Most people who travel to Berlin include the Brandenburg Gate on their list of sights to see; it is, after all, an integral part of the history of the city. Likewise, Berlin’s Reichstag building and museums are fantastic, and they are well worth a visit! But there are other unique and interesting activities in Berlin that many tourists don’t see. Here are five of my favorites:
Typography of Terror
Located in the center of Berlin, the Topography of Terror does an amazing job of telling the story of National Socialism (Nazis) in Germany. It isn’t a “comfortable” way to spend a couple of hours, but when you are finished you will have a much better understanding of what happened (and why) in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s.
The museum is a one-floor building near where the secret state police (SS) headquarters were located, and a section of the Berlin Wall stands outside. Reservations are not required, and it takes a couple of hours to go through the displays and photographs. Everything is explained in plain language and explicit photos. Entrance is free and headphones are available to help understand the exhibits
Boat tour on the Spree River
If you get tired of walking in Berlin, taking a boat tour allows you to rest and still see the sights. Boat tours follow the Spree River around the city for an hour-and-a-half and include remarkable views of major Berlin buildings. You might even want to take a German-speaking tour, so you can work on your German and meet locals, who will probably be happy to practice their English while explaining what you are seeing from their perspective. It’s a great way to meet people and to get a unique perspective on Berlin. After the boat tour, if you are daring, ride home on the local trains.
The Berlin Wall on Bicycle
For 29 years the Berlin Wall separated East from West in Berlin and created a unique history. Today, most of the wall is gone, but its effects remain. Cycling along the former wall is an interesting way to understand the impact the wall had on Berlin. Half-day tour groups follow the wall throughout the city. There are plenty of stops along the way to explain what happened and where; to inspect the remaining sections of the wall (including an area of the infamous “death strip”), Check Point Charlie, and watchtowers; and study the lingering differences between the former East and West Berlin.
Neue Wache (Anti-War Memorial)
Most tourists walk right past the Neue Wache on their way to the other, better-known museums on Berlin’s Unter den Linden. But the Neue Wache is well worth a visit. Entrance is free and it takes just a few minutes.
The Neue Wache (New Guard House) has a long history. It originally served as a guard house for a nearby palace, but in the 1930’s it became a memorial for Germans killed in World War I. In the 1960’s the communists re-commissioned it as a memorial to the victims of Facism and militarism. And in 1993, it reopened as a memorial for the victims of war and tyranny. Today, Berliners think of it as an anti-war memorial. It contains a single sculpture – of a Mother with her dead son – positioned directly under a circular skylight and exposed to rain, snow and cold of the Berlin climate. It’s very touching and memorable.
KaDeWe Department Store
The KaDeWe is the king of European department stores. It has been around since 1907, offering exotic goods from around the world. Today, it is a curious bonanza of foods, souvenirs, and goods of all kinds. It’s free, fun, and interesting. You might want to be outside the store shortly before 10 AM, when the original iron gate is lowered so customers can enter. Plan to spend a couple of hours to see the highlights, and be sure to tour the world-famous gourmet department on the sixth floor.