13 Can’t Miss Experiences in Berlin

by Andy Steves

If you have the time during any trip to Berlin, and aren't drained from the night before or too stuffed from a delicious meal, you can't miss these experiences that will give you more insight into Berlin’s past and present.

Paying respects to the victims of the Holocaust at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
Paying respects to the victims of the Holocaust at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Photo by WSA Europe

Fat Tire Bike Tours - Taking a tour with Fat Tire Bike Tours is a great option if you only have a few days in the city. The tour takes you to most of the major sights the city has to offer in about four and a half hours and is a great way to orient yourself with the city. Some highlights include the Berlin Wall, Hitler’s Bunker, Museum Island, Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, Victory Column, and the Holocaust Memorial. Note the itinerary and plan your time to avoid doubling back through the same sights. Log on to their website for a printable pdf. of all their tours, prices, and meeting points. 

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe - Designed by the architect Peter Eisenmen, this compelling memorial is made up of 2,711 different sized stone slabs, positioned on a rolling plane, giving you a feeling of instability, claustrophobia, and disorientation. 

Berlin’s East Side Gallery - The largest open-air gallery in the world, the East Side Gallery is a preserved section of the Berlin Wall that has been painted over by hundreds of artists from all over the world. This once gray, bleak, “soul-less” piece of concrete is now a multi-colored work of art, bearing messages of peace, hope, and German history. 

Topography of Terror - This free exhibit is located on the previous site of the Secret State Police, the SS and the Reich Security Main Office. Extremely well done, moving, and a glimpse into the atrocities that were committed during this painful part of German history. 

Pergamon Museum - One of the five museums that make up Museum Island, the Pergamon Museum is one of the most visited museums in Berlin. It is particularly famous for the life-sized reconstruction of the Pergamon Altar, the Market Gate of Miletus, and the Ishtar Gate. Definitely come to this museum if you’re interested in ancient antiques. Audio-guide is definitely a must there since there are hardly any posted signs. 

German History Museum - Extremely comprehensive museum taking you from the early German settlers all the way through the Cold War and to the hot topics of today. Give yourself time in the museum though - if you read each part of the exhibit, you could spend a whole day wandering from room to room. 

Unter den Linden - After visiting the Brandenburg Gate, take a stroll down this grand boulevard on your way to Museum Island. You’ll pass by a number of beautiful historic buildings, including the Berlin Opera, the State Library, The German Museum of History, and Humboldt University, the school where Albert Einstein taught. 

Jewish Museum Berlin - This museum will send chills through your body, not just from the extensive collection of Jewish history, but from the the actual building itself. Designed by Daniel Libeskind, the building is defined by its zig-zagged hallways, skewed windows, and great “voids”, leaving you with a feeling of uneasiness. The design was meant to make the visitor comprehend the great tragedy that was the Holocaust. 

DDR Museum - An engaging interactive experience revealing the daily life under the Communist regime before the wall fell down. Even try on your own pair of East Berlin Levi knockoffs! 

Checkpoint Charlie and Museum - One of the more overrated sights in Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie was once the checkpoint between the former Soviet and American sectors in Berlin. Today, it offers a model of the old checkpoint house as well as the (overpriced) Checkpoint Charlie Museum nearby. Be wary of taking pictures with "soldiers" or having your passport stamped. These are actors posing for cash and can get quite pricey! 

Bauhaus Archives - Impossible to overstate the impact of the Bauhaus School of Modern Design, a pilgrimage here is pretty much obligatory for design students! 

Potsdam - Beautiful parks and palaces and the quiet atmosphere make for a convenient break from the bustling city. Frequent connections (every 30 minutes) from the Hauptbahnhof make getting there and back quick and easy, €6.80 for a round trip ticket. 

Hackesche Höfe Courtyards - Wander through this maze of shops, cafes, and boutiques to get your shopping fix. Built as a housing project, this entire area has now developed as a great place to pick up a unique find, so keep your eyes open for a deal!