Berlin Landmarks: Touring Through Germany

By: Nick Grundlingh, a Let’s Go! researcher-writer

Berlin Landmarks: The New Palace in the Sanssouci park in Potsdam, Germany was built between 1763 and 1769 and was intended to demonstrate Prussia's power after the Seven Years' War. The palace now serves as a popular tourist destination, about 45 minutes outside of Berlin. Photo Credit: Nick Grundlingh/Let's Go!
The New Palace in the Sanssouci park in Potsdam, Germany was built between 1763 and 1769 and was intended to demonstrate Prussia’s power after the Seven Years’ War. Photo credit: Nick Grundlingh/Let’s Go!

My PlacePass tour of the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag Dome checked all the boxes on the “What makes a good tour” form. Arvid, my group’s tour guide, gave us fresh insights into things we generally knew about, as well as taught us things that I had no prior knowledge of at all.

Berlin landmarks: The Brandenburg Gate once served as one of the eight Berlin Wall crossings during the Cold War.
The Brandenburg Gate once served as one of the eight Berlin Wall crossings during the Cold War. When the wall fell in 1989 the Berlin landmark, which used to represent the city’s division, became a symbol of unity. Photo credit: Nick Grundlingh/Let’s Go!

In one of the tour’s most fascinating moments, Arvid discussed Hitler’s plans to rebrand Berlin as Germania — the center of what Hitler imagined would become the new world empire once the Nazis had won the war. Gesturing to Straße des 17. Juni, which runs from Brandenburg Gate to the Victory Column, Arvid remarked how Hitler had planned to construct a gargantuan hall at the end of the street that would have a dome sixteen times larger than that of St Peter’s Basilica. With nearly 200,000 people inside, everyone’s collective breathing would generate enough condensation to form clouds inside the dome. The hall, Arvid told us, “would have its own climate.” Now, all that’s left of the super-capital is an architectural model on display in Berlin’s Unterwelten-Museum.

Berlin landmarks: The Berlin Cathedral is located in the Mitte district of Berlin and is Berlin's largest Protestant church.
The Berlin Cathedral is located in the Mitte district of Berlin and is Berlin’s largest Protestant church. Photo credit: Nick Grundlingh/Let’s Go!

Beyond these facts and figures, Arvid also slipped in a few personal stories that served to remind us that events like the Second World War or USSR-occupation aren’t just ancient relics, but things that the majority of people in the city have actually lived through. This may seem like a facile observation, and it is, but for someone like me who grew up in the new millennium it still comes as a surprise to interact with people who’ve lived through events which I’ve only read about in textbooks.

For example, it’s jarring to hear your tour guide recollect how he, in the winter of 1990, became one of the first West Berliners to climb over the Berlin Wall, with the same sort of casualness that your dad uses when talking about some road trip he took back in the day. Of course, this is all a very long-winded way of making the basic statement that, what outsiders can only view from a distance as world history, Berliners have experienced as an important part of their own personal histories and stories.

These moments of personal revelation are what made this tour stand out, as everything Arvid said felt engaging and exciting instead of just sounding like a curated collection of sourced facts. The tour, at the very least, allows you to change your perspective and approach history with a greater sense of empathy. And I’m no professional appraiser, but hey, that’s gotta be worth something.

Check out how to book a tour of Berlin landmarks with PlacePass!

Ready for more European adventures? Read our post on cliff diving in Croatia.

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