Hip, energetic Berlin has grabbed the world’s attention with its exuberant urban life and vibrant arts scene. Gone are the days of drab Cold War Germany and a city divided by the Wall. In this cosmopolitan and affordable capital, neighborhoods like Mitte, Friedrichshain, Prenzlauer Berg, and Kreuzberg bustle with restaurants, cafés, and nightlife. Museums and sights such as the Pergamon on Museum Island, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Jewish Museum provide a window into Berlin’s rich history. Today the stitched-together heart of Germany beats fast.
POINTS OF INTEREST
The Brandenburg Gate is the quintessential symbol of Berlin. This magnificent Neoclassical structure was designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans and modeled on the Propylaia of the Acropolis in Athens. It was erected between 1788 and 1791, although the sculptural decorations were not completed until 1795. The Brandenburg Gate has witnessed many important historical events. Military parades and demonstrating workers have marched under its arches, and it was the site of celebrations marking the birth of the Deutsches Reich in 1871. It was here, too, that the Soviet flag was raised in 1945. Restored between 1956 and 1958, for the next 30 years, the gate stood watch over the divided city, until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It was renovated once again in 2002.
Built to house the German Parliament, the Reichstag was intended as a symbol of national unity and to showcase the aspirations of the new German Empire, declared in 1871. Constructed between 1884 and 1894, the Neo-Renaissance building by Paul Wallot captured the prevailing spirit of German optimism. On the night of February 27, 1933, a fire destroyed the main hall. Rebuilding work undertaken between 1957 and 1972 removed the dome and most of the ornamentation on the façades. On December 2, 1990, the Reichstag was the first meeting place of a newly-elected Bundestag following German reunification. The latest rebuilding project, completed in 1999 to a design by Sir Norman Foster, transformed the Reichstag into a modern meeting hall crowned by an elliptical glass dome.
UNTER DEN LINDEN
One of the most famous streets in Berlin, Unter den Linden was once the route to the royal hunting grounds that were transformed into the Tiergarten. In the 17th century, it was planted with lime trees, to which it owes its name. In the 18th century, Unter den Linden became the main street of the westward-growing city. It gradually filled with prestigious buildings, such as the Baroque Zeughaus, home of the Deutsches Historisches Museum, and the Humboldt Universität (1753). Next door, the Neue Wache (1816–18) commemorates the victims of war and dictatorship. Since reunification, many buildings have been restored and Unter den Linden has acquired several cafés and restaurants, as well as smart new shops. The street is also the venue for outdoor events.
Before the onset of World War II, Potsdamer Platz was one of the busiest and most densely built-up areas of Berlin. Most of the area’s landmarks ceased to exist after the bombing of 1945, and the destruction was completed when the burned-out ruins were finally pulled down to build the Berlin Wall. Since the mid-1990s, a new financial and business district has sprung up on this empty wasteland, which once divided East and West Berlin. The huge complex comprises not only office buildings, but also a concert hall, a multi-screen cinema, and the Arkaden shopping mall. The first finished structure was the Daimler-Benz- Areal office block, designed by Renzo Piano and Christoph Kohlbecker. To the north lies the impressive Sony-Center complex, by Helmut Jahn.
The idea of creating a new cultural center in West Berlin was first mooted in 1956. The first building to go up was the Philharmonie (Berlin Philharmonic concert hall), built to an innovative design by Hans Scharoun in 1961. Most of the other plans for the Kulturforum were realized between 1961 and 1987. With many museums and galleries, the area attracts millions of visitors every year. The Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Arts and Crafts) holds a rich collection of decorative art and crafts dating from the early Middle Ages to the modern-day. Goldwork is very well represented, and the museum takes great pride in its late Gothic and Renaissance silver. The Gemäldegalerie fine art collection is in a modern building designed by Heinz Hilmer and Christopher Sattler. Works by German Renaissance artists, including Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein, dominate the exhibition space, but there are also pieces by van Dyck, Rembrandt, Raphael, Velázquez, and Caravaggio. Housed in a striking building with a flat steel roof over a glass hall, the Neue Nationalgalerie contains mainly 20th-century art but begins with artists of the late 19th century, such as Edvard Munch and Ferdinand Hodler. Paintings from the Die Brücke movement include pieces by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. The museum is shut until 2020 for a revamp; key works will be shown elsewhere.
