Divided by politics; united through beauty – no city provides a binary opposite of culture, architecture and lifestyle like Berlin.
Dissimilar to the majority of Europe’s major cities, Berlin isn’t a concrete jungle of mammoth skyscrapers shadowing the streets below – quite the opposite. Der Tiergarten – Berlin’s gigantic 5.2 km squared park, is the beating heart of this metropolis. Its vast openness provides an abnormal verdant landscape to the German capital, providing the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Originally used for hunting due to its array of wild animals, hence the name which literally translates to ‘animal garden’, this 520 acre playground to arts and culture epitomises the unification of Germany. With its development stagnating until after the fall of the wall, the Tiergarten has been transformed from its gloomy past self, into a hub for picnics and barbecues, it is the home to the Berlin Zoo, and contains some of the city’s best and most prestigious monuments – most notably the Victory Column slap bang in its middle.
However, if the sound of boring strolls through parks makes you want to drop dead and you want to see innovative architecture which will encapsulate your imagination, the Tiergarten is still the place for you to be (I know, it really does have everything). Just south of the park you will find Berlin’s embassy district; a city amongst a city. Home to one hundred and fifty embassies and consulates from around the world, some of the world’s best architects have been commissioned to transform the monotonous homes of diplomats from around the globe, into a spectacle of modern architecture. Mexico’s embassy which provides a mystifying optical illusion is amongst my personal favourites.
But, Berlin hasn’t forgotten its roots, and whilst it may be the most cosmopolitan German city, it still possesses some beautiful buildings quintessential to German culture. Whether it’s 15th century relics, like the prestigious and extravagant Berlin Cathedral, or the slightly more mundane but still fascinating architecture in the East of the city, a real symbol of its socialist past, Berlin isn’t limited when it comes to the buildings which line its street – it really does make every corner turned a new surprise when you look up.
No matter how beautifully breath taking the buildings which line Berlin’s skyline are, there will only ever be one winner – der Fernsehturum. ￼
This East German television tower was constructed between 1965 and 1996, with it being erected as an attempt to show the strength of communism and a symbol of Berlin by the government in the East at the time. Whilst the latter is its truest purpose today, the irony isn’t lost however, as just below the 368m tower in the Alexanderplatz, you’ll find a plethora of selfie-stick tourists milling around the square – more like a symbol of Berlin and Germany’s transformation into a powerhouse of capitalism.
Despite this, the tower is a spectacle for the eyes and if it’s aesthetics aren’t enough from the outside, its revolving viewing platform 650ft in the air will certainly leave your jaw dropped and your eyes gaping. Offering some of the most stunning panoramic views in the world, it even offers a fine dining experience, leaving you spinning in the sky whilst enjoying a delicious meal. Just to warn you though, happy hour is rather early on at 2pm; probably intentional to allow enough time for visitors to descend the whopping 1000 step staircase, but if you feel you couldn’t manage that after a drink (or two, or three), there are lifts so don’t worry.
Whatever you plan on doing next after your feet are back on the ground, the likelihood is that you’ll need to use public transport to reach your destination. One of the great things about Berlin is that there are so many different things to do and places to visit; the downside being that the city is huge and very few places are within walking distance.
German public transport lives up to the country’s stereotype: it’s extremely efficient. The trains on the German U-Bahn (underground rail) are regularly on time and relatively clean, but most importantly they’ll take you wherever you need to go, with stations at all your potential ports of call. Be sure to have plenty of coins however, buying tickets in U-Bahn stations can be stressful if you don’t have the correct change as many foreign chip and pin cards won’t work in the automat machines.
One must see part of Berlin, but somewhere when visiting public transport will definitely be necessary, is the majestic cathedral of sport, the Olympia-Stadion. Located in the suburban areas of West Berlin, the stadium originally built for the infamous 1936 Olympic Games, the historical temple of sport is located a good twenty-five minutes U-Bahn trip from the centre of Berlin, the stadium itself having its own designated station.
Even if you yourself aren’t an avid sports fan, a visit to Central Europe’s answer to Italy’s coliseum, is one of the few remaining visible symbols of the Nazi’s reign over Germany. Commissioned for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, held during the fledgling years of Hitler’s rule, were meant to be a show of strength and power for Germany after the embarrassing defeat during World War 1 and the humiliation suffered from sanctions placed on their military forces; what actually happened still remains one of sport’s biggest ever shocks.
Jesse Owens, an African-American track and field athlete from the USA spoilt the party for Hitler and the Nazi’s, who were hoping for a show of dominance from Aryan competitors, as Owens took home four gold medals – a record for a track and field athlete at the time. The Olympia-Stadion, which still possesses a lot of the original stone interior and designs, really conveys a feeling of historical, political and sporting importance, should you experience the arena from the inside.
And history is something which you will well and truly find in abundance in Berlin: Checkpoint Charlie, East Side Gallery, Karl-Marx Allee, the Berlin Synagogue, Brandenburg Gates and even the more modern Holocaust Memorial are all sites dripping with historical significance, but all for differing reasons, really showing just how varied and dynamic this city is.
If you’re interested in learning as much about the aforementioned attractions, then there are plenty of great museums – the DDR museum (DDR meaning East German Democratic Republic), is perfect for getting an insight into how life was for those living in the East of Germany during its separated period. Whether you want to use it as a form of nostalgia and relive life in the 1980s, or you’re interested in learning about a time before capitalism ruled the majority of the earth, it is a great hands on experience for everybody – just be prepared for plenty of reading!
However, if aimlessly trudging around museums doesn’t take your fancy and you just want to see as much of the city as possible, then a sightseeing bus is perfect for you. Don’t be put off by its tourist connotations, because not only is it a great source of transportation across Berlin (as aforementioned it is quite large), but the multi-lingual guided tour offers some really interesting facts for you to take home. Just be sure to check which time the last bus departs from each stop, so you don’t end up getting stranded miles away from your accommodation (yes I have done that before if you were wondering)!
Berlin is really an incredible city, one which anybody of any age will thoroughly enjoy, be prepared for plenty of walking, but plenty more spectacular views and magnificent memories. One last thing, whether or not you use the Hauptbahnhof (central train station), make sure you have a look; its myriad of platforms and stunning configuration of symmetrical glass panelled roofing is yet another piece of incredible architecture.