A pretty long (3.5 miles / 6 km) walk from Central Station (Hauptbahnhof) to Hackescher Markt. However, you can skip parts of it, i.e. start at Brandenburg Gate (minus 0.7 miles) or take the subway from Potsdamer Platz to Stadtmitte (minus 0.5 miles).
Exit Central Station, cross the bridge at the opposite end of the square in front of the station. Turn left to walk alongside river Spree. You'll see the main buildings of the governmental quarter. At Reichstag Building head to Brandenburg Gate (pic 1). A cobblestoned line indicates where the wall stood.
Going down Ebertstr. you'll come along the Shoa/Holocaust memorial. Then comes Potsdamer Platz, formerly Europe's most frequented square. In front of Sony Center some slices of the wall can be seen. From Reichstag Building to Potsdamer Platz you basically followed the line of the former border. There's a somewhat hidden watchtower where you can see the copyright sign on pic 2.
Stroll through Sony Center and have an ice cream at Café e Gelato (see tip).
Then either hop on the U2 only to exit at the next stop ("Stadtmitte") or walk down Leipziger Str. which admittedly is a drag.
Pic 3: Go down famous Friedrichstr. (Checkpoint Charlie at your back) and turn right into Mohrenstr. to find Gendarmenmarkt, one of Berlin's nicer squares, especially on a warm evening.
From here, it's a stone's throw to Bebelplatz with its neoclassical buildings. In the middle of the square, you can see a simple, yet powerful sculpture through a glass plate: The "Empty Bookshelves" commemorate the Nazi bookburnings which took place here.
Now turn right into Unter den Linden, once Berlin's most glamorous boulevard, then cross Lustgarten.
Lustgarten is part of the Island of Museums, which is listed as UNESCO World Heritage. Between Old Museum and National Gallery, you'll see a bridge to your right (pic 4). Cross the bridge, turn left and then right again and you are in front of Hackescher Markt, an S-Bahn station.
Alternatively you could go to Domaquaree to visit AquaDom and Sea Life.
This S-Bahn station is the oldest and most beautiful station of the twelve kilometre long Stadtbahn (city railway). This railway is made of bricks on nearly its entire length, reaching from station Charlottenburg to Ostbahnhof. It was built from 1875 to 1882 as the main east-west connection. It has four tracks, a lot of viaducts, and eleven stations.
The beauty of the station Hackescher Markt, built from 1878 to 1882, is its picturesque design of clinker and rich terracotta décor. The high halls under the tracks, thanks to the viaduct construction, today host a lot of great restaurants, bars and fashion shops. The cafés have large outdoor seating areas, so you can sip your cappuccino or dine al fresco.
The pedestrian area in front of the restaurants is the place of the daily delicatessen market. See extra tip.
From the other side of the tracks it is just a five minutes walk to Alexanderplatz and Fernsehturm.
I had not planned to have a look at the New Synagogue – but then I was too busy checking the foods at Hackescher Markt, got a wrong turn and walked along Oranienburger Straße which is a great spot for shopping, a coffee, dining, nightlife and arts… ;-) And soon I spotted those fairytale-like gold-rimmed orthodox church towers I had admired so much in St. Petersburg and Helsinki, and so I kept on walking because I could not miss such a beauty. And that is how I got to Neue Synagoge.
And “new” really means new. The façade and golden domes were reconstructed from 1988 to 1995 after the church had been destroyed nearly completely by a World War II bomb in 1943. It is used as a place for prayer, museum and exhibition centre. A steep staircase leads up to the dome, the site of the original church has become a gravel-covered open-air memorial square.
The original synagogue on site was built by Eduard Knoblauch (German for Garlic) from 1859 to 1866. At the time it was the largest one in the world, and absolutely innovative for the use of iron in the roof and the galleries inside. Apart from this it was huge, offering space for 3,200 worshippers.
Miraculously, the synagogue survived the Reichskristallnacht (Reich’s Crystal Night) on 9 November 1938 in which Jewish churches and other property were burnt down by the Nazis, thanks to a policeman chasing the rioters away. But World War II ended its life.
Next door is the Centrum Judaicum which hosts a museum, archive and library of the Jews in Berlin. Beside that is an exhibition of the Jewish activist and philosopher Moses Mendelssohn.
If you go there, be prepared to undergo a strict security check.
Neue Synagoge is just a short detour if you walk from Hackescher Markt to Bode-Museum, the northern end of Museumsinsel (Museum Island).
I wonder why children always have to stand IN fountains when I want to take a photo... And I wonder why their parents do not mind when their kids wade along naked women bathing in the basins, lolling at the feet of gods and other guys... LOL
Anyway… Let’s come to the facts.
