Granted, the Alexanderplatz is not the most beautiful public square Berlin has to offer. While many of the structures surrounding the square have been renovated, the “Alex” has more or less retained the atmosphere it exulted after it became something of the central square of the East German socialist republic. Ironically, it became the venue of the largest demonstration against that regime, shortly before the Wall finally came down. Alexanderplatz is lined with numerous bars, restaurants and department stores and it is also one of the most important hubs of the Berlin train and subway network. In the middle of the square, a majestic fountain called “Brunnen der Völkerfreundschaft”, built in 1970, serves as a surviving example of Socialist architecture.
There is probably no other image which has become so associated with the gripping story of the German reunification as that of the Brandenburg Gate. However, it is today little known that it had already been the site of historic scenes before that when Napoleon crossed into town through the Gate after a decisive battle against Prussia in 1806. By then, the building, originally a customs gate, had been converted to a triumphal arch structure on orders by the King of Prussia. The Brandenburg Gate has twelve columns and is topped by the Quadriga, the sculpture of a chariot drawn by four horses and driven by Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory. Napoleon actually took the statue with him to Paris, but it was re-conquered and brought back to Berlin in 1814. The Gate was severely damaged in the Second World War and after the Wall was built, it was off limits to people on both sides of it. Since the reunification of Germany, the Brandenburg Gate is widely regarded to symbolize freedom. The surrounding area on both sides have been turned into large pedestrian zones that are often used for big events.
Located in the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf district of Berlin, this baroque palace was completed in 1713 after 18 years of construction and was expanded in the 18th century. It got its name from Sophie Charlotte, wife of Friedrich III, who had commissioned the palace, but had die before it was completed. The palace gained great notoriety because of the Amber Room, a room entirely designed in amber which was installed permanently in Charlottenburg Palace, then given to Peter the Great in 1716 to solidify the alliance between Russia and Prussia. In the final days of World War II, with German troops looting Königsberg, to where the tsar had moved the Amber Room, it disappeared and has not been recovered since. At the same time, the Palace back in Berlin was greatly damaged in the war and there were plans to demolish it altogether. Thanks in part to private initiatives, it was saved and could thus serve as seat of the German President while the original seat at Bellevue Palace was being renovated from 2004 to 2006. Today, Charlottenburg Palace is a popular tourist attraction. Several parts of the palace can be visited, with separate fees charged per sector chosen. Many visitors instead opt to take in the splendid palace grounds with the baroque garden, which can be visited free of charge.
Spandauer Damm, closed on Mondays, opening hours 10 am-5 pm
Not located at the Alexanderplatz square, but often closely associated with it is the Fernsehturm (TV Tower), another iconic landmark of the city. The Fernsehturm was opened in 1969. It stands 368 meters tall and thus qualifies as Germany’s tallest structure and fourth tallest in Europe. It is worth noting that the tower’s design with the silver ball is an intended nod to the Soviet satellite “Sputnik”, which was launched in 1957. There is an observation platform at a height of 203 meters and a slowly revolving restaurant at 207 meters. Three elevators, recently renovated, inside of the structure will bring visitors up there in some 40 seconds - or you may opt to take the 986 steps of the staircase. At the foot of the tower, there are three pavilions hosting the visitor center, another restaurant and an exhibition hall. The view from the observation platform is popular with visitors - more than 1.2 million come per year - and can, if weather allows, reach as far as some 70 kilometers.
There are quite a number of people who will volunteer that the Gendarmenmarkt, located in the historic center of the city, is the most beautiful square in Berlin. The reason for this opinion lies in the beautiful structures around the square which in itself was planned and constructed at the end of the 17th century. At the time, Berlin had a large number of French Huguenot immigrants and thus, King Frederick I. designated one half of the square to the Lutheran and the other to the French Reformist church. The square played witness to many notable events in German history. Notably, the last act of state of the German Democratic Republic took place here on the eve of the reunification in 1990.
