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A Guide to Berlin

Shaped by its moving history and the rapid and radical changes of the last two decades, the city today exerts a quite unique fascination. Over twenty years following the fall of the Berlin wall and the re-establishment of a united Germany, the city has created itself as a young, dynamic and cosmopolitan metropolis in the heart of Europe, which is constantly re-inventing itself. Variety is guaranteed, but Berlin also offers plenty of opportunities for those who just want to relax and take it easy. The fast-paced teeming metropolis on the one hand and the relaxing haven in nature on the other are not far apart from each other. Whether Tiergarten, the Tempelhof Fields or Grunewald – there’s a “green oasis” in every district to make the quality of life better and offer the visitor the chance of a small break in nature.

It’s the diversity, the contradictions and the sheer inexhaustible number of possibilities that make Berlin so attractive. The city exudes its fascination by both an exciting mixture of history and zeitgeist and an unrivalled range of art, culture, music, entertainment and shopping possibilities. The modern hotel landscape, the diverse gastronomy and favourable prices also have a strong impact in the particular appeal of the metropolis on the Spree. A flourishing creative scene and Berlin’s hot music and club culture make an equally strong contribution to the unmistakable character of this lively and vigorous lifestyle metropolis of 3.4 million inhabitants.

Emotional Sights of Berlin

For more than 28 years East and West Berlin were divided by an almost insurmountable Wall. Not only did it divide families and friends but it also brought much pain and suffering to the city. At least 136 people lost their lives here, mostly when attempting to flee from East to West. The joy which accompanied the fall of the wall on 9th November 1989 generated a feeling of euphoria in which the majority of border posts disappeared.

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There has been a Memorial Ensemble on the Bernauer Straße between the districts of Wedding and the Central Area since the end of the 1990s. These include the Berlin Wall Memorial Site, the Berlin Wall Documentation Centre along with the Chapel of Reconciliation. Here one section of the Wall has been rebuilt in its original location. There is an exhibition and a great deal of information about the Wall. An excellent view can be obtained from a viewing tower.

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Starting on 22 September 1961 at most famous East German-West German border crossing, allied soldiers registered members of the American, British and French armed forces before their trip to East Berlin. Here foreign tourists were able to inform themselves about their stay.

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Close to the Brandenburg Gate in the heart of Berlin, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is also found. It is a memorial that is a stele-field which can be approached and walked through from all sides, serving as a central place for remembering and reminding people of the Holocaust. The extraordinary design, which was revised several times, represents a radical approach to creating a monument.

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The Jewish Museum is quite possibly one of the most exciting examples of contemporary architecture in Berlin. Opened on 9 September 2001, the form and style of the museum reflect a complex concept consisting of ciphers, codes and philosophical themes. The zigzag-like Jewish Museum is based on a design by American architect Daniel Libeskind

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Architecture of Berlin

On 9 June 1884, Kaiser Wilhelm I needed three attempts to lay the foundation-stone. It is said that, while he was using the tool, it cracked. The Kaiser did not like the Reichstag. He only reluctantly agreed to the plans of architect Paul Wallot and barely approved of his plans for a heavy stone dome. Because the Reichstag would then be even higher than the City Castle.

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Charlottenburg Palace is one of the landmarks of Berlin. The largest and most beautiful royal palace still standing in the capital, Charlottenburg was erected as the summer residence of Sophie Charlotte, the first queen of Prussia, who was also the namesake for the palace and the surrounding district. Subsequent generations of the royal family expanded and remodelled the palace according to the taste of their time.

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While the only remaining city gate of Berlin formerly used to represent the separation of the city between East and West Berlin, since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 the Brandenburg Gate has now come to symbolise German unity. In addition, this gate made of sandstone is one of the finest examples of German classicism.

