Berlin Introduction Walk (Self Guided), Berlin

Germany’s capital Berlin has been around as a city since the 13th century: first known as the capital of the Margraviate of Brandenburg (1417–1701), then the Kingdom of Prussia (1701–1918), the German Empire (1871–1918), the Weimar Republic (1919–1933), and the Third Reich (1933–1945). After World War II and its subsequent occupation by the victorious allied forces, the city was split in two with its Western part becoming a de facto West German exclave, surrounded by the Berlin Wall (1961–1989), and its East part becoming capital of East Germany. Following German reunification in 1990, Berlin once again emerged as the capital of a unified country.

Berlin has been the third most populous city in Europe, after London and Moscow. The name “Berlin” stems from the German word Bär (bear) which, in turn, explains presence of a bear in the coat of arms of the city.

The 20th century proved quite turbulent for Germany and Berlin in particular. Reminders of the not so distant history include the Holocaust memorial and the Berlin Wall's graffitied remains. Divided during the Cold War, its 18th-century Brandenburg Gate is now seen as a symbol of reunification.

Today's Berlin is a world city of culture, politics, media, science and education. Since the reunification, it has been enjoying a growing influx of tourists, year on year. This orientation walk takes you to explore some of Berlin's top attractions and iconic landmarks, such as Unter den Linden, Pariser Platz, Reichstag and many others.
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Berlin Introduction Walk Map

Guide Name: Berlin Introduction Walk
Guide Location: Germany » Berlin (See other walking tours in Berlin)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.8 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Reichstag Building
  • Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)
  • Pariser Platz (Paris Square)
  • Holocaust Memorial
  • Unter den Linden ("Under the Linden Trees") Boulevard
  • Bebelplatz (Bebel Square)
  • St. Hedwig's Cathedral
  • Gendarmenmarkt
  • Deutscher Dom (German Cathedral)
  • Friedrichstrasse (Frederick Street)
  • Checkpoint Charlie
1
Reichstag Building

1) Reichstag Building (must see)

The historic Reichstag building is the seat of the German parliament (Bundestag) in Berlin, and has been in place since 1894. In 1933, the building was severely damaged by fire, allegedly set by Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe, and after World War II fell into disuse as the parliament of the newly-emerged German Democratic Republic met in the Palace of the Republic in East Berlin, while the parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany met in the Bundeshaus in Bonn. To mark the reunification of Germany in 1990, the Reichstag hosted a ceremony, on October 3, attended by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, President Richard von Weizsäcker, former Chancellor Willy Brandt and many other dignitaries. A day later, in an act of symbolism, the legislature of unified Germany assembled here for the first time.

One of the Reichstag's most distinctive features is the large glass dome, topping the building. Walking around this glass "egg" and ramping it up and down is an extraordinary experience. Apart from the breathtaking 360-degree panorama of the surrounding Berlin-scape, it also provides view of the working parliament down below. Another cool thing is that you can book a restaurant at the top of the Reichstag for lunch, which is a fabulous way to end your visit here with a nice, multi-course with wine. Well worth doing and highly recommended, if you can swing it!

Why You Should Visit:
Free attraction providing some pretty unique views across Berlin.
The lift takes you up to the top floor where you can pick up audio guides and freely wander around the dome and take photos.

Tip:
Don't forget to book in advance at the information desk or via the website, and have a valid ID (passport) for entry. The place is free to enter, but because of the tight security, waiting queues can be long, especially in summer.
If you make a reservation in the Käfer Roofgarden at the very top, you don't have to stand in line (note: the Käfer is in the pricey category).
Also, don't forget to wrap up, as all the glass "windows" are actually open and it may get pretty chilly up there.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am-12am
Sight description based on wikipedia
2
Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)

2) Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) (must see)

The only remaining city gate of a series that once surrounded Berlin back in the 18th century, the Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) is one of the best-known landmarks of the German capital. It is found just one block south of the Reichstag and serves as a monumental entry to Unter den Linden, the renowned boulevard of linden trees that formerly led straight to the city palace of the Prussian monarchs.

The Gate survived World War II and was one of the few structures standing amid the ruins of Pariser Platz in 1945. Before the Berlin Wall was raised on August 13, 1961, cutting off access from West Berlin, vehicles and pedestrians could travel freely beneath the gate. During the Cold War era, up until 1989 when the Wall fell, the gate stood in no-man's land between East and West Germany as a defining symbol of Berlin – both, its division and unification.

