Berlin, the capital of Germany and the country’s largest city, is also a major center of politics, culture, media, and science. Noted for its cultural flair, Berlin is home to the world famous Berlin Opera and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, while its diverse art scene encompasses hundreds of galleries, events, and museums, including those on Museum Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite the devastation of WWII and following decades of decay to the east of the infamous Berlin Wall, the city has been rebuilt in a way that celebrates its successes while acknowledging a dark past. Berlin offers an eclectic mix of new and classic architecture, dynamic entertainment, shopping, and a wide variety of sports and cultural institutions.
The Brandenburg Gate
Berlin’s most famous historic landmark is the Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor), once a symbol of a divided nation and now a symbol of unity and peace. This Neoclassical gate was commissioned by King Frederick Wilhelm II in 1788, and its design was inspired by the Propylaea in Athens’ Acropolis. The sandstone monument is 26 meters tall, standing in the Mitte district’s Pariser Platz, just a block from the Reichstag building. During the Cold War, its physical and symbolic position as a blocked gate along the Berlin Wall made it a frequent site for demonstrations by West Berliners, and it is famous for being the backdrop of US President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 entreaty to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the wall. It was also the scene of a poignant gesture when German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russia’s Mikhail Gorbachev, and Poland’s Lech Walesa walked through the gate in 1999 to commemorate the tearing down of the Berlin Wall 20 years earlier.
Address: Pariser Platz, 10117, Berlin
The Rebuilt Reichstag
The Reichstag was originally completed in 1894 where the Neo-Renaissance palace served as the home of the German Empire’s Imperial Diet until it burned in 1933. It was not used again until after the reunification of Germany, at which point it underwent a ten-year reconstruction and finally became the home of the German Parliament in 1999. A highlight of this magnificent reconstruction is the replacement dome, the Kuppel, made of glass and offering superb views of the surrounding city, especially at night from the Rooftop Restaurant. Note that entry to the Dome and Terrace is ticketed, and due to demand, it’s recommended that tickets be requested in advance (registration is available on the day, but expect a two- or three-hour wait). Free English language audio guides are available.
Address: Platz der Republik 1, 11011, Berlin
Between the River Spree and the Kupfergraben in a 400-meter-long canal, Spree Island is better known as Museum Island (Museumsinsel), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, you’ll find many of the city’s oldest and most important museums, including the Old Museum (Altes Museum), built in 1830 to house the Crown Jewels and other royal treasures. The New Museum (Neues Museum), destroyed during WWII, was rebuilt and opened again in 2009 as the home of extensive collections from the Egyptian Museum, the Papyrus Collection, and the Collection of Classical Antiquities.
The Old National Gallery (Alte Nationalgalerie), opened in 1876, displays Neoclassical sculpture and paintings from 1815-1848, as well as Impressionist and early Modernist pieces. The Bode Museum houses a collection of Byzantine art, as well as a large sculpture collection spanning from medieval times to the late 1700s. The city’s most popular museum, the Pergamon features a Museum of Islamic Art, the Ishtar Gate, and reconstructed historic buildings from the Middle East.
Address: Bodestraße 1-3, 10178 Berlin