Situated at the center of the city, the Tiergarten is the largest park in Berlin occupying a 210-ha (520-acre) area. Once a hunting reserve, the forest was transformed into a landscaped park in the 1830s. A triumphal avenue was built at the end of the 19th century, lined with statues of the nation’s rulers and statesmen. World War II inflicted huge damage on the Tiergarten, including the destruction of the triumphal avenue. Replanting has restored the garden, and many of its avenues are now lined with statues of national celebrities, including Goethe. To the east of the Tiergarten is the Holocaust Denkmal. Designed by architect Peter Eisenman, this wavelike monument represents the overwhelming scale of the Holocaust
The Altes Museum, designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, is one of the world’s finest Neoclassical structures, with an impressive 87-m- (285-ft-) high portico supported by Ionic columns. The stately rotunda is decorated with sculptures and ringed by a colonnade. Officially opened in 1830, this was one of the first purpose-built museums in Europe, designed to house the royal collection of paintings and antiquities. Following World War II, the building was used to display temporary exhibitions. Since 1998 the Altes Museum has housed a portion of the Antikensammlung, a magnificent collection of Greek and Roman antiquities. Among the highlights are a colorful floor mosaic from Hadrian’s Villa near Tivoli, and Perikles’ Head, a Roman copy of the sculpture by Kresilas that stood at the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens.
Built between 1912 and 1930 to a design by Alfred Messel and Ludwig Hoffmann, the Pergamonmuseum is one of Berlin’s major attractions. Its three large independent collections form one of Europe’s most famous archives of antiquities. A highlight of the Greek and Roman antiquities collection (Antikensammlung) is the huge Pergamon Altar from the acropolis of ancient Pergamon in Asia Minor (closed for restoration until 2019). Also impressive is the 2nd-century market gate from the Roman city of Miletus. Major excavations begun in the 1820s form the basis of the Museum of Near Eastern Antiquities (Vorderasiatisches Museum). One striking exhibit is the splendid Ishtar Gate, built during Nebuchadnezzar II’s reign (604–562 BC) in ancient Babylon. There are also pieces from neighboring Persia, Syria, and Palestine, including a basalt sculpture of a bird from Tel Halaf and a glazed wall relief from Artaxerxes II’s palace in Susa, capital of the Persian Empire. In 1904, the history of the Museum of Islamic Art (Museum für Islamische Kunst) began with a large collection of carpets donated by Wilhelm von Bode, who also brought a 45-m (150-ft) section of the facade of a Jordanian desert palace. Another fascinating exhibit is a beautiful 13th-century mihrab (Islamic prayer niche).
This information center overlooks Berlin’s largest building site, the Humboldt-Forum, where the Berliner Stadtschloss, a palatial 18th-century residence of the Hohenzollerns that was pulled down after World War II, is being reconstructed. It will house the Dahlem museums (see p510), a library, and part of Humboldt University. Highlights of the info center include a model of early 20th-century Berlin and displays on the city’s turbulent past.
This Protestant cathedral was built by Jan Boumann between 1747 and 1750 on the site of a Dominican church. It incorporated the crypt of the Hohenzollern dynasty, which ruled the city for nearly 500 years, and is one of the largest of its kind in Europe. The present Neo-Baroque structure is the work of Julius Raschdorff and dates from 1894–1905. The central copper dome reaches 322 ft, with an inner cupola which is 230 ft tall. Following severe damage sustained in World War II, the building has been restored in a simplified form, including the dismantling of the Hohenzollern memorial chapel, which originally adjoined the northern wall.
CENTRUM JUDAICUM & NEUE SYNAGOGE
Occupying the former premises of the Jewish community council, the Centrum Judaicum contains an extensive library, archives, and a research center all devoted to the history and cultural heritage of Berlin’s Jews. Next door, the restored rooms of the Neue Synagoge are used as a museum, exhibiting material relating to the local Jewish community. The building of the New Synagogue was started in 1859 and completed in 1866 when it was opened in the presence of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The narrow facade is flanked by a pair of towers and crowned with a dome that sparkles with gold and contains a round vestibule. This fascinating structure was Berlin’s largest synagogue. However, on November 9, 1938, it was partially destroyed during the infamous “Kristallnacht” (“Night of the Broken Glass”), when thousands of synagogues, cemeteries, and Jewish homes and shops all over Germany were looted and burned. The building was damaged further by the Allied bombing in 1943 and was finally demolished in 1958. Reconstruction began in 1988 and was completed in 1995.
Known as the Telespargel, or toothpick, by the locals, this 1,206 ft high television mast soars above the massive Alexanderplatz. It is the tallest structure in Germany and one of the tallest in Europe. The concrete shaft contains elevators that carry passengers to the viewing platform. Situated inside a steel-clad giant sphere, this platform is 666 ft)above the ground. Visitors can also enjoy a birdseye view of the whole city while sipping a cup of coffee in the revolving café. Visibility can reach up to 25 miles.
