Berlin is the capital of Germany. It is also the country’s largest city with 4.2 million people living in the metropolitan area, and 3.4 million in the city itself.
It lies in the eastern part of Germany, 70 km west of the Polish border. The city center stretches along the river Spree. The highest point of the city is Teufelsberg at 115 meters high, actually an artificial pile of rubble from WW II. Berlin was badly damaged at the end of WW II when the Nazi downfall culminated in the city’s ruin. It has been vastly reconstructed and the process is still going on.
The reconstruction has resulted in a compact city center composed of various architectural styles in a relatively small area: there are remains of old medieval buildings near Alexanderplatz and modern steel and glass buildings in Potsdamer Platz. Today Berlin is a major tourist destination for both culture and shopping. It is the political center of the country and an important transportation hub, of both national and international traffic. It is also famous worldwide for its vivid night life.
Berlin has a moderate climate. Summers can be very warm and day temperatures in July and August can reach up to 30°C. However, the summer weather is unpredictable and sunny days can frequently be interrupted by clouds and showers. Winters in Berlin can be quite cold, with temperatures around or below zero producing a lot of snow. Sometimes during the winter the city can get smothered in smog. Rainfall is distributed throughout the year, with most precipitation occurring in June and August. October and February are, on the other hand, the driest months. The warmest month is July, the coldest is January. The most precipitation occurs in June.
January average temperature 0 deg Celsius, 43.2 mm rainfall February average temperature 0 deg Celsius, 38.1 mm rainfall March average temperature 3 deg Celsius, 38.1 mm rainfall April average temperature 8 deg Celsius, 43.2 mm rainfall May average temperature 13 deg Celsius, 55.9 mm rainfall June average temperature 17 deg Celsius, 71.1 mm rainfall July average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 53.3 mm rainfall August average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 66.0 mm rainfall September average temperature 14 deg Celsius, 45.7 mm rainfall October average temperature 9 deg Celsius, 35.6 mm rainfall November average temperature 4 deg Celsius, 50.8 mm rainfall December average temperature 0 deg Celsius, 55.9 mm rainfall
Berlin is not a major airport hub so it is likely you will first have to land in one of the major European hubs, such as Frankfurt, Paris, London or Amsterdam. Berlin has two main airports:
It is ocated in the north-west of the city and is the main airport for Lufthansa, BA, Air France-KLM, Delta and is also the hub for domestic flights.
It is located southeast of the city center, is the base for most low-cost airlines (e.g. easyJet, Ryanair and Germanwings) and charter flights. It is outside central Berlin and does not present noise and pollution to the city. This is why the construction of a new Airport Berlin Brandenburg International has started at Schönefeld. The new airport is scheduled for opening in autumn 2011. After the opening all air traffic in the Berlin-Brandenburg region will be bundled at BBI and the Tegel airport is going to be closed down.
Tegel can be reached by the JetExpressBus TXL from the Mitte and by bus X9 or 109 from Charlottenburg. Schönefeld Airport is connected to the Zoo station by AirportExpress train or S9.
Germany has one of the most efficient train systems in all Europe, connecting Berlin with the rest of the country and Europe. The trains arriving to the western part of Berlin center stop at the Bahnhof Zoo, whereas those going to eastern center stop at Ostbahnhof. Berlin's new central train station, Hauptbahnhof, has opened on May 26, 2006. It is located in the city center and is well connected to the public transport. www.hbf-berlin.de/site/berlin__hauptbahnhof/en/start.html
Berlin can be reached by A10 ring road from all the directions within or outside Germany. A11 connects Berlin with Stettin in Poland. A12 with Frankfurt, A13 with Dresden, A9 with Munich and Leipzig, A2 with Hannover and A24 with Hamburg.
The incredibly efficient U Bahn and S Bahn lines are the best way to travel around Berlin. The system operates from 4:00 am – midnight. At night U1 and U9 operate all night but to a limited degree – two trains per hour. S Bahn operates on Saturdays and Sundays from midnight – 4:00 am. U Bahn homepage: http://www.bvg.de/index.php/en/Bvg/Start S Bahn homepage: www.s-bahn-berlin.de/
Slow, yet comfy, buses are marked by a large letter H. Tickets can be bought directly from the driver and approaching stops are displayed on a monitor. At night services run from midnight – 6:00 am approximately every half hour.
