Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3.7 million inhabitants make it the European Union’s most populous city, according to population within city limits. More than thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Berlin has become one of the most dynamic cities on earth. Its history of battling ideologies makes for some of the most fascinating sightseeing in Europe.
Going to Berlin is like walking a history lane. You can saunter through Prussian palaces, venture into Nazi-era bunkers, tour the world’s longest outdoor art gallery, and lose yourself in Europe’s most famous techno temple. Many of Berlin’s sites have something to do from the World War II from exploring the remnants of the Berlin Wall, the glorious dome atop the Reichstag (Parliament Building) or the peaceful greenery in Tiergarten.
What you need to have is an open mind, pack your stamina, and get ready to dive into all the city has to offer.
How to get to the city from the airport
If you fly into Berlin, the new Brandenburg Airport is located at a 27-km distance from Berlin city center, in the state of Brandenburg.
Here’s your option on getting to the city center from the airport:
By Airport Express Train:
FEX, RE7 and RB14 are the fastest way to reach Berlin city centre from the Flughafen BER station, which is directly below Terminal 1 in level U2. The trains run every 30 minutes between around 4am to 11pm and cost €3.30 each way. The metro tickets in Berlin are valid for a 2 hour period. On weekends there’s a night train at 1:44am.
By Express Bus:
The Airport Shuttle BER1 travels between Steglitz Rathaus and Berlin Airport Terminal 1-2 every hour. It takes about 45 minutes to get to Steglitz Rathaus from the airport and it is a bit pricey at €11.30. Once at Steglitz Rathaus, you will be able to switch to the S-Bahn or walk a few steps to get to the U-Bahn and travel the rest of the way into central Berlin.
By Public Bus X71:
X71 is a new service that travels between the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport (from both Terminal 1-2 and Terminal 5) to Rudow, Johannisthaler Chaussee, and Alt Mariendorf. It runs between 3:59 am and 10:11 pm seven days a week, departing every 20 minutes. From any of those stops, you can then transfer to the U-Bahn to reach the city center.
How to get around
The best way to get around Berlin is via the U-Bahn underground trains or S-Bahn regional, elevated trains, which are both a part of the city’s extensive BVG public transportation system. The city also offers an extensive bus and tram lines. Although service is significantly slower, travelers can take advantage of the Berlin WelcomeCard, which offers unlimited rides on bus routes and rail lines. For a bit of exercise, you can rent a bike and peddle along the city’s bike lanes and through the parks. Metered taxis are also abundant; they can be hailed on the street or scheduled ahead of time.
U-Bahn and S-Bahn
Most traveller use the U-Bahn to get around. This underground rail system runs on 10 colored routes throughout the city and makes more than 173 stops. Note that prices are based on a zone system (A, B and C), but most of Berlin’s attractions are situated in zones A and B, the cheapest price bracket. Schönefeld Airport is in zone C. The U-Bahn runs until 1 or 1:30 a.m. during the week and 24 hours on the weekends.
You can also take the S-Bahn, the commuter rail lines that run both east-to-west and north-to-south lines, as well as a circular line, throughout the city. Fares range from 1.70 to 3.40 euros (around $1.90 to $3.80), and trains run about every five minutes during rush hour and about every 20 minutes on nights and weekends. The S-Bahn runs until 1:30 a.m. during the week and 24 hours on the weekend.
A ticket is required for riding, and it must be validated with a stamp. If you’re caught on the train without a validated ticket, you may be fined 60 euros.
Bus and Tram
An efficient bus system can also take you to most places in the city, though it’s significantly slower than the rail system. A common bus route is Route 100, which departs from the Berlin Zoologischer Garten Station and drives through Tiergarten park and onto Alexanderplatz, allowing riders to see some of Berlin’s most famous landmarks. Buses Nos. 216 and 218 are also popular since they travel outside of the city to the lake getaways of Wannsee Beach and Pfaueninsel (or Peacock Island). Bus lines marked with an “N” indicate routes that run 24 hours a day. Trams only operate in the eastern part of the city and incur the same fares as rail lines.
Taxi or Ridesharing
Metered taxis are available throughout Berlin. You can hail one on the street (an illuminated sign means it’s free) or call one to pick you up (Quality Taxi, Taxi Berlin and Würfelfunk, and many also have apps). If you are only traveling about a mile or less, hail a cab on the street and ask for the Kurzstrecke (short distance tariff), which is just 5 euros. Regularly, base fares are 3.90 euros (or around $4.50), and each of the first 7 kilometers costs 2 euros (about $2.25). After that, every kilometer traveled costs 1.50 euros (around $1.70). All cabs in Berlin are required to accept major credit cards, and leaving a 10 percent tip is fairly standard.
Uber has seen some backlash in Germany (it was banned between 2015 and 2017), but it now operates in Berlin under RocVin Dienste GmbH, a local transportation service. Regardless, you will be able to order cars through the Uber smartphone app and should expect a similar experience to using the service in the U.S.
Over the past year or two, bike-share programs have gained popularity in Berlin. Visitors may choose from seven or eight different companies, most of which embrace a “dockless” concept (meaning riders can leave their bikes at their destination when they are finished, versus returning the bikes to a docking station). Prices vary across the different services, so be sure to research each one ahead of time. Popular companies include Byke, Deezer Nextbike, Donkey Republic, Lime Bike and more.
