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.
Aim for a dry day to Potsdam which is on an easy S-bahn ride from Berlin. Follow the signs to the bike renting place upon leaving the station - it's only five minutes walk on the way to Potsdam centre. The 17km (11 miles) bike ride takes you through beautiful Potsdam, UNESCO Heritage site, to Sanssouci, baroque palace of Friedrich the Great, rococo OTT New Palace and myriad of other architectural curiosities in Sanssouci's opulent landscaped grounds. The trail continues through the stunning New Gardens with lakes and more palaces before crossing the Glienicke bridge immortalised in cold war films. Babelsbeg Park with its German film heritage is the oasis of tranquillity before the full circle is completed. Beautiful!
Google map: bit.ly/RsKmaE
It’s no secret that Berlin isn’t too pretty and you don’t find a Medieval gem hidden round each corner, but frankly that’s not why you would visit so no shame in that. But if you are on the lookout for some old palaces, grand gardens and cute streets then look no further than Potsdam and bask in the glory of Frederick the Great’s architectural legacy.
And is it worth it? Yes, and I’d have been gutted if I had not gone, and ended up going twice. On the western edge of Park Sanssouci is the Neues Palais (take a bus from the station or hire a bike, although make sure you book in advance on sunny weekends) and then I wandered through the park past the Orangerie, the Chinese House and on to Schloss Sansoucci, Mr the Great’s favourite palace.
Maybe because it was the first one I saw or maybe because it is actually the most impressive, the Neues Palais stands out for me. It’s huge, it’s imposing, it’s incredible that anyone needed so many palaces, but apparently they did, and it’s possibly even more impressive than Pemberley, although Mr Darcy would probably make a more accommodating flatmate than Fred.
But what is more impressive is just wandering around the park on a sunny day and enjoying a completely different experience to Berlin, each part of the park you come across is interesting in it’s own right, and I’m sure I missed loads even after going twice. So you should go and check it out, even on a short trip to Berlin.
Potsdam itself is a nice place to explore, have some drinks, some food, a spot of shopping, and generally relax. We had lunch at Backstolz (on Dorturstrasse, just off Brandenburger Strasse) which was really nice.
Potsdam is a gem of a city, right on Berlin's doorstep. Just 30 minutues away by train and you are whisked away to world heritage sites and plenty more, from the gorgeous Schloss Sanssouci and parkland, the mini 'Brandenburg gate' which opens into the delightful shopping street Brandenburger Strasse, the Dutch Quarter or Park Babelberg. Potsdam is a not to be missed day trip for anyone visiting Berlin.
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
"Brush with the devil in the 'other' Frankfurt."
On the easternmost frontier of Germany and separated from Poland by the Oder river is the other Frankfurt. An hour by train from Berlin this is the birthplace of Heinrich von Kleist, the C18th playwright and author of Prinz Friedrich von Homburg. Magnificent, red brick Gothic buildings dominate this old Hanseatic outpost. The Marienkirche church includes unique and incredible C14th stained glass windows depicting the life of the very normal looking antichrist and his pack of demons. Wander over the river to Slubice, part of Frankfurt until 1945, for lunch in Poland.
Google map: bit.ly/SpaC9I
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.
Sachsenhausen may not immediately strike you as 'day trip' material, but it is an important part of history. 40-50 minutes NW of Berlin (and cheap and easy by metro) you can visit the memorial of the harrowing chapter of German history. You will find the cynical 'Arbeit macht frei' on the entrance gate. Liberated in 1945 it was soon used again by the Soviets until 1961. Most of the buildings remain, including the haunting gas chamber and prison cells.
Free entry, closed on Mondays. A short easy walk from Oranienburg station and you get to see a very different part of Germany on the walk there.
*Not recommended for youngsters*
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.
Tempelhof is a recently disused airport that has become one of the largest green spaces in Europe. Best way to enjoy it is to rent a bike and cycle down the runaway at full speed. Go on, VRROOOOOM!