If you come to the gate during the day, it'll most probably be extremely busy and you'll have to struggle to get the prominence of it amid an array of street vendors, beggars and tourists. Night is the best time to see it, probably, and to take some good shots, as it is beautifully lit up, glowing majestically, and not so crowded. Otherwise, you can simply stand at the base of the gate and then walk away, turning around and looking back for a long gaze... pausing for a thought about the gate's history.

Why You Should Visit:
Besides the photo-op, its historical significance alone should be enough a reason to visit.

Tip:
Go and see it after dusk as it looks particularly stunning when lit up.
Sight description based on wikipedia
3
Pariser Platz (Paris Square)

3) Pariser Platz (Paris Square) (must see)

What once was the edge of Berlin is now the hive of activity. This grand square at the heart of the city is named after the French capital in commemoration of the victory over Napoleon and the ensued occupation of France by allied forces, including Prussian army, in 1814.

Laid between 1732 and 1735, Pariser Platz (Paris Square) was initially referred to simply as "the square", and was flanked with many notable edifices around the perimeter, including French and American Embassies, the Academy of Arts, and Aldon Hotel (once Berlin's finest), not to mention the magnificent Brandenburg Gate. Heavy artillery fire and bombing raids during WWII, left only the Brandenburg Gate standing. In a divided Germany, the square manifested a no-man's land between East and West, and is now being restored to its former glory by the municipal authorities of unified Berlin.

Pariser Platz is a popular meeting place and, without a doubt, the most important destination for the hordes of tourists who pack the square day and night. Many a walking tour start here and it is also spot where visitors can rent bikes or get on a horse cart to ride around the city. Surprisingly for such a tourist magnet, Pariser Platz does not offer much in terms of pubs, bars or restaurants – there's only a handful around. Still, if you're here for the love of the architecture, history and vibrancy, Pariser Platz won't disappoint, for sure.

Why You Should Visit:
The best point to get a good photo of the Brandenburg Gate and also the beginning of Unter den Linden Boulevard.

Tip:
Do yourself a favor: come early in the morning or late at night to have this beautiful square to yourself. Special architecture and pretty illumination. Take your private, undisturbed walk through the Brandenburg Gate at 11pm and enjoy.
In the morning, sneak into DZ Bank and get a glimpse at the fascinating architecture. Or visit the exhibitions in the Max-Liebermann-Haus right next to the gate, where paintings of the 1920s are displayed.
Sight description based on wikipedia
4
Holocaust Memorial

4) Holocaust Memorial (must see)

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial, commemorating the Jews and other victims of the Holocaust, was opened to the public on May 12, 2005. It was designed by architect Peter Eisenman and consists of 2,711 concrete slabs (stelae), one for each page of the Talmud arranged in a grid pattern that resembles a graveyard that you can walk through in any direction. Due to the undulations of the site, at times you can see over the blocks and at times you can't, and it is unclear whether the differing heights of the stones are important or just accidental.

The stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole complex aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason. It is quite simple and convincing, much as it is impressive and, as you wander the paths between the blocks, the power of the memorial hits you. An attached underground "Place of Information" holds the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims, obtained from the Israeli museum Yad Vashem.

The memorial leaves you thinking of those who died and stirs the emotions. A place for thought and contemplation, but also to remind of the tremendous suffering, the lives lost, and the families destroyed by hatred and power. It does a perfect job reinforcing why those atrocities should never be allowed to happen again. This is NOT a photo opportunity but an urge to never forget. Definitely worth seeing. Impressive yet so sad.

Tip:
Designed for everyone to interpret the work of art for themselves. Visit with an open mind, with respect for all those that have gone, and make of it what you will.
After walking outside around the monuments, make your way downstairs to the free exhibit (€3 for an audio guide). It takes about 45 minutes to walk through, starting with the history of the Holocaust, then displaying some snippets of letters and journal entries by those taken to concentration camps.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am-8pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
5
Unter den Linden ("Under the Linden Trees") Boulevard

5) Unter den Linden ("Under the Linden Trees") Boulevard (must see)

Unter den Linden ("under the linden trees") is an iconic boulevard at the heart of Berlin's historic Mitte district, named for its linden (“lime”) trees lining the grassed pedestrian mall between two carriageways. This section of the city developed from a bridle path laid out in the 16th century by Elector John George of Brandenburg to reach his hunting grounds in the Tiergarten, and was replaced by a boulevard of linden trees in 1647. By the 19th century, as the city expanded to the west, Unter den Linden had become the grandest street in Berlin.

