What to See in Berlin and Potsdam (Part 3)
Berlin City Guide (Part 3)
Welcome to Part 3 of our guide on what to see in the German capital, grouped by city areas.
Also see: Berlin at a Glance for an alphabetical list.
POTSDAMER PLATZ | Around the Sony Center
- Potsdamer Platz | To truly understand the significance of the transformation at Berlin’s historic Potsdamer Platz, you have to know some of its history. As long as the Berlin Wall was standing, Potsdamer Platz was a desolate no-man’s-land known only to tourists who gaped over the Wall to see nothing but a wasteland on the other side. But there was a time when this square was as well known as Red Square (in Moscow) or the Place de la Concorde (in Paris). Potsdamer Platz was once called the “busiest square in Europe” and had so much traffic that electric signals (from the US) were installed in 1924. (A replica now stands on the square.) - As soon as the Wall fell, design competitions were held for rebuilding the Potsdamer Platz site. The result has been criticised for failing to truly reflect the square that existed before the war, but you can decide for yourself. Potsdamer Platz has a brand new S-Bahn and U-Bahn station, and is within walking distance of the Brandenburg Gate (if you’re not too tired).
(Continued from Part 2)
- Sony Center | The top magnet spot within the Potsdamer Platz complex is the space beneath the canopy roof of the Sony Center (see photo). Surrounded above by high-rise offices and apartments — and below by shops, cinemas, restaurants, and other attractions, the Sony Center plaza attracts people with its interesting space, fountains, and glass/steel construction. Designed by the German-American architect Helmut Jahn, the Sony Center was completed in 2000. It includes the historic Kaisersaal dining hall from the destroyed Grand Hotel Esplanade, which the city of Berlin required to be preserved when it sold the site to Sony. Other things to see in the Sony Center: the Filmmuseum Berlin (with a special Marlene Dietrich Collection), IMAX cinema, and the Billy Wilder Bar.
WEB > Welcome to the Sony Center (English)
- Kulturforum | Over the years, beginning with the Hans Scharoun-designed Philharmonie (Philharmonic concert hall) in 1961, an area around Potsdamer Straße (close to Potsdamer Platz) has been developed as a cultural center. Now a major collection of museums and the State Library (Staatsbibliothek), this area makes it easy to visit some of Berlin’s best museums, including the Gemäldegalerie (“gallery of paintings”) with its outstanding collection of masterpieces by such masters as Botticelli, Bruegel, Caravaggio, Dürer, Rembrandt, Titian, and Vermeer. Also in this area: the Kunstgewerbemuseum (arts and crafts), the Kupferstichkabinett (etchings and prints), the Musikinstrumenten-Museum (musical instruments), Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie (modern art), and the Kunstbibliothek (art library and museum).
WEB > Kulturforum Berlin (English)
- Boulevard der Stars | On February 12, 2010 during the 60th Berlinale the first bronze star (for Marlene Dietrich) was dedicated on Berlin’s imitation of the Walk of Fame in Hollywood. Stretching 320 meters along a median strip on Postsdamer Straße next to the Sony Center, Berlin’s Boulevard of the Stars honors outstanding film people – actors, directors, composers, producers, etc. – who worked in German cinema. In September 2010, an additional 39 stars were put in place, making a total of 40 of the planned 160 plaques. A year later, in September 2011, 21 more stars would grace the red asphalt strip. Unlike the Walk of Fame in California, the stars on the Boulevard of the Stars are individually illuminated at night, and special "Pepper's ghost cameras" allow visitors to take photos with a ghost-like image of selected people such as director Billy Wilder. - Also see: The German-Hollywood Connection
WEB > Boulevard der Stars (in German only)
- Bauhaus-Archiv | The Bauhaus school of art and architecture was founded in Weimar in 1924. Northwest of the Kulturforum, at Klingelhoferstraße 14, is a museum devoted to the Bauhaus school of architecture, art, and industrial design. If you want to see the actual Bauhaus building, you have to go to Dessau. The Bauhaus moved to Berlin in 1932, only to be shut down by the Nazis. The Berlin museum was built in 1979 based on a design by the Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius. See the website for more.
PHOTOS > Bauhaus Photo Gallery (this site)
WEB > Bauhaus-Archiv Museum für Gestaltung (official website in English or German)
- Bendlerblock | Not far from the Bauhaus-Archiv along the Landwehrkanal is a collection of buildings that were the headquarters for the Nazi Wehrmacht (army). Some scenes for the 2008 Tom Cruise film Valkerie were filmed at this site, which is where Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg was shot after his failed assassination attempt on Hitler on July 20, 1944. In this same complex, von Stauffenberg and his fellow conspirators planned their anti-Hitler plot. Today the Bendler Block is a monument to the German resistance (Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand).