Trams have been thoroughly modernized. However the 30 existing lines only operate in the Eastern part of the city.
It is cheaper to hail a cab on the street than to order one by phone. The city center also offers electrically powered, two-seat pedi-cabs called Velotaxis.
Even though driving in Berin is not as nightmarish as in other major cities, it is still not the best option, considering the excellent public transportation system.
Berlin is a bike friendly city with many bike lanes and plenty of rental shops. The city center is easily manageable on a bike.
The city center is quite compact and can be explored on foot.
River and canal travel is one of the most picturesque ways to see the city's attractions. Numerous tours are available and regular public transport tickets can be used. The service operates from 9:00 am untill sunset.
SWIMMING IN BERLIN: OPEN AIR BATHS AND SWIMMING POOLS
On a hot summer day treat yourself to a refreshing stop at one of Berlin’s lakes. The most famous one is the Strandbad Wannsee, located in the south-west of the city. In the east part is the Strandbad Müggelsee. In addition, there are several swimming pools operating during the summer. There is the Sommerbad Olympiastadion, the Insulaner or the Spaß- und Erlebnisbad Blub, providing a wide variety of water fun like a wave pool, a waterfall, a 120-m slide and a separate pool for small children.
A BOAT RIDE ON THE RIVER SPREE
The river Spree cuts through the city and boat tours offer magnificent views of the city’s landmarks, for example the Reichstag, the Berlin Cathedral, and more. Berlin is a city of numerous bridges; in fact it has more then Venice or Amsterdam. The boat rides start from various locations and last from the 1.5 hour general tour to the 3.5 hour Bridge tour. The longer tour can be boarded from the bridges Jannowitzbrücke (acces: S- and U-Bahn Jannowitzbrücke) and Kottbusser Brücke (next to café Ankerklause, near U-Bahn Schönleinstraße). The shorter variant can be boarded on two boat landings near Hackescher Markt, on the east side of Museum Island.
Address: Pariser Platz Access: S1, S2, S25 (Unter den Linden)
The Brandenburg Gate symbolizes the freedom and unification of Berlin. Built between 1788 and 1791 and designed by C.G. Langhans, it is the only one remaining of 14 original city gates. It was modelled on the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens. The gate is supported by 12 columns and on top, facing eastward toward the city sits a magnificent statue representing the goddess of victory. When the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 the Brandenburg Gate was cut off from public access, belonging to no man’s land, between both Germanys. When the wall fell on November 9, 1989 a huge mass of people gathered here to celebrate the newly acquired freedom and the end of the Cold War. The gate and the Pariser Platz are closed to traffic. The square was surrounded by magnificent buildings, which were all destroyed during WW II. Now the area has been under reconstruction ever since the fall of the Wall and the new buildings are being built to closely resemble the original architecture.
Address: Platz der Republik 1 Web: www.reichstag.de Phone: 030 2273 2152 Open: daily 8:00 am – 24:00 pm Access: S1, S 2, S25 (Unter den Linden) Disabled access.
The mighty Reichtag was constructed at the end of the 19th century as Bismarck's parliament. After the fall of the Wall the building once again recaptured its original purpose. It was renovated and a glass dome added, which can be reached by elevator. On the top floor is a viewing platform, a restaurant and a photo exhibition of Reichstag's turbulent history.
When the Wall fell in 1989, the planners were determined to construct a new city center for Berlin. Potsdamer Platz was completely renovated for this purpose. The only remnants of the past are Haus Huth and the Hotel Esplanade ballroom, now incorporated in the new Sony center. There are numerous restaurants, shopping centers, hotels, theatres, cinemas and a casino. The Sony center is the most recent addition, with a popular Film Museum inside. There is the Platz Arkaden shopping mall with an IMAX cinema, and the Kollhoff building with a panorama platform sporting a magnificent view over the city.
