Berlin: a place to be
Berlin has many great places to sightsee, like the Brandenburger Tor and Unter den Linden. But there is a lot more to explore in Berlin. We show you the different Berlin districts, such as Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain. But also the hidden gems , the bloody stories of the Berlin Wall and World War two.
Berlin had a lot of forced labour camps during WWII. The history of the forced labour camp in Schoneweide, also known as ‘Baracke 13’ probably is the strangest. It is situated in the middle of the Berlin district Schoneweide and is surrounded by apartments and urban gardens. Nearly 500 Italian soldiers were forced to work here, as well as young women.
Berliners love to drink beer. And back in the days, they liked brewing them as well. Berlin had a lot of breweries, such as the Pfefferberg, Willner Brauerei and the Kulturbrauerei. A lot of them are all transformed into cultural hubs. But not all Berlin breweries. The beautiful lookalike of Kulturbrauerei, the Barenquell Brauerei, is abandoned.
The Berlin Wall can sometimes be hard to find. But if read the guides and books on the Berlin Wall you know where to look. Although, not always. Sometimes you bump into unknown pieces of Berlin Wall. Such as the ones nearby the Teltow Kanal.
Berliners have many nicknames for buildings and typical Berlin words for the things around them. The Fernsehturm is ‘the popes revench’, the Palast der Republik Erich’s Lampenlade (Erich’s bulbshop), Kaiser Wilhelm Gedachtniskirche is Hohler Zahn, a fan is a miefquirl (stinkspreader). Read here about the 44 most funny and interesting Berlin words you should know when you go to Berlin or are already in this place to be.
Prenzlauer Berg was a rough neighborhood. Before the Berlin Wall fell a lot of houses looked nearly demolished. The people that lived in them took a bath in Stadtbad Oderbergerstrasse. After the Berlin Wall fell the neighborhood changed radically. The houses received a facelift. The beautiful architecture, lovely cafe’s , restaurants, and green parks make Prenzlauer Berg the place to be for many tourists in Berlin. Former beer brewery’s and bread factory’s are turned into cultural hotspots. These are the 12 places to be in pretty Prenzlauer Berg: continue reading…
For twelve years (1933-1945) Adolf Hitler ruled Germany from Berlin. The nazis wanted to demolish big parts of the city and rebuild it. They also came up with a new name for the capitol of the Third Empire: Germania. Hitler & co were never able to achieve all of their plans, because they lost the war. During the Second World War big parts of Berlin were demolished. However one can still find many important buildings, places and traces of the nazis in Berlin. Read more on the history of the 10 Berlin buildings with a nazi past that should not be forgotten.
During the Cold War Nordbahnhof was quite a tragic place to be. The Berlin Wall ran straight through this place. Before the wall was build, people travelled to the other parts of Berlin via the Nordbahnhof station. But after 1961 Nordbahnhof became a lost ghost station. Now it’s full of travelling people again. And Berliners play volleyball or climb Mount Mitte near the colorful Berlin Wall remains.
Adolf Hitler and Albert Speer wanted to change Berlin into a pompous capital called Germania. They had plans to build huge domes and large buildings. But the nazis did not only want to build big pompous domes, they also created apartment blocks. At Grazer Damm you can spot classic columns and friezes of Hitler Boys.
Berlins Hinterhofe can be stinky, shady places. They often stash their garbage cans in the hinterhofe, the places behind the apartment buildings. But some Hinterhofe are really pretty, such as Rhiemers Hofgarten, in Kreuzberg.
Bergmannstrasse seems a nice, colorful Kreuzberg street with lots of shops, bars and Buddahs for lost souls that try to find peace. But in 1975 a local politician running for mayor, Peter Lorenz, was kidnapped and kept in a basement for six days by the terrorist organization ‘Bewegung 2. Juni’ at Bergmannstrasse.