WEB > The Bendler Block (English)
The next sightseeing zone is the area around Berlin’s eastern shopping avenue, Friedrichstraße — where the Allied Checkpoint Charlie border crossing used to be located (near Kochstraße) and the Checkpoint Charlie museum is today.
FRIEDRICHSTRASSE | North and South of Unter den Linden
- Friedrichstraße | Running in a straight line almost due north from Mehringplatz, crossing Unter den Linden, and over the Spree River to Oranienburger Tor, the avenue known as Friedrichstraße dates back to 1743. World War II left most of this area in ruins. With very few exceptions, what you see today along Friedrichstraße has been built or rebuilt since the war. During the Cold War, the avenue was a shabby, gray place (the southern part still is), with an occasional new East German-style building. Since the Wall came down, Friedrichstraße, especially around Unter den Linden, has blossomed into a trendy shopping and business venue, accented by the modern Galeries Lafayette department store (photo), the Friedrichstadt-Passagen Q205 shopping complex, and upscale shops (Gucci, Louis Vuitton, etc.). A bit further north, just before the river, is the infamous Friedrichstraße Station (1882), which was the only S-Bahn station in East Berlin that West Berliners and western tourists could still use. But little can be seen today of the street’s most famous landmark: Checkpoint Charlie (see below) and the Wall.
WEB > Berlin’s Friedrichstraße: Where City’s History Played Out (dw-world)
- Haus am Checkpoint Charlie | The “Mauermuseum” is devoted to the history of the Berlin Wall and the various attempts to escape from East Berlin. The museum stands near the spot where Checkpoint Charlie stood from 1961 to 1990 (just north of Kochstraße). The Allied checkpoint “C” was the only one that non-Germans could use to cross between West and East Berlin.
WEB > Mauermuseum (English)
- Neue Synagoge | Located on Oranienburger Str., just a short walk from the Oranienburger Tor intersection at the north end of Friedrichstraße, the New Synagogue, with its beautiful gilded dome, was originally constructed in 1866. Berlin’s largest synagogue was severely damaged by the Nazis in 1938 and then by Allied bombs in 1943. Demolished in 1958, it was rebuilt and reopened in 1995, however it is a museum and no longer a functioning synagogue. Entry is through the Centrum Judaicum next door, which is constantly guarded by policemen.
WEB > New Synagogue Berlin - Centrum Judaicum Foundation (German or English)
- Jewish Museum | Berlin’s Jüdisches Museum on Lindenstraße opened in 1989 in a striking building designed by Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind. Opinions vary on how successfully the structure and its contents serve as a record of the dark history of Jews in Berlin and Germany.
WEB > Jewish Museum Berlin (in German and English)
Below we list worthwhile Berlin sights not listed in the previous sections. These attractions are found in various Berlin districts or outlying areas. Also see our guide to Potsdam and Babelsberg.
OTHER SIGHTS AND ATTRACTIONS | In and around Berlin
- Berlin Airlift Memorial and Tempelhof Airport | Berlin is saturated with history! The Luftbrücke (Berlin Airlift, 1948-1949) was one of the Cold War’s first serious scuffles. Tempelhof Airport was ground zero.
- Charlottenburg Palace | This beautiful baroque palace and its French-style park suffered extensive damage during World War II, but they have been well restored and are a definite must-see. Renamed for Queen Sophie Charlotte after her death, Schloss Charlottenburg was originally constructed in 1695. By 1713, the palace had acquired its distinctive crown-like cupola. To view the palace’s stunning interiors, you need to take a guided tour, but the park grounds are open to all.
WEB > Charlottenburg Palace - SPSG
- East Side Gallery | It’s not easy to find traces of the Berlin Wall today. An accident of history is the only reason the longest intact section of the Wall (almost a mile) is still standing relatively well preserved. In 1990, just after the opening of the Wall, 118 artists from 21 countries painted their artwork on this section of the Wall that runs along the Spree River from the Ostbahnhof (East Station) to the Oberbaumbrücke (see below) — which became known as the East Side Gallery. The elements and unthinking tourists have taken their toll on the artistic panels. The latest of several Wall art restoration projects took place in 2009 to mark the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Wall on November 9, 1989. For photos and more information about the East Side Gallery see The Vanishing Berlin Wall.
- Funkturm and Messegelände | Berlin’s 500-foot Radio Tower dates back to 1924. Resembling an angular Eiffel Tower, the Funkturm has an observation deck and a restaurant. The tower is surrounded by the exhibition and trade halls of the massive Messegelände. Nearby is the ICC (International Congress Centrum) that resembles the Battle Star Galactica. The nearest station is Messe Nord (S-Bahn) or Kaiserdamm (U-Bahn).
