Highlights of Germany: Berlin
An Antipodean travel company serving World Travellers since 1983
Highlights of Germany | Berlin
Berlin, capital of Germany, venue of the Berlinale, seat of the German Parliament, and location of UNESCO-protected Museum Island, occupies a place of prominence as a cultural and economic powerhouse. Dynamic and vibrant with a richly textured history, there is no shortage of things to see and do in Berlin, whether its exploring Potdamer Platz, visiting some of the buzzing underground bars and clubs or going for a stroll through the many magnificent art galleries. Regardless of your interests, Berlin is worth a visit and sure to be a travel experience you won’t forget.
The city dates back to the 13th Century and has served as capital of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, a principality of the Roman Empire, and later the Kingdom of Prussia. After the fall of Germany in World War II, the country was divided into zones each controlled by a victorious superpower. The city itself was divided into East and West Berlin. West Berlin became a state of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, or West Germany) while East Berlin became the capital of the Soviet-controlled German Democratic Republic (GDR or DDR, Deutsche Demokratische Republik, East Germany). The Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, sealing off all access between the two halves of the city and reinforcing the division between eastern communism and western democracy. Berlin’s status as capital of the whole of Germany was restored with the fall of the Wall and the country’s subsequent reunification in 1990.
Now, Berlin is a major tourist destination, with endless places to discover. November 9, 2019 marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a significant milestone, as “the Wall will have been down longer than the 28 years it stood” (Paul Sullivan on the Guardian). Berlin marked the anniversary with a festival week filled with exhibitions, 3D video projections, art installations, guided tours, and important discussions tackling the Cold War and Germany’s reunification.
What to See in Berlin
There is so much to see in Berlin that you can spend a whole holiday just exploring the city. This is part of the reason that Odyssey Traveller offers a Discovering Berlin tour where travellers have the opportunity to spend 20 days living in the city. There are many beautiful, awe-inspiring and quirky aspects to Berlin, such as the contemporary art spots, live music venues and Gothic architecture but there is also the harrowing and tragic sides of Berlin’s story and the pain of the horrors of the 20th century can feel almost visceral in certain parts of the city.
World War II Museums and Memorial
For those who wish to know more about World War II and pay tribute to the many lives lost, there are a number of museums that deal with this difficult subject matter. In Berlin, there is the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Allied Museum. The Checkpoint Charlie Museum, named after a renowned crossing point of the Berlin Wall, has documented escapes from East to West Germany, as well as writings and objects relating to the wall. Also known as the Holocaust Memorial, the Memorial to the Jews of Europe is one of the world’s best known and most significant memorial sites. It is comprised of 2711 rectangular concrete slabs covering 1.9 hectares and the slabs are of differing heights, giving a sense of unease and uncertainty while offering space for visitors to contemplate the senseless violence of the Holocaust. There is an underground information centre where visitors can find information on the victims, as well as photographs, diaries, and letters. The Allied Museum documents the political history and the military commitments and roles of the Western Allies in Germany between 1945 and 1994 and their contribution to liberty in Berlin during the Cold War era.
One of Berlin’s most iconic landmarks is the Brandenburg Gate, an old city gate rebuilt over 230 years ago and is modelled after the Propylaeum of the Acropolis in Athens. It was commissioned by Friedrich Wilhelm II, the King of Prussia, as an entrance to the boulevard Unter den Linden which lead to the Prussian Palace. Now it is hailed as symbol of German reunification and in its 230 years, Berlin’s remaining town gate has seen its share of historic events, from Napoleon’s army stealing the quadriga statue depicting the goddess of victory on top of the Gate, to West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl walking through it to meet East German Prime Minister Hans Modrow during the Gate’s reopening in 1989.
The Brandenburg Gate is very close to the Reichstag building, which is home to the German Parliament. The public can access its rooftop terrace and impressive glass and steel dome. The Reichstag dome, which sits directly above the debating chamber, offers a view of the parliamentary proceedings and Berlin’s government district. Visitors can also relax on the grass in front of the Reichstag.
For those interested in 18th century Prussia, there is also Charlottenburg Palace which is bound to transport any traveller back to the grandeur of Berlin’s Prussian rulers. Named in honour of Sophie Charlotte, the first Queen consort in Prussia, Charlottenburg is Berlin’s largest and most magnificent palace and certainly fit for a queen. Queen Charlotte was the younger sister of George Louis of Hanover, who was crowned George I of England. In 1684, she married Friedrich III (later King Friedrich I of Prussia), the Elector of Brandenburg and the then Duke of Prussia. He gave her a large estate, which became the site of this summer residence. Located in the village of Lietze, it was originally known as Lietzenburg Palace. The palace and the surrounding area were renamed Charlottenburg by Friedrich in honour of his wife, who died at the age of 36. The palace holds a display of the Prussian crown jewels and has a stunning garden.
