The spoils of war
Berlin has a bleak recent history, as does much of Europe, and the after-effects of the Second World War can be felt here almost immediately. Many of the historical landmarks worth visiting are also bound to stir up feelings of sadness, but that does not mean they’re not fascinating. From Berlin Central Station it’s just a fifteen-minute walk along the River Spree to the Brandenburg Gate. The gate is a fantastic example of the neoclassical movement of the 1800s, but it’s more famous for being part of the Berlin Wall that separated East from West Germany. Thankfully, the gate has a more peaceful image these days: since the fall of the Wall, the Brandenburg Gate has come to be a symbol of peace. We recommend starting your trip to Berlin by visiting the gate to get a feel for the city; there’s no better representation of Berlin’s struggles and strength.
A gallery of good
Continuing along the Wall, head to the East Side Gallery via Checkpoint Charlie. The latter was the most famous border crossing, and the Museum Haus offers a chilling look at the history of the wall and the sociological aspects that resulted from the 28-year separation. From Checkpoint Charlie, head to the East Side Gallery for something to lift your spirits. This section of the wall has been taken over by artists, and serves as a testament to the unbreakable human spirit. It’s the largest open-air gallery in the world, comprised of more than a hundred paintings and is now a symbol of freedom.
I want to ride my bicycle
Travelling by train has many advantages, not least of which is the ample choice in how you traverse the city after you have arrived. The sprawling urban space of Berlin is especially well suited to walking its length and breadth, or taking a cycling tour. Germany is bicycle-friendly, and cycling in a guided group will probably change your mind about cycling in an unknown environment. Fat Tire Tours have been running for more than 10 years, and they offer a unique way to learn about the history of the city and see some of the most interesting sights. Another benefit to a guide is that they will share personal anecdotes about Berlin, offering a unique insight into one of the country’s most visited destinations. With limited time, visiting over a weekend, this is an excellent option for making sure to get the most out of your break. Another positive is that you’re likely to make friends with some of the other people on the tour!
Berlin is a centre for music in Europe. Whatever happens, make time in the evening to attend a concert, gig or show. The choices are endless, and in the space of one night, you can see a full orchestra, a world-famous musician and end at a DJ gig at a nightclub, if you so desire. Berliners are friendly and welcoming to tourists, and they’re eager to show off the creative side of their city, so make sure you speak to some locals when you attend your evening’s entertainment.
While goliaths such as U2 and Depeche Mode play at the Olympic Stadium, there are plenty of other venues to choose from. Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars have filled the Mercedes-Benz Arena, and Harry Styles has opted for the Tempodrom. Many of the city’s bars and small theatres also present music on a weekly basis. Have a look on Ticketmaster for an idea of what to expect during your break. Better yet, speak to Berliners who may be in the know when you arrive to see what local bands may be playing and get a real on-the-ground feel for this magnificent, artistic city. You may just discover your new favourite band.
There are over 6,000 museums in Berlin! Some of these are weird and wonderful, but the first-time visitor should focus their attention and energy on Museum Island. There are five museums here, and the site was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. Take the bus, or if the weather is pleasant, the 40-minute walk from the central Station is a great opportunity to take in some of Berlin’s architecture.
The Pergamon Museum, the Bode Museum, the Old National Gallery, as well as the Altes and Neues Museums are all suitable for a few hours wandering around. Make your choice as to which to visit first, whether you choose to look at art, after spending the time learning about WWII, or you can opt to learn about Egypt. Refurbished in 2009, the Neues Museum houses an important bust of Nefertiti, among other specialities. The Old National Gallery displays 19th-century art and offers a wonderful step back in time.
Berlin has a long and complex history, but it’s brilliant. See for yourself what makes this city so enticing when you take the train for a weekend visit.