It runs east-west starting at the Brandenburg Gate and ending at Museum Island with many historic landmarks here or nearby, like the Berlin Opera House, the Russian embassy, Alexander Plaza (Alexanderplatz), museums, and statues (including the equestrian statue of Frederick the Great), and more. It is also home to many impressive car shops, such as Mercedes-Benz and Bentley, and souvenir outlets.

Strolling this broad avenue is a fine pastime, if you're tired of giving full attention to all of the wonderful museums and gorgeous city sights, and will give you a good feel of German history.

Why You Should Visit:
At one end you have the Brandenburg Gate and Pariser Platz, and at the other end – Berlin Cathedral and Alexanderplatz. What's in between is a feast for the eyes.

Tip:
Get your walking shoes on and immerse yourself.
If you visit in early October, catch the Festival of Lights.
Sight description based on wikipedia
6
Bebelplatz (Bebel Square)

6) Bebelplatz (Bebel Square) (must see)

Bebelplatz is a public square on the southern side of the Unter den Linden Boulevard, and is named after August Bebel, founder of the Social Democratic Party of Germany in the 19th century. Initially, when laid out in 1741-1743, it was called Platz am Opernhaus. Today, this beautiful simple square is surrounded by impressive buildings: the Humboldt University and library, St. Hedwig's Cathedral, and the State Opera house.

Bebelplatz is infamously known as the site of the largest attempt to erase history and knowledge in the 20th century. In the evening of May 10, 1933 members of the SA, SS, Nazi students and Hitler Youth gathered here on the instigation of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels to burn books from the university library that they deemed unsuitable. Whipped up into a frenzy, the Nazis burned nearly 20,000 books that night, including works by Thomas Mann, Erich Maria Remarque, Heinrich Heine, Karl Marx and many other authors.

Remarkably, in 1823, Heinrich Heine prophetically wrote: "Where books are burned, in the end, people will also be burned." A little more than a century later, his quote eerily predicted the mass murder of the Jews in the Holocaust that soon followed.

Today, the site of the Nazi book-burning in the center of the square is marked with a memorial: a hardly-visible small glass square window set in the cobbles through which one can see a below-ground room lined with empty bookcases. The implementation is interesting and affects perception. A beautiful memorial to the start of the things so terrible!

Why You Should Visit:
Must-see if you are interested in German History!
Beautiful historical buildings in the square, such as the Opera House, St. Hedwig's Cathedral, and Humboldt University.

Tip:
Good to visit at night (or late in the afternoon), since the shining light will help you see the memorial on the ground.
Don't forget to check out the Gendarmenmarkt behind, which is equally, if not even more, impressive!
Sight description based on wikipedia
7
St. Hedwig's Cathedral

7) St. Hedwig's Cathedral (must see)

St. Hedwig's Cathedral is a Roman Catholic temple and the seat of the Archbishop of Berlin, located in Bebelplatz. For almost 50 years, this area was part of East Berlin. Large and impressive, the circular cathedral was modeled on Rome's Pantheon, and opened its doors in 1773, being the first Roman Catholic temple in Prussia built after the Protestant Reformation.

By permission of King Frederick II, it served as a place of worship for the numerous Catholic migrants to Berlin, mainly those from Upper Silesia; hence its dedication to the patron of Silesia and Brandenburg, Saint Hedwig of Andechs. During World War II the building was severely damaged, particularly the copper dome, and was carefully restored and re-inaugurated in 1963.

The facade is traditional neoclassical design, while the inner space is all peacefulness and minimalism. It has ample room for seating (hard wooden seats), and features a beautiful oculus, imposing pipe organ, and the altar in the center. The stain glass windows contain geometrical patterns with limited decoration. A walk to the dome is 270+ steps, and is well worth the view.

A combination of nice organ music and a welcoming attitude from local parishioners towards foreign visitors make it a very pleasant place to be and get refreshed for the rest of the day of sightseeing. Highly recommended!

