Berlin Introduction Walking Tour, Berlin

Berlin Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Berlin

Known for its turbulent past, today's German capital is a global city for international affairs, creative industries, popular media and diverse cultural tourism. The first written records of settlements in the area of present-day Berlin date from the late 12th century, when the region came under German rule as part of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, founded by Albert the Bear in 1157. Berlin itself, as a town, was mentioned for the first time in 1251.

The origin of its name is uncertain. Folk etymology, however, connects it to the German word for bear, Bär, which also appears in the coat of arms of the city bequeathed by Albert the Bear.

In 1701, the first King of Prussia, Frederick, made the city his capital. As Prussia grew, so did Berlin, encouraged, in large part, by the Prussian kings' determination to build a great military power. Under Bismarck, Chancellor of the united German Empire (from 1867-1871), Berlin became the center of European politics. In the early 1900s, the Imperial government succeeded in making the city "a marvel of civic administration", the most modern and perfectly organized.

After WWI, when Germany turned into the Weimar Republic (1919–33), Berlin remained its capital. The postwar hardships, further exacerbated by the Great Depression of the 1930s, severely damaged the city's economy and fomented the rise of Nazism. During the infamous Third Reich (1933–45), Adolf Hitler and his architect Albert Speer made plans for the new Berlin to become a world capital comparable with Ancient Egypt, Babylon or Rome.

During WWII, the concerted efforts of Allied forces destroyed much of the city. After the war and its subsequent occupation by the victorious Allies, the city was split in two, with its Western part becoming a West German exclave, surrounded by the Berlin Wall (1961–89), and its East part becoming capital of East Germany (GDR).

Divided during the Cold War, the only surviving city gate – the 18th-century Brandenburg Gate – was seen as a symbol of reunification, along with the stately Reichstag Building, arguably the most iconic German landmark. Following the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the ensued reunification of Germany in 1990, Berlin once again emerged as the capital of a unified country.

While Paris Square is without a shadow of a doubt the most popular local destination, Gendarmes' Market Square is where visitors flock to admire historic buildings, like the German Cathedral. Also found in the city’s old center is the famous Unter den Linden boulevard, renowned for its elegance and many heritage landmarks there and nearby. Reminders of the not-so-distant history of Germany include the Holocaust Memorial and the TV Tower constructed in the 1960s as an emblem of GDR's capital.

To find your way around this plethora of landmarks and not get lost, follow our self-guided introductory walk and enjoy the best of times in Berlin!
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Berlin Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Berlin Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Germany » Berlin (See other walking tours in Berlin)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.0 Km or 2.5 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Reichstag Building (Parliament Building)
  • Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)
  • Pariser Platz (Paris Square)
  • Holocaust Memorial
  • Unter den Linden (Under the Lime Trees Boulevard)
  • Bebelplatz (Bebel Square)
  • Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum)
  • Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral)
  • Marienkirche (St. Mary's Church)
  • Fernsehturm (TV Tower)
1
Reichstag Building (Parliament Building)

1) Reichstag Building (Parliament 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 1916 the iconic words "To the German People" were carved above the main façade of the building. After the German emperor Wilhelm II was deposed after the WWI, the German Republic was proclaimed in this building. In 1933, the building was severely damaged by fire, allegedly set by Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe. Hitler promptly used the incident to grab power.

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 Federal House 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 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 tight security, waiting queues can be long, especially in summer.
To avoid standing in line, reserve a table in the Käfer Roofgarden at the very top (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
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)

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
5
Unter den Linden (Under the Lime Trees Boulevard)

5) Unter den Linden (Under the Lime Trees Boulevard)

Under the Lime Trees is an iconic boulevard at the heart of Berlin's historic Mitte district, named for its 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 lime trees in 1647. By the 19th century, as the city expanded to the west, Under the Lime Trees Boulevard 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, 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 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 Alexander Plaza. 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)

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
Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum)

7) Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum) (must see)

German Historical Museum gives visitors an insight into the many events and upheavals in the history of Germany. It takes them on a journey through the country's history over the last 2000 years.

The German Historical Museum is housed in two buildings. The older building was the Prussian arsenal constructed between 1695 and 1730. It is one of the oldest surviving structures in Berlin. Many of the permanent exhibits of the museum are displayed here and the building also houses a theater where historic and modern German and international films are screened. The modern annex was designed by the Chinese American architect, I.M. Pei. It houses temporary exhibitions with a historical theme.

Notable exhibits at the German Historical Museum are a large globe that was once a part of the Nazi foreign office with bullet holes where Germany is located. There is also a sculpture by artist Andreas Schluter in baroque style depicted dying soldiers and making a statement against war in the courtyard. The modern wing hosts many unique temporary exhibitions including one called 'Hitler and the Germans' that portrayed the methods of propaganda used by the Nazis to gain power. The museum has leaflets and signs in English and other languages to help visitors understand the significance of each historical object on display.

