Berlin, Germany’s capital and breathtaking modern city

  • Published
  • By Iris Reiff
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall Nov. 9, 1989, and the reunification of the country, Germany's capital has continued to grow. The city of Berlin offers an impressive and fascinating history as well as breathtaking modern culture and entertainment.

Some of the countless attractions available in Berlin are listed below:

In order to have a good first impression of Berlin, it is advisable for first-time visitors to see the city from above. To do this, one can take the lift to the "Tele-Cafe" at the famous Berlin "Fernsehturm," or television tower. At an altitude of 207 meters, this observation platform sits high above the famous "Alexanderplatz" and offers a panoramic view up to a distance of 40 kilometers.

It is recommended for those who like to walk through history and explore re-united Berlin to start in "Alexanderplatz" and venture toward the "Kurfuerstendam," the city's most famous boulevard and entertainment square. Along this route, people can find shops, pubs, cafes, restaurants, movie theaters, musicians, acrobats, life-concerts, sidewalk vendors and an endless stream of visitors at all hours. There are numerous fascinating shops, boutiques, antique stores, galleries and a lot more on side streets.

"Alexanderplatz" square, a pedestrian zone located in the east of the city, was once a focus of traffic and public life. Since post-war years, the square's appearance has completely transformed. One can find the showcase structures built by former German Democratic Republic like the "Hotel Stadt Berlin," the famous TV tower and the 14-story former "House of Teachers" with its 130-meter long mural depicting the life of socialists.

In the heart of the city lies "Unter den Linden," one of Berlin's most beautiful boulevards, that offers a series of famous buildings and monuments. The street was laid out by the Great Prince Elector, and it connected the Berlin City Palace with the "Tiergarten," a former game preserve and hunting ground. Years ago, this land lay outside the city's walls, but today the "Tiergarten" is the largest and most beautiful green area within the inner city.

Berlin's famous Brandenburg Gate, modeled and built by C.F. Langhans between 1788 and 1791, was once a symbol of the division of Germany following World War II. However, Nov. 9, 1989, the gate became a symbol of unity again. Passage through the middle archway of the city gate was reserved for nobility only until the end of the monarchy in 1918.

The magnificent Soviet Embassy building stretches along the side of the street. In its garden lies a Lenin stone under the "Linden" trees. A few meters further is the intersection of "Friedrichstrasse" and "Unter den Linden," once known to be a famous meeting place.

Rathaus Schoeneberg, or Schoeneberg district's city hall, on John-F.-Kennedy-Platz was built between 1911 and 1914 and became the political center of West Berlin after 1948. The Bell of Freedom, a gift from the Americans in 1950, hangs in the tower where it rings every day at noon and on special occasions. President John F. Kennedy gave his famous speech from the Rathaus balcony that ended with the often-quoted words, "Ich bin ein Berliner" or "I am a Berliner" in 1963.

Postwar Germany's first elected parliament met in October 1990 in the "Reichstag Building" on the "Platz der Republik." This building, constructed by Paul Wallot between 1884 and 1894 has a very colorful history. The Reichstag houses the permanent exhibition "Questions of German History."

The "Berliner Rathaus," or red brick city hall, was constructed between 1861 and 1869 and can be found in eastern Berlin. Since the fall of 1991, the governing mayor of Berlin and the chancellery have resided here; they previously held a seat at the "Rathaus Schoeneberg" city hall.

The "Siegessaeule," or Victory Column, at the "Grosser Stern" located on "Tiergarten" is dedicated to the Prussian military campaigns of 1864, 1866, 1870 and 1871. The gilded Victoria is about eight meters tall. The golden decorations on the 67-meter-high column consist of a captured French cannon. Until 1938, the Siegessaeule stood on the Platz der Republik in front of the Reichstag.

Berlins' well-known memorial church, the "Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedaechtniskirche" is located on Breitscheidplatz. In 1945, only the ruin of the tower was left of the church that was built between 1891 and 1895 in the Neo-Romantic style. Carefully preserved, it is a monument of the war and a familiar symbol of today's Berlin.