Friedrichstrasse, named after Frederic the third, has always been a show off street. In the beginning of the 19th century it soon became a street with chique restaurants, hotels and artist residents. As you can see on this picture, taken exactly a hundred years ago, Friedrichstrasse was very pretty and the place to be on a cold day in January in 1914…
Running dogs, playing kids and grannies, urban thugs spraying great graffiti and other folks throwing frisbees and grilling sausages. That’s in a nutshell what Gorlitzer Park is all about. But in Berlin, a park is not simply a park. Görlitzer Park used to be a fairy tale train station where thousands of people entered the train to breathe in the air of the country side and come back to their Berlin homes with Spreewald gherkins.
Schlesisches Tor probably is the most alternative part of Kreuzberg. During the Cold War nobody wanted to live in this area. Now people dance the night away at the U-bahn of Schlesisches Tor and at the many battered clubs in this area. Schlesisches Tor is a great place to check out the best alternative art and music of Berlin.
Imagine what it is like to be separated by a brutal wall from your loved ones in West Berlin for decades, and suddenly someone says you can go to the other side of Berlin to see them again. That’s in a nutshell what happened at Bornholmer Strasse at November 9, 1989.
Berlin image of the day: exercising in the snow
It looks like it will finally be winter in Berlin. It may even start snowing in the coming days. Finally you can do the same as these guys In 1931, when Berlin was covered in snow and these man were exercisingby throwing balls to each other half naked in Berlin.
Wild foxes playing at a Berlin graveyard. It’s not something you see every day. When we walked over the cemetery at Halleschen Tor in Kreuzberg we saw two foxes running and playing near the head stones. Berlin is truly wild and fascinating! So we dedicate our image of the day to the wild foxes of Kreuzberg.
Kreuzberg is Berlin’s most alternative district. At Kreuzberg you will likely bump into old hippies looking for a new Buddah for their restless souls at Bergmannstrasse or meet graffiti artists at Gorlitzer Park. And if you are lucky, you might meet the wild inhabitants of Kreuzberg. At some graveyards in Kreuzberg you can spot foxes!
The East-German Trabant cruised through Berlin during the Cold War. If you owned a car in the GDR you were a happy gal or lad, because you sometimes had to wait several years to get one. The Trabant was one of the most common cars in the GDR. Loved, but also hated. Because the car made a lot of noise. Hence the name asphaltblase: asphalt blower.
This is what the Brandenburger Tor looked like 250 years ago. No quadriga with the Roman godess Victoria and her four horses on top of a triumphal arch. But a rather modest gate to enter and leave Berlin.
Berlin is a city that became quite big in a small period of time. But at Viktoriapark in Kreuzberg you can still see how old Berlin really is. If you don’t know better, you could easily think the large mountain at Viktoriapark is one of Berlin’s rubble mountains (trummer berge, rubble remains of World War Two). But that is not the case. The large mountain is what remained of the terribly cold Ice Age that blew its winds over chilly Berlin some 20.000 years ago. When the glaciers melted, the 66 meter high mountain remained.
At first sight this looks like a beautiful and fascinating picture. It is however a very sad and insulting photo. The elephants were part of a show in 1926 called the human zoo (in German Volkerschau). The shows were very popular in Europe between 1870 and 1940. They promised to show how other people lived around the world. However they were full of stereotypes and often based on social Darwinism and racism.
Skating people, kids playing with small cars, people trying to stay fit by running fast. Kites slowly flying through Berlin’s sky. Tempelhofer Freiheit seems like an ordinary Berlin park. But it’s not. In 2008 airplanes were still landing and taking of from this park. But now grass grows on the runways of Tempelhofer Freiheit and it’s the perfect urban spot to relax.
Some people tried to escape the GDR in a spectacular way. Traveling by hot air balloon always seems adventurous and peaceful at the same time. But imagine what it’s like to travel in your own made balloon to escape to West-Germany. That is what the Wetzel and Strelzyk families did in 1979.
