The German capital, if any, is the perfect year-round destination, and a perfect place for a city hike. We put on our hiking shoes and spent some sunny winter days exploring Berlin’s Top Ten sights.
We did most of it on foot, and took the subway only where the distances were too long to walk.
This post will explain our walking and subway itinerary through an exceptional city, Berlin.
Walking between Berlin’s Top Ten sights: Brandenburger Tor
Our trip was exceptional in all ways.
It was a year ago, exactly. There was going to be the massive ITB Berlin Travel Show that gathers travel experts and travelers from all over the world. Then, a few days before it was cancelled, as the first event of this size in the whole world. There was a new type of virus from China spreading in North Italy.
We all know the rest of the story, too well. But on that day Clas and me were in Berlin and there was not what we came for.
Luckily we had an apartment where we could live in isolation. We had our hiking shoes and luck with the weather – and luckily there were things to see.
Berlin is a city full of sights and a city full of history. So out we went from our apartment and started walking, day in and day out.
What to See in Berlin
Berlin’s sights: Alexanderplatz and the Fernsehturm
Berlin is a city full of attractions and monuments, many of which reflect the city’s dramatic past.
The wall that split the city in two and the former royal gate Brandenburger Tor. Checkpoint Charlie where they checked access between different zones of the city and the iconic GDR TV tower that looks like a needle, just to mention a few.
These are the top sights of Berlin we went to:
Berlin’s Top Ten Sights
- The Berlin Wall
- The Museum Island
- Unter den Linden: Berlin Cathedral to the Brandenburg Gate
- Holocaust Memorial
- Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
- Check Point Charlie
- East Side Gallery
I will show you them all and an itinerary that links them. We will also put the sights on the map:
Berlin’s Top Ten Sights: Walking and Subway Itinerary
The map shows you our walking itinerary that links Berlin’s Top Ten sights.
We mainly walked, but as two of the stretches were too long for us we used the subway here:
- from Potzdamer Platz to Kurfurstendamm where Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is located, and
- from East Side Gallery to Hackescher Markt in the old center.
Map of our Berlin walking and subway itinerary
We started from Mitte (up north on the map) where our apartment was. Berlin Mitte, and particularly Gartenstrasse and Bernauer Strasse still have a lot of wall.
We walked on south to Alexanderplatz and west to Brandenburger Tor and the German Parliament, Reichstag.
From Potzdamer Platz we took the subway to the old West Berlin and back, after which we headed to Checkpoint Charlie and Kreuzberg in the south east.
From Kreuzberg we crossed the bridge to East Side Gallery and finally took a train to Hackescher Markt in the city center.
So, first about the Berlin Wall:
1. The Berlin Wall
Graffiti on the Berlin Wall
For almost thirty years the Berlin Wall stood there and split the city in two. Built in 1961 it stood there to stop people from the east get over to the western parts of the city.
For that purpose the wall had to be high enough to prevent people climb over. That meant a massive construction with watch towers, trenches, fences and so on.
Berlin’s Top Ten sights: Berliner Mauer, the Berlin Wall
So they built this wall through their city and and the different parts became totally isolated from each other. The Berliners in the east and west lived their lives for the next thirty years, not knowing about each other.
Then came December 9, 1989, on which day the pressure from the citizens of the east got too hard to resist. Their government gave up and let them cross the wall and see their cousins the other side.
The Berlin Wall as it was. Source: Mauermuseum
After the historic day it all changed rapidly and most of the wall was literally torn in pieces. Afterwards houses were built and green areas established in the empty spaces where the wall had existed.
On Gartenstrasse you can still climb to the wall and see that there were two parallel walls running side by side and a wide elevated area between the two walls.
In those days the area was super clean and empty and carefully watched by the military. Today it’s all overgrown:
A Berlin Wall watchtower as it is today
Walk Suggestion: Follow the Berlin Wall
Want to know where exactly the wall was located? Check out the BerlinMap360.com Map of Berlin Wall location.
A Berlin Wall watch tower decorating a residential area
To give you another Berlin walk suggestion, use the wall location map and follow the old border line through the city. We did that walk too while in Beriln and it gave us very much.
Berlin Wall Memorial
Berlin Wall Memorial, Bernauer Strasse
Back to the walk: from Gartenstrasse the wall turns into the better known streets Bernauer Strasse and Ackerstrasse. These streets were the scene of many dramatic incidents in the Socialist time.
Berlin Wall Memorial and Bernauer Strasse
To learn about the history of the wall, visit the Berlin Wall Documentation Center in the street corner.
Then examine the long row of brown poles and other rusty monuments of the Berlin Wall Memorial and discover a remaining piece of wall with authentic holes, carved by people who wanted to see what life was like on the other side.
Looking through the Berlin Wall, Germany
Where Bernauer Strasse ends the wall then turns north. We, instead, turn south. To see what the old GDR square Alexanderplatz is like.
