Berlin wears the scars of history with increasing pride, transforming a harrowing past into a diverse and vivid present.
Everyone knows about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the city in World War II, yet the history of Berlin stretches beyond these unforgettable world events. On a holiday to Berlin, you can easily travel through the centuries, admiring both iconic and unknown attractions. To help you on your way, here are some of the city’s most momentous historical attractions to discover on your holiday to Berlin:
1699 – Charlottenburg Palace
Baroque exoticism fills the interior of Berlin’s only surviving royal residence, every corridor and courtyard framed by a late 17th century flair. Strange sculptures and gaudy paintings are confusing on the eye and there’s a real sense of the era’s aristocratic pomp and razzmatazz. Charlottenburg deserves half a day of any holiday to Berlin, not least because of the serene gardens that surround the palace.
1791 – Brandenburg Gate
Shimmering with neoclassical indulgence, Branenburg Gate is an imposing symbol of Berlin’s rich artistic history. It’s the iconic Berlin attraction, a gate symbolising post-1989 freedom and a less-celebrated city past. Horse and chariot rides operate near the gate and many nearby cafés offer views onto the sculpted columns and horse-topped arch.
1905 – Berlin Cathedral
In its fourth guise since a Collegiate Church was built here in 1451, Berlin Cathedral is the city’s most impressive religious monument. The cathedral’s role in Berlin’s turbulent history is excellently chronicled on the guided tour. Dome frescos leave lingering beauty above the huge pipe organ while a narrow staircase takes you into an eerie crypt. Note that it’s a very challenging 300 steps to reach the dome summit for 360 degrees views over Berlin, so it’s not for everyone.
1933 – Reichstag building
Just a block from Brandenurg, the Reichstag has been elegantly restored and now houses the German Parliament. Opened in 1894 as the German parliamentary building, it was badly damaged in a suspicious 1933 fire that benefited the Third Reich. After decades of disuse and disrepair, the heraldic statues and mythical German allure has returned. You can visit on a guided tour for free, with the highlight being sublime views over the city from the new glass dome, but note that you must register in advance to visit the Reichstag.
1945 – Hitler’s bunker
As Allied tanks advanced, Hitler shot himself in his private bunker. It’s not on the maps and it’s now cleverly buried beneath a car park. However, a small notice board indicates that you’re standing on Hitler’s bunker, an integral place in the history of our planet. It’s around 100 meters from the Jewish Memorial (see below) and staff at any of the roadside restaurant can provide directions. Most city walking tours include this hidden Berlin attraction.
1961 – Checkpoint Charlie
American and Russian tanks stared across the East West divide in 1961, the two sides of Checkpoint Charlie coming to symbolise the ideological Cold War. Soldiers still stand at this checkpoint, but they’re just dressed up so tourists can pose for photos. Fortunately, instead of sandbags and machine guns, the original checkpoint has been transformed into an outdoor bar and free museum with some evocative black and white images from the conflict. The information boards provide a broad overview of the history of the Berlin Wall, then you can sit with your feet in the sand and enjoy a refreshing drink next door.
1989 – The Berlin Wall
Construction of the Berlin Wall commenced in 1961 but the wall’s destruction is far more poignant. Most of the Wall was eagerly ripped down as Berliners forged their own personal unification, however, a couple of pieces have been kept as harrowing reminders of its brutality and size. At Checkpoint Charlie, look to the ground to see the original brick foundations of the Berlin Wall. These are flush to the ground but clearly stand out; it’s possible to follow their trail most of the way around the city. Follow them 200 meters past an industrial yard of historic trabant cars to the longest intact section of the original wall and on to the Berlin Wall Memorial. It’s unquestionably the most famous Berlin attraction.
2005 – Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe
This unusual memorial was opened to commemorate 60 years since the end of World War II. A sloping maze of variable concrete stelae creates a peaceful and moving space in the heart of Berlin. Head beneath the memorial and the Ort der Information (information point) contains all the known names of Jewish Holocaust victims.
2015 – Kreuzberg district
Painted in relentless graffiti and epitomising Berlin’s incumbent subculture, Kreuzberg provides a very different angle on Berlin’s history. This working-class suburb bordered the Berlin Wall and was where young people fought for reunification. For mature travellers, this can be a slightly overbearing place, especially when locals openly drink on the streets in the evening. However, many guided city tours and walking tours include Kreuzberg and provide a fascinating historical insight.