The church, located in the center of the former West Berlin, was built between 1891 and 1895 in honor of Kaiser Wilhelm I, but was severely damaged during the 1943 allied bombing. In 1961 a new octagonal church was built next to the remaining tower. A freestanding hexagonal tower was built where the old church used to stand. A Memorial Hall, Gedenkhalle, is situated below the remaining tower. Here the history of the church is displayed with some surviving objects from the original church and before and after pictures. The church is Berlin’s best known landmark and has become a stunning reminder of the senselessness of war.
Checkpoint Charlie was a border crossing point in the Wall between East and West Berlin. From 1961 to 1990 it was the only border crossing between the separated parts of the city. The original border post was destroyed; but the remaining signpost and a replica of the watchtower still bear testimony to those times. Today, the Wall and the checkpoint have become the ultimate symbol of the Cold War which divided the city, and the whole of Europe, for almost 30 years. Do not miss the museum ‘Haus an Checkpoint Charlie’.
Address: Maulbeerallee, Potsdam Open: Tuesday – Sunday: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (November – March, open until 4:00 pm) Access: S7 (Potsdam Hbf)
Sanssouci is one of the finest royal palaces in Europe. It was built as a summer residence for Friedrich II who gave the place its name: Sanssouci - after a French phrase meaning without worries. The palace is located outside the city of Berlin, on the outskirts of the town of Potsdam, on a terraced hill, surrounded by 700 acres of marvelous parkland featuring fountains and statues. The palace itself offers the visitor plenty to see; there are works by Caravaggio, a large circular library, marvelous ceiling murals, and more. The palace was also home to Voltaire who was granted an asylum by the king and stayed here from 1750 – 1753. The park offers numerous delights, from Chinese Teahouse, to Orangerie, Roman Bath, and the Great Fountain.
Address: Spandauer Damm 20 Access: S4, S45, S46 (Westend) Open (The Palace): Tuesday–Friday: 9:00am-5:00pm; Saturday, Sunday: 10:00am-5:00pm Open (The Gardens): daily 8:00am-dusk
Built in 1695 as a summer residence for King Friederich Wilhelm’s wife, the beautiful palace is surrounded by lush Royal Gardens. There are several jewels to be found there: Belvedere, an ornamented rococo building, housing a splendid collection of porcelain; the Schinkel Pavillion with paintings, sculptures and furniture by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, and Mausoleum, a neoclassical tomb. The galleries inside the palace abound in works by German Romantic artists.
The East Side Gallery is a 1.3 km long stretch of the Berlin Wall, located in the vicinity of the city center. There are 106 paintings by artists from around the globe. The gallery has become an international memorial of freedom and is actually the largest open air gallery in the world. The best known works here are Dimitri Vrubel’s ‘Brotherly Kiss’ and Gunther Shaefer’s ‘Fatherland’.
This trendy and popular pizzeria offers large thin pizzas that are a bit pricey but very tasty. There are 12 varieties all named after Jesus Christ’s apostles. The interior is decorated with kitschy religious frescos, and the place is usually busy and lively.
Address: Graefestrasse 12 (Kreuzberg Area) Open: Monday – Thursday: 10:00 am – midnight; Friday – Sunday: 10:00 am – 2:00 am Access: U1, U8, U15 (Kottbusser Tor)
Berlin, having the largest Turkish population outside Turkey, understandably has numerous Turkish restaurants. Only few, however, are of really good quality and Diyar is one of them. Located in Kreuzberg, or what the locals call ‘Little Istanbul’, the place offers an authentic setting, where visitors lie down on the floor on cushions, and taste Turkish delicacies. The restaurant also has traditional dining tables if you prefer to eat at a table.
Address: Altonaer Straße 2-2a Access: U9 (Hansaplatz)
The café lies in the idyllic Tiergarten. It serves German and Mediterranean food, the quality is good and the prices are really modest.
