Germany’s capital is a stark contrast of modern culture and historic grit. Having spent four days in this city with my Mum, it’s hard not to emerge more knowledgable about the country’s past. We explored the highlights on my two favourite modes of transport: foot and bike.
Berlin makes no secret about the need to preserve the events that took place between 1939 and 1989. Museums and memorials displaying the horrors of Hitler’s uprising, the Holocaust, and the Cold War – which saw the city split in two – mean that anyone can soak up a lot of information within just a day of visiting the city.
This isn’t a city break where crowds of tourists make the streets feel cramped. The pavements are so wide that they’re positively spacious, and the cars run quietly alongside cycle lanes for the confident locals and apprehensive looking bike-renters trying to navigate the roads.
We stayed in the very centre of the city (Mitte) at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, which was quite frankly delightful. Facilities included a swimming pool, enormous breakfast buffet and restaurant/sushi bar which was situated in the heart of Potzdamer Plaz surrounded by restaurants, cafes, cinemas and shops.
During our four-day trip we walked many a mile and took in the majority of landmarks that were to be seen: so many that my trusty sandals quite literally snapped in ‘twain after the third day…
Here are a few sights and highlights which I would recommend:
The Holocaust Memorial – a confusing labyrinth of concrete blocks of varying heights which are disorientating within just a few steps to the visitor. Resembling a graveyard, it is isolating to walk between the blocks and hear no noise from the city surrounding them. There are many different interpretations for what the memorial represents.
Brandenburg Gate – Located in no-man’s land during the Cold War between East and West Germany. This is a military gate which has seen a lot over the years and is now a monument symbolising peace and unity.
Reichstag – Visits to the Parliament building need to be booked online in advance. We did not do this and it was fully booked for the rest of the week so take this as a top tip! Views of the sights of Berlin can be seen from the roof terrace and dome.
Neue Synagogue – Can be spotted by it’s eye-catching gold dome and is one of Berlin’s most significant Jewish landmarks. It was severely bombed in World War II and has since been restored. A fascinating and sobering insight in to the fate of Berlin’s Jews.
Hire bikes around Tiergarten Park – After all that walking and learning, hiring a couple of bikes and pedalling around the tree-lined paths was a welcome relief. Completely flat and traffic-free, there were various landmarks along the way which helped (slightly) in finding our way around. Easy to access and a moment of calm among fellow cyclists and meandering dog-walkers.
DDR Museum – An interactive exhibition giving an insight into East Germany during the time of socialist rule. Everyday life is portrayed through the use of touch screens, a recreated tower block apartment and car replica. A fascinating insight into the controlling authorities and lack of freedom that was forced on the people.
Checkpoint Charlie – An exhibition (next to the slightly random beach bar) showing the events that took place following the Second World War that led to the city being split in to four zones (American, British, French and Russian) then essentially being halved in to West and East Germany. The Soviet-run East Germany was under communist rule and eventually caused an uprising from the people in 1989 which brought about the downfall of the Berlin Wall.
Hitler’s Bunker – a creepy, foosty bunker in which you will find an abundance of information about Hitler’s life and death and the Holocaust. By the time you leave this bunker your brain is bursting with facts and your lungs are bursting for fresh air. An immersive experience which is both fascinating and horrifying. When reaching the exit you may need a few moments outside to take it all in.
Berlin Mall – possibly the largest shopping centre I’ve ever been in. The Mall is split in to two halves and has more shops than you can imagine. Not to mention dance lessons in the middle of it all.
A word of warning if you’re looking for the toilet – it’s the complete opposite way to which the signs point…
After all of the museums, information, history and facts that you are taking in during a trip to Berlin, it is easy to become slightly saturated (and depressed at humanity) if you over-do the exhibitions. Therefore, I recommend nothing more than binning your broken-in-two sandals and heading off to the cinema for some entertainment. Mamma Mia – Here We go Again was the very thing we needed to finish our trip on a high note!