START at Alexanderplatz (A) with the S-Bahn, several subways (U-Bahn), streetcars and buses.
The square had been used as a market for livestock and was named Ochsenmarkt (oxen market) before it was named Alexanderplatz in 1805 on the occasion of the visit of the Russian Tsar Alexander I. Most of the buildings are in the 1960s architectural style. You find the World Time Clock there, a fountain, and a lot of shopping opportunities. Alexanderplatz was the modern city center of the “Capital of GDR”, in 1989, during the peaceful revolution; the biggest demonstration of the country was here.
Close to the Brandenburg Gate, between the American Embassy and a neighborhood of former East Berlin 1980s concrete slab residential buildings, there is a field of dark grey blocks. This is the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial. It was opened in 2005. What does this rather unusual memorial signify and why is it situated at this very spot?
Berlin’s most beautiful and most photographed bridge is the two storied Oberbaum Bridge across the Spree. It links two former boroughs that are now one: Friedrichshain in the former East Berlin and Kreuzberg in the former West. Both districts are known for their interesting nightlife. Check out our FREE self-guided Friedrichshain tour and the self-guided Kreuzberg tour.
Take a S-Bahn to the Ostbahnhof or a U-Bahn, Trolley or Bus to the “Warschauer Straße”. Or book one of the sightseeing ships that do the long tour on the river Spree and the Landwehrkanal (a canal south of the river). The Oberbaum Bridge will be the last bridge before the ship enters the canal.
The Oberbaum Bridge has two towers, an elevated subway/underground line on the upper story and a pedestrian walk that has a cloister vault like in the Middle Ages. But why all this effort for this very bridge and how old is it anyway?
Well, the Oberbaum Bridge that you see today isn’t actually as old as it looks. The towers and many other aspects are reconstructions of the 1990s. The bridge was damaged in the Second World War and partly blasted by the German troops on Hitler’s command. The original bridge was built between 1894 and 1986 in the Gothic Revival style and in 1902 the subway/underground rails were ready. The “number one” line is the oldest line in Berlin and connects Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg with the City West at the Kurfürstendamm. In Kreuzberg it’s elevated and gives you some sightseeing possibilities.
The beautiful Oberbaum Bridge replaces an older wooden construction from the early 18th century. Back then; the bridge was part of the excise wall that surrounded the city. Ships had to stop, declare their goods and pay customs. The counterpart was the “Unterbaum Bridge”, now “Crown Prince’s Bridge” near the Central Station (Hauptbahnhof) and the parliament buildings.
So yes, the name of the Oberbaum Bridge (in German: Upper tree bridge) stems from this 18th century tree-barrier that blocked the river especially during nighttime to prevent ships passing by without paying a tariff to the municipality.
The new bridge of the late 19th century was designed to symbolize the function of a city gate that the older bridge had. The two towers are modeled after towers in the town walls of Prenzlau and Kyritz (small towns East of Berlin) and are decorated with a bear (for Berlin) and an Eagle (for the state of Brandenburg). Old coats of arms of surrounding towns decorate the bridge.
After the war, the bridge found itself connecting Friedrichshain (Soviet Sector) with Kreuzberg (American Sector). The East Berlin authorities repaired it, but didn’t rebuild the towers and rather demolished them. In 1948, during the Berlin Blockade, the Oberbaum Bridge was the site of intense smuggling. During an incident with a smuggler, an East Berlin police officer was shot; he is now seen as the first victim of the East West conflict in Berlin. In the mid 1950s, the Eastern authorities decided that only pedestrians could use the bridge. When the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, the Oberbaum Bridge was closes completely until it was reopened for pedestrians in 1972 due to the Four Power Agreement on Berlin.
Today, the Oberbaum Bridge is open to all traffic. The vaults of the pedestrian way are a perfect concert hall for street musicians and sometimes also sites of political demonstration, or legendary events like the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Food Fight that took place in the years 1998-2013. People from the two city districts Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg would meet at the bridge for a legendary food and water battle – mostly won by the Friedrichshain team because of their superior “vegetable artillery”. But in 2014 nobody wanted to organize the event and for 2015 nothing is for sure yet. At the Oberbaum Bridge you are very close to another interesting Berlin only thing to see: The East Side Gallery, murals on a piece of the Berlin Wall.
