Race against time: Places to visit in Berlin in a one-day trip
I recently had the opportunity of paying visit to the capital of Germany: the amazing city of Berlin. And I had such a fantastic time there. Geographically located in the eastern part of the country within the territory of the Brandenburg state, Berlin itself is a German city-state. The capital has a number of touristic attractions, frequented by hundreds of thousands of travelholics (like myself) each year. The city is truly historic. You can find a museum at almost every corner of a street. Cultures from all over the globe seem to blend in this metropolitan as you come across people from all parts of the world, getting to hear so many different languages, and learning about a diverse set of traditions.
The city was divided into two parts at the end of the Second World War, with the Wall of Berlin serving as a border between West Berlin (controlled by the UK, US, and France), and East Berlin (governed by the Soviets); consequently splitting the entire country (and continental Europe) into western and eastern spheres of influence. However, towards the end of the year 1989, Berliners had had enough of the divide, and on November 9th of that year, the Berlin Wall was demolished as a joint effort from the publics on both sides of this ‘Iron Curtain’, thus reuniting the entire German nation.
With so many memories associated with just one city, Berlin is an absolute delight to visit for history lovers. The memorials related to the Second World War spread all over the city serve as powerful reminders of the hazards that conflicts can inflict over any set of people. Embassies of several countries, as well as head offices of many Multi-National Corporations (MNCs) can be found in this city. The huge number of hotels, and restaurants in Berlin that are run by people living in the city for decades provide some of the most scrumptious food you will ever taste.
Through this blog, I shall be sharing information about 8 of the most famous places in the city that I paid a visit during my 1-day trip. Due to circumstances that weren’t quite in my control, I couldn’t extend my stay in this awe-inspiring metropolitan, otherwise, you need at least 4 to 5 days to do justice with the many sites spread all over Berlin. Although there are many more attractions you can head over to besides the ones mentioned below, I considered these to be the essentials for anyone to experience during their first-ever visit to the German capital.
Before we delve into the details of these sites, it is important to understand the public transportation system of the city. If, like me and countless others, you don’t have relatives or anyone you know who reside in Berlin, and would open their doors for you to stay at their place, share their food with you, and would gladly give you a tour of the city in their personal VW or whichever vehicle they own, you better get familiar with Berlin’s networked, and highly organized rail, and bus system. And trust me, it is absolutely worth it: it’s everywhere, it’s cheap, it’s always on time, and it’s real fun! You will find bus stops, and railway stations all over the city, and it is super convenient to get from one point to the other, provided that you know which bus or train to take, and it’s not late night.
You will find tracks of the S-Bahn, and the U-Bahn, spread all over the city. The U-Bahn runs below the ground, and is further divided into ten types, i.e. U-1 till U-9 along with U-55. The S-Bahn has its own routes, whereas you can find bus stops at almost every other street with details of bus timings and routes. Based on the transportation network, the city is divided into three parts: A, B and C with A being the center of Berlin, and C being the outskirts. Based on where you’re heading, you can get train tickets according to the region that falls under the transportation network, i.e. you can get tickets having combination of AB, BC, or ABC, based on your needs. There are interactive machines set-up at every train station from where you can get your tickets printed. These tickets last for a whole day (usually till 3am), so you should better make good use of them! Considering that we are talking about a metropolitan, navigation applications, such as Google Maps, and Maps (the iOS default navigation app) work like an absolute charm, and you never feel lost in this mega-city.
Below is the travel plan I made for my visit to Berlin. I started with the attraction I considered to be the farthest, and then paid visit to the sites pretty much nearby, thus ending up close to where I was staying at the end of my day. It is recommended to make a travel plan like one below with the names of the train stations as it is quite helpful in managing your trips. Note that I started my journey from the station that was closest to my stay area.
So, let’s now have a look at the 8 must-visit places in Berlin for your one-day trip to the German capital.
A famous public square in the center-eastern side of the city. This place has a number of malls, and restaurants. You can also find many stalls offering several items for sale at relatively lower rates compared to what you may pay if you were to shop from a mall.
