Day 1: Always #1 on my list for any city that offers these: Fat Tire Bike Tours. We did the “Berlin City Bike Tour.” But there are more than one to choose from. I see they now have a Nazi/3rd Reich tour on the list. I plan to tackle that one the next time I am in Berlin. But you could do both by customizing your own Nazi/3rd Reich tour with a little research. Fat Tire Bike Tour guides are always English speaking guides. American or otherwise.The tours are just plain fun. You are riding around a major European city such as Berlin on a bike with a guide, getting excellent historical information, enjoying spectacular scenery, and stopping for lunch or snacks along the way at a super picturesque cafe. You just can’t beat this. Fat Tire Bike Tours are absolute thrills. https://www.fattiretours.com/berlin
Day 2: Reichstag tour https://freetoursbyfoot.com/visit-reichstag-berlin-dome/ We booked this online. Note: there’s more than one place to book this tour. You can compare options. The Reichstag is the center of parliamentary process for the country. The architecture throughout the building is stunning, making this one of the funnest buildings I have ever toured on the INside. Also there is a roof top. The roof terrace and dome of the Reichstag Building can be visited by members of the public, and offer spectacular views of the parliamentary and government district and Berlin city.
Day 3: The Berlin Wall Memorial and the Berlin Wall Museum both of which are done in conjunction. We did both of these places on our own, no official tour guide. It was very moving. I was sort of in my own little world as I stood in a place where people were forever changed. In many cases, families were separated from each other literally overnight. In quiet thoughtful meditation I honored those who lost their lives trying to get to West Berlin over that wall. In many cases, they were just shot down by Russian or German Democratic Republic (GDR) authorities while trying to get to their loved ones on the other side. WWII ended in May, 1945. At that time, Germany was immediately occupied by the allies for a time deemed necessary to rebuild from the toils of war. Berlin was split West Berlin from East Berlin. West Berlin controlled by the Americans with British and French allies. East Berlin occupied and controlled by the Russians and their contemporaries in that sector, the German Democratic Republic. But don’t be fooled by the name. There was nothing Democratic about them. There was nothing Republic about them. They were communist. The wall was erected to prevent people in the Eastern Bloc of Berlin from escaping to West Berlin. The wall existed from 1961 to 1989. My German friend Tanja, who is close to my age, grew up in West Germany. She was born in the early 1970’s. She was there when the wall was intact and when it came down in 1989. She remembers the feelings of euphoria experienced by her country at the prospect of all people in Germany once again being one unified county.
“In the years between 1949 and 1961, about 2.5 million East Germans had fled from East to West Germany, including steadily rising numbers of skilled workers, professionals, and others. Their loss threatened to destroy the economic viability of the East German state. In response, East Germany built a barrier to close off East Germans’ access to West Berlin and hence West Germany. That barrier, the Berlin Wall, was first erected on the night of August 12–13, 1961.”Brittanica.com
Day 4: The Pergamonmuseum. To this day, it has been one of the absolute best museums I have ever visited. You can check online for tickets. I like booking my museum tickets ahead of time because 1 I almost always avoid a long queue to get inside. And 2 at the same time I am booking, I am also checking to see opening days and hours. This alone can save you from a lot of disappointment. The museum features a reconstructed Pergamon Altar and the Market Gate of Miletus, as well as the Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way of Babylon. Additionally, you will see the earliest written documents known to humankind dating from the late 4th millennium BCE. NOTE: Major reconstruction will prevent much of these amazing exhibits from being accessible to the public until possibly 2024. So this might impact your trip planning. Check online for updates.
Day 5: Topography of Terror On the site of the former SS Gestapo headquarters, which has been destroyed, lies the Topography of Terror museum. The exhibition documents the history of the institutions that terrorized the population between 1933 and 1945 as a consequence of the Nazi regime. This is a fascinating tour well worth your visit whether you are a history buff or not. I mean if you like movie thrillers or adventure books, you’ll enjoy this tour. That is not to minimize the TRUE content of this place. But I think often if you are not super interested in history, you might immediately dismiss the idea of touring such a place as this. Don’t! Because you will find it intriguing on a level you could never have imagined.
Day ?: Tempelhof We did not do this, but it’s on our “next time” list. It is a little bit out of the way of the city, but it is a shoe in for a WWII buff like me. This former airport was one of the iconic European airports in the early 20th Century and is famous for its Nazi and Cold War history. This was the site from which the Allies famously delivered supplies to Berliners during the Berlin Airlift of 1948 – 1949. WWII ended in Europe in 1945. Today, Tempelhof is a much beloved, green, common area where locals frequent to cycle, skate, and fly kites down the old runways.
“After World War II, the Allies partitioned the defeated Germany into a Soviet-occupied zone, an American-occupied zone, a British-occupied zone and a French-occupied zone. Berlin, the German capital city, was located deep in the Soviet zone, but it was also divided into four sections. In June 1948, the Russians–who wanted Berlin all for themselves–closed all highways, railroads and canals from western-occupied Germany into western-occupied Berlin. This, they believed, would make it impossible for the people who lived there to get food or any other supplies and would eventually drive Britain, France and the U.S. out of the city for good. Instead of retreating from West Berlin, however, the U.S. and its allies decided to supply their sectors of the city from the air. This effort, known as the “Berlin Airlift,” lasted for more than a year and carried more than 2.3 million tons of cargo into West Berlin.”History.com
Day ?: DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik or GDR German Democratic Republic) Museum. Sigh! We didn’t do this one either. What was everyday life really like in East Berlin under communist rule? A trip to the DDR Museum will give you a real hands-on experience. With a replica of a high-rise tower block, visitors are encouraged to explore the way that people lived during this difficult period. This is no ordinary, “look and read” museum experience; it is very much interactive.
Daily additions. In most cases, the tours listed above on Days 1-5 can be combined with shorter and less time intensive activities. This was definitely the case with our 5 days in Berlin. Still yet, each of these thought provoking and compelling sites are experiences you don’t want to miss.
- Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Very close to the Brandenburg Gate, this is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
- Checkpoint Charlie; Old checkpoint between Western and Eastern Berlin.
- Brandenburg gate.
- Berlin Cathedral (go up to the Dom) Please look on line to see if you need tickets ahead of time for dom. We did not, but that could have changed.
- Tiergarten (if you do the city bike tour, this is on the stop). Tiergarten is to Berliners what Central Park is to New Yorkers.
- Soviet Memorial, Treptower Park Three soviet memorials were erected in Berlin after the war by the USSR, but the most impressive is at Treptower Park. Covering a total area of 100,000 square metres, it’s the largest of its kind and also serves as a war cemetery for 5,000 Soviet soldiers. The memorial contains a number of frescoes that depict the course of WWII as well as commemorating the Red Army soldiers that were killed during the conquest of Berlin. This structure is also the largest anti-fascist memorial in Western Europe; evidently an important site to visit.
Berlin is one of the most beautiful cities in Germany. It surprised us in all the best ways. I hope the same experience awaits you as your plan your Berlin adventure.