Whenever tour guide Gundula is not leading a tour, researching for her next endeavor or exploring the streets of Berlin, she might be inside a museum. Here are her five favorite Berlin museums:
“The Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, Greek and Roman statues or famous paintings – that’s what you find on Museum Island or at the “Kulturforum” next to Potsdamer Platz. But today, I suggest some smaller museums, more often than not created on the initiative of private citizens. Follow me into the world of Currywurst (the iconic Berlin fast food), daily life in the GDR (the former socialist German state) or into the history of Jewish life in Germany, incidents at Checkpoint Charlie or the fascinating Museum of Technology.”
For Trains Spotters and Wannabe Pilots: The Museum of Technology
Is there a young boy who doesn’t want to become a pilot or a railway engineer? Check out the Museum of Technology! Aerospace, navigation, rail transport, road traffic and photo technology, to name just the most important departments. Learn more not only about technical innovation in itself, but also what it meant to the people and the development of society. The museum has an important outdoor space as well and outside of the entrance you are greeted by a DC 2, one of the aircraft the US Air Force used for the airlift in the years of 1948/49 when supplies were flown into landlocked West Berlin.
The building from 1998 is an attraction in itself: You enter by the so-called “Kollegienhaus” from 1735 that is used for temporary exhibits and by an underground walkway you access the basement of the new museum. The building has the shape of a thunderbolt and some interesting aspects like the Garden of Exile, the Holocaust Tower and the Voids – empty rooms symbolizing the loss that the Holocaust and the history of pogroms caused in Germany.
There is an exhibit about the Holocaust, but the focus is on 2,000 years of Jewish life in Germany. The Jewish Museum has an extraordinary collection of religious objects, pieces of art, maps of the Holy Land and the autobiography of “Glickl von Hameln”, a successful businesswoman and mother of twelve of the 17th century, written in Yiddish.
Would you like to know how it felt to be a citizen of the German Democratic Republic (GDR – DDR in German)? Then come and visit the “DDR-Museum”. It is a journey back in time: cars, clothes, furniture, TV shows, recreation, food … Almost everything can be touched and tried. In order not to become too nostalgic, the museum covers the Stasi (secret police) and the political opposition as well and offers guided tours for (school-) groups. For more visit our post on the museum…
Celebrating Iconic Fast Food: The Currywurst Museum
A Currywurst is a pork sausage, sliced and served with a hot sauce and curry powder. Some fast food stands also offer a beef version. The museum is only 100 m (yards) off from Checkpoint Charlie and tells you everything you always wanted to know about Berlin’s favorite snack. Feel like a Currywurst chef behind a fast food counter, learn about the woman who invented the Currywurst or follow an American film maker from Currywurst to Currywurst in Berlin and finish your visit in the museum’s own Currywurst Café. Currywurst fans might find this blog on Berlin currywurst interesting.
How to escape from East Berlin: Haus am Checkpoint Charlie
In 1962, only a year after the Berlin Wall was built, a group of concerned citizens opened a museum about the Wall, escapes from the East and non-violent struggle for human rights worldwide. You can see the original vehicles people used to escape. The museum grew organically from a small apartment to the present large exhibit in three connected buildings at Checkpoint Charlie which makes it a little chaotic. The legends are in German and the languages of the allied forces: English, French and Russian.
Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraße 43-45,10969 Berlin, Mon thru Sun, mauermuseum.de
+Tip: To save money when visiting Berlin’s museums, you might want to check out our blog on Berlin’s city passes.+
At the intersection of Wilhelm- and Leipziger Straße there is the “Platz des Volksaufstandes von 1953” (Square of the Uprising of 1953) at the forecourt of the huge building that used to be Hermann Goring’s Ministry on Aviation during the Third Reich and is now the German Department of Finance. What was that uprising about and why is there a memorial here?
Economic difficulties in East Germany
While West Germany received money from the “European Recovery Program”, a.k.a. Marshall Plan, an American initiative to help rebuild the European countries after World War II, the East Germans had to pay reparations to the Soviet Union. This and other economic difficulties, e.g. the brain drain to the West, led to measures such as higher consumer prices, higher taxes and the rising of the so-called work norms (in short more work for the same salary) to come into effect June 30th.