If you admire this wonderful neo-Baroque fountain near Alexanderplatz, west of the TV Tower and located between Marienkirche and the Berlin Town Hall, you cannot imagine that it had such a difficult start into life. Emperor Friedrich (Frederick) III was strictly against it although the sculptor Reinhold Begas had got a lot of inspiration on a trip to Italy and already created some of the figures he wanted to use for this monumental fountain in 1880. They had to wait until the Emperor died in 1888 and his son, Wilhelm (William) II, took office. Obviously Wilhelm was more open-minded, and so the work was finished rather quickly. On 1 November 1891 the fountain was inaugurated – but in front of his residence, the Berlin Castle.
In World War II the fountain was one of the many monuments that were destroyed. But it was restored in 1969 and in the same year relocated to its actual position opposite Town Hall.
The red granite basin is new and shaped a bit like a four-leave clover, and in it a lot of figures are coverting around Neptune who, as the god of the seas, thrones over everything. But they do not only hang around, they serve as gargoyles. You find a lot of putti and creatures of the sea. Four tritons (Poseidon’s assistant gods) carry a huge shell in which Neptune takes his dominant place.
It needs an explanation that the four female figures sitting on the rim of the fountain symbolise the four main rivers of the Prussian empire: Rhine, Elbe, Oder and Weichsel.
I thoroughly enjoyed Hackescher Markt which is an open-air market mainly for fresh produce and fruit, but also great cheeses, sausages, smallgoods, olives… Just an incredible lot of international delicatessen.
I was lucky to be there on the right day because the market - located in the pedestrian area in front of the historic S-Bahn station Hackescher Markt - takes place only twice a week, on Thursdays and Saturdays from 9am until the early afternoon. If you arrive near the end of the trading hours you can make great bargains, as the stallholders try to get rid especially of fresh fruit, so you get a lot of two for one offers.
The market was instated in 2004 after locals had collected lots of signatures for an according petition.
This church, just a couple of hundred metres from Fernsehturm, near Neptunbrunnen and the Berlin’s Red Town Hall, is the only medieval church of historic Berlin still in use. It was first mentioned in 1292. The oldest part of the building you see now, mainly made of red bricks, is from 1390. The light-ochre tower was added in the 15th century, and the helmet-shaped dome, designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans, in 1789/90. It has baroque and neo-gothic elements.
A special feature is its strange placement, diagonal to the street (Liebknechtstraße). This is due to the medieval custom that the church choir had to face to the east. And BTW – its official name is St. Marien.
The interior is very interesting. The hall is early gothic. Probably the most famous piece of art is the fresco named “Totentanz” (Danse Macabre or: Death Dance). It is from the 15th century and was covered by several coats of paint. It was rediscovered in 1860, exposed and restored to its former beauty. It shows people of all classes who walk towards their deaths.
The Baptismal Font is also of outstanding beauty. It dates from 1437, and is decorated with the figures of Jesus, Mary and the Apostles. It is supported by three Gothic dragons – really the unique quality of the font.
The pulpit (1703) is one of Andreas Schlüter’s masterpieces, carved in alabaster. It is decorated with bas-reliefs of St. John the Baptist and the Virtues. The main altar (1763) was designed by Andreas Krüger in Baroque style.
Open daily 10am – 6pm, guided tours daily at 2pm, Sunday mass at 10.30am and 6.30pm, entry free.
When strolling around Museumsinsel and heading towards Nikolaiviertel I coincidentally discovered a very attractive shopping arcade which revealed more and more interesting features the longer I walked around. Its name is Heiliggeist-Gasse, named after the nearby Heilig-Geist-Kapelle.
The most appealing thing of this mall opposite the Berliner Dom, on the opposite bank of the Spree river, were the outdoor seating areas of the many cafés and restaurants. Ok, not really outdoor – as the arcade is under a wide glass dome, so you can enjoy the light and sunshine and are protected from the rain.
The main attraction, however, is the so-called “AquaDom & SEA LIFE”, which holds an extraordinary aquarium. In the AquaDom visitors are transported through a 16 metre high acrylic water column by a double-storey elevator, so they can feel like fish among the 2000 tropical fish. The SEA LIFE part of the aquarium holds 4000 water creatures of 1000 species in about 30 aquariums.
Although they say the AquaDom is unique in the world, it is part of the SEA LIFE chain that runs a lot of aquariums in Europe. So I cannot verify this claim. Apart from that the website is chaotic and does not seem to be interested in grown-up design.
Open daily 10am – 7pm (last admission 6pm)
Entry fee 14.50 Euro, children up to 13 years 11 Euro
A hotel, offices and residential apartments complete the project that was named “Dom Aquarée”, consisting of four new buildings. Those were erected after the demolition of the former “Palast-Hotel”.