Why You Should Visit:
With a huge dome and oculus, this is an unusually structured Catholic cathedral.
The chapels contain some photogenic sculptures and the abstract geometric stained glass is rather nice.

Tip:
If you visit at 3pm on Wednesday, there is a 30-min organ concert. The sound is majestic and rich, and fills the space with surprisingly little echo.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Wed: 8am-2pm; Thu: 11:30am-5:30pm. The admission is free, but you can always leave a donation.
Sight description based on wikipedia
8
Gendarmenmarkt

8) Gendarmenmarkt

The Gendarmenmarkt is a square in one of the most beautiful parts of Berlin. It houses the spectacular ensemble of three classical buildings: the so-called Fransözicher Dom (French Cathedral, named after the community of French Protestants who settled in Berlin after having fled the religious repression in the late 17th century); the Deutsche Dom (German Cathedral, almost perfectly symmetrical to the first one); and, in between, the Konzerthaus Berlin (Berlin concert hall).

Fabulously picturesque, the area looks much like part of the Imperial Capital and may even give Vienna a run for its money. In the center of the square there is a lovely fountain with a monumental statue of Germany's renowned poet Friedrich Schiller with the musicians often playing around. The Konzerthaus is the most recent addition to the place. During World War II, most of the buildings here were badly damaged or destroyed, but now have been restored with a lot of original pieces.

Why You Should Visit:
There is quite a bit to take in, so wander around at your leisure. Luckily, there is no hard sell of tickets and any tourist stuff. While there are shops, bars and restaurants, they are discrete and upmarket, rather than tacky. A lovely place to sit and watch people for a while. Might be worth visiting at night when it's all lit up.

Tip:
There is also a Lowenbrau bar, offering this great beer seemingly unavailable anywhere else these days.
Sight description based on wikipedia
9
Deutscher Dom (German Cathedral)

9) Deutscher Dom (German Cathedral) (must see)

Deutscher Dom (German Cathedral) is a colloquial name for the Neue Kirche (New Church) on Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin, situated right across from Französischer Dom (French Cathedral). First built in 1701-1708 by Giovanni Simonetti, the cathedral was modified in 1780-1785 by Georg Christian Unger who added the eastern domed tower complete with the statues depicting characters from the Old and New Covenant, created by Christian Bernhard Rode. One of the statues, symbolizing the victorious virtue, is topping the dome.

The church was terribly damaged during WWII, in the bombing raid of 1943, and was subsequently rebuilt, from 1977 to 1988. Eventually, it was deconsecrated and reopened in 1996 as the Bundestag's museum of German parliamentary history. Very well organized and detailed, the exhibit, known as the Bundestag's Exhibition, spans five floors and covers the 1800s, World War I, Weimar Republic, Nazi era, Cold War era, and the current times. There is a replica of the Bundestag on one of the floors.

Another, perhaps even more interesting thing about it is a walk up the tower. Although you are not allowed all the way to the top, the stairs lead you to the landings where you can take some really cool shots of the cylindrical red brick tower topped by the dome. The stairwell is on the right of the cash register in the gift shop, with the stairs running around the outside of the tower, so the middle is open. This is an admission-free attraction.

If you are visiting Berlin and heading to Gendarmenmarkt, this beautiful church is well worth a visit.

Why You Should Visit:
To go on a great whistle-stop tour of the history of Germany that really puts both its successes and failures into perspective.
The descriptions are in German, but the free audio guide (English/French/German) is very clear; there are also tour guides, if needed.
The building itself is interesting too.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am-6pm; Free admission
Sight description based on wikipedia
10
Friedrichstrasse (Frederick Street)

10) Friedrichstrasse (Frederick Street)

Friedrichstrasse (Frederick Street) is a 3.3-kilometer thoroughfare, the core of the Friedrichstadt neighborhood. Named after Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg, this vibrant boulevard has been the hive of activity since before WW2, replete with expensive restaurants and hotels, high-end stores and renowned theaters, such as Berliner Ensemble, Admiralspalast and Friedrichstadt-Palast. After the war, for decades, Friedrichstrasse epitomized the division of the German capital, firmly entrenched in East Berlin.