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With its magnificent dome, the Berlin Cathedral is definitely one of the capital’s crowd pullers. Located in the northern area of the Spree Island, many of the buildings that were previously located here date all the way back to the 15th century. In the 19th century, the ruling family of Germany, the house of Hohenzollern, was living right next door in the Berlin Castle and they thought that Schinkel’s rather modest domed cathedral no longer corresponded to the image they wanted to project of their family. King Frederick William IV thus decided that a magnificent cathedral should be built.

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The Museum Island in Berlin is the northern tip of the Spree Island – and it is also a magnificent work of art itself, involving five world-renowned museums gathered in an extraordinary ensemble. The many oustanding exhibits include the Nefertitit and the Pergamon frieze. Since 1999, the museum complex in the city centre of Berlin has been the only architectural and cultural ensemble that is considered part of UNESCO world heritage.

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Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Hackesche Höfe have developed into the central contact point for both Berliners and people visiting Berlin. Lavishly restored, these courtyards are located in the historic “Scheunenviertel” or “barn district” in the Spandau suburb of Berlin-Mitte.

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Many Berliners believe that the Gendarmenmarkt is the most beautiful place in Germany and indeed in all of Europe. Well, however that might be, it really is a must-see for all visitors to Berlin. This is the case because the Gendarmenmarkt is a beautiful example of an architectural ensemble full of harmony and it includes both the French and the German cathedral as well as the Concert House.

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The protestant Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is a memorial to peace and reconciliation. And it also stands for the will of the Berliners to rebuild their city during the period after the war. This is seen by the fact that the church not only consists of the ruins of the church which was destroyed during World War II but it also includes contemporary church architecture. It is thus a living contrast between modernism and history.

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Fun in Berlin

Berlin is one of Europe’s most vibrant cities and a gay-friendly city. Queer culture here is pretense-free and very much an integral part of daily life. Instead of a dedicated ‘gayborhood’ Berlin has various stomping grounds, primarily in historical Schöneberg, alternative Kreuzberg and laid-back Prenzlauer Berg. But trendy Mitte, creative Kreuzberg and Neukölln and student neighbourhood Friedrichshain also have plenty in store for the community.

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Berlin offers an extraordinary variety of shopping possibilities in large shopping centres, department stores, smaller shops or elegant boutiques. If you love classic designer fashion, are hunting for bargains, or seeking out the latest fashion trends, you will certainly get your money’s worth in Germany’s capital city. Important information for shoppers from out-of-town: shopping in Berlin is a bit different from shopping in other German cities.

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There’s always a match on somewhere in Berlin and the German capital has the world’s best sports fans. High-end events attract sports enthusiasts and spectators from around the world. Berlin hosts several major sporting events every year and many have become legendary: the BMW Berlin Marathon, just to name one. And hardly any other major city in the world offers so much professional sports year-round: six pro sports clubs playing in five sports make Berlin the capital of the sport.

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Cycling in Berlin

The German capital has blossomed into a city for bicyclists, even by lofty European standards. Riding a bike in London or Rome? Not! Hardly any bicycle lanes and way too dangerous. In Berlin, however, the bicycle has become a real alternative to the car or public transportation. Bicycle couriers and pedicabs are already an integral part of the city’s streetscape.

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Special Occasions

Berlin celebrates winter in its own unique style: whether Christmas shopping on the festively lit Kurfürstendamm, sipping mulled wine in the historical setting of the Gendarmenmarkt, or skiing on the grounds of former Tempelhof Airport. Those seeking relaxation will find it in the spa and wellness areas offered by many hotels, while numerous restaurants offer reinterpreted regional cuisine. Or for something completely different, snuggle under the covers of the Bettbike as you tour the city.

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The International Beer Festival celebrates the typical German drink during a three day folk festival. Along a 2.2 kilometres part of Karl-Marx-Allee in Friedrichshain district (between underground stations Strausberger Platz and Frankfurter Tor) about 320 breweries from 86 countries introduce approximately 2,000 sorts of beer.

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