I have a piece of the Berlin Wall that I chipped off myself in the winter of 1989. I don’t think I recognized the significance at the time but in retrospect as an avid traveler and a history buff, what a turning point that was for the world and the city of Berlin. I recently returned to Berlin for the first time in over twenty years and the changes were unbelievable. East Berlin is more modern and cosmopolitan than West Berlin (at least in the city center). And if someone were to visit today for the first time with no knowledge of the past, I don’t think you would recognize Berlin as anything other than a modern twenty-first century capitol. Here are a few ideas of sights to start with on your first trip to Berlin:
Alexanderplatz and Brandenberg Gate are two of Berlin’s iconic landmarks and must dos!
Checkpoint Charlie Museum gives wonderful background and history into this most famous checkpoint between East and West Berlin.
Reichstag (aka Parliament) is a beautiful building with an informative and free audio tour. But you need a timed ticket so stop by early in your trip so you can get your ticket for later.
Holocaust Memorial. There is nothing as sobering as a memorial in the heart the former Third Reich.
Museum Island. There are five free museums here that can keep you busy for at least a day. I spent two days here and felt a little rushed.
Other Great Museums include: DDR museum, and Jewish Museum.
East Side Gallery and/or Berlin Wall Memorial to see some of the Berlin Wall and graffiti.
Travel Tip: Berlin is a major city and like other major world capitols you could spend weeks here and not see it all. But please make sure you do more than a single day and spend at least 3 days in Berlin! There are some great free walking tours in Berlin and I have heard rave reviews of the Flat Tire Bike Tour. But also make sure you travel on foot and underground to get a feel for the city and how The Wall used to cut the city in half (and just as important how they have recovered in the last couple of decades). Finally, don’t forget to save time to eat, drink and enjoy the many cafes and beer gardens the city has to offer.
Books/Movies/TV: Two of the most well known books are The Innocent by Ian McEwan or In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin. Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatrice Williams is a lighter novel during WWI. The movie, Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks gives a wonderful look at a divided Berlin during the Cold War. I love the 1992 movie Shinning Through starring Michael Douglas and Melanie Griffith which takes place in Berlin during WWII (take this recommendation with a grain of salt. It is one of my favorite movies but it may classify as a guilty pleasure).