Historic Berlin is living again with a City that does not sleep
The Berlin I saw in the early 80s is not the Berlin I arrived into on 11th May 2016. Berlin has certainly been reborn! The place has become so vibrant that even though The Berlin Wall fell over 27 years ago in 1989 you cannot help asking the people of Berlin which was East or West.
Between 1961 and 1989, the Berlin Wall divided East and West Germany and prevented the mass defection that took place after World War II. It also acted as a symbolic partition between democracy and Communism during the Cold War period. The wall was erected in the middle of the night, but it was torn down just as quickly 28 years later, leading to Germany’s reunification.
The city is still very intriguing and despite all the rebuilding, it is still in the process of being stitched back together with a distinct difference in emphasis between former West and East. The latest attempts to smooth over the division include the Berlin Mall, a vast shopping centre opened near Potsdamner Platz and of course Potsdamner Platz itself which straddles the Wall but now a place of leisure and entertainment.
The city is still very intriguing and despite all the rebuilding, it is still in the process of being stitched back together
Great place to admire the City as a whole is to walk up the entire Friedrichstrasse with a station which was once the Cold War’s strangest border, now Berlin’s busiest railway station and passenger hub. Remnants of the historic wall can still be found on the streets today.
You cannot expect to be bored in Berlin. The streets of Berlin were buzzing with excitement as I checked into the NH Collection on Friedrichstrasse, a major culture and shopping street in central Berlin, forming the core of the Friedrichstadt neighborhood and giving the name to Berlin Friedrichstraße station. The street runs from the northern part of the old Mitte district (north of which it is called Chausseestraße) to the Hallesches Tor in the district of Kreuzberg.
This downtown area of Friedrichstrasse is known for its posh real estate market and the campus of the Hertie School of Governance. Due to its north-southerly direction, it forms important junctions with the east-western axes, most notably with Leipziger Straße and Unter den Linden. The U6 U-Bahn line runs underneath. During the Cold War it was bisected by the Berlin Wall and was the location of Checkpoint Charlie.
Rebuilt in 1990, this street which was badly damaged during World War II and only partly rebuilt during the division of Berlin is now the major culture and shopping street in central Berlin.
How to enjoy Berlin
Arm yourself with a Berlin WelcomeCard together with the 3-day Berlin Museum Pass and there is so much to see and do. The Berlin WelcomeCard allows you to travel freely on all public transport. It also offers you outstanding discounts with over 200 partners which includes restaurants and many attractions.
The city is accessible with underground, surface and bus/tram transportation. It is good to know that accommodation is also affordable; a short break in Berlin should revitalize any weary traveller.
Things to do in Berlin:
- Must see monuments
When the decision was made to move the Federal Government to Berlin, it was also time to reawaken the Reichstag building from its long years of slumber on the Mauerstreifen, the military zone between the two sides of the Wall. Now completely modernised, and today’s visitors to the Reichstag can look out from the building’s glass dome to get a bird’s eye view of the hustle and bustle in the city. The Bundeskanzleramt (Federal Chancellery) and the Brandenburg Gate are with close proximity.
Without a doubt, the Brandenburg Gate is Berlin’s signature attraction. Built in 1791, it was just one of many old city gates around the city of Berlin which, at that time, was still a manageable size. The decorative Pariser Platz was laid at the foot of the gate and is now home to many of the city’s important buildings, for example, the Hotel Adlon with its wealth of history and the Akademie der Künste (Academy of the Arts).
While visiting the Brandenburg Gate, call in at the Gate where the history of Berlin is laid bare before you in a remarkable digital detail – very impressive.
The Gendarmenmarkt is one of the most stunning squares in the city, located close to Friedrichstraße, Berlin’s exclusive shopping street in the central Mitte district. Three of the most impressive examples of architecture in the capital city are to be found here: the Concert House designed by Schinkel and the German and French Cathedrals (the Deutscher Dom and the Französischer Dom).
The German Cathedral (Berliner Dom) with its magnificent dome is a remarkable example the of late 19th century architecture. Near the Cathedral are also the German Historical Museum and the Museum’s Island. On the side of Berlin’s boulevard “Unter den Linden” stands the Catholic St.Hedwigs-Cathedral.