One of its main attractions is the landmark border crossing to the former American sector, commonly known as Checkpoint Charlie, a stark reminder of the city once ruled by the victors in WW2. Today, a replica of the original Checkpoint Charlie booth is just a tourist sight surrounded with posters and information points detailing the aftermath of the war and the subsequent division. Nearby, is a small museum and exhibition dedicated to Berlin wall. Past Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstrasse slowly turns into a business area.

Ironically, the West Berlin part of Friedrichstrasse is a quiet, slightly crumbly neighborhood, whereas the former Communist section is now one of the city's most glamorous areas – a fashion mile reuniting many famous brands – packed with innumerable shopping centers and boutiques, both high-end and moderately priced. Among these are the Friedrichstadtpassagen arcade selling international designer clothing and home decor, as well as the French department store Galeries Lafayette. Also, there is Dussmann Kulturkaufhaus, an enormous “culture store” carrying a choice of international literature, music and more.

As well, there are some really good pubs, bars and restaurants to be found on Friedrichstrasse and the nearby streets, serving Mediterranean, Asian, Italian, German and other cuisines. Eateries like Bocca di Bacco or Grill Royal, near the Spree River bank, are Berliners' favored meeting spots to have a bite.

Why You Should Visit:
One of the most frequented shopping areas of Berlin, home to many international, luxury and high-street brands, as well as flagship stores of fashion, design, cosmetics, jewelry, books, and upscale home decor. Friedrichstrasse is hard to avoid if you're exploring downtown Berlin, and is most definitely well worth checking out, be it for the history attached to it or, if you're not a history fan, for the modern architecture and vibrant atmosphere.

Tip:
Shops at Friedrichstrasse follow the rules for retail trading hours in Germany, and accordingly are usually open from 10:00am to 8:00pm, though some may open or close at an earlier time.
Sight description based on wikipedia
11
Checkpoint Charlie

11) Checkpoint Charlie (must see)

Immortalized by American movies and spy novels, Checkpoint Charlie is one of the most famous and historically significant spots in Berlin. A symbol of the Cold War, originally it was one of the three designated crossing points – A (Alpha), B (Bravo), and C (Charlie) – for foreigners and members of the Allied forces, established after the construction of the Berlin Wall. Here the documents of visitors and diplomats were checked by East Germans prior to issuing visas.

Checkpoint Charlie became a sole crossing point in 1962. A year earlier, it made history as the venue of a famous stand-off between US and Soviet tanks facing each other across the border, when an American diplomat was refused a visa. The stand-off nearly led to a war but fortunately ended peacefully.

Today, a replica of the original Checkpoint Charlie booth with a “You are now leaving the American Sector” sign serves largely as a photo opportunity in the middle of the street that once marked the border between East and West Berlin. Nearby is a museum dedicated to freedom, featuring, among other exhibits, a piece of the Berlin Wall and historical information relating to the many escape attempts made over the Wall throughout decades. There are also a number of panels and photos that give a useful summary and timeline. Not far away is the Topography of Terror exhibition which also deserves attention.

Lately, to prevent the site from being over-commercialized, the German authorities have banned actors dressed in military uniforms to earn money from tourists. Undoubtedly an interesting location, albeit the guard house and other elements are only replicas, Checkpoint Charlie is about an appreciation of how things once were in this great city.

Why You Should Visit:
Bit of a tourist trap, but a good part of the city's history. The surrounding area is also steeped in history and you can walk around the streets to see the Berlin Wall and try the great local cafes.

Tip:
Get here early to avoid crowds, as taking a photo can be quite tricky due to the hustle and bustle of traffic, etc.
Sight description based on wikipedia

Walking Tours in Berlin, Germany

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Nightlife

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Tiergarten Walking Tour

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Travel Distance: 3.4 Km or 2.1 Miles
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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.4 Km or 0.9 Miles
Museum Island Walking Tour

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.2 Km or 0.7 Miles
Alexanderplatz Walk

Alexanderplatz Walk

One of Berlin's cosmopolitan hearts, Alexanderplatz is a true hive of activity. There is always something going on here: Christmas markets, Easter fairs, buskers, performances, Oktoberfest, and the list is countless. Easily accessible, with lots of transport connections and all manner of drink and food outlets, it's a great place to hang around, take photos, and enjoy some of the popular...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.4 Km or 0.9 Miles
Third Reich Walking Tour

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles

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