Berlin was vibrant during the Golden Twenties. The city was the third largest municipality in the world and revered for its leadership in science, music, film, education, government, diplomacy, the humanities and military affairs. However, all world leadership roles were lost when the city was virtually demolished and split in two by the Second World War. On 9th November 1989, East and West Germany were reunited and Berlin gradually returned from a walled city back to a world city.
When I visited Berlin, it was just two weeks shy of the 30-year anniversary of the fall of the 96-mile-long wall. This was a particularly significant milestone because the wall had now been down longer than the 28-years it ever stood.
Having spent only a weekend, I barely scratched the surface of what Berlin has to offer, but below is a short list of what I considered to be the highlights.
*HOTEL ZOO - I stayed at this swanky hotel in City West. Don't be alarmed to feel like a celebrity when you get in the lift though. After you press the floor button and the doors shut, there will be a quick series of flashes from the paparazzi images on the elevator walls.
*THE REICHSTAG - This is the home to the German Government and the meeting place of the German Parliament. This building was damaged in the historic fire, back in 1933, but then restored and resurrected, post Berlin Wall, making it an emblem of a unified Germany. This was also the venue for the official German Reunification ceremony in 1990.
*BRANDENBURG GATE - From the Reichstag, cut through the corner of the Tiergarten and walk about five minutes to the next obligatory spot on your Berlin tour. The 18-century Brandenburg Gate serves as the icon of Berlin and also a symbol of reunification and peace. Unfortunately, when I went, it was gated off, in preparation for 30th anniversary events.
*HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL (AKA Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe) - Just 600 meters from Brandenburg Gate you'll find this place of remembrance and warning. This memorial site was created to make you feel uneasy. It's comprised of 2,711 concrete blocks of varying heights, arranged in a grid pattern, on an undulating ground.
*CHECKPOINT CHARLIE - The name comes from the NATO phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie), as Checkpoint Charlie was the third border crossing set up in Berlin. This was the most famous crossing between East and West Germany, during the Cold War. Here everyone, from diplomats to tourists had to pass through to get into Berlin's Soviet sector. A remnant of the Berlin Wall, which divided Berlin from 13th August 1961 until 9th November 1989, still stands here.
*BERLINER DOM OR BERLIN CATHEDRAL - Although not strictly a cathedral (as it has never been the seat for a bishop), this church, on Museum island, is one of the main landmarks in Berlin's cityscape and great example of baroque architecture.
*FERNSEHTURM - Berlin's TV Tower is the tallest structure in Germany. It contains an observation deck, a bar and a rotating restaurant. We had intentions of visiting but there was a two-hour wait, so decided to give it a miss. I suggest reserving a spot online, in advance, if you are keen to go up.
*AMPELMANNCHEN - This little traffic light man is the symbol shown on pedestrian crossing signals all over Berlin and is arguably one of Berlin’s most recognizable symbols. Prior to reunification, the two German states had different traffic symbols - a generic human figure in West Germany, and a male figure wearing a hat in the East. After reunification, Germany tried to rid itself of all things from the East, pedestrian signals included. Outrage ensued and a group successfully lobby the government for preservation. Since then this little man is on traffic lights across West Berlin and has acquired a bit of a cult status.
*MONKEYS - I didn't go to the Berlin Zoo itself, but I did go to Monkey Bar at the top of the 25hours Hotel, which overlooks the monkey enclosure within the zoo. Monkey Bar was too busy on Friday night to get in, but we managed to get a great window seat on Sunday afternoon.
*KATZ ORANGE - I would never have just stumbled upon this place as it was located in a courtyard, set back from the street. It was recommended to me by a friend and I booked in advance. Highly recommended. The place was cozy and beautiful, the food was wonderful and hearty and the service was top-notch.
Berlin is a fun-loving, scruffy, gritty, hip, eclectic and socially-conscious metropolis and definitely worth a visit!