Free Things To Do in Berlin
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Inspired by the Acropolis entrance in Athens, the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) is one of the most-photographed sites in Berlin. Located in Pariser Platz, one of the city's most famous squares, the Brandenburg Gate was built for King Frederick Wilhelm II starting in 1788.
Since then, it's been the backdrop of much of the city's history, including Napoleonic invasions and Nazi parades. During the Cold War, the structure sat in "no man's land" between East and West Berlin. Visitors to the monument say it's now a must-see symbol that represents Germany unity.
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The Topography of Terror (Topographie des Terrors) museum sits on the site of the Gestapo and SS Police's former headquarters during World War II. By walking the grounds and touring the documentation center, travelers can learn about the atrocities committed by those German officers that once worked at this very site.
Other interesting exhibits that detail Berlin between 1933 and 1945 are found on the grounds, including excavated portions of the old building. For a more in-depth look at the museum, you can take the free English-speaking tour, which is offered Sundays at 3:30 p.m. (Most exhibits are listed in German and English.) You'll want to sign up at the reception desk 30 minutes before the tour starts.
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Located in the center of Berlin, the Berlin Wall Memorial stretches for a little less a mile along what was once the border that divided the city in two. Upon arriving at the memorial, you can stop into the visitor center to watch a short film on the history of the Berlin Wall, as well as explore a handful of other exhibits. There is also a bookstore on-site.
Once you are finished in the visitor center, head across the street to see preserved remnants of the border strip. In addition to part of the Berlin Wall itself, you will find the Chapel of Reconciliation, a rebuilt structure that serves as a place of remembrance for the lives that were lost. Though admission into the memorial is free, guided tours cost between 2.50 euros and 5 euros per person (or around $2.80 to $5.65). Many recent guests recommended taking the guided tour to fully grasp the historical significance of the memorial. The visitor center is open between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (closed on Monday) and the memorial itself is open between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. every day. For more information, visit the official website.
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A symbol of Germany's past, present and future, the Reichstag or Parliament Building is a mesh of different architecture ranging from the late 20th to late 21st centuries. It symbolizes the country's path from a dark past to a brighter future.
Originally constructed between 1884 and 1894, the building was destroyed by arson in 1933, an act that marked a turning point in the history of the Third Reich. It was then bombed during World War II and didn't become the seating house of government again until 1999 after the distinguishing glass dome was added.
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The Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas (which translates to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe or, more simply, Berlin's Holocaust Memorial) consists of a grid of 2,711 concrete blocks made to memorialize the 6 million Jewish victims of the Third Reich. Some blocks stand as tall as 15 feet.
Many visitors choose to simply walk among the gray slabs, but if you're interested in learning more about the history, you can descend to the underground visitor center. Recent travelers said they felt incredibly moved by the sheer size of the memorial (it spans more than half a square mile), and most highly recommended a visit when in Berlin.
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The expansive Tiergarten sprawls 519 acres from central Berlin westward and attracts visitors looking for respite from the city's clamor. The name of the park translates to "Animal Garden," as it served as a hunting ground for select Germans during the late 17th century.
Nowadays, visitors can still get a glimpse of animals by visiting Zoologischer Garten (the Berlin Zoo) located within the park. You can also stroll, jog or bike through the most popular green space in Berlin. On the other hand, many travelers enjoy the Tiergarten more for its two biergartens. The Tiergarten also houses the Victory Column, which was erected in 1873 to commemorate Prussia's victory in the Franco-German War. Visitors can climb to the top of this monument to see great views of Berlin.
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The East Side Gallery refers to the longest intact section of the Berlin Wall, which stretches nearly a mile. If you want to experience the wall for the first time, this is the place to do it. After the Berlin Wall's fall (say that 10 times fast) in 1989, dozens of international artists congregated here and created paintings depicting the world's joyous and optimistic reactions to the end of the Cold War era.
The wall forms the world's largest open-air gallery, featuring more than 100 murals. Recent visitors said it's an interesting look at history, but suggested going early in the day to avoid crowds.
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Pre-World War II, Potsdamer Platz was Berlin's main plaza – and a bustling one, at that – but the ensuing wars left it ravaged. After the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended, companies like Sony and Daimler moved in and built their headquarters on the square, thus revitalizing the area.
But global companies weren't the only ones credited with rejuvenating the plaza: Attractions like the Deutsche Kinemathek, a museum dedicated to German film and TV, the Boulevard der Stars – Berlin's answer to the Hollywood Walk of Fame – and the Theater am Potsdamer Platz, the largest show stage in Berlin, also set up shop. Families will enjoy the nearby LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Berlin and a sizable mall, Potsdamer Platz Arkaden. Plus, with a casino, a virtual reality lounge and Berlin's largest movie theater, the entertainment possibilities are nearly endless.
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