Rathaus Schoneberg and Rudolph Wilde park seem a bit dull when you first visit it. A lot of elderly people are crossing the streets with their walkers. But don’t be put of by grey hair, the environment of Rathaus Schoneberg and Rudolph Wilde park has a very interesting typical Berlin history. John F. Kennedy, the president of the United States held his famous ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech here. And student Benno Ohnesorg demonstrated here against the Persian shah. His death, later that day during demonstrations in the vicinity of Deutschen Oper, triggered a lot of (radical) student uprisings.
The great thing about Berlin is it’s never finished. You can stumble upon pieces of no man’s land that are turned into something new. A great example of this is the Park near Gleisdreieck. In German: the Park am Gleisdreieck. It’s the perfect urban spot to watch great raw graffiti, watch the hissing trains and metros passing by, play with your kids, drink a beer and take a sneaky peek at the ‘klein garten houses’ where people grow vegetables and relax in their small garden houses.
The ultimate child of Berlin in our opinion is the East Berlin singer songwriter Wolf Biermann. You might never have heard of him, but he has played a big role in East Berlin and GDR history. Like so many singer songwriters in Berlin the Stasi spied on Biermann a lot. But in his case, the Stasi was very persistent.
Hope you had a great Silvester in Berlin as well. Still recovering from a great night? Here are some tips to enjoy Berlin the slow way: drink coffee, brunch and try to get rid of those nasty headaches by walking through the fairy tale parks of Berlin. Volkspark Friedrichshain is one of these magical spot, and a perfect place for a fairy tale walk.
Berlin is currywurst heaven. You’ll find the best places in the world to set your teeth in a yummy pork sausage. The currywurst was invented in Berlin on September 4 1949. We’ve selected the three best stores in Berlin where you can eat a currywurst.
The Stasi Museum is a weird place to be. Especially when you realize the museum used to be the offices where the Stasi used to spy on it’s own people. You can visit the offices of Stasi leader Mielke as well and hear him say he spied on people because he loved them and his country so much…
The Kulturbrauerei was a vibrant place, back in 1842. Rattling bottles that were filled to the brim with beer and people running to make sure all thirsty Berliners got a sip of their favorite brew of Schultheiss. But beers are no longer brewed here, but drank. If you walk along the Kulturbrauerei you will see lots of different shops, bars and theaters, clustered in the former beer brewery. At New Years Eve (Silverster) the very same square is filled with all different kinds of music. It perfectly shows how versatile the Kulturbrauerei is. No one has to get bored here.
The Heinrich von Kleistpark in Berlin Schoneberg has a weird history. It used to be a mixture between a vegetable patch, glamorous garden and Botanical Garden. The grotesque statues and colonnades used to be found at Alexanderplatz and the Schlossplatz inMitte. The Kammergericht is situated here as well, where nazi show trials took place.
In Kammergericht the Volksgerichtshof (People’s court) of the nazis held the show trial against the Valkyrie plotters who had tried to kill Hitler. The Volksgerichtshof was headed by one of the most hated nazis: Roland Freisler, who humiliated the suspects before he convicted them to be executed.
On October 27 1806 Napoleon entered Berlin. His army had defeated Prussia. The French emperor entered a demoralized city. He did not leave alone. Napoleon took the quadriga on the Brandenburger gate, on the background of this painting made in 1810, with him.
Berlin has many great restaurants and bars. Spicy curry’s, great pizza’s and juicy currywurst: Berlin has got it all. We selected our favorite restaurants and bars per district. Including a restaurant where you can also buy the furniture you’re sitting on and one in a former sports hall. Check them all out!
She was one of the most beautiful, powerful and influential women in Berlin. When she died French emperor Napoleon said the German king ‘lost his best minister’. She was respected by the army and loved by the people of Berlin. During her short life she made an astonishing impression and gave birth to nine children including future emperor Wilhelm (William) I. She died at the aged of 34: Queen Louise (1776-1810).
