SMWCon Fall 2013/Berlin Tour
Berlin is best known for its historical associations as the German capital, for its internationality and tolerance, for its lively nightlife, for its many cafes, clubs, and bars, for its street art, and for its numerous museums, palaces, and other sites of historic interest. Berlin's architecture is quite varied. Although badly damaged in the final years of World War II and broken apart during the Cold War, Berlin has reconstructed itself greatly, especially with the reunification push after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It is now possible to see representatives of many different historic periods in a short time within the city center, from a few surviving medieval buildings near Alexanderplatz, to the ultramodern glass and steel structures in Potsdamer Platz. Because of its tumultuous history, Berlin remains a city with many distinctive neighborhoods.
This sightseeing tour starts at Berlin Alexanderplatz and leads you along Berlin’s most popular sights to the city west.
Starting at Alexanderplatz (called “Alex”) the tour leads you along the TV tower, the Berlin city hall, “Rotes Rathaus” , to the Museumsinsel, literally “Museum Island”, Schlossplatz, Lustgarten and the Berliner Dom. On the way you will pass the Nicolai Quarter, the historical core of Berlin, on the left and the Sea-Life-Aquarium in the entry hall of the Radisson Hotel on the right.
Some of the most important museums of Berlin are located at the Museumsinsel. This area is best known for the vast Pergamon-Museum, which houses an extensive collection of ancient Greek, ancient Middle-Eastern and Islamic art and architecture. Other museums, which belong to the Museum Island, are the Altes Museum (with the Egyptian and the antique collection), the Alte Nationalgalerie (with mainly German paintings of the 19th century) and the reopened Bode-Museum with its fantastically presented sculpture collection and Byzantine art. The recently reopened Neues Museum houses the Egyptian collection, Neaderthal and other pre-historic archeological finds, and some of the treasures unearthed at Troy. This is the only museum on Museumsinsel that requires a timed entry ticket. It's best to get a timed ticket online ahead of time as time slots fill up quickly.
At Schlossplatz starts the boulevard “Unter den Linden”, that crosses Friedrichstrasse and leads to the famous Brandenburg Gate. The first part of the boulevard is the “Forum Fridericianum” with the buildings “Kommandantur”, “Kroprinzenpalais”, “Kronprinzessinnen Palais”, “Staatsoper” and “Königliche Bibliothek” on the left hand and “Zeughaus” (Museum of German History), “Neue Wache”, “Humboldt-University” and “Staatsbibliothek” on the right hand.
On the half way to the Friedrichstrasse turn left to “Gendarmenmakt” where the Twintowers of the Deutscher Dom (German Cathedral) and the Französischer Dom (French Cathedral) face each other, flanking the Konzerthaus (Concert Hall). Heading towards Friedrichstrasse you will reach the underground passage “Quartier 206”, the shopping center “Lafayette” and on Friedrichstrasse back to “Unter den Linden”.
Now, you are close to Brandenburg Gate, where the wall parted Berlin into the western and eastern parts. To learn more about Berlin as divorced city, you can make a short trip to “Checkpoint Charlie” from here.
Formerly, it was the only border crossing between East and West Berlin that permitted foreigners’ passage. Residents of East and West Berlin were not allowed to use it. This contributed to Checkpoint Charlie's mythological status as a meeting place for spies and other shady individuals. Now the remains of the Berlin Wall have been moved to permit buildings, including construction of the American Business Center and other institutions not given to flights of John Le Carré-inspired fancy. At the intersection of Zimmerstraße and Friedrichstraße is the famous "You Are Leaving the American Sector" sign. The actual guardhouse from Checkpoint Charlie is now housed at the Allied Museum on Clayallee. For a more interesting exhibit go to the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie. This is a private museum with kitschy memorabilia from the Wall as well as the devices GDR residents used to escape the East (including a tiny submarine!). Checkpoint Charlie gained its name from the phonetic alphabet; checkpoints "Alpha" and "Bravo" were at the autobahn checkpoints Helmstedt and Dreilinden respectively. Checkpoint Charlie's atmosphere was not improved at all on 27 October 1961 when the two Cold War superpowers chose to face each other down for a day. Soviet and American tanks stood approximately 200 meters apart, making an already tense situation worse. Back on the boulevard „Unter den Linden“, you will pass the eye-catching British Embassy at Wilhelmstrasse and the „Pariser Platz“ in front oft he Brandenburg Gate with the Hotel Adlon, the Art Academy as well as the US-American and the French Embassy.
On the western side oft the Brandenburg Gate you will find on the left the new built Potsdamer Platz and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Opened in the spring of 2005, this gigantic abstract artwork covering an entire block, including an underground museum with extensive details on the Holocaust and the people who died during it. The blocks start out at ground level on the outer edges of the memorial, and then grow taller towards the middle, where the ground also slopes downwards. 3.5 million visitors in the first year make it one of the most visited memorials in Berlin - and it's worth it, as it's one of the most impressive memorials in Berlin.
On the right is the government district with the Reichstag, the Kanzleramt and the Embassies of Germany’s federal states. The German Parliament building was renovated by Sir Norman Foster and reopened in 1999 with a spectacular new glass dome, which offers a great view of Berlin. Visitors may pre-book free tours of the building and enter with confirmed reservation at scheduled times through the north portal. Due to continued terrorist threats, individual visitors now need to register upfront to visit the glass dome and terrace. Book well in advance as individual entry is limited to a maximum of guests per day. The template is only in German available, so joining a tour is an easy open for last-minute travellers.
Along the Waterside of the river Spree, the way leads you beside the new main station of Berlin and the congress hall to “Schloss Bellevue”, the residence of the German President. From here you enter the Tiergarten – Berlin’s Central Park – heading the Siegessäule. Follow the “Stasse des 17. Juni” and re-enter the Tiergarten on the left, where the railway crosses. Through an open-air lantern museum, you get in a few minutes to the train station “Zoo”, the centre of the City West, with the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and the “Ku’damm” (short for Kurfürstendamm). Close to the Uhlandstraße metro station, the last stop on the U1 you will find the “Story of Berlin”, Kurfürstendamm 207-208i, a museum in the centre of a mall. In addition to the history (including the World Wars), culture, transportation, architecture and an exhibit of life in the city since medieval times, it is unique to feature an authentic cold-war era bunker. The 20 minutes tour is included in the cost of the entrance ticket, and is at the top of each hour, alternating in German and English.