Whilst you may or may not wish to take up all of our suggestions and may have ideas of your own, the Berlin Welcome Card can be a good, value for money way to experience the city and offers discounts on many of the city's attractions. Full details of this can be found here: http://www.visitberlin.de/en/welcomecard
This is of course an absolute must-see for any first time visitor to the city. Although the vast majority of the wall was ripped down in the thawing of the cold war, there is still quite a bit left to see if you know where to look and you can discover the history of this infamous divider of ideologies. We would suggest that your starting point should be the impressive East Side Gallery which runs from Ostbahnhof (one of the main train stations) all the way down to the edge of Friedrichshain. Although you could probably walk the 1.3km of East Side Gallery in 20 minutes, you would probably want to leave yourself a good hour to take in some of the stunning pieces of art/ graffiti (your choice!) which adorn this monument to a darker time. Some of the art you can see is by famous artists, some by amateurs and works include the likes of the (in)famous kiss of Brezhnev and Honecker (the respective USSR and DDR leaders at the time).
Although you will still see bits of wall here and there, much is disappearing as Berlin grows and modernises. To get a feel of what things were like during the height of the cold war, you might wish to visit the excellent if little visited Berlin Wall Memorial which is in the north of the city at Bernauer Strasse (U-Bahn station). Here you can see a number of fascinating exhibits as well as a film which shows the wall just after reunification. If you thought that this was a small undertaking, think again – the video at the centre will give you a sense of the scale of the project and the undoubted psychological impact that it must have had for those on either side of the divide.
In the former east but nowadays very much in the centre of Berlin, the Fersehturm (TV Tower) is essential visiting if only to get your bearings in this sprawling city. Located at Alexanderplatz, views from the top stretch right across the city out to the west and Charlottenburg as well as over the Reichstag, Karl-Marx Allee and all the main tourist sites. The 207m tower (if you could ever miss it!), is at Alexanderplatz bang smack in the middle of the transport network. At just €12.50, it represents excellent value and the perfect way to start your Berlin adventure. There is a bar and restaurant at the top and so the nervous can just have a quick peek whilst the more adventurous will want to spend longer identifying all the points of interest.
Typically literal for the Germans, this is naturally an island and it does, of course, house many of the cities best museums. Apart from being a very pleasant location architecturally, you could literally spend days looking around the very impressive collection of museums on offer. These include the Altes Museum (Old Museum) which houses the antique collection of the Berlin State Museums, the Neues Museum (New Museum – new? It was built between 1843 and 1855!) which includes Egyptian, Prehistory and Early History artefacts, the Pergamon Museum which houses ancient items such as the Ishtar Gate from Babylon as well as a Middle East Museum and a Museum of Islamic Art. Other museums include the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) and the Bode Museum with a collection of impressive sculpture works.
Located close to Kochstrasse U-Bahn station, the museum and checkpoint are a stark reminder and one of the iconic images of cold war Berlin. Here you can take the obligatory pictures of the old checkpoint with the infamous words “You are leaving the American sector” in English, Russian, French and German (the languages of the keepers of Berlin during this period). Aside from the photo opportunities, however, the museum presents a fascinating insight into life in the city during its divided period. Nowadays it also traces the history of human rights movements and represents a fascinating stop off for any first time visitor to the city. It helps visitors to understand just what it was that made Berlin as it is today. Tickets are currently retailing at €12.50.
There are a number of cruise companies that operate tours of varying length along the Spree – the main waterway which bisects the city. Of course there are also the usual open top bus tours on offer as well but our recommendation for a sunny day in the city is to hop on a boat and get really close to the action. The tours generally start in or around the city centre but vary depending on length, destination and type of tour desired. The best source of information for information is the very helpful Visit Berlin website at www.visitberlin.de/en/category/1592
For history scholars, the name “Reichstag” conjurs up images of Hitler and the Nazis and the dark days of World War II. These days, however, the swastikas and iron crosses are long gone and the building is now a much more accessible place and stands as a model of openness and transparency in government in stark contrast to the dictatorships of the past. In fact it is so “transparent” that after reunification and the moving of the seat of government back to Berlin, it underwent a refurbishment which included a glass dome on top courtesy of British architect Sir Norman Foster. Although it is possible to view parliamentary business by prior booking, of more interest to visitors are the stunning 360 degree views of the city from the top of the glass dome. Entry is free but waiting times to get in can be lengthy. However, it is well worth the wait to get to walk up to the top of the dome, walk on the roof of the Resichstag and get those obligatory tourist snaps. You can get to the Reichstag via bus or it is a short walk from the nearest U-Bahn station at Hauptbahnhof (Berlin's main train station).
Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on the way you look at it), Berlin has quite a number of “dark history” sites. Although a recent creation, the Holocaust Memorial is nonetheless one of the most eye-catching and creative sites in Berlin. Covering an area of 19,000 m², the memorial is made up of 2,711 stelae made of concrete blocks. The blocks are at different heights and visitors can meander through the artwork and contemplate the significance of the stones which are supposed to seem ordered but yet produce an uneasy and confusing environment. There is also a visitors centre at the memorial although do expect some waiting times in peak season if you plan to go in there (it is well worth a look for the additional information that you get). The memorial is just a short walk from the Brandenburg Gate and can be accessed from the Brandenburger Tor S-bahn station.