Story and Photos by Melanie Votaw
Tiergarten and Brandenburg Tor courtesy Nick Ross
Berlin: A City with Everything
Berlin is a city with a rich history, some of it truly horrific, of course, but it’s also a city of modernity, culture, and energy. It has more than 175 museums, seven symphony orchestras, and three opera houses, besides a vibrant nightlife.
My personal favorite place in Berlin is the Pergamonmuseum. I’ve been to most of the world’s finest museums, but this is still my favorite. It contains huge ancient façades from Babylon, as well as its namesake Pergamon Altar, a Greek temple from 180 BC, among other fantastic antiquities. In short, the collection is unparalleled. These days, I suggest you book your tickets in advance, however, since they may still restrict the number of visitors and sell out.
If it’s your first time in Berlin, you must also visit the World War II and Cold War history sites. They’re sobering, but important. The Topography of Terrors is the most memorable for me. Mostly an outdoor exhibit, it documents the history of the Nazis (without the slightest bit of softening) using mostly photos and newspaper articles from the 1930s and 1940s.
The Wall Museum and Checkpoint Charlie are fascinating and located near the point of crossing between East and West Berlin. You’ll learn about the history of the Berlin Wall, including the people who escaped from East to West during the Cold War.
You might also want to take in the Germany Spy Museum to learn about military interrogation techniques and code breaking. Then, there’s the Reichstag government building, which offers a 90-minute guided tour. Again, I recommend booking your tickets in advance. And the Jüdisches (Jewish) Museum Berlin, which provides a history of Jews in Germany that’s more of a celebration than a focus on the Holocaust.
There is a memorial to the 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust, which consists of 2,700 concrete blocks. I can’t say I particularly liked this display from an aesthetic point of view, but I certainly applaud its intention and sentiment. Across the street is also a small memorial to the homosexuals persecuted and nearby is a memorial to the Sinti and Roma victims.
These are on the edges of the 520-acre Tiergarten park.
The Neue Synagogue is worth a visit as well. Finished in 1866, it seats more than 3,000. It was damaged during Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) in 1938 and damaged again by bombing in 1943. Like many landmarks in Germany, it wasn’t restored until the 1980s.
Of course, you’ll want to see the famous Brandenburg Tor (Gate), and I recommend the Humboldt Forum that houses the Ethnological Museum and Asian Art Museum.
The day I was there, people were invited to try bowling in the building’s courtyard. I also suggest you visit the famed Berliner Dom (Cathedral). It isn’t that old (built in 1905 and restored from 1982-1993 from WWII damage), but it’s truly stunning, especially inside. Be sure to look up at the beautiful ceiling.
I’m also fond of the Musikinstrumenten-Museum and its wonderful collection of musical instruments. If you have children in tow, there’s an interactive Legoland Discovery Center, and if you have teens, you might want to take in the unusual Disgusting Food Museum, complete with tasting opportunities. Berlin also has an admirable zoo and aquarium.
While in the city, I stayed in the 5-star Titanic Gendarmenmarkt Hotel. Centrally located in the Gendarmenmarkt area, it’s a lovely property that I found to be elegant, comfortable, and nearby almost everything I wanted to visit. Many such 5-star properties in Berlin are about the same price as a 4-star hotel in Paris or London. If you want something a bit more unconventional, I’ve read about the Space Night Hostel, where you can sleep in something like a spaceship capsule. That sounds fun, but I’m not one for shared bathrooms.
I have barely scratched the surface of all that Berlin has to offer a visitor. You could easily spend a couple of weeks solely in this city and never run out of places to sightsee. If you haven’t been, it’s high time, and don’t you dare skip the Pergamonmuseum!
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