Home to the French Cathedral, German Cathedral and Konzerthaus (Concert Hall, formerly Playhouse), the Gendarmenmarkt is situated in Berlin's historical Mitte and is commonly known as "the most beautiful square in Berlin." Originally built as a market square (hence the name), the Gendarmenmarkt has been the center of many historical events since it was first created in 1688. The three architecturally stunning buildings are dominant in the square, the concert hall central to the two cathedrals, both with identical dome tops. The square is a beautiful place to walk around and you'll find some wonderful cafe's and shops overlooking the stunning vicinity.
Local Expert tip: Known as "the most beautiful square in Berlin" this is a wonderfully relaxing spot to sit and have a drink or a pleasant stroll.
Located on the Spree River, just in front of Friedrichstrasse U-Bahn, is what was and still is more commonly referred to as the 'Palace of Tears'. What was once the heavily patrolled departure terminal for the East to the West border crossing, is now a fantastic little museum all about the tearful farewells and heartache felt here by those who had to leave loved ones because of the presence of the Berlin Wall. The museum itself walks you through the various stages and years of the Wall with films, photographs, artefacts and personal stories in the original location where so much pain was felt for such a long period of time. The back of the exhibition is particularly heart-wrenching as it cleverly displays part of what was the original corridor leading to the station.
Local Expert tip: Really quite an emotional experience, this well presented museum helps to put into perspective how tough times were and the heartache felt by those who suffered during the time of the Wall.
Originally built in 1699 as a summer home for Sophie Charlotte, the wife of Elector Fredrick III, and later expanded into a stately residence, this stunning Prussian building is the only remaining, and thus now the largest, palace in Berlin. The vast residence is surrounded by beautiful, lush gardens and woodland and the palace's interior is decorated in Baroque and Rococo styles. Quite severely damaged in the Second World War, the palace has since been reconstructed to its former glory and now certain areas are open for public viewing, including the Alte Schloss (old palace) and the New wing. On display are the crown jewels as well as the royal silver and fine porcelain.
Local Expert tip: On a pretty day, take a stroll through the stunning gardens, which are free to the public.
The Berliner Dom (or Berlin cathedral) is a Protestant church, which can be found in the midst of Spree Island, commonly known as Museum Island, in Mitte. This beautiful cathedral has a long history and has undergone a number of amendments to its architecture. What we see today was completed in a Baroque/ High Renaissance style and is notable for its 243-foot high dome, filled with light to represent the presence of the Holy Spirit. The stunning and spacious interior even manages to rival the beautiful facade, with extravagant altar, organ and pulpit as well as an Imperial Stairwell. Visitors are able to climb the 270 steps of the dome for magnificent views of Museum Island, the Gendarmenmarkt, the Synagogue and the Reichstag. There is also a Museum housing various artworks and a Crypt containing 94 graves from the late 16th century to the early 20th century.
Local Expert tip: Stunning and unforgettable, the sheer size of the cathedral and dome must be experienced first hand.
Arguably now the city's most famous border crossing from the time of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie sits at the base of the bustling Friedrichstrasse, now popular for its fantastic selection of shops and cafes. The checkpoint is easily recognisable, even from a distance, by its tall white beam, atop of which sits a large photo of a soldier. Here, sitting at the actual checkpoint, you'll find Haus Am Checkpoint Charlie, a museum dedicated to documenting the history of the checkpoint, known as the place where East met West. Built in 1963 and full of artifacts, photographs and information, the museum explains why the wall was built and how it was patrolled as well as some of the escape attempts (both successful and otherwise..) which still come with a warning, as they were being documented in this museum while the wall was still up!
This beautiful public square in the heart of Mitte is home to the stunning buildings of the State Opera house, Humboldt University Law Faculty and St. Hedwigs Cathedral, located along the famous Unter Den Linden boulevard. It was also the site of the Nazi Book burnings, which took place in front of what was then the University Library, on the night of May 10, 1933. Under the order of Joseph Goebbels, members of various Nazi groups removed and burned any book written by any author deemed to be 'un-German', a total of around 20,000 books. The site now holds an incredible memorial- understated and quite easy to miss if you weren't looking for it. A glass square in the ground acts a window into a white, underground bookcase, supposedly with enough space to house each one of the books destroyed on that night.
Local Expert tip: Because of their ability to be both creative and thought provoking, some of the best sites in Berlin are actually monuments or memorials, and the Burning of the Books memorial is no exception.
Originally constructed in 1965 to be the citys tallest tower and a symbol of triumphant socialism, now the Berlin Fernsehturm (TV Tower) acts as a symbol of the city (and as a fantastic point of reference for lost tourists), visible for miles around. The top of the tower offers incredible 360 degree views of the city from the highest point (207 meters up) and has been voted as one of Berlin's top tourist attractions, with around 1.2 million visitors climbing to the top each year to enjoy the wonderful city views. For those who would like to spend a bit more time enjoying the view, there is the Restaurant Sphere, offering delicious international cuisine to accompany the sites from the top of the tower.
Now popular with tourists wanting to climb its modern dome design, the Reichstag (or House of Parliament) has been an important part of German history ever since its original construction in 1894. Badly damaged by both a fire and as a result of the war, the building required reconstruction and was only reopened as Germany's House of Parliament in 1999. The dome, designed by renowned architect, Sir Norman Foster, is an ultra sleek design supposed to represent the transparency of parliament. Much of the building is now open to the public for viewing and each day, tourists and locals alike flock to climb the spiralling ramp to the top of the dome.
Local Expert tip: Bookings to climb the dome are now essential, so be sure to check the website prior to your visit.
Berlin's East Side Gallery is made up of a stretch of what was once the Berlin Wall, now displaying political artworks from the time of the walls fall. It is located along the Spree River and is the longest lasting outdoor gallery in the world. The gallery is also the longest stretch of both inner and outer walls left standing in the city. Since the fall of the wall in '89, artists have been invited to come and paint murals with various political statements and significances onto its remnants to create this gallery. It doesn't take all that long to walk the stretch and there are a couple of tourist shops and food stalls on the way where you can pick up some currywurst or a piece of the berlin wall and other souvenirs to take home.
Arguably the most well recognized landmark in Berlin, the Brandenburg gate is a deceivingly large sandstone structure (reflective of the Acropolis in Athens) built in 1791. Its original purpose was to serve as the gateway to the city but throughout history, has had various political functions. Fortunately the gates managed to survive WWII with nothing more than a few minor aesthetic blemishes from gun-shots and nearby bombings. These have however been patched up since. Visiting Berlin and not catching a glimpse of this magnificent structure would be on par with going to Paris and not witnessing the Eiffel Tower- it is one of the travel experiences that sticks with you long after you've returned home.
Local Expert tip: Go and visit the gates at dusk or night time for a magical effect. They are beautifully lit and look particularly grand- words can't describe the feeling as you exit up the U-Bahn steps and the gates come into view!