Berlin Germany Vacations
When many people imagine visiting Germany, they often think of southern Germany with its majestic mountain ranges, historic castles and tiny villages. But Germany's rich history and culture are as plainly evident in the cosmopolitan city of Berlin as any where else in Germany. From the regal Reichstag to the oppressive wall turned artsy tourist attraction, there's something for everyone in Berlin.
The following is a list of things that you should definitely take time out to see if you're planning a trip to this amazing city.
The Berlin Zoo is the oldest in Germany and the largest in the world. There are over 1800 species and 14,000 animals in the park. The habitats are beautiful and well-maintained. The grounds are immaculate, and the free maps provide an easy reference for the many exhibits. The biggest attractions include the Panda exhibit simply because of the rarity of the species. When we visited, the Pandas were a bit elusive and inactive, but we did catch a glimpse of them. The Nocturnal Animal House was amazing. This exhibit is located on the lower level of the Predatory Animal House and was a bit spooky and mysterious. While it wasn’t listed as a major attraction in the guide book, the Hippopatomus habit was the biggest draw of the day! This exhibit boasted a complete family of hippos, plus at least one additional male. All were extremely active and the habitat could be viewed from underwater, where the young hippos really stole the show, frolicking under water and pouncing on their lazy father hippo. Tourists thronged to this exhibit, and most stayed put, marveling at the agility of the huge creatures, for at least an hour! There is a separate admission fee for the large Aquarium, but this also is worth a visit if you have enough time to spend. Be sure to get to the zoo early so you have enough time for everything. The zoo also has several small gift kiosks and a restaurant. If you’re not from Europe, you may be surprised by the pay toilets, but you’ll have to adapt. Most restrooms have an attendant that cleans throughout the day and you are expected to leave a minimum tip (about 1 Euro) in her dish as you exit. While it appears optional, it really is not.
The zoo is a great destination if you’re traveling with a family including children.
Located in Pariser Platz, Brandenburger Tor is the most famous site in Berlin. Brandenburg Gate (as it is referred to in English) is a stately presence which stands almost defiantly in the center of the Pariser Platz, in contrast to the modern embassy buildings, shops and restaurants that now surround it. Atop the gate stands its most unique feature, Quadriga, which is a sculpture of a chariot pulled by four horses, in which is seated the laurel-crowned goddess of peace. The Tor is brilliantly lit at night, making the Quadriga appear almost regal. Also located in Pariser Platz are both the American and French Embassies.
The Reichstag is the German House of Parliament. This building is an eclectic blend of history and modernity. Tours are conducted regularly, with the last daily admissions at 10:00 pm, though the building remains open until midnight. Don’t miss the Cupola, which is a circular walkway leading to the top of the Reichstag, allowing tourists to gaze out upon all sides of the city through glass walls. It is, quite simply, breathtaking. Guests can pay extra for a headset into which the history of the Reichstag and surrounding city is played, allowing guests to tour the facility at their own pace.
Berlin Wall - East Gallery
Of course no visit to Berlin is complete without a visit to the remaining section of the Berlin Wall. The wall fell in 1989 and allowed for the reunification of East and West Germany. The East Gallery, as the remaining wall is now referred to, is the only remaining original section of the wall. Upon each panel of the wall are various artistic designs that were commissioned after the fall of the wall. Many of the pictures make their own profound social and political statements. All are breathtaking to behold. The wall runs along the Spree River, which one can see upon reaching the mile long stretch of wall. While the East Gallery is not in a very scenic part of Berlin, it is worth a trip.
Haus am Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie is located near the point where Allied forces were able to cross between East and West Germany. A replica of a uniformed guard is still stationed there and the Checkpoint Charlie museum is located nearby. The museum, while small, includes powerful exhibits that tell the story of those that tried, and usually failed, to make the crossing from east to west. In the lower level, one of the first exhibits is a car with a false floor under which defectors from the east hid to gain passage to the west. Stories abound of lovers and families separated by the wall for decades, lives lost during defection attempts, and ingenious plans for crossing the fortified border.