Don’t get confused: The massive Altes Stadthaus (literally: Old City House, in the sense of: Town Hall) at Molkenmarkt, opposite Berlin’s (Red) Town Hall and Nikolaiviertel, was originally named Neues Stadthaus (New City House/Town Hall) when Berlin was in urgent need of a second town hall because the old one had become too small for the administration offices. The palace-like building with its dome-like tower, built from 1908 until 1911 and designed by Ludwig Hoffmann, has always been an administration centre and then cost 7 million gold-marks.
While it served as GDR Ministerrat – the GDR Government - the name “Neues Stadthaus” went to a neighbouring building which also took the function of city administration, and the former “Neues Stadthaus” left of the now “Altes Stadthaus” – if you watch it from the Molkenmark corner of Nikolaiviertel - became “Altes Stadthaus”. Still everything clear? LOL
It served as the residence of the GDR Government from 1955 to 1990. After the abolition of GDR the name “Altes Stadthaus” went back to the former “Neues Stadthaus” next door, and the again “Altes Stadthaus” now hosts Berlin’s Senate for Internal Affairs.
A little anecdote: After the reunification there were suggestions that German Bundeskanzler (chancellor) Helmut Kohl should use the really wonderful Altes Stadthaus as Bundeskanzleramt – which is the chancellor’s official residence. But he rejected the offer politely and said yes to a new construction in the suburb of Tiergarten.
“Die Welt” is not just “The World”. It is the name of one of Berlin’s and Germany’s major newspapers. This name is printed on the world’s largest captive balloon, filled with helium, and actually located at the corner of Zimmerstraße and Wilhelmstraße.
The balloon can lift you up 150 metres above ground – the location is between “Topographie des Terrors” and Checkpoint Charlie. So if you walk you cannot miss it.
This might give you a great view over Berlin but I would not be willing to pay 19 Euro for these 12 to 15 minutes of fun.
Of course, you can only ascent in good weather conditions.
Flights are for a maximum of 28 people but they also start with only one person. The balloon always remains connected to the ground with a thick steel wire. An electric motor helps you to get back to the ground again.
The balloon has been operating since 1999. The design can change if the sponsor changes. Once it started as the PR balloon of the TV station Sat.1.
Open Sun – Thu 10am – 10pm, Fri and Sat 10am – 0.30am
This is a 1.5-mile or 2.5 km walk through Spandauer Vorstadt, a part of the borough "Mitte" which, together with "Scheunenviertel" around Rosenthaler Str. was the Jewish Quarter of Berlin. Streets like Oranienburger Str. or Hamburger Str. date back to times when this area actually was a "Vorstadt" ("before the city") with streets merchants used to go to other cities.
Many places commemorate Jewish life (watch out for "Stolpersteine"), and I see with delight that the Jewish congregation is now back and growing.
Start your tour at Hackescher Markt S-Bahn station. Cross the square, go through Hackesche Höfe, the most well-known courtyards, and maybe see Rosenhöfe, too. You won't miss either of those.
Then turn left into Sophienstr (pic #1). There are some galeries, more courtyards, and without the cars, one could think, time stood still since the 19th century. Many better known Berliners are buried at Sophienkirche's cemetery.
Pic#2: Turn left into Große Hamburger Str. Here, you'll find a Jewish school and Berlin's oldest Jewish cemetery. Philosopher Moses Mendelsohn was buried here, but Nazis had destroyed the cemetery to build trenches. Only a reconstruction of Mendelssohn's tombstone can be found.
Now turn right into Oranienburger Str. to find Kunsthof, New Synagogue and Heckmann Höfe (pic #3). Although not a red-light district, you'll see hookers along Oranienburger Str. (not in front of the synagogue) after sunset, so if you have kids, you might want to come at broad daylight.
Go through Heckmann Höfe and turn left. Go down either Auguststr. or Tucholskystr. Turn right into Oranienburger Str. again to find Tacheles.
Pic #4: Tacheles is Yiddish for plain-talking, which was difficult in the GDR when artists had to hide their message "between the lines". Formerly a department store, the building is certainly not something for everyone, but it has a very moving history.
Now you are at Friedrichstrasse with a subway station and a tram stop right in front of you.
The Bundesrat is the second important pillar of German lawmaking. It is the house of representatives of the 16 German states. About 50 % of the laws Parliament (Bundestag) decides have to pass the Bundesrat, and if they do not agree, the plans go back to Parliament.