The Berlin Dom, or Cathedral, is the largest church in the city, and it serves as a vital center for the Protestant congregation of Germany. The cathedral attracts thousands of visitors from Germany and abroad.

Berlin's Olympiastadium sports arena seats 78,000 people and was built for the 1936 Olympics. Germany's soccer fans meet here every year at the peak of the season - the trophy finals. More sports sites surround the stadium complex.

The "Ploetzensee" Gedenkstaette is a memorial site installed in 1952 at the former execution site of the "Ploetzensee" prison to commemorate those who died in resistance against the National Socialist rule of violence.

"Charlottenburg" castle is Berlin's most popular castle and has a very interesting history. Prince Elector Friedrich III, who later became King of Prussia Friedrich I, gave his wife, Sophie Charlotte, the Royal Summer Residence Lietzenburg Palace as a token of his love. After his coronation, the king had the originally-plain building expanded several times. The new wings were built, and the garden was laid out to model Versailles. In memory of Sophie Charlotte who died in 1705, the Prussian king renamed the palace and expanded it once more, adding the orangery and the cupola with Fortuna, the goddess of luck. His grandson, Frederick the Great, also proved to be an active builder; the eastern wing was named the Knobelsdorff wing after its architect and was built during his rule. Almost a century later, the mausoleum was built for Queen Luise who died in 1810; in the 19th century, Peter Joseph Lenne remodeled the park along the banks of the Spree River into an English Garden. In 1943, the Palace almost completely burned down during an aerial bombardment. The palace facilities are among the city's most beautiful cultural monuments today. The equestrian statue of the Great Prince Elector has stood in the palace courtyard since 1952.

The Charlottenburg castle contains the following museums: historic rooms of the "Nering-Eosander" building, the new "Knobelsdorff" wing, the "Schinkel Pavillion," the Mausoleum in the Palace Park, and Belvedere, a three-story teahouse. A number of other interesting museums also are located in the neighborhood.

"Friedrichstrasse" was once a world-famous amusement district. It was with little success converted into a GDR showcase boulevard. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, "Friedrichstrasse" became a thriving location again. Theaters, cabarets and businesses opened once again. The center of nightly entertainment is the famous theater "Friedrichstadtpalast."

Those who would like to take a journey through Europe's most comprehensive parks might consider a visit to the Botanic Gardens on Koenigin-Luise Strasse.

The Europa Center is a window-shopping paradise on Tauentzienstrasse. Stores, pubs, restaurants, a cabaret and a gambling casino are located there. On the ground floor, Berlin's largest water clock measures the time. From the roof, one has a magnificent view of the city.

The area around Berlin is famous for its lakes, forests and points of historical interest. The "Mark Brandenburg," the "Potsdam" palaces and the canals are among the most popular destinations for outings.

Berlin is a metropolis where an old rule applies: most shopping and entertainment districts are found in the west while the historical center is in the east. A tour through the "Mitte" district of the city provides an interesting look into Berlin's common history.

In Berlin, Germany is growing together - not because the city functions as the country's capital, but because nowhere else does the "wealthy" West collide so close with the "poor" east. This creates a tense, but very unique and fascinating environment. Berlin is worth a trip!

Berlin Wall History: From Aug. 13, 1961, to Nov. 9, 1989, the wall divided Berlin into two sections. A 161-kilometer border also separated West Berlin from the surrounding countryside. About 80 people lost their lives in escape attempts as border troops on the so-called "death strip" had orders to shoot crossers. The western part of Berlin could be reached only by airplane, by train or along three transit Autobahns, but only through the extensive controls of GDR border police. In 1989, the movement for democracy in what are now the five new federal states could no longer be suppressed. The GDR gave in to pressure from its people and opened the border Nov. 9, 1989. Remnants of the Berlin Wall still stand today.