Tempelhof S-Bahn (you can take your bike on the train)
Platz der Luftbrücke 5, 12101 Berlin, Germany
Google map: bit.ly/JWW8FY
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.
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
The cosmopolitan city of Berlin is a great place to spend Christmas. Wrap up warm and set out in the snow to explore this fantastic city with its mix of ancient and modern history. Call in at the Christmas markets in Potsdamer platz, see the beautiful Sony Centre lit up in blue lights. Try an alternative Christmas dinner – the Berlin classic currywurst (a curried sausage) and a beer then join a million people for the famous New Year's Eve party at the Brandenburg gate complete with a fairground, live music and the midnight fireworks - Fröhliche Weihnachten!
What a place to watch a game of football! It was a dull game but the venue was stunning. We sat right at the back – the back row of the stand opposite the Ostkurve which is akin to the Kop.
You can get a reduction on tickets with a Berlin Welcome card so the price of tickets is very reasonable.
If you can’t see a game, visit the stadium. Incredible.
A former remand prison dedicated to showing the brutality and secrecy of the DDR. The deprivation and inhumane conditions echo those shown in the film "The Lives of Others". However, the testimonies of former inmates make this living history. We loved the fact that the tour was lead by a guide (we went on Wednesday afternoon when the tour was in English) and not a sterile audio handset tour. The site is terrifying and I was glad of the direction of the guide who was also able to go off script.
A highly recommended visit - very unusual and scary!
The Waldbühne is an open air concert venue in Berlin holding 23000 people. It is a natural amphitheatre and great for summer outdoor concerts. I went to my first concert there on the 26th of June 1986 aged 11, to see Queen on their magic tour. Looking back now it was a great privilege to see Queen with Freddie Mercury, for my first concert. I do remember that the security is very tight when it comes to taking bottles into the venue, so don't waste your money trying to take booze in with you. I lived two minutes walk from the venue at the time, however it is easily accessible by public transport, even if you are staying in the centre of Berlin. I have been to many concerts in venues and nothing comes close to a balmy summer evening watching a band at the Waldbühne. I would recommend planning a visit to Berlin around a band you like.
Waldbühne, Am Glockenturm, 14053 Berlin
+49 30 74 73 75 00
Google map: bit.ly/jtb7t6
Germany’s capital Berlin is, for me, one of the best cities on the continent. Berlin is exciting and packed full of history; the best way that I’ve found of getting the most of it is the walking tour and pub crawl run by the New Berlin Guide. The tour starts mid morning and lasts for four hours, it covers a comprehensive range of Berlin's history not just the recent world wars - although this naturally dose get a big share of the time. The tour is done almost chronologically and starts by discussing the Prussian empire and the founding of Germany, after passing through the Brandenburg gate it discusses the beginnings of the European unrest that led to World War Two at the base of the Reichstag, it moves through several key sites and finishes on museum island to discuss the falling of the wall and the origin of the term “Big Lebowski”. At the end of the tour the friendly and knowledgeable guide will inform you of the pub crawl taking place that evening and, should you want to indulge in the debauchery, they will give you a stamp which will entitle you to a reduction (the walking tour is free but the pub crawl does charge a nominal fee). The pub crawl manages to avoid a lot of the shortcomings I’ve found on other such ventures: you aren’t herded around, the organisers don’t feel it necessary to shout every instruction and you don’t have to wear a “look I’m a tourist” T-shirt (although the fact that you are a tourist is not, I shouldn’t imagine, difficult to notice). The “crawl” itself goes to very peculiar bars and doesn’t stick to the generic pubs and clubs that you’d expect. A highlight is the Beach bar – a load of shacks selling beer behind a squat house come art studio. At another bar we were told to show our stamps because they were Serbians on the door and “they don’t take any shit.” After this we jumped on a tram and headed out to a club where the night was finished and we were left to our own devices. Not for kids and not for grownups Berlin, and the New Berlin experience, is for inquisitive young people looking for a good time – I liked it so much I went back two years after my first visit to do it all again!
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