The collapse of the Iron Curtain in the late ’80s triggered a dramatic rebirth for Berlin. Now, decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany’s capital has become one of the cultural centers of Europe and an extremely desirable tourist destination. The recent influx of young artists and creative types have given the city a distinctly progressive and edgy feel, while old buildings and World War II monuments are stark reminders of Berlin’s checkered past. Here are five great places to explore the vast metropolis of Berlin.
At roughly eight times the size of Paris, Berlin’s massive urban sprawl would be virtually impossible to fully explore. That’s why, at a soaring 450 feet, the view from the Funkturm is perhaps the next best thing. Located next to the trade-fair grounds, this old radio tower offers unparalleled views of the city. From the observation deck, visitors can see some of western Berlin’s most notable landmarks, including Charlottenburg Palace and the AVUS – Germany’s first racing-car track.
The tower itself bears an unmistakable resemblance to the Eiffel Tower in Paris and contains a restaurant that makes a perfect setting for a memorable dining experience.
After nine years of restoration, one of Germany’s greatest attractions, the Bode Museum, reopened its doors in 2006. The immaculately preserved building is part of a cluster of museums, all located on Museum Island. Some of the Bode Museum’s must-see sections include the picture gallery and the sculpture collection. Elsewhere on the island, see one of the world’s largest collections of coins and medals at the Pergamon Museum. Finally, The Museum of Late Ancient and Byzantine Art includes displays of ancient sculpture and religious iconography, as well as early-Christian gravestones and sarcophagi (stone coffins).
In addition to some of Europe’s finest museums, Berlin is also home to one of the continent’s most impressive zoos. Located in the southern end of Tiergarten, Zoologischer Garten Berlin is Germany’s oldest and most esteemed zoo. The zoo was destroyed during World War II but has restored its collection to over 14,000 animals, including polar bears, rhinos, orangutans and — its most famous resident — a giant panda named Bao Bao.
On a vast site in the center of Berlin lies the one of the city’s most powerful and evocative landmarks. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, more commonly known as the Holocaust Memorial, is a stark reminder of the country’s tumultuous and tragic history. Designed by American architect, Peter Eisenman, this enormous memorial comprises a huge network of cramped walkways between enormous gravestone-like slabs. The four large rooms that lie underneath the monument contain exhibits that document various major Nazi atrocities. While a visit to the memorial may not be the sunniest of activities, it can be a harrowing and truly powerful experience.
Perhaps the city’s most recognizable landmark, the Brandenburg Gate was once the symbol of a city divided during the Cold War. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, this historic landmark took on new meaning as the most renowned symbol of Germany’s rebirth as a unified state. The gate was originally built as a monument to peace in 1791, and after considerable damage during World War II, this stone structure was restored to its original beauty in 2000.