The first thing that comes to mind if you say Berlin and movies, probably is the Berlinale. Second: the Babelsberg film studio’s. But did you know Berlin has a long movie history? A hundred years ago the Berlin district Weissensee, close to Prenzlauer Berg, was called ‘Little Hollywood’. A lot of movies were shot here, and people watched those movies with spectacular names as ‘high treason’ (Hochverrat) at silent movie theater Delphi.
Berlin Alexanderplatz has always been the place to be in Berlin. Even before the roaring twenties, as you can see in this image of 1903. After a hard days work Berliners went to Berlin Alexanderplatz. The place was incredibly noisy: trams went on and of and there was a lot hustle and bustle in the surrounding cafes.
Looking at Stadtbad Prenzlauer Berg in the Oderbergerstrasse it’s hard to imagine how important it was for the people of Prenzlauer Berg. But a hundred years ago life without a shower or a bath was perfectly normal. Now most people splash with water in their bathroom everyday. But in Berlin this wasn’t common. In December, 1986 the Stadtbad closed for good due to cracks in the pool. But now.. Continue Reading
You might think you truly know Berlin by visiting every cool street, restaurant and bar in Mitte, Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg, but you won’t know Berlin until you visited the Berlin Plattenbau. If you want to experience what Plattenbau is, a flat at Hellersdorfer Strasse 179 is turned into the Plattenbau Museum. The apartment still has furniture that was brand new in East Berlin in the eighties. In the bedroom you can spot funky grass wallpaper. In the kitchen you can put on a Dederon apron and sip Rotkapchen.
At the Rosenstrasse in Berlin Mitte you can meet the brave women that protested against the nazis when they arrested their Jewish husbands. The men were held at the Rosenstrasse 2-4. The building belonged to the Jewish community in Berlin. The same evening they were arrested (at 27nd of February) mostly their women (but also other relatives and friends) came to the Rosenstrasse. They demanded the freedom of their husbands and relatives. This was brave. To stand up against the nazis and protest during the war was very rare. The women scanted: ‘give us our husbands back’. They protested during the day and at night.
Almost everyone has seen images of Hitlers speeches. Or nazi posters, flags and the movies they made. They were all part of their propaganda. There even was a ministry of propaganda. It controlled the official media and prepared nazi Germany for war. A part of the building of the ’Propagandaministerium’ miraculously survived the battle of Berlin and can stil be found in Germans capitol.
East Berlin was grey, battered, people living there were sad, depressed and wore depressing clothes. Those are the cliches you always here about the GDR if people grew up in Western Europe or the United States. And although a lot of cliches might hide some truth in them, we would also like to show you a different part of East Berlin that was not grey, desperate, colorless or boring: the Punks of Prenzlauer Berg.
Friedrichshain used to be full of cramped apartment with very bad living conditions. The Knorrpromenade was different. Life was more luxurious here, with small gardens, more space. The pride and joy of the street were and are the fairy tale Schmucktore: gates with lots of decoration and vases on top. They are being renovated right now, just in time for the 100 year anniversary of the street.
The Admiralspalast at the Friedrichstrasse has a really strange history. Now you can watch musicals, dance and music performances here, but in 1873 the people of Berlin plunged into the luxurious baths at the Admiralspalast. The Berliners must have felt like gods. The baths were in Russian/Roman style and had mosaic at the bottom of the pools. The gents baths had gracious lady figurines, mermaids and seahorses. The ladies could enjoy massages and sweat at the sauna. The gents could take sneaky looks at the ladies. And if they became too hot, they could visit a classy hooker in her room at the bath as well.
Unter den Linden was build to make visitors look in awe at the buildings. It was set up to show that Berlin was no longer a village, but a big city. The street was filled with landmarks by the Berlin royalty. The palaces look glamorous, but also harbor tragic stories.