Why You Should Visit:
Clearly worth a detour and several hours for those interested in detailed German and European history.
Very well organized & displayed, not overly centered on one particular time frame and fascinating in its collection of old portraiture.
All explanations of the exhibits are in German and English and meticulously laid out.

Tip:
Take a full day just for this museum, especially if you want to see the temporary exhibitions too!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
8
Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral)

8) Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) (must see)

As such, Berlin Cathedral has never been a “cathedral” in the actual sense of the term, simply because Berlin itself has never been the seat of a Catholic bishop. Initially, this site was occupied by a Calvinist Supreme Parish Church built by Johann Boumann the Elder in 1747-1750. In 1893 that building was dismantled to make place for the current Supreme Parish and Cathedral Church. Commissioned to the project were father and son, Julius and Otto Raschdorff, who produced an exuberant Neo-Renaissance style edifice.

With no separation between Protestant church and the state of Prussia, King William II covered the entire construction cost of 11.5 million Marks. At 114 meters long, 73 meters wide and 116 meters tall, this was much larger than any other building previously raised in Berlin, and was considered a Protestant counterweight to St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. On February 27, 1905, the cathedral was inaugurated.

Why You Should Visit:
The view from the dome is great and worth the steps – little bit narrow at times, but there are banisters to hold on to.
Inside the Cathedral is awe-inspiring with a magnificent organ, spectacular acoustics, precious works of art and sublime atmosphere.

Tip:
For a few €s, the audio guide offers plenty of interesting information (alternately, get a printed guide for just a few cents).
Follow signs to walk around all the cathedral's halls and be sure to climb to the roof terrace and go down into the crypt.
In the winter, come around 3pm to get the best of both daylight and dusk; the night illumination is absolutely beautiful.
In the summer, there is a large open lawn with a fountain across the street that would be great for a picnic.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 9am-8pm; Sun: 12-8pm
9
Marienkirche (St. Mary's Church)

9) Marienkirche (St. Mary's Church)

Converted to a Lutheran Protestant church from its Roman Catholic denomination, Marienkirche together with Nikolaikirche are said to be the oldest churches in Berlin, dating back to the late 13 century. The unpretentious combination of architectural styles somehow makes it one of Berlin's most appealing churches, its simplicity a reminder of the city's village origins. If you like photography, there is a good spot with a fountain layout (not the Neptune Fountain) in the square right behind the Fernsehturm (TV tower) where you can get a perfect reflection of the church on water. Also on the roadside of the Church, take a look at the striking statue of Martin Luther, his right hand touching one of the pages of the Bible as if saying his now-famous phrase, "by faith alone".

The interior – an excellent place to escape the buzz – is rather austere Gothic with a few remarkably Baroque embellishments, in particular the pulpit, crowded with elaborately-carved cherubs blowing trumpets, and the baptismal with its legs formed from three black dragons. In terms of carving and gilding, the restored organ with old gilded filigree tops it all off, and the rousing recitals (by donation, on Thursdays and Fridays) are a real treat, with people frequently being invited to view the 18th-century instrument close up.

Just inside the entrance, the 22m-tall frieze, "The Dance of Death" commemorating the plague epidemics of the Dark Ages is currently being restored and not available for public viewing. On completion of its restoration, the church will be an unmissable stop for any traveler to Berlin.
10
Fernsehturm (TV Tower)

10) Fernsehturm (TV Tower) (must see)

A product of the same architectural school responsible for the Weltzeituhr ("World Clock') in front of the Alexanderhaus, the Fernsehturm was constructed in the 1960s as a symbol of Berlin, which it remains today. With its height of 368 meters, it is visible throughout much of the city and even some suburban districts.

If you feel the need to climb the highest point of a city for those stunning photos to make everyone jealous back home, then this is a must-visit as the view is unique and extends up to 42 km in case of clear weather. For anyone with a slight fear of heights, there's no need to worry – the lift takes a quick 40 seconds, though there also are 985 steps which can be climbed; this is, after all, the 4th highest structure in Europe, after Moscow's Ostankino Tower and the Kiev and Riga TV towers.

Inside, enjoy the authentic Sputnik-era decor and interior finishes, walk around the sphere to take in the great views or climb a flight of steps to the restaurant. On the subject of food choice – especially for vegetarians – the menu is quite limited so best to check their website before booking. The meal is quite lovely, otherwise: starter, main course and dessert, plus one glass of sparkling wine and two glasses of red or white wine, with unlimited water. Moreover, the restaurant slowly revolves to ensure you get a full view of Berlin, which makes it perfect for photography.

Tip:
Booking the VIP Dinner a few days in advance is essential. Be sure to also follow the advice given upon booking and arrive early – it's a very German operation!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-midnight (Mar-Oct); 10am-midnight (Nov-Feb)
Last ascent: 11:30pm; Kitchen closes at 10:30pm; Bar closes at 11:30pm

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