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Visiting Berlin in Germany

Many of the photos will show a bigger version if you click on them. © pgoh13.com

A Bloomberg report dated September 4, 2014 says that Berlin has become Europe’s third most-visited city, after London and Paris, beating Rome into fourth place in the process. So a good reason to go to Berlin if you are still hesitating.
Apart from the sites of great historical interest for visitors curious to know what has become of what used to be two Berlins, the greatest attraction to most tourists is undoubtedly a visit to the glass dome and roof terrace of the Reichstag building where Germany's Parliament sits. The visit is free but must be reserved in advance online here. You can either choose to visit the dome on your own or be taken on a guided visit of the German Bundestag.
(The Bundestag is the parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany while the Reichstag was the parliament of previous regimes. The building is still referred to as the Reichstag building though it is occupied by the Bundestag today.)
Reichstag building in Berlin
The Reichstag building as seen from the outside.
Invitation letter to visit glass dome of Reichstag building in Berlin
The precious invitation letter that allows you to visit the glass dome and roof terrace of the Reichstag building.

Once you have filled up the reservation form you will be asked to click on a link in the email sent to you. I got my invitation in a pdf file (see scanned photo above) by email within hardly 15 minutes after I had submitted my application, although it was on a Sunday. Talking about German efficiency. But if you want to be sure of getting it for the date and time you wish, it is advisable to apply for it at least one or two weeks before your trip begins.



Glass dome of Reichstag building
The spectacular glass dome as seen from the roof terrace.

Inside the glass dome of Reichstag building
What the glass dome looks like from the inside. Note the visitors walking up or down the lengthy spiral ramp.

View from top of Reichstag building dome
The "heavenly" view that greets your eyes when you reach the top of the dome! (There are "sliding" benches all round for you to lie down to look up and admire the sky - for those who are not afraid to make themselves at home!).

Another highlight of your visit to Berlin is to see the historic Berlin Wall - or rather remnants of what used to be the Berlin Wall separating West Berlin from East Berlin. Coming into existence in 1961, it was only on 9 November 1989 that it fell officially, though its actual demolition was only completed in 1992 (Source: Wikipedia). To go to the East Side Gallery (where a section of the wall has been preserved) you can take subway Line 1 (U1) and get off either at the Schlesisches Tor station if you want to walk across the Oberbaum bridge or go right on to its terminus at the Warschauer station. Below are some of the paintings on the 1.3km long preserved wall making it a vast, sprawling open-air exhibition alley today instead of the barrier between West and East Berlin that it used to be. In fact 118 artists from 21 different countries took part in the project just after the fall of the Berlin Wall to depict the political events of the period. However a number of the paintings have not withstood the test of time while others have been disfigured by graffiti.



1. Painting on Berlin Wall at East Side Gallery
1. Paintings now cover what used to be part of the Berlin Wall.

2. Painting on Berlin Wall at East Side Gallery
2. Over 100 artists from all over the world took part in the project.

3. Painting on Berlin Wall at East Side Gallery
3. And to think that this was formerly a drab and heart-rending barrier to stop the exodus of East Berliners fleeing to West Berlin to join their families or loved ones or simply to look for a better life.
4. Painting on Berlin Wall at East Side Gallery
4. The first three paintings are on the wall along Muhlenstr street on the West Berlin side. The photo above shows some paintings on what used to be the East Berlin side of the wall.

You might also want to visit Checkpoint Charlie, a crossing point in the Berlin Wall which has since become a tourist attraction, having featured in a number of movies. It's located at Friedrichstraße 43-45 and the nearest subway station is Kochstr on U6 (Line 6).

Other places of interest to tourists in Berlin are Alexanderplatz, a very busy square of great importance to tourists as there are a number of attractions nearby, such as the TV Tower (Fernsehturm), the World Clock (Weltzeituhr), the Berliner Dom cathedral and Museum Island (Museumsinsel), so called because it is surrounded on all sides by the Spree River and contains five museums in close proximity to each other.
Alexanderplatz in Berlin
There are always plenty of movement in Alexanderplatz as it is the hub of Berlin's public transport network.

World Clock (Weltzeituhr) at Alexanderplatz in Berlin
This World Clock (locally known as Weltzeituhr) is of interest to visitors who come from all over the world.

Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral)
The eye-catching Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) is located in the Museum Island (Museumsinsel) in the Mitte district.

Pergamonmuseum and Neues Museum in Berlin
Not far from it are the Pergamonmuseum and the Neues Museum as well as three other museums.

Two towering buildings that mark the Berlin skyline
TV Tower (Fernsehturm) in Berlin
Berlin's TV Tower (Fernsehturm)
The TV Tower (picture on left), known locally as Fernsehturm, offers a 360° view of Berlin city from the observation deck at a height of 203m (although the actual height of the tower is 368m). You might be able to spot the Reichstag building, the Brandenburg Gate, the Olympic Stadium and Potsdamer Platz from here. There is a revolving restaurant above the observation deck where you can have your lunch or dinner (it closes at midnight). As there are always long queues you might want to book your tickets online.
The picture on the right shows the Sony Center, which is the centrepiece of Potsdamer Platz. Besides offices and shops there are also restaurants and cinemas in the building. Conferences are often held there and it is also one of the principal venues for the Berlinale film festival held in Berlin every February. Potsdamer Platz was completely devastated by heavy bombing during the final years of World War II and it was only after the fall of the Berlin Wall that the square was reconstructed to become what it is today.
Sony Center in Potsdamer Platz, Berlin
Sony Center in Potsdamer Platz

At the very heart of Berlin's past and present
Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) in Berlin
Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor), symbol of German unity.