Since 2000 the Bundesrat is sitting in the former Preußisches Herrenhaus (Prussian Mansion) in Leipziger Straße. If you walk towards Potsdamer Platz from the Holocaust Memorial you will see this stately building – actually there was a huuuge open space in front of it, a fenced building site, like so many open spaces in Berlin at the moment.
The Preußisches Herrenhaus exists since 1904, on the site of a previous baroque building. It was used for many purposes, so for example from 1920 as the site of the Prussian Council (Staatsrat), and from 1933 to 1945 it was Hermann Goering’s office in his function as Prussia’s Prime Minister (Haus der Flieger/House of Pilots). It was damaged in World War II – and later - as it was sitting in East-Berlin - used as GDR’s Academy of Sciences.
When the Bundesrat decided in 1996 to follow the Bundestag from Bonn to Berlin the building was renovated from 1997 to 2000.
The interesting thing about Bundesrat is that it can look different after every election in one of the federal states which hold their elections at totally different times, whereas the Bundestag is elected every four years. The original intention to install the Bundesrat as a corrective organ beside Parliament has altered over time. It has become an organ ruled by party politics, and therefore it often just blocks the work of the Government. And vice-versa.
I remember that we had to use the backdoor to get into this museum before the reunifation. They had built the Wall right in front of the building, on Niederkirchnerstraße, so the main entrance could not be used. It is located at easy walking distance between Potsdamer Platz and Checkpoint Charlie, right beside on a big open space – the former headquarters of Hitler’s Nazi regime – you find the exhibition “Topographie des Terrors”.
This wonderful building, designed by Martin Gropius, grand-uncle of the famous Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius, was originally built in 1881. Like most other great attractions in Berlin it was destroyed in World War II. It took until 1981 when it was reconstructed in the classic Italian style, and it was refurbished in 1999. Formerly it hosted an arts and crafts museum, now it is used for changing exhibitions. But also 40,000 objects of 20th century’s daily life can be seen permanently.
This building is really spectacular with its façade adorned with mosaics, many golden ones shining in the sun, and terracotta reliefs. Inside you can admire the central patio which stretches over the whole height of the building.
Open Wed – Mon 10am – 8pm
Admission varies, depending on the kind of exhibition
Some other buildings around Alexanderplatz are so ugly that they will be demolished sooner or later. Those high-rise Plattenbau (prefabricated concrete slabs) buildings look like depressing rat cages and do not offer a lot of quality of life.
The plan of an architect who won a competition for redesigning Alex includes building 13 new skyscrapers. If they look like the futuristic ones at Potsdamer Platz this could become spectacular, and integrate the TV Tower a bit more into the square.
Why is a tip about department stores placed under "Things to Do" and not under "Shopping tips"?! Well, it's my fault... I am not much of a shopper, and I can't tell you if the prices are good or exorbitant.
What I can tell you is that even if you are not a shopping fan, just like me, you'd better step into these beautiful department stores and admire the bold architecture of the interior, not just the exterior.
Galeries Lafayette Berlin is the only branch of the Parisian company outside France. It was conceived by the architect Jean Nouvel, and completed in 1996. The building is shaped like a big glass cone. Inside you'll be able to see that there is another smaller inverted cone, complementing the harmony of this structure.
Quartier 206 lies next door, but is completely different. It has 2 storeys of top designer shops, and the interior is designed in art deco style, with beautiful black and white marble under a glass roof. Going down the grand spiral staircase is a bit dizzying, but made me feel like a prince or a duke. Quartier 206 was planned by the New York architects Pei, Cobb, Freed & Partners. After a long day of walking in Berlin I relaxed in one of the leather armchairs on the upper floor and admired the architecture and the old world ambience.
Quartier 205 is again very different; all three department stores are connected by a beautiful underground passage.
If you carry on walking from Martin-Gropius-Bau towards Checkpoint Charlie – Niederkirchner Straße continues as Zimmerstraße – you must imagine that the people living on the western side of the street breathed eastern air when they only opened their windows. When they stretched out their arms they were on GDR territory.
The border was a virtual line and started at the walls of those houses. The Wall itself was set back by 2.50 metres. However, it was allowed for Westerners to walk on Zimmerstraße – but it was forbidden to drive. So if those people shifted house they had to carry all their belongings several hundreds of metres. You could see such pictures on TV every now and then.
I also heard and read again that people who refused to pay taxes, or had huge debts, and also criminals were very much attracted to this street because police, bailiffs and other state employees were not allowed to walk on GDR territory, so this was a safe haven for such dark elements of society.
This photo shows in an impressive way how crazy the demarcation line was. Martin-Gropius-Bau (in the foreground) was in the West, and you could only enter via the backdoor, Berlin’s Abgeordnetenhaus (in the background) was on GDR territory.