June 16th, the workers of a prestige construction project at the Stalinallee (today Karl-Marx-Allee) went on strike and marched down the Stalinallee. The next morning, June 17th, around 40, 000 protesters gathered in East Berlin and marched to the Eastern part of Potsdamer Platz, to the Brandenburg Gate and to the governing quarter at the Wilhelmstraße. The former Ministry on Aviation then housed the “House of the Ministries”, ministries or departments of different industrial branches as it is the case in a Socialist economy.
A three-days uprising in the whole country
The Uprising of June 17 was an uprising not only in East Berlin, but also in many towns and cities in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). And it lasted until June 19th. Even though the government decided to withdraw the raising of the work norms, people continued to strike and march. It was an uprising against the regime, not against a single aspect of its politics.
The Soviet forces and the East German police suppressed the uprising. As the Soviet troops in the GDR had been on a manoeuver anyway, they could easily direct their tanks and trucks into the cities. The most iconic picture of the day shows East Berlin youths throwing stones at a Soviet tank.
The blood toll was high: Over 500 people killed in the uprising, 116 of which functionaries of the leading party, 106 executed under martial law or condemned to death later, over 1,800 injured and more than 5,100 people arrested. West Germany honored the uprising and the victims by making June 17th the national holiday until unification in 1990. The broad avenue in the (former West Berlin) park Tiergarten is called “Straße des 17. Juni”.
Let’s go back to the “Platz des Volksaufstandes von 1953”. You’ll see two pieces of art at and near the building. At the wall, behind pillars is the huge mural “Aufbau der Republik” (build-up of the Republic) made of Meissen porcelain tiles (a very precious material) from 1952. It is a typical piece of “Socialist Realism” with optimistic, happy working class people with a uniform smile and a marching pose. And there is the memorial for the uprising.
Since June 2000 the memorial is located on the forecourt of the building in view of the mural. It is made of glass and shows an enlarged and rasterized black-and-white photo of the marching strikers on their way to the House of the Ministries. It is in many ways a contrast to the idealized people on the colorful mural. At the pillars, you find more information on the uprising of 1953 and its consequences for German history.
Craft Beer excites us.
But not only us: many other people, too. Beer having character, handcrafted beer, honest beer. Beer from the underground, wicked beer.
This is the motto of Berlin’s Braufest, a craft beer festival that was held in the capital in May 2014, an event poised to become an annual tradition in this city obsessed with artisanal, locally produced brews – the hoppier the better. The organizers of Braufest have tapped into (no pun intended) a massive international trend: craft beer of all varieties, from bitter triple-hopped India Pale Ales to sultry smoked porters, fruity saisons to crisp, flavorful lagers. Berlin, long a pilsner town, is experiencing a craft beer explosion as brewers compete to see who can produce the tastiest, most complex offerings.
Historically, Berlin was a city of hundreds of competing independent breweries offerings their own take on favourites such as wheatbiere, bocks, pilsners and lagers. However, over the course of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, large conglomerates (including Dr. Oetker) purchased many of these smaller breweries and homogenized the offerings to a few brands of (arguably) flavorless, watery pilsner. That is all starting to change, as the craft beer revolution that is sweeping the world takes hold in the German capital. Read more »
Museum Island is one of the main tourist attractions in Berlin for culture vultures, antiquity appreciators and heritage fanatics – but what about those of us who just love a good painting? Four of the five museums on the Spree (The Pergamon Museum, The Neues Museum, the Altes Museum and the Bode Museum) focus on artifacts from around the ancient world and Stone Age Europe, but it is only the Alte Nationalgalerie that solely displays paintings and works of fine art. Included in the eighteen Euro Museum Island day pass, it is well worth an hour (or a day!) of your time.
