The ReichstagConstructed in 1894 to house the Reichstag, the parliament of the German Empire, this historical building pays tribute to the rejuvenation of a nation state from a background of division and destruction. Fully refurbished after the reunification of Germany, and partially reconstructed according to designs by the internationally renowned British architect Sir Norman Foster, it became the meeting place of the modern German parliament, the Bundestag, in 1999. Sensationalized by the artist Christo, who wrapped the Reichstag in white in 1995, it remains one of the city’s iconic highlights.
Potsdamer PlatzDestroyed during the Second World War then razed to the ground and left desolate during the division of Berlin, when the Berlin Wall bisected its former location, Potsdamer Platz became the largest building site in Europe in 1991. The site of the first traffic lights in Europe, and the continent’s busiest traffic junction in the 1920s, Potsdamer Platz has regained its status as an important public square and a major intersection of the city as a result of an ambitious redevelopment project, which includes in the triumphalist swags of the Sony Centre canopy.
The Holocaust MemorialPeter Eisenmann’s controversial design for the Holocaust Memorial - a structure composed of some 2,700 concrete pillars, with heights varying from zero to four meters - represents a supposedly rational and ordered system that has lost touch with human reason. The spaces narrow and deepen, only ever allowing for individual passage through the grid, as the volume and weight of the stelae seem to bear down and close in on you, creating feelings of groundlessness, instability and disorientation. An underground information center records the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims.
Checkpoint CharlieCheckpoint Charlie was the name given by the Western allies to one of three main crossing-points between East and West Berlin, located on Friedrichstrasse. The name stems from the third letter in the phonetic alphabet (there also existed a Checkpoint Alpha and Checkpoint Bravo). It was here, shortly after the construction of the Wall in 1961, that Soviet and American tanks lined up directly against each, separated by just a few meters. Peace hanging by a thread. A replica of the guardhouse and an outdoor exhibition provide visitors with an understanding of the significance of the location, and an opportunity to read about some of the more unusual escape attempts.
The Brandenburg GateThe Brandenburg Gate, commissioned by King Frederick William II of Prussia as a sign of peace, declares entrance to Unter den Linden, the renowned boulevard of lime trees that lead to the former location of the palace of the Prussian monarchs (currently being rebuilt). This monumental, Neo-classical landmark, inspired by the propylaea of the Acropolis, was appropriated as a party symbol during the Nazi era, and then re-associated with the desire for German reunification following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The Olympic StadiumBuilt for the 1936 Olympic Games, Berlin’s Olympic Stadium was the scene of one of the most memorable sporting events in history; the gold medal performances of African-American athlete Jesse Owens, which were immortalized in the film Olympia (1938) by controversial filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. The Olympic Stadium experienced a face-lift before hosting the final of the Fifa World Cup in 2006, and as the second largest stadium in Germany is home to Bundesliga club Hertha BSC. Visitors can still wander around, and use, some of the facilities built for the ’36 Olympics, including the outdoor swimming and diving pools.
The TV TowerOpened in 1969 by the former German Democratic Republic to symbolize Eastern technical advancement, and still the tallest structure in Germany (368 meters), the TV tower is one the most identifiable features of the Berlin skyline. When the sun shines on the stainless steel dome, the reflection usually appears in the form of a crucifix, characterized by Berliners at the time as the ‘Pope’s Revenge’. Visit the viewing platform or revolving restaurant for spectacular panoramic views of the city.
The East Side GalleryThe East Side Gallery, the largest open-air gallery in the world, is a 1.3km long stretch of the former Berlin Wall transformed by 106 paintings of artists from across the world. Conceived as a memorial for freedom, abstract and political works are a colorful expression for a unique point in history. Among the most famous are Brotherly Kiss by Dimitri Vrubel and Berlin-New York by Gerhard Lahr.
BebelplatzBebelplatz is a public square in the district of Mitte surrounded by the State Opera, St. Hedwig's Cathedral, and the Old Library of the Humboldt University law faculty. Laid out between 1741-3, this grand collection of buildings was largely destroyed during WW2 but restored to its former glory in the 1950s. In 1933, the square was the site of the infamous “burning of the books”, when alleged Nazi sympathizers purged the Humboldt library of literary works they disapproved of, and set fire to them in the center of the square. A poignant monument has been established to commemorate the event.
GendarmenmarktGendarmenmarkt rates as one of the most beautiful squares in the city and is host to Berlin’s most popular Christmas market. Flanked by the Franzosischer Dom and the Deutscher Dom (the French and German cathedrals) is the Schauspielhous, built by Karl Friedrich Schinkel in 1818-21, which today serves as a concert hall.