There’s a host of top historical locations to explore in Berlin and among the very best are the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag and the Berlin Wall. Other popular sites tend to include the Holocaust Memorial, Berlin Cathedral and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.
The modern city of Berlin was first noted in the early 13th century, its humble origin as a small settlement meant it was of little importance. However, its excellent location led to a slow and gradual growth right through the middle ages. By the 18th century the city was one of the most important political and cultural centres of the region and Berlin became the capital of the German Empire in 1871. Today, the city is a fascinating modern metropolis which still boasts a vast array of historical attractions and there’s simply loads to see.
We’ve put together an experts guide to Berlin’s cultural landmarks, monuments and museums with our top ten places to visit as well as a full list of cultural sites in Berlin which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best historic sites in Berlin? The Top Ten
The Brandenburg Gate is a famous landmark in Berlin built between 1788 and 1791 which once served as a city gateway. Today, visitors from around the world come to see the Brandenburg Gate and its ornate carvings, including its dramatic depiction of Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory, driving a horse drawn chariot.
The Reichstag Building started its life in 1894, when it served as the seat of the German Parliament. Designed by architect Paul Wallot during the reign of Emperor Wilhelm I, the Reichstag building contained several pioneering architectural elements, including a steel and glass copula which was the first of its kind. The Reichstag was heavily bombed during the Second World War and emerged as a ruin. Reconstruction followed the Cold War and was completed in April 1999. It now houses the current German parliament, the Bundestag, and also acts as one of Germany’s most popular tourist attractions. Guided tours are available, but must be booked in writing well in advance.
The Berlin Wall was an 87 mile long concrete barrier between East and West Berlin, a symbol of the Cold War and an embodiment of the so-called ‘Iron Curtain’ between eastern and western Europe. The fall of the Berlin Wall finally occurred on 9 November 1989 and the wall was almost completely dismantled in the days and weeks that followed. Very few segments of the wall remain. The largest, 1.3 kilometer, section can be found at the open air East Side Gallery, although small sections are dotted throughout the city.
The Holocaust Memorial is an installation commemorating the genocide of the Jewish people perpetrated under Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. The memorial is a monument to the six million European Jews who died in the Holocaust. Made up of a vast dark granite maze and a subterranean information centre which has details about the victims, the Holocaust Memorial is a moving site.
Berlin Cathedral is an early twentieth century cathedral built during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Constructed between 1894 and 1905, ornate and crowned with an imposing dome, the cathedral contains the Hohenzollern royal crypt which is the final resting place of, amongst around a hundred others, Frederick William I, Elector of Brandenburg. Berliner Cathedral is open to the public for tours and audio guides are included in the admission price.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is a Romanesque style church which was originally built in the 1890’s and dedicated to Kaiser William I by his grandson Kaiser William II. In its current incarnation, the church, with its attached belfry, chapel and foyer is a popular tourist destination, with visitors coming from around the world to view its stunning frescos and its poignant memorial hall. Free guided tours are available every day except Sunday.
The Stasi Prison was an infamous East German prison run by the East German Ministry of State Security (the Stasi) during the Cold War. Originally a canteen, in 1945 the Berlin Stasi Prison site became a detainment camp named ‘Special Camp No. 3’ run by the Soviet Secret Police. Transformed into a prison in 1947, it was taken over by the Stasi, also known as the MfS, in 1951. It was finally closed on 3 October 1990, when East Germany was once again united with the West. Today, the site is a memorial to those who were detained there and is a stark reminder of the atrocities carried out during the Cold War. Tours are offered and visitors can see a film about the prison.
The Pergamon Museum is a large and varied museum in Berlin housing three different exhibitions. One of the collections at the Pergamon Museum is part of the Classical Antiquities, known as the Antikensammlung. This collection includes mostly Greek and some Roman pieces ranging from jewellery to sarcophagi, sculptures and even remains from buildings. However, it is the reconstruction of the second century BC Pergamon Altar, one of the sites from the ancient city of Pergamon and with its Hellenistic fresco depicting the battle of the Giants and the Gods, which forms one of its most famous attractions.
The German Resistance Memorial Centre is a monument and museum to those who fought against the Nazis before and during World War II. In particular, it commemorates the attempted assassination of Hitler and subsequent attempted coup led by Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg on 20 July 1944, the so-called “July 20 Plot”. Today, the memorial is located on a street formerly called Bendlerstrasse and now renamed “Stauffenbergstrasse”. The courtyard of the centre, where the executions took place, has a memorial statue.
The Altes Museum is part of Germany’s National Museum and is located in Berlin. Displaying part of the National Museum’s collection of classical antiquities, even the building of the Altes Museum has been built in a style inspired by Ancient Greece. One of the main collections at the Altes Museum is its Etruscan Art. It also exhibits a series of Roman portraits including those modelled on of the sarcophagi of Caesar and Cleopatra.