The site of the main remand prison for people detained by the former East German Ministry of State Security (MfS), or 'Stasi', has been a Memorial since 1994.
Since the vast majority of the buildings, equipment and furniture and fittings have survived intact, the Memorial provides a very authentic picture of prison conditions in the GDR. The Memorial's location in Germany's capital city makes it the key site in Germany for victims of communist tyranny.
Very interesting site and great guided tour, also in English available.
Genslerstraße 66, 13055 Berlin, Germany
+49 30 986082 ext. 30
Google map: bit.ly/16T3KGU
Tram M5 from the S-Bahn (City Railway) stations at Alexanderplatz or Landsberger Allee to the Freienwalder Strasse stop. The Memorial is then about a 10 minute walk down Freienwalder Strasse.
Tram M6 from the Hackescher Markt S-Bahn (City Railway) station to the Genslerstrasse stop. Genslerstrasse begins at the back of the Allee Center. The Memorial is then about a ten-minute walk, past the Hotel Kolumbus on the left. The former restricted area stretched to the north of the footpath; the Memorial is at the end on the right.
Tram 16 from the Frankfurter Allee U-Bahn (tube) and S-Bahn (City Railway) station to Genslerstrasse. Genslerstrasse begins at the back of the Allee Center. The Memorial is then about a ten-minute walk, past the Hotel Kolumbus on the left. The former restricted area stretched to the north of the footpath; the Memorial is at the end on the right.
From Lichtenberg U-Bahn (tube) and S-Bahn (City Railway) station, take the 256 bus to Liebenwalder Strasse/Genslerstrasse. It's then about a five-minute walk down Genslerstrasse past the Hotel Columbus.
Or for the Dutch by bike.
There are a few gems from medieval Berlin if you're up to searching for them. Not much is left after the bombs and the DDR but enough for the city to be taken very seriously. This is old Berlin - the two settlements of Berlin and Colln.
Go west and south of the Fernsehturm, across the busy Muhlendamm/Grunerstrasse road from Nikolaivertel's reconstructed old squares (and the magnificent Nikolaikirsche, the oldest church in the city), you seem to be in a characterless quarter with nothing to recommend it. But search out Klostersrasse, then Waisenstrasse and you find Zur Letzen Instanz, an old, much repaired bar/eatery in a narrow leafy street, built in 1621 and with a fine reputation for German cuisine and a history of serving Napoleon and Beethoven among many others. Some say it's the oldest restaurant in Berlin. There's a small beer garden to the side and just beyond that a genuine stretch of old Berlin wall from the 13th Century. A bit further past two bronze sculptures to the left there's the magnificent Gothic ruin of a Francescan monastery from the 14th century set in trees, but not far from the roaring traffic where you'll find a number of circular exhibition spots celebrating the city's 775th anniversary, with detailed info on the Berlin beneath your feet (English translation). Great to find such quiet gems amid so much noise and ugliness, just across a six lane highway from Alexanderplatz.
Two superb places to eat and drink. Wood throughout and lots of brewing equipment on display. Lively atmosphere, very friendly staff, great range of German food at different prices (good quantities) and they brew some of their many beers (the 'Natural' is a really tasty semi-dark one) while having different guest beers each month. They had tasty Oktoberfest brews from Munich in October.
There are two of these in Berlin. We enjoyed one so much we searched out the other which was almost better than the first. One is just off Hackesher Markt up Dirksenstrasse under the S-Bahn. The other is opposite Schloss Charlottenburgh (side on in Luisenplatz)with a superb view. Strongly recommended.
Two hours out of Berlin, taking the train from Hauptbanhof, is the city of Dessau, home to the Bauhaus School in the years between the decline of the Weimar republic and the rise of Nazi Germany. A testament to changing times and attitudes, the buildings represent a style of building established many years later. Turn right out of Dessau station and the main school buildings are five minutes’ walk away. Here you can stop for a tour and find out more about the work that inspired architects and designers for years to come, as well as grab a beer and something to eat in the basement restaurant; but there is much more with the masters’ houses a few minutes away and then a stylish restaurant on the banks of the Elbe a further ten minutes walk. All over the city are examples of the work of members of the school, with also the delight of taking one of the city’s trams to see the southern suburbs. The city is a must for the architectural history enthusiast as well as the social historian.
Deassau Station has a regular service direct from Berlin Hauptbanhof.
Google map: bit.ly/Sp9oLu
Even with the wealth of architecture to see in Berlin, it's good to get out of the city and visit a small town in former East Germany that was so influential in development of craft, art and design.