Berlin’s Top Ten Sights: Alexanderplatz
While Germany was divided, the capital of West Germany was Bonn and Berlin was the capital of the GDR. And Alexanderplatz was the eastern capital’s iconic main square.
The enormous square was totally rebuilt in the socialist era, in the socialist style – since nothing of the old square was left after the war.
Alexanderplatz, Berlin in photos
The TV tower and world clock were the symbols of East Germany, and of course Marx and Engels got their statues here as well.
Read about the TV tower and get tickets to the lift up.
Berlin’s Top Ten sights: Alexanderplatz World Clock
Alexanderplatz is breathtaking. Having never been to Berlin before this was the place I was most eager to see.
Luckily all Berlin was not destroyed in the war. The Museum Island next to Alexanderplatz was one of the places that survived and so did a lot of the main street Unter den Linden.
Berlin’s Top Ten Sights: 3. Museum Island
Alte Nationalgalerie on the Museum Island of Berlin
As Berlin is so full of history there is an overload of museums. Some of the best of them exist on an island in the river Spree, called the Museum Island.
The Museum Island is full of fantastic treasures from Germany, all Europe and from distant continents.
The island contains a pretty courtyard with a lot of columns and the list of museums is exhausting: Pergamon Museum, Neues Museum, Äpyptisches Museum, James Simon Gallery, Bode-Museum, Altes Museum, just to mention some of them.
The garden and columns in front of Alte Nationalgalerie:
Berlin’s Top Ten sights: the Museum Island
Go and spend time on the island and in its museums. Even UNESCO has taken the Museum Island of Berlin on their World Heritage List.
Learn about the collections of the Museum Island of Berlin.
Yet museums won’t end after you leave the island. They exist all over Berlin, old and new ones, art and history.
Art in Berlin: walking from Alexanderplatz to the Museum Island
4. Unter Den Linden: Cathedral to Brandenburger Tor
The cathedral Berliner Dom, Unter Den Linden
Unter den Linden is the historic main street of Berlin. Starting from Alexanderplatz it leads through a beautiful old area of the city to the Brandenburg Gate.
On the old western side the name changes and Strasse des 17. Juni takes you on to Tiergarten.
Berlin’s Top Ten sights: Unter den Linden
Unter den Linden is known for its linden trees that decorate its both sides. However, visiting in winter you won’t see the trees. As they have no leaves the trees are invisible. Never mind, that makes the fine buildings lot more visible.
That’s right, Unter den Linden is packed with historic buildings. Like the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Staatsoper, Kronprinzenpalais, Humboldt-Universität, Berliner Scholss, statues, memorials, theaters and so on. Not to forget Berlin’s cathedral Berliner Dom.
When you get closer to the Brandenburg Gate at the far end, Unter den Linden transforms to a shopping street.
Here it stands, the gate to freedom:
Berlin’s Top Ten sights: the Brandenburg Gate, Unter den Linden
For centuries this has been the icon of Berlin, a gate built around 1790 following what Acropolis looks like.
Then, a hundred years later the Deutsches Reich was born here and after less than a hundred more years the Soviet flag was raised on it.
So the Acropolis gate got a new life as a part on the border line in the divided city. The Brandenburg Gate made a section of the Berlin Wall – until the wall fell here in 1989. It happened right in this place.
Berlin’s best known landmark, the Brandenburg Gate
Funny enough, the massive green statue at the top is the symbol of piece.
Nevertheless, Unter den Linden ends at this point, transforming to a big thoroughfare to Tiergarten, Bellevue and Charlottenburg. You can walk on to the old West Berlin, long ways.
We took another way. One of the Tiergarten walkways goes to the Reichstag building where the German parliament sits.
The Brandenburg Gate separated the two parts of the city
5. The Reichstag Building
Reichstag building where the German Parliament sits
When the German Empire was born in 1871, they built the Reichstag to be the country’s Parliament. A building that was to be the symbol of national unity.
Then the country split in two and they ruled Germany from two different places. And now, the reunited country is once more ruled from this building.
In 1933 a fire broke out and destroyed big parts of the building, including the dome. A new dome was built out of glass, the one we can see today.
Berlin’s Top Ten Sights: the Bundestag dome
You are free to visit the building and the glass dome, but need to book your time in advance. To do that, visit the little kiosk outside and show your passport.
When your tour begins, you will be screened after which a guide will take your group up to the roof.
The old German Reichstag building and its dome
The glass dome is a magic experience and you can see the Bundestag (Parliament) members work downstairs.
The dome gives a bird’s-eye view of the whole city and surrounding areas. For the best views, walk up the ramp that winds its way to the top.
I don’t know what the old dome was like, but at least this modern dome is super nice!
6. Holocaust Memorial
Holocaust Memorial: a sea of stone blocks
The next place is not super nice, rather more like a nightmare. A short walk south from the Parliament is Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial.
