Having re-established itself as one of Europe’s primary cities and the reunified Germany’s capital, Berlin is a city brimming with optimism. Located in the north-east of Germany and with a population of 3.5million, one third of Berlin is currently covered by woodland, parks and waterways. Despite efforts to become a city of the future, Berlin has also made every effort to preserve its rich history. Having earned its fame through being the home of the Berlin Wall and therefore the focus of the bitter cold war between East and West, Berlin is now home to the largest construction project Europe has seen since the Second World War. All this makes the city one of the most exciting and varied in Europe.
The focal piece of so many television and press images in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Brandenburg Gate dating back to 1789, has changed in its symbolism, becoming a new gate of unity rather than the division of the past. Beginning here, you can take a stroll past the Zoologischer Garten to the Siegessäule (Victory Column) to the west, or to the famous ‘Unter den Linden’ moving you towards the heart of the eastern part of Berlin, the Alexanderplatz.
Located by the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag was completed in 1894, and is now again home to the government of the reunited Germany. It was built as a neo-Renaissance palace, but was damaged by fire, battle and dynamite explosions during the twentieth century! Most recently the British architect Sir Norman Foster has given it a new lease of life ready for the 750,000 visitors expected each year.
The Gedächtniskirche is one of the few real attractions of west-Berlin, which is normally more renowned for its nightlife and as a bustling shopping center. This church serves as a poignant reminder of the destruction the Second World War left in its wake. It is to the east of the Brandenburg Gate that real tourists should engage themselves! Many of the buildings lining the avenues beyond ‘Unter den Linden’ date back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These include the German Cathedral and French Cathedral located on Berlin’s beautiful Gendarmenmarkt - a square named after one of King Frederick Wilhelm I’s regiments.
Bear in mind that Berlin has such a vast array to offer by way of sights, museums and memorials, that you are unlikely to be able to see everything. This is particularly given that these are located all over the vast expanses of the city, so carefully plan the time you have.
As you’d expect from the Germans, Berlin is served by a highly comprehensive and integrated public transport system. The S-Bahn has main east-west and north-south routes as well as a line circling the entire city center. Nine U-Bahn lines operate on the underground network with two running around the clock on weekends, whilst fleets of buses travel to practically all parts of the city. For a ‘tourist-approach’ try the trams which can be found in the eastern half of the city and offer pleasant views.
Berlin’s ‘Welcome Card’ is a useful transport pass offering unlimited local travel for 72 hours in addition to discounted entry into many of the city’s attractions, shows and sights. In addition to these there are many other types of passes on offer making travelling around affordable. Examples include the one-day, weekend and weekly passes.
Bike hire is also attractive in this flat city with a comprehensive cycle-path network. There is a plentiful supply: try www.citybike.de located near the Kurfürstendamn.
Our suggestion would be to escape the city life for a day with a trip to the Spreewald (Spree Forest) lying just 1 ½ hours’ train journey (From Bahnhof Zoo) to the south. An area of 120,000 acres provides the perfect setting for long walks, cycle tours or for water-sports along the River Spree itself.
An alternative trip, which provides a stark contrast to the Spreewald’s simplicity and innocence, is the site of the former concentration camp in Sachsenhausen, Oranienburg. Over half of those entering the imposing gates, which are still to be seen, were never to leave. The site now houses thought-provoking exhibitions and memorials.