Today the enormous building in Berlin Mitte is used as the ministry of finance. It was also one of the landmarks of Nazi Berlinwhen it was build. When the nazi’s came to power they created the new ministry of aviation: Reichsluftfahrtministerium. Interestingly Erhard Milch, who had a Jewish father, played an important role at the ministry.
The GDR leaders lived quite comfortably at Majakowskiring. It was quite a long walk from Berlin’s city centre. But when the angry Berlin mobs protested against their government in 1953 the communists became quite nervous. They were scared the protesters would come to their villa’s. So they went looking for a more secure and secluded place to live outside of Berlin: Wandlitz.
At Burgerpark Pankow you almost feel as if you are not in Berlin anymore. It’s one of the most beautiful parks of Berlin. Don’t forget to check out the entrance gate, that was renovated in 2010. The nearby Schlosspark and Schloss Schonhausen is also worth a visit. It was a guest house in East-Berlin and Fidel Castro stayed here.
Everybody knows about how the Allied Forces organizes an airlift to fly and drop supplies to the people of West Berlin via Tempelhof. But very few people know Berlin’s one and only concentration camp was at Tempelhof too. The concentration camp was in Columbia-Haus, named after the first airplane that landed at Tempelhof after a transatlantic flight. Despite it’s heroic name, only horrors happened here. When the Nazi’s ruled Germany the Gestapo prisons soon became too full with political opponents. Continue reading…
On November 22, 1943 Berlin has heavily bombed by planes of the Western allies. The bombs fell 30 minutes, killing 240.000 people. Either by the blasts or the fires that raged afterwards. The bombs also destroyed a lot of Berlin churches like the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedachtniskirche, the Versohnungskirche, Zionskirche and the New Synagogue, as well as a lot of other buildings. To commemorate this tragedy, seventy Berlin churches that were severely damaged during this Berlin Bomb Night ring their bells.
Nowadays the Lustgarten on the museum island is a beautiful small park. It is a favorite of families and tourists to sit back and watch the world go by. It used to also be one of the favorite places of the Nazi’s in Berlin. They used the Lustgarten many times for speeches and rallies, including speeches by Adolf Hitler. But it was also the place were 200.000 people demonstrated against him.
Singer song writer Wolf Biermann has meant a lot for Berlin. He wrote a play about the erection of the Berlin Wall and after that he was spied on constantly at his home in Mitte. He sang about the Stasi watching him in songs like the Stasiballade. He made the GDR government really nervous and in 1976 they banned him from East Germany. He was the first person this happened to. His songs and exile sparked East German resistance.
At Kieler Strasse, near the Invalidenfriedhof, you can find one of the most interesting watchtowers of the Berlin Wall. Not only because it is one of the few remaining watchtowers. But mostly, because it is a small museum for the first victim of the Berlin Wall: Gunter Litfin.
His brother Jurgen runs the watchtower and museum.
Volkspark Friedrichshain is a magical spot, and a perfect place for a fairy tale walk. At the beginning of the park is a fairy tale fountain (marchenbrunnen). Turtles spit out water, cats walk in boots and little girls feed concrete doves. The fairy tales of the German Grimm brothers are beautifully depicted in stone.
Friedrichshain has a lot of funny and true Berlin stores you won’t find in any other city or Berlin district. Shop owners here care more about creativity than about being as hip as possible. Like Yack Fou, where they sell hoodies with mean Berlin bears. Or Zozoville, an art gallery full of furry monsters that behave like humans.
It was especially build for the Olympic Games of 1936, a bloody battle was fought here during the war and at this place the FIFA World Cup final was held: Olympia Stadion. One of the few icons of the Nazi’s that still can be visited in Berlin. It had a turbulent history and the same could be said about its architect…
Rosa Luxemburg Platz has a very bloody history. In the twenties of the last century the communist party had their headquarters at the square of Rosa Luxemburg Platz. They often fought with the Nazi’s in this area. Police officers kept a keen eye on both sides, which were the key ingredients for a major row.