Top Things To Do in Berlin
Berlin Memorial Wall
The Berlin Wall Memorial runs along both sides of Bernauer Strasse. The outdoor exhibition, which uses the Bernauer Strasse to illustrate the history of the Berlin Wall, is presented on the former border strip, which was situated on the East Berlin side of the border. This area also includes the official monument dedicated to the memory of the divided city and the victims of communist tyranny. This is also where the Window of Remembrance stands. The Chapel of Reconciliation and the excavated foundations of a former apartment building, whose façade formed part of the border wall until the early 1980s, are also in this section.
The Visitor Center and the Documentation Center, which includes the observation tower and a permanent exhibition on the history of Berlin’s division, are located on the opposite side of the street, which had once belonged to West Berlin.
Check Point Charlie
Check point Charlie was one of the place where people crossed from the west to the east which was famous for Diplomatic personnel, American military dan non German visitor. Checkpoint Charlie became popular as it was also the setting for many thrillers and spy novels, from James Bond in Octopussy to The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. Located on the corner of Friedrichstraße and Zimmerstraße, it is a reminder of the former border crossing, the Cold War and the partition of Berlin.
Topography of terror
Since 1987 a permanent exhibition at the site where the headquarters of the Secret State Police, the SS and the Reich Security Main Office were located during the “Third Reich” has been providing information to the public about the most important institutions of National Socialist persecution and terror. The documentary exhibition conveys the European dimensions of the Nazi reign of terror.
From Check Point Charlie, continue walk to Topography of terror to read further on the history of Berlin wall and Germany.
Gendarmenmarkt is pretty and romantic especially as the sun sets. The Gendarmenmarkt square is best known for the building trio that frames it: the German the and French Cathedrals and the Konzerthaus (concert hall). Together, they form one of the most stunning architectural ensembles in Berlin. The eventful history of the Gendarmenmarkt can be traced back all the way to the 17th century. Each historical phase has left its architectural traces.
The Gendarmenmarkt was built at the end of the 17th century based on the plans of Johann Arnold Nering. At that time, French immigrants – mainly Huguenots – had settled in this neighborhood. The marketplace was originally called Esplanade, then Lindenmarkt, Friedrichstädtischer Markt, and Neuer Markt. Finally, in 1799, it was renamed Gendarmenmarkt. The name refers to the “Gens d’arms”, a Prussian regiment consisting of French Huguenot soldiers whose guardhouse and stables were located here from 1736 to 1782.
Brandenburg Gate is Berlin’s most famous landmark and a symbol of Berlin and German division during the Cold War. Prussian emperors, Napoleon and Hitler have marched through this neoclassical royal city gate that was once trapped east of the Berlin Wall. Since 1989 Brandenburg Gate has gone from a symbol of division and oppression to the symbol of a united Germany. The elegantly proportioned landmark is at its most atmospheric – and photogenic – at night, when light bathes its stately columns and proud Goddess of Victory sculpture in a golden glow.
From Brandenburg gate you can walk to Tiergarten, the city’s green lung – just like New York’s Central Park or London’s Hyde Park. Close to the city centre and bordering such major sights as the Brandenburg Gate or Potsdamer Platz, the forested grounds cover a spreading 210 hectares, nearly 519 acres – slightly more than Hyde Park.
Tiergarten Park is very much at the heart of Berlin life – attracting joggers, skaters, cyclists and walkers, as well as those who just want to relax in the sun. The park’s spreading green lawns are popular for family picnics, ball games or simply unwinding and taking it easy.
Reduced to rubble after one of history’s most infamous fires in the 1930s, and then rebuilt decades later, the stately Reichstag is arguably Germany’s most iconic landmark. The building has been home of Germany’s parliament (the Bundestag) since 1999 and now serves as a symbol of the country’s reunification. Today, a glistening glass dome designed by architect Norman Foster sits atop the grand old structure, and anyone with an advanced booking can ascend its 755-foot-long ramp for sweeping views over the city. The Reichstag dome is one of the most enriching free experiences for first-time visitors to the city, where a troubled past exists side by side with a trendsetting future. Few places employ this juxtaposition quite as well as this monument to freedom and openness, which was literally built atop the site that saw Nazis rise to power.
From Tiergarten, walk past Reischtag and to the Holocaust memorial; The Memorial To The Murdered Jews Of Europe. The impressive iron monument was build by the architect Peter Eisenman and was presented on May 2005. The Memorial To The Murdered Jews Of Europe includes an information center located underground as well as an exhibition on the eastern side of the memorial.
Part of the exhibition is a data center that holds the names of all the Jews that were killed during the Holocaust. The underground museum aims to explain the process of persecution of the Jewish population in Germany before and during the war. As part of that, it showcases the sites where some of the most terrible human crimes took place. The memorial itself is made of steel, which is empty of any inscriptions.
The Berlin Cathedral, also known as, the Evangelical Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church, is a monumental German Evangelical church and dynastic tomb on the Museum Island in central Berlin. Having its origins as a castle chapel for the Berlin Palace, several structures have served to house the church since the 1400s.
The area near Berliner Dome had some nice cafes for sitting down and have some coffee and eat crepes.
The East Side Gallery
The East Side Gallery can be found on the most significant remaining part of the Berlin Wall. It is over a kilometer long and can be found spread out along the Spree Riverâ banks. In fact, it is the world longest open air gallery. Shortly after the Berlin Wall came down 118 artists traveled from 21 countries to participate in creating the East SideGallery by each adding their own unique painting. Through their paintings, the artists were able to express their opinions about political events that happened between the beginning of 1989 and the end of 1990. More than 100 works of art can be found at the East Side Gallery.
This most photographed picture is located exactly in the middle of the East Side Gallery and expect to queue to take turns for picture.
Berlin is a big city full of history and to really appreciate it you will need to spend at least two days. If you are travelling with your kids it will be a great education also for them to learn about World War II History.