Berlin is the capital of Germany and also its largest city with a population of about 3.5 million people. It is the seat of German government and was often in the middle of German history. As a matter-of-fact in the 20th century no other town had such an impact on the European destiny than Berlin.
In the Middle Ages, Berlin was a centre of trade. At the end of the 17th century, it had about 20.000 habitants. During the 18th century the town of Berlin was appointed to the Residential City of Germany under the command of King Frederick I., also known as Frederick the Great.
The town became a centre of building activities and representative buildings like the Armory, the Palace of the Crown Prince, the Opera Palace, the Staatsoper Opera House, the Prince Heinrich Palace, St. Hedwig’s Cathedral and the Old Library were built.
In recent history, many events of vital importance for the whole world took place in Germany’s capital. One of the worst was the Reichstag fire and the associated political takeover of the National Socialists in 1933. The Reichstag fire was interpreted by the authorities as a communist riot despite shaky evidence. It soon led to a suspension of civil rights and therefore the National Socialists could prosecute their political opponents on legal basis.
But Berlin is also a symbol for the downfall of Nazi Germany in 1945. The Battle of Berlin from April 16 until May 2 was the final battle of World War II. The Germans lost their capital to the red army and Hitler shot himself in the Fuehrer’s bunker.
During the post war era, Berlin was divided by the communists and again the town was in the middle of political interests. Legendary are the great speeches by the American presidents John F. Kennedy (“Ich bin ein Berliner”) and Ronald Reagan (“Come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”). Finally, the wall came down in 1989 and hundreds of thousands Germans celebrated their newly acquired unity.
Today, Berlin is a fast-paced megacity that is worth a visit anytime. Head of state, historical monuments and a great cultural scene attract many Germany visitors. When you plan your Germany vacation, a stop in Berlin should definitely be on your list.
Sightseeing in Berlin Germany
Berlin’s most famous landmark and has a proud history of over 200 years. Once the symbol for the separation of East and West Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate is today the symbol for German Unity.
The Brandenburg Gate was built between 1788 – 1791 by Carl Gotthard Langhans. The construction was assigned by King Frederick William II and should preserve the memory of King Frederick II who died in 1786. The classical building is made of sandstone and reminds of the Acropolis of Athens.
In 1793 the Quadriga was set on the Brandenburg Gate. In the course of time the famous sculpture was taken down three times. After the defeat of Prussia by the French In 1806, Napoleon took the Quadriga away to Paris. Eight years later the Allied Forces could retrieve the Quadriga and it was brought back to Berlin.
During the 2nd World War the Brandenburg Gate was heavily damaged by aircraft bombs. The Quadriga on top was damaged so badly it couldn’t be repaired after the war was over, so it had to be replaced by a copy in 1956.
In the following 43 years, the Brandenburg Gate was the symbol for the separation of East and West Berlin because it was a border crossing point and only soldiers were allowed to stay in this area. On the 22nd December 1989 the Brandenburg Gate became the symbol for German Unity. The border from East to West Berlin was opened and over 100.000 people celebrated in front of the monument.
Due to environmental damage, the Brandenburg Gate and the Quadriga had to be refurbished in the year 2000. Two years later, on the 3rd October 2002, the building was inaugurated to the public again. Since then, it has been a tourist magnet for Germany visitors from all over the world.
Berlin Holocaust Memorial
The decision to build a Holocaust Memorial in Germany was made by the German Bundestag in 1999. The building is a memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. It is situated in close proximity to the Brandenburg Gate and was inaugurated on May 10, 2005. In the first 12 months it was already visited by over 3.5 million people.
Already in the late eighties there were claims of a memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe, but the discussion about the right place and design lasted almost ten years. Finally, the design by Peter Eisenman was accepted. Eisenman is a famous architect from New York and a member of the so called New York Five, a group of outstanding architects.
The memorial consists of a field of grey 2,711 stelaes on almost 19,000 square meters. The stelaes remind of Jewish cemetery gravestones while the grey color stands for the ash of the people who were burned in the concentration camps during the reign of the National Socialists.
There is also an underground Information Centre that is maintained by a Federal Foundation. The function of the information centre is to provide information about the prosecution of Jews during the Third Reich. You will also find concrete facts about the victims like names, personal and biographical details there.
The German Reichstag building is one of the most viewed sights in Berlin. It is the seat of the German government. When the government moved from Bonn to Berlin, it decided to rebuild the Reichstag. It was destroyed during World War II and already rebuilt during the 1960ies, but the requirements were different this time. The British architect Sir Norman Foster accomplished the design of a futuristic building without losing its monumental look. Most impressive is the giant glass dome, shooting out of the building.
