Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the former East Berlin has become the true beating heart of the city of Berlin – historic Mitte, home of the Brandenbrug Gate, museums and memorials, draws in most visitors, and the districts of Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain are now riddled with fantastic restaurants, bars and clubs. For many, Kreuzberg is the only former West Berlin district with anything going on. But for those staying in, or wishing to visit the Western part of the city, there is still much on offer…
1. Charlottenburg Palace
Opening Hours: April – October Tues-Sun: 10:00-18:00; November – March Tues-Sun: 10:00-17:00
Tickets: Palace 10€ / 7€; New Wing 10€ / 7€ (tickets sold separately)
Built in 1699 by Elector Friedrich III as a summer palace, Charlottenburg Palace is the largest royal palace in the city of Berlin (the royal family chose to build most of their palaces in the nearby town of Potsdam, the German version of Versailles). Inside the palace nowadays is a huge collection of 18th century French paintings (the largest outside France), the baroque Old Palace, and the New Wing, added by all-round overachieving Friedrich the Great in the mid-1700s.
It is in Berlin, so not surprisingly the palace was damaged by bombing during World War II. Parts of it were reconstructed from the 1950s. They have done a stellar job.
The palace is surrounded by beautiful gardens, including an Orangerie where they now host classical music concerts (with or without dinner) with the performers dressed in simultaneously ridiculous and fantastic period costume.
Charlottenburg Palace. Spandauer Damm 10, 10459. Buses 309, M45 to Schloss Charlottenburg.
2. The Story of Berlin Museum
Opening Hours: Daily 10:00-20:00, last bunker tour at 18:00
Tickets: 12€ / 9€, children 6 – 16 years 5€
At first it seems an odd location for a museum on Berlin’s almost 800 years of history – in a tired, 1970s-era shopping mall on West Berlin’s most famous shopping street, but a highlight of this museum is the fully functional Cold War bomb shelter under the museum. You can spend a few hours going through the 20 themed rooms of the museum and then take a tour (in English or German) of the bomb shelter, originally built to protect 3,600 people from any possible nuclear fallout. The price of the tour is included in the ticket price.
The museum is dynamic and interactive, great if you have little kids and all information is in both German and English. They have information booklets in 14 other languages (or you can download the museums app). It is also open on Mondays, which few other museums are in Berlin.
The bunker under the Story of Berlin Museum. Kurfürstendamm 207-208 10719. U1 to Uhlandstrasse.
3. Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
Opening Times: Mon-Sat: 10:00-18:00, Sun: 12:00-18:00
This church, a stone’s throw from Zoologischer Garten S and U bahn station, was built between 1891 and 1895 by Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Kaiser wanted to celebrate the glory and majesty of his grandfather, the first German Kaiser, Wilhelm I, and dedicated the church to him (Wilhelm II disliked his father, Friedrich III, immensely, so there is no Kaiser Friedrich Memorial Church).
The church was a beautiful focal point for Protestant worship in the area right up until 1943, when the church was bombed during a British bombing raid on Berlin. The church was destroyed, the only part left standing was its gaping, blackened tower. After the war there were plans to demolish the ruin, but Berliners protested, attached to the tower they now called the der Hohle Zahn (the Hollow Tooth). The tower was rescued and now stands as a symbol of the futility and horrors of war.
In 1961 a new church was built next to the ruin, together with a new tower housing a chapel. The two now have their own nicknames, the Powder Box and Lipstick.
The original tower has been recently renovated and is home to beautiful mosaic interiors. Similarly, the Powder Box incorporates 21,292 stained glass inlays, in a mainly blue colour, creating a serene and moving interior.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Breitscheidplatz, 10789. U Kurfürstendamm, U+S Zoologischer Garten.
4. Berlin Zoo
Opening Times: Mon-Sun 9:00-17:00
Tickets: Zoo 13€, Zoo + Aquarium €20, Children (5-15years) Zoo 6.50€, Zoo + Aquarium 10€
The oldest zoo in Germany, the Berlin Zoo opened its doors in 1844, and is the most visited zoo in Europe. For good reason – it is fantastic! Animals are kept in environments as close as possible to their natural habitat and the zoo has a successful breeding program because of this.
The zoo was almost completely destroyed during World War II, and only 90 animals survived from over 3,000 who were there before the war. The zoo itself was a last strong hold of the German army at the end of the war.
The zoo suffered tragedy once again in 2011 when Knut, the world famous polar bear cub, raised by handlers at the zoo after being rejected by his mother, died unexpectedly.
The zoo nowadays has completely recovered, been redesigned, and houses one of the most diverse range of animal species in the world. There is an aquarium attached and you can check out their website for animal feeding times.
Berlin Zoo. Hardenbergplatz 8, 10787. U+S Zoologischer Garten.
Open all times, Free entry
Berlin is a city of green spaces, and the Tiergarten is Berlin’s most popular inner-city park. Built as a hunting ground for the royal family in the 1600s, the 255 hectare park these days is home to memorials, restaurants, and beer gardens and a stroll from the western end to the other side will take you past the Sieggessäule (or Victory Column) and bring you to the Brandenburg Gate.
If you are strolling through the lush greenery in summer perhaps proceed with care. The park is these days a favourite hangout for nudists looking to catch rays.