The Deutscher Dom (“German Cathedral”, official name: Neue Kirche) occupies the southern end of the Gendarmenmarkt. It received its tower only in 1785, almost 80 years after the actual church building was erected. This original structure was replaced by a new one in 1882 and the church visible in this space today is a reconstruction of that second version which was built in the 20th century after a fire had destroyed the structure in 1943. The Deutscher Dom now hosts a well-visited exhibition on the development of democracy in Germany. Across the square, the Französischer Dom (“French Cathedral”) marks the other end of Gendarmenmarkt. Like its counterpart, the church went without a tower until 1785. Today, this tower annex hosts the Huguenot Museum, while the actual church building - which also was reconstructed in the 20th century after suffering heavy damage in World War II - is used for church purposes. The cathedral is widely known for its carillon consisting of 60 bronze bells. In between the two church buildings, the Konzerthaus (concert hall, also known as “Schauspielhaus”) is the third major element of Gendarmenmarkt. Built originally as a theatre in 1821, the highly acclaimed building was almost completely destroyed in World War II and finally reconstructed from 1979 to 1984. It is notable that during these reconstruction works, the original architect’s blueprints for the outer facades were closely observed. Today, the building hosts hundreds of musical events per year, having established itself as one of the premier music stages in all of Germany.
The historic Reichstag building, located in the renewed center of Berlin and within short walking distance to various other sights, today has once again become the focal point of German democracy. It is one of most-visited tourist attractions in Germany. Read on...
Berlin has no shortage of famous streets, but the central shopping avenue is probably the best-known of them all. The Kurfürstendamm, officially located in the Charlottenburg section of the city, it is widely regarded as the central artery of Berlin, stretching over a total of 3.5 kilometers and seamed by shops, restaurants and bars. In 1873, only months before he became Minister President of Prussia, Otto von Bismarck had been wielding his powers to have a central, representative avenue with a breadth of more than 50 meters. The street had been in this place before, but on this initiative it became a boulevard suitable for a European capital. In those first years, the Kurfürstendamm was primarily a residential street, but after World War I, the area developed into a hub for Berlin’s arts and society needs. The Roaring Twenties in Berlin centered around the boulevard when local celebrities and the affluent society met in the bars along the street. In other times often a stage for political demonstrations, the Kurfürstendamm has lost some of its significance after German reunification to the East Berlin boulevard Unter den Linden. Today, it is primarily an upscale shopping area.
Most tourists will make a stop at Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church located on Kurfürstendamm, sometimes refered to as “hohler Zahn” (“hollow tooth”) by the locals. The reason for this nickname is rather obvious, as the church consists of a newer tower next to the ruins of the old one. The original church dates back to the 1890s but was, along with large parts of central Berlin and most of the buildings along Kurfürstendamm, heavily damaged in an allied bombing raid in the Second World War. The ruins of the old church today serve as a memorial. The ground floor is accessible and hosts a dedicated memorial hall.
Berlin Zoological Garden
Some three million visitors annually visit the Berlin Zoo, turning it into the most-visited zoological garden in Europe. With its founding in 1844, it is also the oldest one in Germany and widely known for its breeding programs. The zoo hosts approximately 20,000 animals from 1500 species, all housed in surroundings that aim to imitate natural environments as closely as possible. The zoo had been completely destroyed in World War II and almost all of the then 3700 animals were killed, sadly preparing the ground for a new start in modern housing. Also belonging to the animal park is the Aquarium Berlin, which is considered to display a broad range of biodiversity, being the home of 9,000 animals. There are ticket packages available to visit both the zoo and the aquarium, as well as separate tickets for both institutions.
The Berlin Zoological Garden is centrally located in the city and can easily be reached by public transportation via Zoo station (Bahnhof Zoo), one of the busiest stations in Berlin. Visitors should not confuse it with the Tierpark Berlin, a smaller animal park with some 7200 animals, located in the town part of Friedrichsfelde.
Hardenbergstrasse, open year round daily from 9 am to 5 pm, longer hours in the summer