charlie area; instead you will be left with a haunting feeling of what life with the wall may have been really like. The monument itself is a gigantic wasted opportunity, blank and featureless. The inscription on the outside, declaring it a monument to the victims of the “communist reign of violence”, has sparked emotional debates and angered many local residents. The documentation center across the street on Bernauer Straße is excellent although most of the documentation is in German. The viewing platform gives you a tiny hint of the true scale of the Wall and how terrifying the “no man’s land” between the two sections of walls must have been. When the documentation center is closed, both walls can be visited. There is some space between the concrete plates which allow you to look at the area between the walls. There are also several small holes.
The Memorial is on Bernauer Straße which itself is a street with a great deal of Wall history: the notorious killing by guards of Peter Fechter was here, as was one of the famous tunnels and the famous photograph of the GDR border guard leaping over the barbed wire. Various monuments can be found along the entire length of the street, documenting nearby escape attempts and tunnels; captions are in German, English, French, and Russian. The Memorial itself is a complete section of 4th generation wall – both inside and outside sections, and you can peer through from the east side to see the remains of the electric fence and anti-tank devices in the death strip. It really helps you understand what an incredible feat it was to get from one side to the other — and why so many died doing it.
Memorial site opening times: Daily, 6:00 AM – 10:00 PM
Documentation and Visitors ‘Centre opening times: Tuesdays – Sundays, 9:30 AM – 6:00 PM
Checkpoint Charlie— Checkpoint Charlie, a crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War, is no more.
Formerly, it was the only border crossing between East and West Berlin that permitted foreigners passage. Residents of East and West Berlin were not allowed to use it. This contributed to Checkpoint Charlie’s mythological status as a meeting place for spies and other shady individuals. Now the remains of the Berlin Wall have been moved to permit building, including construction of the American Business Center and other institutions not given to flights of John Le Carré-inspired fancy.
At the intersection of Zimmerstraße and Friedrichstraße (U-Bahn Kochstraße U6) is the famous “You Are Leaving the American Sector” sign. The actual guardhouse from Checkpoint Charlie is now housed at the Allied Museum on Clayallee. For a more interesting exhibit go to the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie. This is a private museum with kitschy memorabilia from the Wall as well as the devices GDR residents used to escape the East (including a tiny submarine!).
Checkpoint Charlie gained its name from the phonetic alphabet; checkpoints “Alpha” and “Bravo” were at the autobahn checkpoints Helmstedt and Dreilinden respectively. Checkpoint Charlie’s atmosphere was not improved at all on 27 October 1961 when the two Cold War superpowers chose to face each other down for a day. Soviet and American tanks stood approximately 200 meters apart, making an already tense situation worse.
Tempelhof airport was used in the Berlin Airlift (Berliner Luftbrücke) in 1948-49; in 1951 a monument was added to commemorate the airlifts over the Berlin Blockade. The airport was featured in movies like Billy Wilder’s “One Two Three”. The terminal building is still fascinating; the halls and neighbouring buildings, intended to become the gateway to Europe, are still known as the largest built entities worldwide, and was described by British architect Sir Norman Foster as “the mother of all airports”.
Berlin has two zoos and an aquarium. The Berlin Zoo in the west is the historic zoo that has been a listed company since its foundation. It’s an oasis in the city and very popular with families and schools.