- Köpenick | Once a separate town much older than Berlin, many Berliners don’t even know that Köpenick is now part of Berlin. Worth seeing: the Altstadt (Old Town) with its classic brick Neo-Gothic town hall, the Köpenick Palace with its Kunstgewerbemuseum (arts and crafts), and Berlin’s largest lake, the Großer Müggelsee. Also you can learn about the true legend of the Captain from Köpenick. Easily reachable by S-Bahn or auto.
- Marlene Dietrich’s Grave | The German-American film star was born in Schöneberg in 1901 (before it was part of Berlin). Although she died in Paris in 1993, Dietrich asked to be buried in her hometown (despite the fact that it had not been very kind to her). Her resting place is in the Friedhof Stubenrauchstraße (U-Bahn/S-Bahn station Bundesplatz). More: Famous Graves in Germany.
- O2 World Stadium | Opening ceremonies for this new sports and event arena in Berlin took place in September 2008. Up to 17,000 people can attend concerts (Leonard Cohen, Coldplay, Tina Turner, Metallica) and sporting events in the stadium, home to the Eisbären (“polar bears”) pro ice hockey team and the ALBA Berlin basketball team.
WEB > o2world.de (in German or English)
- Oberbaumbrücke | Even if you have never seen the movies Run Lola Run (Lola rennt, 1998) or The Bourne Supremacy (2004), you owe it to yourself to walk (or run) across this beautiful red brick bridge which crosses the Spree between the Schlesisches Tor U-Bahn station (west) and Warschauer Str. S-Bahn station (east). Before the Wall came down, it was a pedestrian-only border crossing. The bridge, near the East Side Gallery, was first completed in 1894. A restoration took place from 1993 to 1994. Today the Oberbaum Bridge allows pedestrians, motor vehicles and U-Bahn Line 1 (U1) to cross the Spree in renewed style.
WEB > Lola rennt - Berlin Locations (plus The Bourne Supremacy - About.com)
- Olympic Stadium | The Olympia-Stadion in Berlin was built for the 1936 Olympic Games immortalized by Leni Riefenstahl in her groundbreaking documentary film Olympia. Look for Jesse-Owens-Allee south of the stadium, a street named for the American athlete. Despite a new roof and remodeling for the 2006 World Cup soccer championship games, the Nazi architectural style is still apparent on the exterior of the stadium. Be sure to visit the exhibit of the stadium’s history in the ticket office annex on the left as you approach the Stadion. To the west of the stadium are the Maifeld assembly grounds and the Waldbühne, an open-air ampitheater. - If you’re a movie buff, the grave of actor Horst Buchholz is in the nearby Waldfriedhof (“forest cemetery”) on Heerstraße. More: Famous Graves in Germany.
- Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum | Most notorious for an April 1945 evacuation “death march” of 36,000 prisoners which killed thousands, the Sachsenhausen concentration camp was built in 1936 by the Nazis. At various times during its nine-year history, the camp located on the edge of the town of Oranienburg north of Berlin imprisoned political dissidents, the mentally ill, Jews, homosexuals, gypsies (Roma and Sinti), Jehova’s Witnesses, and other people despised by the Nazis. An estimated 30,000 people died at Sachsenhausen. Today the site is a memorial and a museum (Gedenkstätte und Museum Sachsenhausen) that documents the horror of the camp. The S-Bahn will get you to the Oranienburg station. The camp is about a mile away from the station on foot or by bus or taxi.
WEB > Sachsenhausen (official site, English)
- Schöneberg Town Hall | From 1948 to 1990, the Rathaus Schöneberg was the main Berlin town hall. It is probably best known as the site of John F. Kennedy’s June 1963 speech, in which he told a live audience of about 300,000 gathered around the city hall that he was also a Berliner.
- Spandau Citadel | The 16th century Zitadelle Spandau lies in the far western part of Berlin at the confluence of the Spree and Havel rivers. Here you’ll find a museum and an observation deck. Spandau is known as the site of the imprisonment of Nazi war criminal Rudolf Hess, but he was not held in the citadel. After his death in 1987, his special prison was torn down.
- Next > Potsdam and Babelsberg
- More > An alphabetical list in Berlin at a Glance
- Travel guides | There’s much more to see and do! See our Bookstore for travel guides for Berlin and Potsdam.
IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER - ALSO SEE: Berlin at a Glance
NEXT > Potsdam and Babelsberg
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BACK > Berlin Sights - Part 1
MORE > Berlin Photo Gallery
MORE > Berlin Links - Berlin on the web
- Berlin at a Glance
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- Berlin Airlift
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Berlin has two!
- Potsdam and Babelsberg
- Berlin Photo Gallery
- City Guides - Germany
- Driving Tips for Germany
- Air Travel - Getting to and from Berlin