To say that Berlin has a tumultuous history is an understatement. The city was once literally divided in half, and remnants of the Berlin Wall’s impact are still felt today. Visiting and focusing solely on the post-WWII era, though, would be to neglect the rich history of Berlin, which dates to the 13th century. These notable Berlin landmarks will help you appreciate all that the city has to offer, particularly from the past several hundred years.
The Berlin Wall & East Side Gallery
It’s impressive, inspiring, and inevitable. In the spring of 1990, over 100 artists redecorated this section of the Berlin Wall with vibrant colors and brilliant images, preserving it from further destruction. The 1.3km stretch along the Spree River is probably the most tourist-heavy spot in East Berlin, but for good reason. Each mural carries a subtle – or often, not-so-subtle – political statement or view on humanity, reminding us that the world is ours to shape. These two Berlin landmarks are probably the most famous on this list, so these are a must-see.
Sophie Charlotte must have been a great hostess. The Prussian queen was a lover of arts and music, and the delicate details found throughout her palace — including intricate SC monograms engraved in the ceiling corners and brightly colored gilded flowers in the crown molding — hint at the beauty and wealth of the Hohenzollern rulers. Although the palace was badly damaged by bombing during WWII, much of its former grace has been restored. This is particularly evident in the magnificent Porcelain Cabinet, where hundreds of flawless blue and white china pieces line the walls, matching the blue and white-tiled fireplaces present in the queen’s chambers. Not to be missed are the adjoining Charlottenburg Palace Gardens, which combine baroque and English landscaping to create a serene spot amongst the towering trees and placid ponds. If you really want the full royal treatment, consider a tour, dinner, and concert within the Palace.
Constructed in the late 1700s, the Brandenburg Gate has seen it all, from Napoleon’s conquest of Berlin to the construction and subsequent fall of the Berlin Wall. Today, it serves as a symbol for the reunification of Germany, where one can stand at its base and regally survey Pariser Platz, just like the famed Quadriga sculpture that crowns the gate. It also acts as a “gateway” to notable landmarks and museums found in central Berlin: the Reichstag lies just north, Tiergarten Park begins to the west, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is directly south. Visiting the Brandenburg Gate early in the morning or late evening helps you to avoid the crowds — sounds like a double win since you’ll catch the gate during golden hour.
Climbing to the viewing deck for the Berlin Cathedral may have you wishing you had skipped that fourth cookie, but those 277 steps are worth it. Back on sturdy ground, the main nave rivals the cathedral’s panoramic beauty with a sparkling marble and onyx altar, grandiose mosaics, and elaborate carvings. Of note are the ornate golden sarcophagi for Sophie Charlotte and King Friedrich I, tributes certainly fitting of a queen and king. Tributes to the rest of the Hohenzollern dynasty can be found in the crypt below. History buffs shouldn’t leave this Berlin landmark without visiting the Berliner Dom Museum, featuring a small exhibit of replicas, floor plans, colored drawings, and statues from the cathedral’s younger years.
These former royal hunting grounds boast nearly 519 acres of greenery in the heart of Berlin, meaning that you literally cannot miss them. On the weekends, locals gather from all over the city for friendly competitions of spikeball, relaxing picnics in the shade, and even nude yoga. Those who are more inclined to remain clothed can rent a rowboat on the New Lake, take a leisurely bike ride down one of the graveled paths, or start a soccer game in the English Garden. For the young at heart, relive your childhood at the Berlin Zoo, located at the southwest end of the park.
Our last Berlin landmark on this list is Gendarmenmarkt, which is most famed for its Christmas market where local vendors sell handcrafted items and delicious winter treats during Advent. The plaza is flanked by a few other Berlin landmarks and museums; to the north by the French Church, the Huguenot Museum, and to the south by the German Dome, a permanent exhibition on the history of the German parliament. A statue of poet Freidrich Schiller stands alone in the middle of the square before the famed Konzerthaus Berlin. Visitors can strike a pose on the red carpet that leads to the entrance of the concert hall, before continuing inside for a glimpse at the orchestra, either in real time or using the available virtual reality technology. Gendarmenmarkt exists at the heart of the city, where one can soak in the history or soak up the sunshine by relaxing with the locals on the steps of nearby landmarks or in shaded grassy areas, cup of coffee or ice cream cone in hand. On select summer evenings, the plaza hosts lively orchestral performances as part of its Classic Open Air concert series.