In 1634, in the midst of a plague that swept across Europe, the residents of Oberammergau, a small town in the Bavarian Alps, promised God that if they were spared from plague they would perform a passion play every ten years. The residents have kept their pledge, performing the play every ten years. Today, the Oberammergau Passion Play attracts visitors from all around the world, and can sell out – so make sure to get into a tour quickly if you want to join us for the performance!
Articles about Germany published by Odyssey Traveller.
- 15 Must-See Sites in Berlin
- Oberammergau Passion Play 2020
- Bauhaus Movement: The Definitive Guide for Travellers
- Your Next Holiday Destination: Germany
- History of Berlin, Germany for tourists
- Ten books to read about Berlin
- Books on Johann Sebastian Bach
External articles to assist you on your visit to Germany
The Berlin Wall and Associated Sites
Berlin Wall, GermanyOf course, no trip to Berlin is complete without visiting what remains of the Berlin Wall. Visitors who want to learn more about the Berlin Wall can head to the Berlin Wall Memorial, an open-air exhibit situated on the former border strip on the south side of Bernauer Strasse. The memorial is 1.3 kilometres long and spans 4.4 hectares, preserving traces of the Wall and providing a commemorative site—the “Window of Remembrance”—for the victims of the border regime. A new permanent exhibition explaining the Wall’s political history entitled “1961 | 1989. The Berlin Wall” was unveiled in 2014, the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, and can be viewed in the documentation centre. The sombre atmosphere of the memorial is a contrast to the colourful East Side Gallery, a stretch of the Berlin Wall featuring more than 100 mural paintings and street art from artists all over the world. One iconic artwork is the painting by Russian artist Dmitry Vrubel showing Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East Germany’s Eric Honecker sharing an intimate moment. You can go on a walking tour or bike tour of the Wall to see the artwork. A little-known monument is the Baumhaus an der Mauer (Treehouse at the Wall), a tree house and garden built on ‘a triangle of East Berlin on the western side of the wall’ by a Turkish immigrant near the Wall. The property still stands on the border of Mitte (formerly East Berlin) and Kreuzberg (formerly West Berlin) surrounded by modern apartments. The tree house’s original builder has passed on, but it is tended by his family. Read more about his fascinating story here.
Museums and Galleries
If museums are your thing, then Berlin is definitely the right city for you. Museum Island (Museumsinsel) is an island in the Spree River made up of five museums dedicated to archaeology and art. The five museums on the island are the Bode Museum, the Neues Museum, the Old National Gallery, the Altes Museum and the Pergamon Museum. The Pergamon Museum is the most visited and potentially the most controversial museum in the city. This is it because it houses reconstructed monumental buildings such as the Pergamon Altar and the Market Gate of Miletus, which were transported from Turkey. Since its opening in 1930, there has been controversy over the legitimacy of the acquisition of the collection. The magnificent Bode Museum houses collections of sculptures, Byzantine art and historic coins while the Neues Museum offers an insight into ancient history including showcasing the famous bust of the Ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti. The Old National Gallery is exhibits art from the neoclassical period through Romanticism to the Biedermeier period (1815-1848) and also Impressionist and early modernist art. The Altes Museum was the first museum to open on Museum Island and is home to a permanent exhibition showcasing the arts and sculpture from classical antiquity.
Visit Berlin with Odyssey Traveller
Odyssey Traveller offers a variety of tours dedicated to Germany and many of these spend some time in Berlin. As well as this a number of our Europe tours include Germany as a key destination.
Our Germany tours include:
- Contemporary Germany: This tour captures the diversity of contemporary Germany, ranging from north to south, and taking in Germany’s most important cities, including Berlin. We spend three nights in Berlin and visit all the major sights.
- Discovering Berlin: Over twenty days living in the city, this tour of Berlin gets off the beaten path. We delve into Berlin’s fascinating and often troubling history, uncover hidden gems, and experience the cutting-edge local culture. We also offer a 12-day walking tour of Berlin.
- Bach, the man and his music: Another tour for classical music fans. This cultural tour is based around the Bach Music Festival in Leipzig, but includes visits to other cities lived in by Bach.