The creation of a ‘National Gallery’ to display works of Prussian importance was a dream as far back as the 1830s, when then-Prince Friedrich Wilhelm IV, a passionate Romanticist, envisioned a “sanctuary for art and science” that would sit proudly alongside the Altes Museum (the called the Königliches Museum”) and the Neues Museum. Decades of failed planning and halted construction would follow, until 1862, when the National Gallery was officially founded after wealthy patron Johann Heinrich Wagner donated 262 paintings of both German and international provenance. A building to display these priceless works was now of utmost urgency. Read more »
Museum Island is a top destination for visitors to Berlin and locals alike, a culture-lover’s paradise where a ticket costing only eighteen euro buys you access to five of the most esteemed collections of antiquities in Europe. Each of the massive museums located here has a theme based on the era, region and purpose of the items housed within – Ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Etruscan and Babylonian, to name a few. But if you are interested in the history of Europe and want to see a collection that showcases the continent’s cultural journey from the Byzantium era until the present, the Bode Museum will be your top pick.
While it often gets overshadowed by the Pergamon, the Neues Museum and the Altes Museum, the Bode Museum may actually be the most important institution on Museum Island. Described by Neil McGregor, the director of the illustrious British Museum as, “the most comprehensive display of European sculpture anywhere… it is no exaggeration to say that in the new Bode Museum, Europe will be able for the first time to read its history — aesthetic and religious, intellectual and political — in a three-dimensional form.” High praise for a museum located on a continent with hundreds of competing collections vying for similar accolades.
The Bode is home to two collections – The Sculpture Collection and Museum of Byzantine Art and the Münzkabinett (coin collection). The building was built in 1904, and originally named the Kaiser Friedrich Museum after the then German Emperor. It kept this name until 1956, when trustees voted to change it to honor the first curator, Wilhelm von Bode. His unique style of curation is still echoed in the museum today; von Bode believed strongly in mixing art collections and displaying sculpture, art, medals and coins from different eras and regions in esthetic groupings. Byzantine, Ravenna, Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque pieces are displayed from all over Europe, with a special focus on Germany and on the Christian Near East (particularly Coptic Egypt).
Badly damaged in the bombings of Berlin in World War Two, the museum was renovated numerous times between 1948-1986. However, damage and wear were still a problem until 1997, when the museum closed for extensive restoration for nine years. It reopened in 2006 after a 150 million Euro upgrade, and is now in a stunning condition.
If you fancy coins and other metal work, the Bode’s Münzkabinett (coin cabinet) is place for you. Boasting the world’s largest “numismatic” collection of coins, from the seventh century BCE until the present day, the Münzkabinett counts over 500, 000 items in its possession!
Fans of conspiracy theories and contested heritage will want to pay special attention to the Bode Museum’s most controversially famous piece, the Flora Bust. Purchased from a London gallery by von Bode in 1910 for a few pounds, he claimed that this bust was an unrecognized work of Leonardo da Vinci. Proudly displaying his great bargain find in the museum, he boasted that he had “snatched a great art treasure from under the very noses of the British art world.” This pride was to be short-lived. British journalists soon countered that this was actually the work of English sculptor Richard Cockle Lewis, and provided testimony from his son that the piece had been created in 1840. Indeed, letters dated 1840 were found stuffed inside the base of the sculpture, but despite mounting evidence, Bode insisted that it was a da Vinci until he died. The bust is now on display in a section marked, “England” and is marked with the date “19th Century?” on its placard.
Whether you plan to spend a few hours on Museum Island, a whole week or any amount of time in between – make sure you pay a visit to the Bode Museum and pay homage to the history of Europe.
UBahn U6 (Friedrichstraße)
For the Bode Museum alone: 10 Euro, Concessions 5 (Purchase online to save 1 Euro)
For a Museum Island one-day ticket: 18 Euro, Concessions 9 (Purchase online to save 1 Euro)
7 days a week from 10am-6pm (Thursdays open until 8pm)
Museum Island is one of the top tourist attractions in Berlin, a museum-lovers paradise that houses five of Europe’s most impressive collections of antiquities, art and culture. While the Pergamon may draw in hordes of adoring travelers to marvel at its monolithic treasures and the Neues Museum is a favourite of those who want to worship at the bust of Nefertiti, The Altes Museum (Old Museum) is where it all started and is well worth a visit in its own right.