Date: February 8-18 Location: Potsdamer Platz Web: www.berlinale.de Access: U2, S1, S2, S25 (Potsdamer Platz)
The Berlinale has become one of the biggest international film events. World-renowned directors present their new films in various categories of the competition. The festival program is accompanied by additional activities and workshops. Check the website for details.
The Carnival of Cultures, held since 1996, is the city’s biggest street fiesta celebrating Berlin’s ethnic diversity. Held for four days, it culminates in a colorful parade down the streets of Kreuzberg with over 4,000 participants, dressed in colorful costumes, from 70 countries. The festival offers international music, dance, theatre and food. The event attracts over half a million visitors each year.
The Gauklerfest is a festival of arts and crafts, live music, clowns and jugglers, street performers. The Germans did not forget about good food and beer, either. Summer is the time when Berlin’s historic center brims with entertainment for the entire family; there is a rich daily program of events, with numerous activities and program for the kids.
CHRISTOPHER STREET DAY
Date: July 15 - 23 Location: Straße des 17. Juni Web: www.csd-berlin.de Access: S1, S2, S25 (Unter den Linden)
This gay and lesbian pride parade has been held here since 1979. It is a huge colorful festival with street parties and a parade aiming for a greater tolerance of homosexuality among the people. The festival route extends from Kurf, through Potsdamer Platz, to the Grober Stern in Tiergarten.
Date: November, December Location: various
Berlin comes alive with over 40 markets during the Christmas season. Traditional arts and crafts are sold and there are Christmas decorations and lights everywhere. The market in Spandau suburb is set in an old part of town and is especially nice.
Berlin offers one of the biggest street parties for New Year’s Eve with a wide variety of entertainment, including music, various stages, DJ towers and various dance floors. The evening’s highlight is a magnificent fireworks display.
Berlin is currently the hippest place for nightlife entertainment; its sheer diversity is overwhelming. It will be difficult to decide where to go and what to do! Pubs located in derelict ruins, or funky beach bars lining the Spree River. Rock, alternative and techno clubs abound. Berlin is a very liberal city; those with a naughty taste can find loads of fetish and sex clubs. The city is vast and nightlife so abundant, that is difficult to give good directions as to where and when. Usually the best bars, clubs and pubs do not advertise themselves.
The Mitte district is a goods starting point, the former eastern block has undergone much change, yet it managed to retain some of its edgy charm. It is home to clubs like King Kong, Kaffe Burger and Weekend. The Kreuzberg district is also well worth exploring. The area is a hub of artists and immigrants. Also the districts of Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain are becoming hotspots for hip clubs and happening, e.g. Club Maria or Spindler & Klatt. When it comes to clubbing, Berlin’s techno music scene is top of the world. Big names include Watergate and Tresor, and the legendary, allegedly the best club in Berlin, Berghain & Panorama Bar, an industrial style warehouse with hard beats and bohemian atmosphere.
Berlin’s beginnings can be traced back to the 13th century when trading posts of Berlin and Cöln were established in what is today Nikolaiviertel. The two towns merged in 1307. In the 14th century Berlin gained importance as a part of the mercantile Hanseatic League and became the seat of Brandenburg in 1486.
During the Thirty Years War, from 1618 till 1648, the city suffered great damage and population loss. Later it was restored by Frederick William, the Great Elector. He introduced a new policy of religious toleration and promoted immigration. Many refugees found a new home in the city, among them were many French Protestants persecuted in their own country, and the Jewish refugees from Austria.
The following decades saw Berlin flourishing and many new suburbs were built. In 1701 Friderick I was crowned the King of Prussia and Berlin was made the capital of the kingdom. The court was a lively and intellectual place where arts and sciences were encouraged. Towards the end of the 18th century with the introduction of Enlightenment, Berlin became an international city. The beginning of the 19th century saw some turbulent times for the city. It was occupied by the French from 1806 until 1813. In 1848 the bourgeois democratic revolution was suppressed, which terminated the political development initiated by the Enlightenment. Between 1850 and 1870 the Industrial revolution brought about an increase in population. The construction of railroads in 1861 facilitated the development, and Berlin became an increasingly important industrial and commercial center. In 1866 it became the seat of the North German Confederation and in 1871 it became the capital of the German Empire. By 1900 Berlin had over 2 million inhabitants. A modern underground system was built which eased the transportation needs of the workers.
