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Berlin, Germany’s capital and the largest city in the country is located in Northern Germany close to the border with Poland. The last four centuries have impacted this city more than most other capitals. From Prussian-led unification, right through to Nazi dominance and the Cold War, Berlin is now a modern, dynamic city full of historical treasures. Culturally, Berlin is quite distinct from other cities in Germany, and it is definitely worth exploring as many layers of this complex and historic city as possible.

If visiting in high summer be sure to bring a sunhat, comfortable shoes and a small backpack to hold sunscreen, a camera, water bottles and other essentials; these are invaluable if you choose to explore on foot - by far the best way to see the sights.

Walkabouts and tours in Berlin often begin right in the centre where the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate stand as relics of the Prussian-led German Empire. While the Brandenburg Gate was built in the eighteenth century by Friedrich Wilhelm II to represent peace, Napoleon would later pass through in a triumphal procession after his victory in the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt in 1806. In the next century, the Nazis would rely upon it as a symbol of power. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, many people now see it as a symbol of Germany’s re-unification – perhaps recalling the coverage of the event in 1989.

The iconic1894 Reichstag building also played an important part in German history. It was originally the home of the Imperial Diet (or government) beginning at the end of the nineteenth century. A major arson attack ravaged the Reichstag in 1933. Having been started by a young communist the fire was used as a propaganda tool by the Nazis and precipitated the Nationalist Party’s rise to power. Damaged by bombing during World War II, the building stood empty throughout the Cold War, with the Berlin Wall running right behind it. It has since been restored, and a large glass dome was added in 1999. This is worth visiting for the 360-degree view of the bustling city it provides. The dome is accessible via a lift but it is essential to book a visit. Since its rebuilding by the famous British architect Lord Norman Foster the Reichstag is used once again as Germany’s principal parliamentary building.

The Unter den Linden is a central artery that sweeps from the Brandenburg Gate down past embassies to the Opera House, the Crown Prince’s Palace, St Hedwig’s Cathedral and the Neue Wache war memorial. It is not only full of historic significance, but also opportunities to stop and enjoy the atmosphere over coffee, or to do some high-end shopping.

The historic public square of Potsdamer Platz presents 21st-century Berlin at its best. Located in the centre of the city it was completely rebuilt at the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Those wanting to explore Berlin’s Cold War history further will want to include a visit to the Wall Museum at the former Checkpoint Charlie (the border crossing point in Berlin), with its displays that tell the story of the Wall’s erection in 1961 and destruction in 1989. These days the square features entertainment venues, shops and restaurants.

The Neue Synagogue on Oranienburger Strasse is another architectural and cultural highlight that resembles the Alhambra with its ornate Moorish style. Destroyed in the war, the original synagogue was the centre of Jewish community life in Berlin, and has been restored to its former state since the re-unification of East and West Germany. The Holocaust Memorial’s 2,711 concrete slabs form a stark and moving tribute to the victims of the darkest part of German history. Those with an interest in Jewish history may also include a visit to the Jewish Museum.

Getting around in Berlin is straightforward. The public transport system is sophisticated and you will be able to reach almost anywhere in Germany by train from the capital. Taxis are readily available but if you prefer you can hire a bicycle for local transport.

Many visitors find the hop-on hop-off open topped double decker buses a great way to see the Berlin sights. The buses make 20 stops around the city and one comes along every 10 to 15 minutes. Tour commentaries are available in numerous languages.

This vibrant city is a fascinating place to visit as it played such an important part in 20th century European history. It is also a centre of entertainment of all kinds, world-class restaurants and galleries. One thing is guaranteed – visitors are never bored.

 
 
 
 
 

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