Don’t miss to visit the Reichstag roof terrace on top of the building. From there, you can either enjoy the great view on Berlin or watch the flurry of activity inside the glass dome. Since 1994 over 16 million visitors have been counted.
History of the Berlin Reichstag
With the proclamation of the German Empire in 1871, Berlin became the capital and the newly-created parliament was in need for a seat of government. Between 1884 and 1894, the Reichstag was built after the plans of German architect Paul Wallot.
The result was a monumental building that is really representative for a seat of government. The building expresses elements of Classicism as well as elements of Renaissance and Baroque.
The Reichstag symbolizes significant turning points in German history. On November 9, social democrat Phillipp Scheidemann proclaimed here the Weimar Republic.
In 1933 the Reichstag fire smoothed the way for the political takeover of Adolf Hitler. And in 1945 the set up of the red flag by two Soviet soldiers became a symbol for the downfall of the 3rd Reich.
Berlin Victory Column
Right in the middle of Berlin Tiergarten is a famous monument of Berlin – the Victory Column. In 1873 the Victory Column was build in front of the German Reichstag to remind of the Prussian campaigns against Denmark, Austria and France. During the 19th century, the Kingdom of Prussia was a powerful and independent state of Germany. Prussia had a strong military cloud and the people of Prussia were very proud of their military success.
Due to plans of architect Alfred Speer, the Victory Column was moved to Berlin Tiergarten during the Nazi-era. Speer was ordered to rebuild Berlin to the so called “World Capital Germania”. Only few of Speers plans have been realized before the end of WW2 ended also the vision of Germania – The movement of the Victory Column was one of the realized plans.
The Victory Column itself is about 226 feet high. Visitors can take 285 steps upstairs to reach the observation platform on top of the monument. There is no elevator but your effort will be rewarded with a great view on Berlin Tiergarten.
There are different conquered artilleries from 19th century battles embedded into the bottom of the column. On top of the monument is a figure of the Roman goddess of victory.
During the Cold War, Berlin was in the middle of the international conflict. The town was divided by the Berlin Wall into West and East Berlin. The eastern part was administered by the Russian communists while the western part was under supervision of the Allied Forces. In 1961, the communists built the Berlin Wall to keep the citizens of East Berlin from escaping to the west.
During these times, Checkpoint Charlie was the only gateway for anyone who had to travel from one part of Berlin to the other part. Of course, this was not possible for anyone. Only diplomats and other authorities were able to cross the border. This was a real dilemma for the Berlin people. Many could not visit their loved ones simply because they lived in another part of the town as the Berlin Wall could not be crossed. About 100 people tried to cross the wall and escape to the west, but all of them have been killed by border guards.
To get an image of these times for Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie not only consists of a reconstructed US army guardhouse, it also hosts the Berlin Wall Museum. Here you can see film of reckless escapes from East Berlin as well as stories of horrible deliquency in Berlin during Cold War times among other things related to Checkpoint Charlie.
Every year at the last weekend of September the city of Berlin turns into a big running track. The Berlin Marathon is one of the most important events for runners besides the events in New York, Chicago and London.
It was first organized in 1964 with only 700 participants. Today, the marathon attracts ten thousands of runners from all over the world. Besides a large number of recreational athletes, the Berlin marathon is also popular with celebrities from tv and show business running for good causes. Start and finish is the splendid Brandenburg Gate in the middle of Berlin.
In 2008 running idol Haile Gebrselassie from Ethiopia set up a new marathon world record in Berlin by running the track in 2:03:59 hours. Overall, about 40,000 runners started of whom 32,000 made it to the finish line.
Since 1997, there is simultaneously a challenge for inline-skaters – the Berlin Skater Marathon. It is the biggest marathon for inline skaters worldwide with a distance of 42 kilometers (ca. 26 miles) and since 2004 it is the main event of the World-Inline Cup. The men’s record for the track is held by the US-American Joey Mantia with 1:00:33 hours. The best woman ever on this marathon is Angèle Vaudan from Fance with a time of 1:08:29 hours
Berlinale Film Festival
The international film festival “Berlinale” is held every year in February since 1951. It is one of the leading film festivals showing over 400 films on 10 days. Top nobs of the worldwide film industry make the festival a highlight. But it is not an event for the VIPs only – Tickets for the films can be purchased by anyone. The ticket sale starts three days before the festival begins. The program is usually available one week before the start.
The films can be awarded with Golden and Silver Bears for Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Lifetime Achievement and other categories by an international jury. To receive a nomination, the films have to be produced during the last 12 months. Also, they may not be shown outside their country of origin.
Some popular films awarded with the Golden Bear are Cinderella (1951), Rain Man (1989), The People vs. Larry Flynt (1995) and Bloody Sunday (2002). In 2010, the Berlinale celebrated its 60th anniversary and the story of success will surely go on.