Mexicoplatz is an historic, architecturally significant square located in the southern district of Zehlendorf. At the center are located two large green spaces where brilliantly colored flowers and stately fountains abound. The S-Bahn station is Berlin’s only art-deco style transit station. Mexicoplatz was a lovely place to spend an afternoon shopping, talking a leisurely stroll and enjoying ice cream or coffee before heading back into the heart of the city.
Unter den Linden
This historic, tree lined boulevard leads to the Brandenburger Tor and several museums, shops and restaurants. One can easily spend an afternoon taking a leisurely stroll down the boulevard and its many offshoots such as Friedrichstrasse and Gendarmenmarkt, both of which boast high-end shopping boutiques and elegant cafes.
This ultra modern square sits in stark contrast to the more historic sites such as Brandenburger Tor and Reichstag, but it is a unique and interesting attraction. In the heart of Potsdamer Platz is the Sony Center, erected beneath a glass and steel dome, which includes a cinema, shops and restaurants that will appeal to a wide variety of tastes. Many tourists also pay a visit to the Potsdamer Platz Arkaden. But do not be fooled by the name. This is not an arcade. It is more like an American shopping mall. It is three stories tall with over 130 shops, boutiques and cafes. The lower level of Arkaden is similar to an American food court, but it boasts a wide selection of ethnic vendors from around the globe.
The Pergamom Museum
Named after the Pergomon altar of ancient Greece, this is one of Germany’s most impressive and extensive collections of ancient art and architecture. It is large enough that you will need the better part of a day to navigate through it, but it is a must see for art and antiquities lovers alike.
Dahlem (Biergartens, Cafes and Sights)
One cannot spend time in Germany without paying a visit to one of its historic biergartens. You don’t have to drink beer to enjoy it. But in case you didn’t know, Root Beer is an American beverage, and the Germans do not serve it! We stayed in the Dahlem district, just a short U-Bahn trip from central Berlin. It was quaint and far less busy than the heart of the city. Our hotel, the Hotel Semanaris, was a modern, very comfortable hotel with a spectacular restaurant serving an incredible breakfast every morning. Our room featured a living room with a pull out couch and separate sleeping area that was both cozy and modern. A small refrigerator and microwave were also provided in the room and the bathroom was equipped with a full bath and separate shower area, a double-sink and ample counter space with oversized mirror.
Only two to three blocks from our hotel was a wonderful biergarten called the Alter Krug Dahlem. It came recommended in our tour book, so we were pleased to be so close. Though we were only in Dahlem for five days, we visited the Biergarten three times. They are open from 10:00 am until midnight and serve and excellent kartoffelzuppe (potato soup). Our guidebook also recommended the Luise, which we tried, but did not care for. The food was only average and the service was the worst we’ve had anywhere in the world. On our second night in Dahlem, my daughters and I had the pleasure of eating at Piaggio’s, a lovely Italian restaurant not far from out hotel. In Dahlem, it seemed everything was within easy walking distance. The service at Piaggio’s was among the best service we had in all of Europe. The restaurant was cozy and quaint with a delicious menu. We chose to eat inside as the night air was brisk on that night, but the front doors remained open to a lovely Biergarten, illuminated by thousands of white tree lights. It was one of the highlights of our European culinary experiences.
The U-Bahn station in Dahlem was only a few blocks from our hotel. It is a rustic station with a large, handmade German clock hanging over the stairwell leading to the tracks. Inside is bakershop serving up coffee, juice and a variety of homemade pastries to hurried travelers. The U-Bahn station had a character and charm all its own. The main streets in Dahlem were easy to navigate and lined with small shops, an apothecary, grocer, and ice cream shops. In addition, there was a small church a few blocks down from our hotel that included a lovely landscaped garden and cemetery. Many tombstones dated back to the early 1800’s and were lovingly preserved.
I would highly recommend picking up a guidebook if you’re planning to visit Berlin. They come in handy not only for helping you to identify the major sites, but also for helping you to locate smaller hidden treasures such as neighborhood cafes, nightclubs and shops.
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