The oldest of the structures on Museum Island, the Altes Museum, originally called the Königliches Museum (Royal Museum), was constructed in 1830 by Karl Friedrich Schinkel and is recognized around the world as one of Europe’s most important Neoclassical buildings. Its façade boasts eighteen tall Ionic columns, a roof bedecked with large antique sculptures and many other references to the Pantheon in Rome. This architectural style was intended to portray Prussian royalty and the past of Berlin itself in a strong and powerful light by emphasizing its rightful place in an intellectual lineage extending from the Roman Empire. As a result, the building can appear quite intimidating – a fact utilized by the Nazi party, who used the museum as the backdrop for many political rallies and propaganda posters during World War Two.
Originally built to house the increasingly large array of artifacts and antiquities being excavated by Prussian archaeologists and the Prussian Royal Family’s personal collection of art, the Altes Museum was at one time home to many of the treasures, including the Pergamon Altar and the Ishtar Gate, now housed in Museum Island’s other four institutions. Like the Neues Museum (originally built in 1855 to house the overflow from the Altes Museum), it was badly damaged during the bombing of Berlin, and sat as a hulking ruin until 1955. It was completely reconstructed and renovated, and was re-opened in 1966, once again drawing visitors to Museum Island.
The Altes Museum now houses the Collection of Classical Antiquities, which consists of sculptures, pottery, reliefs, paintings, mosaics and jewelry. The ground floor is primarily Ancient Greek artifacts, while the first floor focuses on Etruscan and Roman pieces. The collection showcases objects from a wide array of social classes and uses, placing as much emphasis on items of daily use as on decorative adornments of the elite.
Most famously, the museum is home to gorgeous portraits of Antony and Cleopatra, a collection of exquisite silver Roman vessels and a stunning Greek bronze statue entitled “The Praying Boy.” Top marks also go to the “erotic cabinet” – a collection of carvings and pottery recommended for over 18s only!
Whether you plan to spend a few hours, a day or a week on Museum Island, make sure you explore the wonders of the Altes Museum. No trip to Berlin would be complete without it!
One of the most unexpected features on the busy landscape of central Berlin is the bombed out spire of an 1890’s era church – The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Rising tall into the sky near Zoo Station, the wreckage is incongruous with the modern city around it, a visible reminder of the destruction in Berlin’s recent past. It serves now as a monument to peace and reconciliation, and a testament to the will of Berlin – and of Germany – to rebuild after World War II without forgetting the Holocaust and the violence of war.
Built between 1891 – 1895 to honor the first German Emperor, the church was designed in a Neo-Romanesque style and featured a tall, narrow 113-metre spire that could be seen from miles around. The original structure featured 2740 square metres of stunning mosaic dedicated to the Emperor, details sadly lost on November 23, 1943. Air raids pummeled the church, destroying the main building and damaging its spire, leaving its height only 73 metres.
Make no mistake – this damaged, unrepaired spire’s current presence on the skyline is no accident – the result of citizen outcry in the 1950s when architect Egon Eiermann, hired to rebuild the church, voiced plans to tear down the bombed spire and replace it with a modern building. Visible reminders of the horrors of the Nazi past were rapidly disappearing from Berlin, and the public was uneasy with the complete erasure of these crimes. Maintaining a massive symbol of World War II was seen as a meaningful gesture that would keep the memory fresh while allowing the city to move forward. It is now an iconic feature of the capital.
Eiermann respected the wishes of Berliners, and while he maintained the spire of the church he also built a four new buildings surrounding the ruins. The new buildings are made of steel, concrete and 21,292 panels of colored stained glass – fine examples of 1960’s brutalist architecture. Berliners call the combination of the new and old buildings the “Lipstick and Powder Puff” for their distinctive shapes on the skyline.
The damaged spire was reopened to the public in 1987, and now attracts nearly 100,000 visitors per year. In 2007 Charles Gray, a retired British pilot who had dropped bombs on Berlin during World War II, was dismayed by the rapidly decaying condition of the spire. At his behest, a fundraising campaign was started and the money collected has been used to repair and reinforce the structure.
While closed for extensive renovation throughout 2013, the church is again open to the public. Visitors to the church and the Memorial Hall will see the building’s original crucifix, as well a Cross of Nails composed of wreckage Coventry Cathedral in the British Midlands, bombed by German planes in 1940.
Visiting the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
FREE tours of The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and Memorial Hall are given daily at 14:15, 15:00 and 16:00, with additional tours at 10:15, 11:00 and noon on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays!!
The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
Breitscheidplatz, 10789 Berlin