Berlin is the capital of unified Germany and one of the largest cities in Europe with a population 3.5 million people now living there. In the communist years the Berlin wall symbolised the Iron Curtain and rightfully became the symbol of people’s freedom from communism in 1989 with its demolition.
These days East Berlin has a thriving art scene, but there are so many sides this world city, with so many festivals, orchestras, museums and sporting events in particular, you choose an infinite number of reasons to visit.
Getting to Berlin
In our low cost flights guide you will find a full list of airlines that fly to Berlin direct from the UK and from other European airports. The obvious choices are Ryanair and Air Berlin, but Lufthansa is an attractive option for many.
Deutsche Bahn (the German State rail company) now runs high-speed trains to Cologne, from where you can connect to Berlin, which is a four-hour journey. From 2015 DB trains will run directly from London to Berlin when the Eurotunnel is de-regulated. Tickets to Berlin can cost less than £150 return, which is an attractive option for those living in London or the South-East of England.
Arriving in Berlin
There are two main airports at Berlin, Tegel and Schonefeld. Berlin Shonefeld is used mostly by the low cost airlines and is about 20km outside the south-west of the city. To get into Berlin the Airport Express train (operated by Deutsche Bahn) leaves every 30 minutes from Schönefeld Flughafen Station, just 5 minutes walk from the terminal. There are other cheaper local trains that do the same route but with many stops. Trains stop at Berlin – Spandau. Alternatively, you can take the bus SFX1 to Südkreuz every 20 minutes. A taxi would cost at least 30 Euro each way. From Berlin Tegel Airport the distance to the city centre is much shorter so an express bus is usually a good option. For onward destinations use the BVG.de journey planner to find a way to where you want to get to in Berlin.
Berlin has the feel of a place that has been knocked down and re-built a few times, mainly because it has been, and sure enough you’ll be surprised to see how much is still being developed just the other side of the river from the Reichstag. The stunning new Berlin Hauptbahnhof is the centrepiece of a new area which will undoubtedly propel Berlin to even greater heights.
Walking the main sights of central Berlin is completely do-able in a few days provided you plan your visit well and stay in a centrally located hotel. We stayed at the Meininger Hotel next to Berlin Hauptbahnhof which is probably the closest hotel to not only the station but to the Reichstag, which is a great place to start your walk of the city.
Things to do in Berlin
The Reichstag (Bundestag)
You can visit the Reichstag for free and walk along the Norman Foster designed dome along the top for great views of the city. You do need to register though, through the Bundestag Website where you will be screened for security. You be asked for three different preferred times and dates to visit and offered one of them. You need to keep this time and arrive at least 15 minutes before departure on the actual day of the visit.
For those who may have visited Berlin shortly after the wall was taken down in 1989 the Brandenburg Gate and its vicinity now looks completely different. The gate itself was privately refurbished in 2002 so is without the shrapnel and bullet holes it suffered in WW2. Alongside now sits the American Embassy, with a “Starbucks” on the opposite corner of the new pedestrian zone surrounding the gate. Sitting on top of the Brandenburg Gate having also been fully restored is the Quadriga, a chariot driven by Victoria, the Goddess of victory, which was stolen by Napoleon and taken to Paris in 1806.
The Brandenburg Gate is one of the symbols of not only Berlin, but of Germany, so is therefore a sight which must be visited. It’s easy to find, right next to the Reichstag, and just up the road from Potsdamer Platz.
This imposing building, also known as the Dom is another of Berlin’s landmarks situated right in the Museum Quarter which makes it almost impossible to miss. You can climb to the top of its impressive Dome to see superb views of the surrounding city and to get another angle of the TV Tower just a few hundred metres to the east. The cost is 7 Euro’s.
The TV Tower (Fernsehturm Berlin)
At a height of 365 metres it’s the tallest structure in Germany. It was built in the 1960’s, and very well, we might add, by the old communist GDR as a symbol of Germany. At the foot of the tower is some classical communist design which really contrasts well with the modern city of Berlin. You can go up to the viewing floor 200 metres up to get great views of the city, a superb option if there’s bad weather. The cost is 12 Euro. It’s right next to Alexander Platz, a busy urban zone which is one of the old symbols of the East. If you want to get a view of the tower from the eastern end you can go to the Park Inn Hotel on Alexander Platz where you can pay 3 euro to walk out onto a viewing platform to take views of the city from there. If you’re a guest it’s free. It’s a truly symbolic building so well worth the effort.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
This memorial which covers an area of nearly 5 acres is just south of Brandenburg Gate towards Potsdamer Platz. It comprises 2700 concrete slabs of 2.38 metres long but of different height arranged in a grid formation allowing you to walk right into it and lose yourself. It has caused controversy within the Jewish community for its design and its cost, but it is nonetheless an impressive project notable for its lack of symbolism.
German Historical Museum
Miraculously spared serious damage during WW2, the German Historical Museum takes you through every age of German history, from the stone-age to the modern day. As you walk from Brandenburg gate towards the Museum quarter it’s the first major museum you come across on Unter den Linden.
Altes Museum Berlin
Another of the five museums making up the Museum Island in Berlin, the Altes Museum was built between 1823 and 1830 by the Prussian Royal Family to house their art collection next to the Cathedral. It contains pieces from antiquity, including Greek and Roman artefacts, and is itself listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
National Gallery (Alte Nationalgalerie)
The Alte Nationalgalerie contains 19th century paintings and sculptures, donated to the King of Prussia in 1861 by a wealthy banker. The Gallery suffered severe damage during WW2 but was completely rebuilt by 1955. It forms one of the five of Museums Island. Most of the items on display are dated between the French Revolution and the First World War. If you want to see 20th century art try the New National Gallery. www.smb.museum
Where to Stay in Berlin.
Featured Hotel: The Meininger Berlin Haupbahnhof
Ritz Carlton Berlin
Amid the energy of the city, The Ritz-Carlton, Berlin welcomes guests with a gracious atmosphere, exquisite amenities and impeccable service. Conveniently located at the prestigious Potsdamer Platz.
Situated in the best location in the historical centre of the city, right on the beautiful, culturally rich Gendarmenmarkt, the 589-room Hilton Berlin is perfectly located for business and leisure travellers.
Swissôtel Berlin is a luxury five-star hotel situated in the heart of Berlin on the famous Kurfürstendamm, Berlin’s illustrious shopping district. A member of the leading hotels of the world.
Savoy Berlin Hotel
Innumerable personalities – particularly from the art world – have called the Savoy Berlin, with its 18 suites, a home away from home. The Greta Garbo suite is to this day decorated with a wonderful portrait of the Hollywood star.