BERLIN –Assuming you’re already armed with a copy of your Berlin city guide of choice, preferably a recent one since this city changes so quickly, the question of what to see is governed by the twin factors of so little time and so much stuff.
For German-speakers, Berlin’s listings magazines TiP and Zitty are invaluable. For non-German speakers, the best bet is to point your browser at http://www.berlin.de, the city’s excellent official tourist and information site, and let your cursor do the walking.
The capital city hosts myriad art galleries, exhibitions, art happenings, live music, opera and cultural events. Getting around is easy and relatively cheap. The BVG, the local transport authority, sells daily and weekly passes for all zones. Stick with zones A-B and you’ve got just about everything covered.
Be sure to stamp your ticket and keep it with you and ready to show at all times. Inspectors are everywhere and they’re on commission for everyone they catch — being a foreigner does not excuse you.
If you need a map, get one of the indispensable Falk plans, available in just about every book and magazine store. Make sure it’s the kind with the unique Falk-Faltung easy opening system (it is marked on the cover).
So what are the must-sees when time is of the essence?
Within easy walking distance of Potsdamerplatz is the Brandenburg Gate, with its famous chariot on top. Built between 1788-1791 by Carl Gotthard Langhans, it is to Berlin what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, the city’s defining symbol. The area around the gate is a pedestrian zone, so visitors can walk through the central arch previously reserved for emperors.
On the way to the gate, you will pass the gray granite Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, designed by architect Peter Eisenman, all the more poignant for its dramatic understatement.
From the Brandenburg Gate walk, or take the bus, along the famous Unter den Linden boulevard to Alexanderplatz.
Now a showcase for socialism’s reliance on concrete and scheduled for almost complete redevelopment, it was the center of the former East Germany. It’s also where hundreds of thousands gathered in the protests that eventually brought down the Berlin Wall in 1989, ended the communist rule in East Germany and reunited the city and the country.
The television tower, the identifying feature of the former East Berlin, offers an incredible view over and beyond Berlin, weather permitting.
As for the Berlin Wall itself, that once separated East and West Berlin, it was removed so quickly it’s hard to remember where it ran. Look for the metal strip in the concrete near the entrance to the S-Bahn station, an impossible feat before its fall in 1989.
Other monuments also speak to the recent past. The Street of the 17th June, so named to commemorate the failed East Berlin uprising of 1953, runs out from the Brandenburg Gate.
The column at the end is the Siegessaule or Victory Column, designed by Heinrich Strack. Topped by the goddess of victory, Nike, it was unveiled in 1873 to commemorate Prussian feats of arms against Denmark in 1864, the inter-German war of 1866 and the war against France in 1870-1871. It was moved to its present location in 1938, and raised considerably, on the orders of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
In Berlin, history is a heavy burden.