MODERN (20TH CENTURY)
The development was cut short by the onset of WW I. After the war the Weimar Republic was proclaimed in Berlin in 1918. In 1920 the surrounding cities and villages were united under Berlin which thus became a huge city of over 4 million inhabitants. In the 1920s Berlin was a glamorous and artistic city and an industrial hub.
The Nazi party came to power in 1933. Hitler’s plans were to rebuild the city as ‘Germania’, the capital of his global empire. His megalomanic plans left a mark on the city’s architecture and infrastructure. However, the plans were set aside as WW II began. During the Nazi rule over 60,000 Berlin Jews died in the holocaust and thousands fled the country. Much of the city was destroyed during the 1943-44 air raids and during the Battle of Berlin in 1945. As the war ended in Europe, Berlin was divided into 4 sectors ruled by the four allies: the USA, USSR, Britain and France. The sectors of the Western Allies (USA, Britain and France) formed West Berlin and the Soviet sector formed East Berlin. Soon Berlin became the setting where the Cold War hostilities were played out. In 1948 the tensions between USSR and USA led to the Berlin Blockade, and the western sectors were supplied via airbridge by American and British pilots. In August 1961 the Berlin Wall was constructed, which was built to keep the people in the East sector from fleeing to West Berlin. The western sector offered better living conditions, and the Eastern part suffered loss of work force, not to mention embarrassment. The wall, set up along the partition line, was 47 km long and heavily fortified with only a few closely guarded crossing points. The West protested but to no effect. Several people were shot as they attempted to flee from East Berlin. The threat of another war seemed inevitable. But tensions subsided in 1962. People started to obtain permission to visits their relatives in East Berlin in 1963 and finally regularized in 1972.
This tense deadlock was finally overcome with political turbulence in East Germany in late 1989. Massive demonstrations in East Berlin and other East German cities led to the collapse of the Honecker regime and the the wall was opened in November 1989. On July 1, 1990 the wall was removed. In October 1990 East and West Berlin were oficially reunited. The seat of government was moved from Bonn to Berlin in June 1991.
A new Berlin was starting to emerge from the devastations of war. The 1990s saw lively building activity in Potsdamer Platz, which has become the new heart of the unified city.
In April 1999 Reichtag was renovated and again became home to a unified German parliament. Today, Berlin is still under construction. The face of this avantgarde metropolis changes all the time.
Shaking hands is the established form of greeting. The myth about German punctuality holds true: try to be punctual or apologize if you are not. When it comes to openness and directness, Germans can be both reserved and direct at the same time. They need some time to warm towards people, but they are known to speak their mind almost immediately. Keep in mind, this is not meant to be offensive at all. Dinners and invitations: try to be punctual and bring a small gift (flowers or a bottle of wine).
Berlin is a very safe city; in fact it is among the safest in Europe. However, common sense should be applied. Do not wander around alone at night, and avoid displaying valuable items in public spaces.
There are occasions of racially motivated attacks, more frequent in outlying eastern districts, for example Marzahn and Lichtenberg where attacks by ‘white skins’ or skinheads have occurred. Central districts should be safe for people of all races and sexual persuasion.
U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations are all equipped with emergency booths marked by a red bell. If you find yourself in emergency, or need assistance, simply push the red SOS button which enables you to speak directly to stationmaster. The area of Wannsee is thickly wooded and there have been reports of wild boars. These animals can be quite dangerous and, if seen, should not be approached.
Most visitors come to Berlin between May and September. This is also the time when the best weather can be expected. In May and June expect more rain but the spring temperatures are lovely. Summer in Berlin is lovely and everything happens outdoors. September and October are also pleasant. In winter Berlin is less crowded but the weather can be gloomy and cold. During the major holidays like Easter, Christmas and New Year you should be prepared for huge crowds.