Near the river Spree in Berlin Mitte you will learn everything about Ostalgia at the DDR Museum. And about life in the GDR, or DDR as the East Germans used to call their land. Maybe you only know the GDR from the obvious GDR artifacts like Spreewald Gurken, stinky Trabants and Plattenbau, the DDR Museum truly shows you what life was like behind the German iron curtain. We had friends living in Dresden, so we already knew a bit about DDR life before the Berlin Wall fell. But if you haven’t been to East Germany, the DDR Museum will lift the curtain a bit and shows you what East German life was like.
No matter how anti-religion the GDR government was, the Zionskirche community stayed strong. Believers and non-believers came together at this Prenzlauer Berg church. Not to say prayers, but to organize peaceful demonstrations against the GDR government. What started small in this church, at 1986 spread quickly, ending up in the mass demonstrations in the hot autumn of 1989. Most well known were the phamplets that were printed at the Church, the so called Umwelt-blatter, named after the cellar Umwelt, at the Zionskirch.
One More Berlin Wall victim
Years after the Berlin Wall fell, there is evidence the Berlin Wall has made one more victim. 30 year old Hans-Joachim Zock drowned in the river Spree on November 17, 1970. He tried to swim to the other side of the river near the heat and power station in Mitte (near An der Michael Brucke), but didn’t make it. He was found one month later.
The Stasi had a large file on Hans-Joachim Zock. But because the drowning man was not spotted during his flight to West Berlin, the Stasi managed to keep his flight secret until recently. Researches of the Freie University in Berlin discovered the Stasi file on Zock. Continue Reading…
Friedrichshain is R.A.W. The Berlin neighborhood has a rough lifestyle. People work hard, and party even harder. The Berlin district is covered with lively cafes and battered buildings. Like R.A.W. Raw? Isn’t it the perfect name for this area in Friedrichshain? It is half in ruins and covered with beautiful graffiti. And it’s raw, because it used to be the ReichsbahnAusbesserungsWerk. In these factories the GDR trains were repaired and maintained. In the good old times 20.000 people worked on the mighty steel of the trains. In some cities, you want to start running when the buildings lost their function and are gone to pieces but R.A.W. makes you stay. Thank god they didn’t do anything else with this place yet. The area vibrates with stunning street art and good, underground music from Cassiopeia, Astra and Szimpla and exhibitions from numerous artists.
Near the river Spree is East Germany’s biggest amusement park. Back in the eighties children had a lot of fun in the theme park. But now, it is awfully quiet in Kulturpark Planterwald. The life-size dinosaurs are daubed with graffiti and some missing a head or leg. The ferris wheel moves slowly in the wind. Big dogs guard the place to prevent burglars from stealing the copper from the roller coaster.
In Friedrichshain you can find no nonsense food for bargain prices. Even the local bakery at Boxhagener Platz makes really good cheesecake. Not a coincidence. This square buzzes with great little restaurants from all over the world, like Alarabi. If you are into alternative locations, Friedrichshain is the place to be as well. Visit former gymhall Die Turnhall, or Volkskammer, for a true Ossi-meal.
Berliners have Berlin words and nicknames for nearly every building surrounding them. The Fernsehturm is the Popes Revench, the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedachtniskirche Hohler Zahn (hollow molar) a Trabant an Asphalt Blower and flowers graveyard veggies. So if you proudly want to say: Ick bin ein Berliner, learn a new truly Berlin word every day! Our Berlin Nickname of the day is all about Christmas shopping. And how difficult that can be. Berliners call it a Hasenjacht.
Where is the Berlin Wall? Many tourists complain they can’t find the remains of the Berlin Wall. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 the people of Berlin were happy to see this hated piece of concrete gone. We tell you the stories about East Side Gallery, and show you the hidden spots, like an old graveyard where shoot outs happened near the Berlin Wall and Watchtowers in remembrance of the Berlin Wall victims.