From a divided city to a cool metropolis: BERLIN
First of all, let's brush aside all prejudices. No, Berlin is not in the sunny south. You don't have a beach there, it rains sometimes and it is indeed full of Germans. But that doesn't matter, because believe us, Berlin is da bomb. A quarter of a century ago, Berlin was still a divided city in the hottest front line of the Cold War, but since then it has become one of the hippest metropolises in Europe. Wandering the streets of Berlin for a few days is an experience that allows the energy of the bustling metropolis to penetrate to the depths of your body and soul.Kommen Sie mit uns!
There was a time when a long concrete Wall divided the city into East and West Berlin, respectively part of the then GDR and BRD. Tourists and soldiers watched the city on the other side of the Wall with suspicion, West Berlin subways did not stop in East Berlin stations and more than two hundred people died trying to flee over the Wall to the Free West. But in 1989 the Wall fell, and Berlin breathed again. The no man's land that had separated East and West became an architectural playground for grand new urban projects, Berlin was crowned capital of the reunified Germany and both residents and visitors could finally enjoy the integral city without borders.
The center of Berlin, alias Mitte, is full of sights. If you're a little overwhelmed, take a ride on city bus 100. It runs from the Zoo to Alexanderplatz, passing by just about all the central highlights. Start your visit at the Reichstag, the monumental parliament building. It was given a modern dome of glass and steel in 1999, which you can visit for free. Reservations must be made online (at least two working days in advance) via www.bundestag.de. You'll be close to the impressive Holocaust Mahnmal, a vaulted maze of blank concrete tombstones, and the Brandenburg Gate. The latter became the Berlin symbol par excellence when hundreds of thousands of people came here in 1989 to celebrate the fall of the Wall. Standing under the gate, you'll see the Siegessäule looming up behind you in Tiergarten Park (a triumphal pillar you can climb up if you like) and in front of you is Pariser Platz, where the famous boulevard Unter den Linden begins. You can walk all the way down the boulevard, but don't forget to take a left and right to the Gendarmenmarkt (a beautiful square with two churches and a theater) and the shopping-filled Friedrichstrasse with Checkpoint Charlie, the most notorious former checkpoint between East and West Berlin, where you can see how inventive the East Berliners were in their attempts to escape to the West in a wonderfully chaotic museum.
From West to East
The most famous boulevard in West Berlin is the Kurfürstendamm aka Ku'damm, full of chic buildings housing expensive stores and top hotels. The Ku'damm leads to the Breitscheidplatz near the Zoo, where the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche is located. This church, which was severely damaged during the Second World War, will retain its scars forever, but at the moment there is nothing to be seen of it, as the tower is still completely hidden behind opaque scaffolding until this summer. Here, too, the rule applies: don't stay on the Ku'damm itself, but check the side streets. The Fasanenstrasse starts out unimaginably chic, but the neighborhood quickly becomes hipper as soon as you walk into the Charlottenburg neighborhood near the
Theater des Westens, followed by the cozy cafe square Savignyplatz and the Steinplatz at the art university. Then it's just a few minutes walk to the Charlottenburger Tor, where along the Strasse des 17 Juni every Sunday the Trödelmarkt takes place, a charming mishmash of junk and brocante.
Take bus 100 to Alexanderplatz and experience a world of difference. Get off under the giant TV tower and take the Karl-Marx-Allee eastbound. The apartment buildings along this 90-foot East Berlin avenue are built in pure Soviet style, including communist propaganda mosaics and a bust of Karl Marx. But don't be put off, because East Berlin can also be super cozy. Go to the Nikolaiviertel, a small but nice neighborhood that might be a bit too touristy, but where you can still go for a big pot of German beer in an authentic kneipe.
Berlin's museums have the very best in the world to offer. On the Museumsinsel opposite the Berlin Cathedral (which is well worth a visit, by the way: with your entrance ticket you climb to the top of the dome) are five top museums next to each other. Especially the Pergamon Museum is breathtaking, including the Ishtar Gate from Babylon, the three-storey Roman Market Gate from Milete and the giant Pergamon altar that the ancient Greeks built in Asia Minor. Also not to be missed: the beautiful bust of the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti in the Neues Museum. More museum highlights that opened our mouths of amazement: the 13 meter high brachiosaurus and the original archaeopteryx fossil in the Museum of Natural History and the amazing collection of Polynesian and African art in the Ethnological Museum. The latter two museums are located a long way from the center, but are perfectly accessible by subway.
Nightlife for all tastes and budgets
Eat and drink in Berlin? Don't worry: the prices are surprisingly reasonable. A fun alternative neighborhood full of hip bars and eateries is Kreuzberg. Also trendy, but a little quieter, is the upgraded East Berlin neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg, where you can also visit the Kulturbrauerei. For glitz and glamour you should be near Potsdamer Platz after sunset, in and around the grand Sony Center. Looking for the best cafes in town? Don't hesitate and take a seat at Hackescher Markt, the ideal place to watch people sipping cocktails. And if it's all cutting edge, head to the dreadlocked squatters and anarchist artists of the artistic freetown of Tacheles on Oranienburgerstrasse.
Where is the Berlin Wall still visible today?
The Berlin Wall was many kilometers long, but today only fragments of it remain, as a reminder of the past. These are the best places to still touch the Wall.
- On Bernauer Strasse there is a 1.4 km long section of Wall, including watchtower and documentation center.
- On theNiederkirchnerstrasse, next to the Topographie des Terrors (the former SS headquarters), there is another piece of Wall with holes in it.
- The hypermodern Potsdamer Platz (photo), before 1989 the largest piece of urban no man's land in Europe, contains graffiti-covered remains of the Wall in stark contrast to modern high-rise buildings.
- Real wall freaks can plan a three-hour bike ride along the former Wall via berliner-mauer-gedenkstaette.de.
How to get there?
Depending on the flight and the airline (both Brussels Airlines and easyJet offer daily direct flights from Zaventem) you will land at either Tegel or Schönefeld airport, although the latter will most likely already have made room for the new Brandenburg airport, a few kilometers away. Attention: Tegel is located in public transport zone B; Schönefeld/Brandenburg is located in zone C, so from there you will need a more expensive ticket to get to the city center by bus and/or rail.
Staying in Berlin is not as expensive as you expect, so if you don't feel like a hostel full of noisy Brits and Spaniards, you might be able to afford a nice little hotel. At ridiculously cheap prices, make sure you're not staying somewhere deep in the suburbs, which guarantees long metro rides. A few sites that can help you in your search for a warm bed:
Berlin has a metro (U-Bahn), a suburban train (S-Bahn), streetcars and buses. Luckily they are all run by the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG), so you can go anywhere with the same kind of ticket. There are day and week tickets, group tickets and of course one-way tickets. If you don't want any worries, buy a Berlin WelcomeCard at the airport for 48 hours, 72 hours or 5 days. Not only will you be able to make unlimited use of all public transport in the city, but you will also receive a guide + city map as a gift, containing 200 discount offers for museums, attractions, restaurants and shows. In some cases, this discount is in addition to the student discount you get in many places with your ISIC anyway.