Berlin has seen many terrible things happen but nothing exceeds what the Jews faced during World War II.
These grey blocks are a perfect place to stop, sit down and recall Europe’s darkest moments. Different sizes and heights make the massive blocks appear like a sea:
Holocaust Memorial, one of Berlin’s Top Ten sights
Potzdamer Platz skyscrapers
Then, close to the memorial is Berlin’s modern business center Potzdamer Platz. Full of new constructions in all forms and shapes. A lot of glass surface, a lot of business, and entertainment to please all tastes.
Berlin’s new business hub Potzdamer Platz
Potzdamer Platz has a big train station so down we went and took a train to the old West Germany.
7. Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
And up we came by the main landmark of West Berlin, a church that dates back to the Hohenzollern times. Sadly destroyed in World War II the only thing that remained of it was the bell tower, more exactly parts of it.
So they built a new, modern church and a new, modern bell tower.
The church looks very simple from the outside. First when you go in you will see what what made this church famous. The tiny windows that look grey from the outside are blue glass and make the interior glow blue which looks fantastic.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church is one of the most empowering church interiors I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. You could never imagine that if you only see the outside.
Photos of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
The base of the old bell tower has original mosaics and religious items from the Hohenzollern time.
The nearby Kurfurstendamm was Berlin’s most famous street in the Golden Twenties and afterwards became the Western side’s exclusive shopping street, a huge constrast to the east.
Kurfurstendamm still is a busy shopping street and full of luxury stores and hotels. Shopping streets, however, are not what interest us when we travel, so we took the next train back.
The shopping heaven of the Kurfurstendamm
We took the subway back to Berlin history: Checkpoint Charlie.
8. Berlin’s Top Ten Sights: Checkpoint Charlie
The control hut of Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie was the best known border crossing between East and West, strictly watched by the military at all times. A very touching place that made us think about how badly divided Europe was for a long period, 28 years.
The Mauermuseum, Trabis and Topographie des Terrors
The nearby Haus am Checkpoint has witnessed a lot during those 28 years.
It’s now a Mauermuseum that explains what the Cold War was like in Berlin and what happened with those who wanted to escape. With their Trabis or on foot, or digging a tunnel with their hands.
The old GDR country border
Check Point Charlie is located south of the old city center. That’s where Kreuzberg begins.
The mixed, multicultural Kreuzberg
Kreuzberg is a kind of alternative Berlin, mixed and multicultural. An exceptional, colorful area with walls full of street art, maybe most of all in the eastern part.
Bars, pubs, small shops, nightlife. Very quiet at daytime when we walked through it, Kreuzberg wakes up at night. A place you have to see to understand what Berlin is. Whether you feel at home here or not, you must see this place.
Kreuzberg street art in photos
After a long, long hike through Kreuzberg there was a bridge where we could cross the river – to find more street art on the other side. In the place where the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall exists.
Crossing the Spree: Oberbaumbrucke
10. East Side Gallery
East Side Gallery: Fall of the Berlin Wall
After the Berlin Wall fell, 118 artists came from 21 countries and filled l a 1,3 km long stretch of the wall with their art and paintings. All paintings here contain symbolics or a story about the dramatic years in question.
East Side Gallery paintings on the Berlin Wall
These emotional paintings show the strong feelings the people on both sides had in those exceptional days.
The East Side Gallery of Berlin is a highly touching exhibition. Behind the link you can see more of it.
The return of strong emotions: East Side Gallery of Berlin
The closest train station to East Side Gallery is Ostbahnhof, from where we took a train to the last Berlin attraction I’m showing, Hackescher Markt and Hackesche Höfe.
Bonus Sight: Hackescher Markt
Haus Schwartzenberg, Hackescher Hof
What would be a better place to round out a Berlin day? Do it in the German way: Wurst mit Sauerkraut for dinner and a pint of Berliner beer. Or maybe a light dinner with cool German white wine? Hard to choose.
Hackesche Höfe is a real Berlin hotspot, one of the many in the area. Eight interlinked courtyards inside a row of historic buildings, not overcrowded at all in early evening but will be that later at night.
End of the Berlin walk: Hackesche Höfe and Hackescher Markt, Berlin
No Berlin This Year
So that was how we spent our time in Berlin in a situation when the thing we came for didn’t exist. We tried to do the best out of it, and I think we really did it.
It was kind of a surprise how much Berlin offers and how good the city is to walk through. As we already were conscious about the Coronavirus we strongly felt like walking and avoiding people and crowds. Walking is maybe the safest way of sightseeing.
Next week the ITB Berlin NOW Convention will be there again. This year it will be a totally virtual event and for trade visitors only. Nevertheless, it will still be the largest travel industry event of its kind.
So when watching presentations of leading travel professionals and joining meetings from home, I will think about what it was like Berlin. So glad after all that we went there last year.