Dessau was the home of the Bauhaus from 1926 to 1932, with such 'masters' as Kandinsky and Klee, and designers like Josef & Anni Albers. There are numerous groundbreaking white concrete-faced buildings around town, but the highlight is Gropius' Bauhaus building, with its stylish balconies and wealth of workshops inside.
From Berlin, trains are only 90 minutes from Hauptbahnhof, costing around £35 return. Once in Dessau, all of the buildings are free to visit, and there are frequent guided tours in English and German.
You will get to see the Masters' Houses decorated just as when they lived in them, and a short tram ride away is an entire estate of 1930s workers housing, some of which you can visit or even stay in!
While Leipzig is a city destination in itself, if you have some extra time in Berlin it also makes for a good day trip from the capital. Just over an hour on the train will bring you to one of the former DDR's major cities. It's recently restored pedestrianised old centre has a coffee culture vibe and lots of historic sights to see. From the church Johan Sebastian Bach used to be a choirmaster at 'Thomaskirche,' to the fascinating Stasi Museum 'Runden Ecke', and the 'Nikolaikirche' which used to be the meeting point for the peaceful protests of 1989, that eventually brought down the GDR government, a day here will fly by.
Heidi's tour was absolutely brilliant! There were nine of us, all friends, on her tour, which was perfectly paced and pitched - a welcome beer stop on the way round (it was a scorching day!) and fascinating stories told with a real enthusiasm and dramatic emphasis which brought the history of the places we visited alive for us. I would instantly recommend her tours to anyone with an interest in this fascinating city.
In this part of Berlin you are very much inside the territory of the old East Germany, and the Markisches Ufer or Wharfe (alongside one branch of the River Spree) was where the former regime moved old buildings felt worthy of preservation from sites elsewhere where they were in the way of urban development. There are of course only fragments of old Berlin here but enough to give one an impression of a city with bridges, boats, quaysides and mercantile buildings alongside a working river.
The Markisches Museum houses a mixed collection of objects associated with the life and times of Berlin and Brandenburg. It's mostly social history, with paintings, prints, ceramics, reconstructed interiors, and so on. To be frank, this museum is what Dylan Thomas described as "a museum which ought to be in a museum" (he was talking about Swansea's museum), but in its old-fashioned way it offers a quiet environment where other times and other lives can be contemplated without the clamour of other visitors pressing switches, setting of audio-visual displays, or kids running around dressed up as characters from Jane Austen!
Both locations well worth a visit.
The Kulturforum in Berlin is something of a curate's egg. It is incomplete in terms of what its original architect, Hans Scharoun, intended. Partly for that reason it is in visual terms a bit like an upmarket light industrial estate with relatively low level modernist buildings apparently scattered around an open area with little clear sense of order. Moreover there are steps, stairways and ramps everywhere making the site a challenge for anyone with a mobility difficulty. However set against these criticisms the idea of bringing together a modern concert hall (Philharmonie, 1963), the Kunstgewerbe or museum of applied art (1968; currently closed for refurbishment until 2014), the Kupferstichkabinett (1988), with prints, drawings and musical instruments, and the Gemaldegalerie (1998), a world class collection of paintings from the end of the Middle Ages to around 1800, is a good one. It accordingly offers the chance for the visitor to concentrate their visit in much the same way as Berlin's Museuminsel does farther to the north-east of the city.
The Gemaldegalerie has a good restraurant, and a museum shop offering popular as well as scholarly books, prints and postcards.
The Komische Oper offers radical productions of opera old and new. There is an established company of singers there who, in contrast to some of the perhaps grander opera houses in other countries, work together as an ensemble. The singers are indeed stars but they don't seek to outshine the operas they perform. Some productions are indeed radical and Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio", which has just ended its run, could not, I feel, have been shown in London - it was both too raunchy for English tastes and probably too hard-hitting. It was however a serious and valid interpretation of a well known opera.
The theatre has a modern facade and a wonderfully ornate interior. If you are in Berlin for a few days at least I recommend you see a production at the Komische Oper. People of all ages go there and while some are clearly all dressed up, a majority dress simply and go for the music - which is as it should be.
The Bode Museum was the last building on Berlin's Museum Island to be restored after wartime damage, although others nearby, including the Pergamon, are currently being extended or modified. The Bode is an extraordinary building, with vast staircases, domes and apses, and now houses a fine collection of sculpture, Byzantine art and coins/medallions. In its unrestored state it was used as a backdrop for scenes in Istvan Szabo's 2002 film, "Taking Sides", about the German conductor, Wilhelm Furtwangler, with Stellan Skarsgard and Harvey Keitel.