Extending all the way from the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church on Breitscheidplatz to Berlin’s elegant Halensee neighbourhood, the affectionately termedKu’damm is the most expensive address in the capital city and home to the most exclusive brands. Europe’s biggest department store KaDeWe is also situated on the extension of the Ku’damm, on the street known to locals as the Tauentzien (short for Tauentzienstrasse). The little ones will just love the Zoological Garden, Germany’s oldest zoo.
The magnificent Charlottenburg Palace is located just out of the centre of the city. The beautiful palace hosts fine collections of china and paintings and is situated in the middle of a picturesque palace garden right next to the river Spree. If you don’t fancy a walk in the park, you can feed your mind instead in the Charlottenburg museums located directly opposite.
Berlin’s Museum Island is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites and home to the city’s most important exhibition centres: the Altes Museum (Old Museum), the Neues Museum(New Museum) the Bode Museum, the Pergamon Museum and the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery). The collections in these buildings encompass over 6,000 years of art and cultural history.
The Berlin Wall Memorial and Documentation Centre
The Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial) is located between the districts of Wedding and Mitte on Bernauer Straße, consisting of the Memorial to the Victims of the Wall, a Documentation Centre and the Chapel of Reconciliation. The surviving section of the wall and watchtower enable visitors to get a real feel for the reality of the border facilities. The Memorial has been undergoing extension work in recent years, the full completion of which is intended for 2014.
Once the bustling heart of the city before the Second World War, then a no man’s land from 1945 until the fall of the wall, the history of Potsdamer Platz has been eventful to say the least. It changed completely after the fall of the wall in 1989 and is now dominated by the presence of the Sony Center, skyscrapers and endless shops. What’s more, Potsdamer Platz is the main place to be for stars and celebrities, and not only during film festivals.
Nightlife in Berlin
For nightlife lovers, the choice is endless. Locate the banks of Spree and you are in for a treat. You can start the evening with the restaurant and bar the nhow Berlin with its riverfront attraction. Europe’s first music hotel, is located right on the bank of the Spree and at the epicentre of Berlin’s music, fashion and artistic scene. It is where cosmopolitan business travellers mix with international jet-setters and the members of popular bands.
The party scenes are in Osthafen where the former industrial port on the Spree, has now established itself as one of the hottest spots in Berlin. In April 2004, MTV moved into one of the warehouses in Stralauer Allee, and turned the quarter into a boom media location.
Situated along Treptow Ufer are many attractions, including the Club der Visionäre (Visionaries’ Club), the Freischwimmer (Free Swimmer) Restaurant and the Arena Berlin, home to concerts, trade fairs and (of course) parties. Anchored on the bank is the Arena’sBadeschiff (Bathing Ship) on the Spree, a swimming pool in a container for the summer and a sauna in winter. Directly at the Oberbaumbrücke (Oberbaum Bridge) is the legendary Watergate Club.
On Friedrichshainer Ufer along the East Side Gallery there is one beach bar after the other. You can play beach volleyball here and wave to the tourists on the Spree pleasure boats.
You may also want to explore Auguststrasse, Hackesche Höfe and Oranienburger Straße. Winterfeldtplatz in Schöneberg is Berlin’s gay quarter.
From the Friedrichstrasse station which is right opposite the NH Collection in Friedrichstrasse, you can take a train directly to Oranienburg to visit the Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg. Careful though, you may have to break journeys on the same line at weekends
.The camp which was established in 1936 is located 35 kilometres (22 miles) north of Berlin. It was used primarily for political prisoners from 1936 to the end of the Third Reich in May 1945. After World War II, when Oranienburg was in the Soviet Occupation Zone, the structure was used as an NKVD special camp until 1950.
Visitors to Berlin can tour the remaining buildings and grounds which are now open free of charge to the public as a museum and follow the lives of the prisoners, their dwellings, and watch movies at the auditorium created to tell their stories. History comes to light at Sachsenhausen. Detailed and scripted photographs tells the stories of the prisoners all along the walls of the camp.
Sachsenhausen’s primary position in Oranienburg made it the administrative centre of all concentration camps and it became a training centre for Schutzstaffel (SS) officers who would often be sent to oversee other camps afterwards.
Many executions took place at Sachsenhausen, especially those of Soviet prisoners of war. Among the prisoners, there was a “hierarchy” at the top, criminals (rapists, murderers), then Communists (red triangles), then homosexuals (pink triangles), Jehovah’s Witnesses (purple triangles), and Jews (yellow triangles). During the earlier stages of the camp’s existence the executions were done in a trench, either by shooting or by hanging.