Some of the best things to do and places to see in Berlin are related to the historical landmarks of the once divided city. The fall of the Berlin Wall is certainly one of the major historical events of World history. And the wall itself has made this once divided city so rich in history and humanity. Below is a guide to exploring the remnants of the Berlin Wall as well as a few other attractions that deserve a trip there.
Museum Island is one of the greatest man-made wonders of the World and is on the top of the list of things to do and places to see in Berlin.
Five World-class museums situated shoulder to shoulder on an island? Yes, indeed, and you will not find anything remotely similar to this anywhere else on Planet Earth.
Just a stroll around the island (without entering any of the museums) can easily take an hour or two. It is a scenic and relaxing walk and is an ideal sightseeing trip. Take time to pause and enjoy the beautiful landscape and amazing architecture. Take time to smell the roses. Maybe even take time to fall in love…
If you plan on seeing one or more of the museums, I suggest that you allocate an entire day to this island. However, I doubt that you’ll have time to see all five museums, so my recommendation is to be selective, and focus on just one or two of the museums that interest you the most.
Or you can certainly allocate two days for the island if you desire to see all five museums. I can certainly understand. Guided tours are available.
If you like to see the entire island from a distance, remember to allocate half a day to the Spree River cruise, which will give you an excellent but different perspective.
Spree River Cruise
One of the best things to do in Berlin is to take a river cruise. It is a major attraction and many tour options are available. It is also the most efficient and fun sightseeing tours in the city.
There are several operators and many different routes and itineraries for you to choose from. What I highly recommend is that you pick the itinerary that goes down the Spree River and around Museum Island. This will give you the best bang for the bucks.
Moreover, if you plan on visiting Museum Island (which you should), I recommend that you take the cruise first. It will give you a much better perspective of what the island is like. The tour will also give you a good sense of directions and orientations.
Can’t you see I am having a great time?
Berlin Wall Memorial
This attraction is a free open-air museum where you can still see some remnants of the Berlin Wall. Some of the remains include the steel bars and steel plates of the underground tunnels.
The exhibits are well organized, informative, and educational. They are laid out in an almost park like environment. There are also maps that give you a good perspective of what some of the current locations used to be, as well as where everything in the past is, from your vantage point.
This place is not just for the history buffs. It is indeed for anyone who have the slightest interest of history and the many tragic and heartbroken stories of the war.
Take time to explore the different sections. If you are really interested in history, listen to the many audio tracks that are placed along the path. There are also numerous pictures with captions or full narratives.
It is definitely an enriching and enlightening experience for me. Oftentimes I tend to forget how blessed I am. Visiting the historical remnants here is a good reminder for me to count my blessings. And more importantly, not worry about things that are quite trivial in the grand scheme of my life.
This was Then
This is Now
Checkpoint Charlie was the only gateway for the Berlin Wall crossing where Allied visitors, such as military personnel or diplomats, could enter East Germany. It was armed with Allied forces, whose intent was to facilitate Allied personnel’s entrance into the Soviet controlled bloc of Germany.
Checkpoint Charlie was the scene of a potentially deadly confrontation between US and Soviet tanks in October 1961. Fortunately, World War III was averted when JFK convinced the Soviets to withdraw their tanks, and the American tanks retreated shortly afterwards as well to end the tension.
Checkpoint Charlie is widely regarded as a powerful symbol of the Cold War and the Berlin Wall. Today, sandbags and a replica of the guardhouse are placed at the original location of the checkpoint and is now a popular tourist attraction and sightseeing destination. The original guardhouse is actually stored and displayed at the Allied Museum.
I know it is a touristy thing to do in Berlin, but you can pose with the guards and take a picture. When I was there in the summer of 2019 it cost 5 Euros for the picture.
Berlin Wall Monument
It’s an enormous contribution to the history of the World that the German government did not demolish the entire Berlin Wall and erase all the traces of the past.
Remnants of the past still stand in several places in the city, such as this monument, which serve as a powerful symbol of a country divided by a wall. If you pay attention to the exhibits, you will see that the Berlin Wall actually consists of two walls – an inner wall, and an outer wall.
Visiting these historical remnants is one of the most humbling experiences of my life and reminds me to always count my blessings. It is an amazing experience that I am able to physically touch the wall with my hands – the wall that separated numerous families; the wall that was at the center stage of the Cold War.
Every visitor who is interested in the history of this once divided city should make visiting the Berlin Wall Monument a top thing to do in Berlin on their bucket list.
Topography of Terror
The Topography of Terror is actually at the same location as the Berlin Wall Monument mentioned above. The outside “courtyard” area is the Monument. The exhibit inside the building, which is at the same exact location as the headquarters of the Gestapo, is the Topography of Terror.
It documents the days of the Nazi Regime from 1933 to 1945, from the rise of Hitler to the post-WWII days. There are numerous pictures, and the timeline is well documented. This entire documentary will help you appreciate the terror and horror of the remnants of the Wall that lie just outside. Your trip to Berlin is probably incomplete without a tour of the Topography of Terror.
East Side Gallery
This is about a mile-long stretch of the remnants of the Berlin Wall, where a good part of the structure is still intact. I think the East Side Gallery gives the visitor a better perspective of what the wall was like and how it divided a country. Take your time to take a leisurely stroll and enjoy all the artworks along the way.
The many artworks in the gallery offer the symbolism of the Cold War in different lights – from the depiction of pain and sufferings to the perfect ideology, to artistic, or even bitter satire. There are numerous photo opportunities. Shown above is a cool picture of yours truly!
Visit a Beer Hall
While it might not appeal to you as a major attraction in Berlin, you really need to visit a beer hall or a beer garden (biergarten) to fully experience the flavors of the city. And it doesn’t matter whether you like beer or not.
Beer (bier), is a culture in Germany. And a beer hall is an extension of that culture. A beer hall/garden is a lively, vibrant, casual, and absolutely unpretentious place that focus on good beer, good food, and good company.
Most beer halls (or beer garden) brew their own beers, which can very roughly be grouped into 3 categories: light (or blonde), dark, or wheat.
There is a wide variety of foods that you can enjoy. The most common is the wurst (sausage). In this city, you will find currywursts in most places. Soft pretzel is another local favorite. For me, my personal favorite is the pork knuckle. Most entrees are typically served with sauerkraut and warm potato salad.
My favorite beer hall is Augustiner. For beer garden, I recommend Prater Garten.
For ideas on beer halls and beer garden, or exciting dining options, visit my Places to Eat page.
Gendarmenmarkt is a major square in the heart of the city where there are many architectural landmarks, such as the Berlin Concert Hall and several churches. It is an absolutely beautiful square, especially at night. A casual stroll along the area is relaxing and you will also find numerous photo opportunities.
When night falls, there are many restaurants nearby within a short walk from the square itself. Some nights (mostly in summer) there is also live music. The square and its surrounding areas are lively and vibrant at night.
In December, Gendarmenmarkt is the site of one of city’s most popular Christmas Markets.
The Brandenburg Gate is one of the major monuments and attractions in Berlin, which at one time, was the symbol of a divided Germany. It was also the site where President Ronald Reagan made the bold statement in 1987: “Mr. Gorbachov – tear down this wall!” After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg Gate quickly became a symbol of peace and unity. Visiting the Brandenburg Gate is now one of the favorite things to do in Berlin for tourists year-round.
Other than its grandness and its historical significance, there aren’t really a whole lot to see, other than a few shops and restaurants in the area. One particular restaurant near the main entrance – Hopfingerbrau – is my personal favorite. So, if you are in the area and are hungry, give it a go!