Like many European cities, Berlin has a rich and varied history. Germany itself was a key player in many world events over the past several hundred years, and certainly in the twentieth century. As such, there are many interesting points of interest throughout Berlin celebrating triumphs and victory. There are also landmarks that serve as memorials to the darker parts of history- landmarks that stand in the hopes of honoring the memory of those who perished and to serve as a reminder of the events that occurred, hopefully never to be repeated.
The city itself is beautiful. While there were many buildings that had to be rebuilt in the aftermath of World War II, there are still a number of historic sites that date back over hundreds of years. Berlin is thought to have been founded in the 1200s and with the Spree River running through the city, Berlin was an important spot for trade. Over the 800 or so years that followed, the city has seen conflict as well as periods of growth such as that during the Industrial Revolution. The 1800s also brought a period of immigration into the metro areas of the city, bringing families from neighboring European countries, along with people of Jewish and Turkish descent. In many ways and like many major cities, migration was an important force in the development of Berlin as a world center.
We started out walking and scooter tour on our second day in Berlin. After making our way into the center of the city via the M4 tram and stopping for a coffee at Coffee Fellows in Alexanderplatz, we walked toward Spreeinsel, also known as Museum Island. From Alexanderplatz, we had a good view of the Fernsehturm Berlin television tower. At 368 meters tall, it is the tallest structure in Germany, and one of the highest in Europe. Construction on the tower was completed in 1969. It was built to transmit German Democratic Republic programming and to be a symbol of the power of the socialist government. Today it is a landmark from which one can get amazing 360 views of the city while getting a drink at the bar on the observation deck.
After crossing the Spree from the east, we were on Museum Island. We took photos in front of the Berlin Cathedral, an ornate, domed structure that is a Protestant church, despite being called a cathedral. The history of the church dates back to the fifteenth century, however the current building was constructed at the end of the nineteenth century. We did not go in, however there are tours available here. In the same plaza, the Altes Museum formed another backdrop for out outside photos. This museum was built in the 1800s in a Neoclassical style and houses a huge collection of artwork as well as ancient coins and jewelry. The Lustgarten park in the plaza seemed a popular place to take a break from walking in the summer heat. We walked about 290 meters north and checked out the exterior of the Alte Nationalgalerie. This museum holds about 2000 paintings and sculptures from the 1800s. It is the original Nationalgalerie Berlin and along with the other museums on Museum Island, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From Museum Island, which is indeed an island formed by the Spree and the Spreekanal, we continued west and took photos near Humboldt University and St. Hedwig’s Cathedral. Humboldt was founded in 1810 by Prussian minister of education, Wilhelm von Humboldt and was a center for the sciences. According to the internet, as many as 29 Nobel Prize winners came out of Humboldt, and it is said that Albert Einstein taught there before World War II. As we took photos in the square, Sami wondered aloud whether she would be able to get into Humboldt. With about an 18% acceptance rate, it is pretty competitive, and no wonder with some of the most influential scientific minds having been schooled at the university. Her dream is to study in Europe like her sister, and we encourage her to always do her personal best. So maybe someday… St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, the oldest Catholic Church in the Berlin’s Archdiocese, was consecrated in 1773. During World War II, it was an important center of resistance. Sadly, much of the original interior was destroyed during the war, so the inside is a modern version of it.
We continued east and stopped for a salad lunch before heading to Brandenburg Tor. Built at the end of the eighteenth century, the Brandenburg Gate is a Berlin icon and the only surviving city gate. It was very damaged in World War II, however it remained standing. When the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, the gate was in an inaccessible zone in the Soviet sector. When the wall fell in 1989, over 100000 people gathered to celebrate the opening of the gate. Today, it is a symbol of a unified Berlin.
On the west side of the gate is Tiergarten Park. This central park spans 520 acres and is really popular. And for good reason. There are a number of tree-lined trails within the park, along with a cafe and beer garden. It was here that the kids first picked up ride-sharing electric scooters. After paying for their Voi and Tier scooters, we walked through the park, following Bundesstraße 2. We came upon the Soviet War Memorial which was built by the Soviet Union commemorating soldiers who died in the Battle of Berlin in 1945. It is one of a few memorials constructed around the city by the Soviet Union.
Nearby is the impressive Victory Column. Another Berlin icon, the Victory Column was built to celebrate Prussian victories over Denmark, and France between the years of 1864-1871. The golden statue of the goddess Victoria shines atop a 69 meter column. For a small fee, visitors can climb to an observation platform. With that involving 285 steps, it was a no from the kids, who preferred to continue riding their scooters around Tiergarten. So that was what we did. We took turns on the scooters and saw the Schloss Bellevue, the President of Germany’s official residence.
In addition to the sites mentioned, we also saw a number of beautiful fountains, impressive buildings, and idyllic parks. Our walking/scootering tour was definitely fun, even though we didn’t go into most of the buildings. To do so would have required much more time in a vibrant and relatively culturally diverse city. There were also so many other things to do and see. Whatever your interest- be it art, history, science and technology, or nature- there is something for everyone in Berlin. Just pick a happy trail and go!
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