The Bode offers a quiet environment in contrast to the Pergamon and the many beautiful works of art there can be contemplated without being jostled or otherwise hurried along. There is also a good cafeteria adjoining the museum shop.
Don't want to be the only adult among the teenagers in the graffiti tours? This is a more adult-oriented, art-focused tour of Berlin's most famous street art.
It's free and they have the real Checkpoint Charlie (the one the tourists go to is a replica of a earlier version.) Plus a cool 1940's jeep and lots of other military stuff.
Museuminsel - the Island of the Museum is a cluster of five great museums built between 1824 and 1930 on a small island of Sprea. Listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in1999 the Museum Island is one of the most rewarded museum complexes worldwide and it's considered the heart of Berlin. Altes Museum, Neues Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie, Pergamonmuseum e Bode Museum are really a gem with their halls collecting masterpieces and other features representing the evolution of German culture and art through history. The Museuminsel houses not only the museums mentioned, but also the Berliner Dom and the Lustgarten, a huge garden where students, locals and tourists love meeting.
Although it no longer brews its own beer, this wonderful multi-roomed pub - dating back to 1885 - occupies a charming suburban villa that evokes pastoral calm yet sits under what would have been one of the flight paths into the old Tempelhof Airport. It's got a lovely shaded biergarten and - bizarrely - a tree growing in one of the bars. You can't go wrong with a glass of Rixdorfer Hell ale on a balmy evening.
Glasower Strasse 27, 12051 Berlin-Neukolln
Google map: bit.ly/H8FJBD
Tel 030 626 8880
Nearest transport U7 at Grenzallee or U8 at Hermannstrasse.
Great guides that offer a different perspective of Berlin. Take a guided tour of underground bunkers where civilians and military sheltered during WWII. Fantastic atmosphere, enthusiastic and knowledgeable multilingual tour guides. The tours are run by The Berlin Undergrounds Association who are a group of enthusiastic volunteers.
Also perfect activity for wet days, snowy weather and when it is bitingly cold outside. Pre-booking is recommended and there is a great website with lots of extra information. It is not really a suitable trip for little children and people with special accessibility requirements might want to check in advance if the tour is suitable.
Tours cost around 10Euros and last a couple of hours.
+49 (30) 499 105-17
As the title suggests, this groundbreaking film is about a young man accepting the fact that he is gay. Filmed in the GDR in 1989, the film is as sensitive as the storyline is brilliant, and it also provides a fascinating insight into life on the other side of the wall. It also has a special poignancy because the film premiered in East Berlin the very night that the wall fell.
The Monsterkabinett is a permanent and evolving exhibition in the cellar galleries beneath Haus Schwarzenberg in Berlin Mitte. The 20 minute guided tour performance presents 20 years of extraordinary work by the artist group Dead Chickens.
“The Bloch”, a 4m high mechanical monster by Hannes Heiner stands in the main courtyard of Haus Schwarzenberg watching over the entrance to the Monsterkabinett. He rolls his eyes, bats his lashes and flaps his wings, extending an invitation to meet his fellow creatures in the subterranean domain of the Monsterkabinett.
Allow a trusted guide to lead you down the narrow winding stair and into the bizarre and labyrinthine world of the Monsterkabinett where monstrous yet loveable creatures- in turn terrifying, tragic and comical- inhabit a world beyond the imagination. Driven by a compelling rhythm, the fantastic mechanical beings of the monsterkabinett dance and sing. Music and machine merge and thrill to the beat. Highlights of the exhibition include a giant spider which fortunately does not bite, my personal favourite, the hilariously poignant “Trampeltier” and the “Spiegelraum”- a room which has to be seen to be believed. A tour through the Monsterkabinett is an unforgettable experience- grotesque and poetic and berlin underground in every sense of the word.
open Thursday 6-10pm, Friday-Saturday 4-10pm
Rosenthaler Str 39, 10178, Berlin
It's a 1.3km length of the the Berlin Wall with amazing art work recently restored. Pollution and graffiti ruined the first lot so get to see it before this happens again. (I visited on 7th March 2011)
Great little cellar bar in Oranienburger Strasse. Go down the steps and be greeted by the bowler-hatted Ian Dury-esque owner/designer of this DIY retro establishment. Homemade artworks and paraphenalia adorn the brick walls, candles drip wax over their holders, smoke-filled ambience and Rolling Stones grooves. Relax on a big-armed sofa and discuss the Tachelles art collective (just along the road) over a Berliner Weisse green or red. A real taste of creative, underground Berlin.
Oranienburger Str. 40
Google map: bit.ly/gf10hf
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