The iconic tower of Berlin stands next to the Alexanderplatz with all its might. Standing at a height of 368 meters, the Fernsehturm, translated in English as the ‘TV Tower’, is the tallest building in Germany, and was completed back in 1969. You can get a ticket online if you intend to go to the restaurant located at the very top of this amazing structure, but remember that the tickets last only for an hour or two, as there are several hundred people waiting in long lines to catch a glimpse of Berlin from the top of this tower.
- Berlin Cathedral
This awe-inspiring early 20th century structure is located not very far from the Fernsehturm. It is magnanimous and has lush green lawns just outside. The building currently serves as the site of the largest Protestant Church in Germany. After buying tickets, you can head inside, where you will find an organ with 7000 pipes, and some absolutely breathtaking architecture. Too bad I paid visit when it was night and the Cathedral was closed.
- Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie served as a historic junction between the former western and eastern parts of the city during the Cold War period. The Checkpoint is literally located in the middle of a two-way road, and currently serves as a touristic spot. You can see a long line of people waiting to get pictured (at a cost of 3 Euros) with the army personnel (who don’t happen to be real soldiers, by the way) stationed at the Checkpoint. Furthermore, if you are even more of a history-enthusiast like me, they also offer to stamp your passport with stamps from the Cold War era. If you pay them 5 Euros, you get six stamps on your passport (four of the Allies, one of Berlin, and one of Charlie Checkpoint). If you pay them more, you get even more stamps. I, however, resorted to the idea of 6 stamps.
- Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Opened in 2005, the Holocaust Memorial was built in memory of the several million Jews who lost their lives in the Second World War. The entire structure is basically hundreds of concrete blocks of varying sizes, with paths in between them, making the whole structure seem like a maze. Better act civilized here, as this is not a place to have fun and games, but should serve as a reminder about those who were butchered only because of their beliefs.
The German Parliament, or the Reichstag, as they call it in their language, is a magnificent building, frequented by scores of tourists each year. First opened in 1894, the structure was badly damaged after it was set ablaze in 1933. It was repaired following the reunification of the country and is now used by the German parliamentarians. Tourists can visit the dome of the building, constructed in 1999, through prior registration. Utilize the lawns outside the Reichstag, take lunch with you, or have some ice-cream!
- Brandenburg Tor
Located a walking distance away from the Reichstag is the famous Brandenburg Gate. Constructed way back in 1791, the Brandenburg Gate is one of the most iconic spots of not only Berlin, but Germany in general. There is a particular aura about it that attracts tourists from all corners of the world. A combination of 12 Doric columns below statues of four horses, controlled by the goddess Victoria, is a stunning work of architecture. You will find artists performing in the area, or demonstrators doing a peaceful protest. The embassies of the United States and France are also nearby, along with numerous eateries.
- Potsdamer Platz
Another huge public square, surrounded by tall skyscrapers that can make you dazzle. Like Alexanderplatz, you will find a number of shops, malls and restaurants here as well. Famous buildings in the area include: Sony Center, Bahn Tower, Ritz-Carlton, Kollhoff Tower, Beishem Center, to name a few.
(Images included in this blog till this point are intellectual property of the author, and must not be used without his permission)
As a one-day trip to the capital, these were the only places I was able to pay a visit. Below are some more touristic attractions Berlin has to offer, and should certainly be in the must-visit list:
The royal side of Berlin. This spectacular palace was designed and built during the 17th and 18th centuries, and used to serve as residence of German royalties. For a brief time, the palace was also utilized as the seat of the German president. Inside, you will find stunning architecture, complemented by some truly amazing ceiling paintings. The lawns outside are just as grand as the massive structure itself.
East Side Gallery
This open-air gallery with its remains of the Berlin Wall is a major touristic attraction of the city. Renowned for its graffiti, the 1316m long wall has over 100 paintings, and gives messages of hope, peace, and a united world with lesser problems.
Located close to the Berlin Cathedral is the Museum Island, a complex of a number of museums. These structures oversee the Spree River, and have been constructed over time, and pertain to a number of areas, including: history, archeology, arts, and so on. Owing to its importance, Museum Island was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 1999.
The author is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Media and Communication at TU Ilmenau. He is a bibliophile, loves travelling, and greatly misses his Alexandrian parrot back home. He can be reached at [email protected]