This small area on the bank of the Spree, known as the Nikolaiviertel (St. Nicholas Quarter), is a favorite strolling ground for both Berliners and tourists. Some of Berlin’s oldest houses stood here until they were destroyed in World War II. The redevelopment of the area, carried out between 1979 and 1987, proved to be an interesting, if somewhat controversial, attempt at recreating a medieval village. Today, the area consists mostly of newly built replicas of historic buildings. The narrow streets are filled with small shops, cafés, bars, and restaurants, among them the popular Zum Nussbaum, a historical inn that was once located on Fischer Island. Dating from 1507, the original building was destroyed and subsequently reconstructed at the junction of Am Nussbaum and Propststraße.
Kreuzberg is an area of contrasts, with luxury apartments next to dilapidated buildings. The district’s attractions are its wealth of restaurants and Turkish bazaars, as well as a wide selection of theaters, cinemas, and galleries. Checkpoint Charlie was once the notorious border crossing between the Soviet and American sectors and witness to a number of dramatic events during the Cold War. The museum close by, Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, houses exhibits connected with the ingenious attempts by East Germans to escape to the West. The imaginative architecture of the Jüdisches Museum, dedicated to Jewish history and art, conveys something of the tragic history of the millions of Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust. The zigzag layout recalls a torn Star of David, while the interior arrangement is dominated by a long empty area, which symbolizes the void left in Europe by the exile and murder of countless thousands of Jews.
The Zoological Garden forms part of the Tiergarten and dates from 1844, making it the oldest zoo in Germany. It offers a number of attractions, including the monkey house, which contains a family of gorillas, and a specially darkened pavilion for observing nocturnal animals. The hippopotamus pool has a glazed wall that enables visitors to watch these enormous creatures moving through the water. The aquarium, one of the largest in Europe, contains sharks, piranhas, and unusual animals from coral reefs. There is also a huge terrarium with an overgrown jungle that is home to a group of crocodiles.
The damaged roof of this former church has become one of the best-known symbols of postwar Berlin. The vast Neo-Romanesque building was consecrated in 1895 but was destroyed by bombs in 1943. After World War II, the ruins were removed, leaving only the massive front tower, at the base of which the Gedenkhalle (Memorial Hall) is situated. This hall documents the history of the church and contains some of the original ceiling mosaics, marble reliefs, and liturgical objects. The latter include the Coventry Crucifix, a modest cross fashioned from nails found in the ashes of Coventry Cathedral, England, which was destroyed in the bombing raids of the 1940s. In 1963, Egon Eiermann designed a new octagonal church in blue glass. His hexagonal bell tower stands on the site of the former nave of the destroyed church.
This wide avenue was established in the 1880s on the site of a former track that led to the Grunewald forest (see p510). It quickly acquired many imposing buildings and grand hotels. In the 20 years between World Wars I and II, the Ku’damm, as it is popularly called, was renowned for its cafés, visited by famous film directors, writers, and painters. After World War II, new buildings replaced the damaged houses, but this did not change the character of the street. Elegant shops and pretty cafés still attract a chic crowd. Not far from here is the city’s newest photography museum, the Museum für Fotographie.
Heinz Berggruen assembled this art collection dating from the late 19th and first half of the 20th century. The museum is known for its large array of paintings, drawings, and gouaches by Pablo Picasso. There is also a display of more than 20 works by Paul Klee and paintings by Van Gogh, Braque, and Cézanne. The Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg opposite covers the Surrealists and their predecessors.
The palace in Charlottenburg was intended as a summer residence for Sophie Charlotte, Elector Friedrich III’s wife. Construction began in 1695 to a design by Johann Arnold Nering. Between 1701 and 1713, the palace was enlarged, and a Baroque cupola and an orangery were added. Subsequent extensions were undertaken by Frederick the Great (King Friedrich II), who added the Neuer Flügel (New Wing) between 1740 and 1746. Restored to its former elegance after World War II, the palace’s richly decorated interior is unequaled in Berlin. In the central section of the palace, the mirrored gallery of the Porzellankabinett has walls lined with fine Japanese and Chinese porcelain. The Neuer Flügel, the new wing of the palace, used to house the Galerie der Romantik. The former private apartment of Friedrik the Great, it now has displays of the king’s exquisite furniture. The Neuer Flügel and the upper floor can be visited independently. The Orangery was originally used to protect rare plants during the winter, but in the summer months was used as a scene for festivities by the court. It has been rebuilt and is now a concert and events venue. The park surrounding the palace is one of the most picturesque places in Berlin. Among the fine monuments dotted around the grounds are the Neoclassical Neuer Pavillion (New Pavilion), whose interior is furnished in period style, and the Belvedere (1788), housing a large collection of porcelain.