Many directors have attempted to shine a light on the past and present of Berlin through the medium of film: from Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire to Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, David Leitch’s more recent Atomic Blonde, Run Lola Run (1998), Good Bye, Lenin! (2003), The Lives of Others (2006), Valkyrie (2008) and so on.
The German capital – which attracts hordes of international movie stars during the Berlin International Film Festival – is one of the world’s best-loved cities, with many people considering the 21st century Berlin to be a place where it is still possible to lead a different way of life. A trailblazer that regularly exports new trends to other European cities, Berlin is an unpredictable hub of cultural experimentation characterised by an infectious sense of artistic, innovative vibrancy. And with so much to do and so many places to see, you’ll need much more than just a day trip to discover a small part of this diverse, rich city.
The new face of Berlin
In addition to the headquarters of Daimler-Benz, designed by Renzo Piano, and the Kollhoff Tower, the square is also home to Helmut Jahn’s Sony Center, a visually stunning complex made from steel and glass.
Other significant buildings include I.M. Pei Bau, part of the German Historical Museum designed by the Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei, the splendid mix of old and new delivered by the Neues Museum, which reopened in 2009 after a six-year restoration project led by British architect David Chipperfield. Last but not least, the minimalist style and steel walls of the magnificent Jüdisches Museum (Jewish Museum) make for a truly symbolic space.
Berlin from above
Berlin has a number of panoramic spots allowing you to enjoy an unparalleled view of the city from above. No matter where you are in the city, if you look upwards you’ll see the Farnsehturm (television tower), the tallest building in Germany at 368 metres. It’s also home to a rotating restaurant.
The dome of the Reichstag (the headquarters of the German Parliament) includes a spiral walking route that leads to the summit, from where visitors can soak up the view of the Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz, the huge Tiergarten park and the Chancellery.
At the Kollhoff Tower (100 metres tall), you can take the quickest lift in Europe to the top in 20 seconds flat, while the more active can attempt the 267 steps that lead to the dome of the majestic Berliner Dom, the city’s largest church (home to the sarcophagi of the imperial family and a Sauer organ with 7269 pipes).
For lovers of history
For anyone looking to get a more in-depth understanding of the history of Berlin, must-visits include Checkpoint Charlie (in Friedrichstrasse), the main point of passage between East and West Berlin, the Mauer Museum (Checkpoint Charlie Museum) and the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial) in Bernauer Strasse.
Situated on the banks of the River Spree is the East Side Gallery, a long piece of the remaining Berlin Wall adorned with over 100 murals from artists hailing from the world over (the most celebrated works are the Fraternal Kiss (1979) by Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev and Test the Best, depicting a Trabant car breaking through the wall in the name of freedom). It’s also well worth taking a trip to see the Holocaust Monument (in the Mitte area), a cement labyrinth formed of blocks in various sizes.
No trip to Berlin is complete without a visit to Museuminsel (Museum Island), one of the most widely celebrated museum complexes in the world, comprising five different museums: the Altes Museum (classic art), the Neues Museum (artefacts from the Palaeolithic area to the Early Middle Ages), the Pergamon Museum (ancient and oriental art), the Bode Museum (sculptures, ancient coins and Byzantine art) and the Alte Nationalgalerie (collections of German paintings from the 19th century).
The city also has a number of fascinating modern art museums, including the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Hamburger Bahnhof, while the Gemalde Galerie is the place to go for works from the 13th to the 18th century (Botticelli, Dürer, Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian and so on).
Berlin’s shopping streets
If you want to dedicate some time to shopping, the two main shopping streets are Friedrichstrasse, home to the Galeries Lafayette, a glass temple of luxury shopping, and Kurfürstendamm, which features the city’s largest shopping centre in KaDeWe, with elegant luxury boutiques and gourmet restaurants. Alternatively, head to the shopping centres of Potsdamer Platz or the trendy boutiques of Mitte.
Rivers of beer!
Berliner Pilsner, Berliner Kindl and Berliner Weisse are just a few of the many beers to be found in Berlin. Beer is the national drink and an integral part of everyday life for every Berlin local, so it’s no surprise to find that the German capital is full of small companies serving up varieties made from artisan malts and hops, big breweries which run visits and tastings and the traditional Biergärten, where you can try traditional German food too.
Food in Berlin is about bold, authentic flavours – it’s substantial and no-frills and clearly bears the influence of the countries around it (particularly France, Poland, Hungary and Turkey).
Yet while the common misconception is that people eat nothing but wurst and sauerkraut in Berlin, the city has plenty of gastronomic delicacies for you to try, though meat does feature heavily throughout. Start with Eisbein (boiled and roast ham hock), Bollenfleisch (lamb and onion stew) and Leber Berliner Art (fried liver).
Of course, Berlin is the perfect place to try virtually any type of wurst (pork, veal, grilled, smoked, spiked with other flavours…). Regardless of what you choose, no meal in Berlin is complete without a good glass of beer.
Citizens of the European Union can enter Germany with no restrictions by showing a valid ID card or passport.
Citizens of countries which do not form part of the European Union must obtain a Schengen Visa, which allows them to stay in Germany for a maximum of 90 days.
For other types of permits, you will need to get in contact with the Germany embassy or consulate in your country.
For more information, please visit the German Foreign Office website (www.auswaertiges-amt.de).
Berlin has a continental climate, with very cold, long and often windy winters (average temperatures are around 0°C) and moderately warm summers (by day, temperatures hover around 22°C in June and 24°C in July and August).
Autumn in Berlin is romantic and colourful, though at night temperatures can drop noticeably. The weather in spring is unstable and sunny days can be replaced by showers quickly. The ideal time to visit is between May and September.
The arrival of spring sees the number of events in the city go through the roof, with festivals of music, art and culture such as the Carnival of Cultures (May), a huge event that culminates with a colourful procession that dances through the streets of Kreuzberg.
In June, it’s the turn of Berlin music festival, which features hundreds of free concerts held all over the city, and Christopher Street Day, the huge Gay Pride parade with its spectacular floats.
September heralds the start of the theatre and classical music season (Berlin Music Week and Musikfest Berlin), but there is plenty going on for lovers of sport and the arts too, such as the Berlin Marathon and the contemporary Berlin Art Week.
Winter also has a lot to offer, including Berlin Fashion Week (January) and the Berlinale (February), the famous Berlin International Film Festival, with screenings and events taking place over the city for two weeks.
Many directors have attempted to shine a light on the past and present of Berlin through the medium of film. The German capital is an unpredictable hub of cultural experimentation characterised by an infectious sense of artistic, innovative vibrancy. And with so much to do and so many places to see, you’ll need much more than just a day trip to discover a small part of this diverse, rich city.