Open-air Holocaust Memorial in Berlin
Not far from here is the open-air Holocaust Memorial.

Unter den Linden boulevard in Berlin
The extremely broad Unter den Linden boulevard reminds one of the Champs Elysees in Paris.
The prestigious Humboldt University in Unter den Linden, Berlin
The prestigious Humboldt University is located right along the Unter den Linden boulevard.

Two of the bigger shopping malls in Berlin
KaDeWe department store in Berlin
The long-established KaDeWe department store is just across the Wittenbergplatz subway station on U1 (Line 1).
Europa-Center in Berlin
The Europa-Center is one subway stop away from the KaDeWe department store. It's near the Kurfurstendamm station.

Still more to see in Berlin
Hauptbahnhof, Berlin's central railway station
Hauptbahnhof, Berlin's central railway station. There is a connection to Schönefeld Airport from here.

Tiergarten park in Berlin
Tiergarten is Berlin's answer to NYC's Central Park. Here it fringes on Ebertstr, the road that links Potsdamer Platz to Brandenburg Gate.

The Spree River is omnipresent in Berlin
The Spree River is omnipresent in Berlin.

Entrance to the Berlin Zoo
The entrance to the Berlin Zoo is guarded by two elephant statues.

The House of World Cultures (the pregnant oyster) in Berlin
The House of World Cultures, known as the "pregnant oyster" because of its form, was a gift from the US Government.
Molecule men as seen from the Oberbaum Bridge in Berlin
The towering "molecule men", made from aluminium, are visible from the Oberbaum Bridge near the East Side Gallery.

Berlin's famous currywurst
Don't leave Berlin without at least tasting its local celebrity, the currywurst! My currywurst-with-bread lunch cost me only €2!
Don't be misled by the word "curry" in currywurst. There is actually only a sprinkling of harmless currry powder on the sweet tomato ketchup covering the sausage cut into bitesize pieces. But if you are looking for a proper meal then you could try one of Berlin's few traditional dishes called "konigsberger klopse" though surprisingly not many restaurants have it in their menu. But one address where you are sure to be able to find it is the Dressler restaurant at 39, Unter den Linden. As it is quite near to the Reichstag building and Brandenburg Gate you can easily have lunch there after your visits to those places. This dish of meatballs in a creamy, caper sauce is served with boiled potatoes and beetroot salad and costs €16.50 but the service there is really excellent. Upon entering a waiter volunteered to take my coat (or rather my anorak!) off and even when I only asked for a jug of plain water he not only brought it gladly but also poured it into the glass for me. This would be unimaginable in France, for instance, where your request for a carafe of plain water (instead of the expensive bottled mineral water) would be met with grudgingly, if at all. I don't usually recommend restaurants in my travel articles but this is one restaurant I would definitely recommend (despite the fact that they don't speak much English). Halfway through the meal I was asked if I needed more sauce without my asking for it. This is what I call going out of one's way to serve. And I always believe that credit should be given where credit is due!
Konigsberger klopse, Berlin's traditional dish
Berlin's traditional dish of meatballs is called "konigsberger klopse" and it's served with boiled potatoes and beetroot salad.

There are three youth hostels in Berlin belonging to HI (Hostelling International) but the one that is the biggest and nearest to the city center is called Berlin International Youth Hostel at No. 3, Kluckstrasse. So if you are a budget traveller or if you are travelling with children you might want to consider staying there. It is in a quiet neighbourhood but just keep your fingers crossed that there won't be too many groups of boisterous children when you are there! The price includes a hefty and sumptuous buffet-style breakfast including fresh fruits, hardboiled or scrambled eggs and even meat and poultry salad. And there are over a dozen different types of tea for you to choose from. It's amazing - you name it, they have it. The breakfast here is sure to put anyone in the right mood for the day's programme. The bus-stop at the Lutzowstr/Potsdamer Straße junction (next to the Casino) is just 5 mins. away. One bus there goes to Alexanderplatz and another to the Hauptbahnhof central station. Kurfurstenstr, the nearest subway station, is in an animated area and is just one bus-stop away.
Berlin's International Youth Hostel
Façade of the Berlin int'l youth hostel.
Fresh fruits for breakfast at Berlin's International Youth Hostel
Fresh fruits are available for breakfast here
Meat and poultry salad for breakfast at Berlin's International Youth Hostel
...as well as meat and poultry salad!


USEFUL LINKS:
Berlin - Official Tourism Website
Berlin WelcomeCard details
Berlin Information for tourists
Berlin's TV Tower (Fernsehturm)
Hop-on Hop-off Bus1
Hop-on Hop-off Bus2
KaDeWe department store (Kaufhaus des Westens)
Public transport fares in Berlin
Day trip from Berlin to Leipzig

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