A month ago, I went on a surprise trip to Berlin for my 39th birthday. I knew we were going somewhere and that I had to pack my passport, but I had no idea where until we got to the airport! We got up really early on my birthday and drove to the airport – I didn’t even know which airport until we got there – and once there, Sean gave me a present to unwrap. It was a guide book to Berlin. I was so excited! I have always wanted to go to Berlin. Germany has long been a country at the top of my ‘must visit’ list. I knew there are so many things to do in Berlin that I would find fascinating, so getting to go there on my birthday is something I will always remember. Even looking at the photos now is making me smile 🙂
Berlin is an absolutely spectacular city. I was blown away by the incredible architecture everywhere you look. There are also cranes and building sites everywhere, as Berlin is still being rebuilt after experiencing so much devastation in the last century. As many people have said over the past few years, it’s hard to get a photo in Berlin without a crane in the background. To me, they symbolise the feeling of calm optimism and hope that the city carries for its future. Berlin is enormous too. It’s sprawling, and with only three days there, we were never going to get to see and do everything we wanted. But we had a really good go, and were exhausted when we got home. As you would expect from somewhere so historically significant and large, there are many, many things to do in Berlin.
The Brandenburg Gate
There are few sights in Berlin as recognisable as the Brandenburg Gate. We headed straight there on our first day. By this time it was lunchtime and it was a very busy area with lots of tourists getting photos. I was really moved by this monument, which has seen so much in its time. It’s amazing (not to mention, very saddening) to google it and see photographs of past events featuring the gate, from Hitler and the Second World War, to JFK. When the Berlin Wall was up, it stood in a sort of no man’s land between the two sides, which is hard to imagine. Nowadays it’s immersed in people and has withstood the bombs and bullets.
The Reichstag Building
This impressive building is now the seat of the German parliament. Greatly restored after being first set on fire and then bombed last century, there are still bulletholes visible in the building’s facade. The huge glass dome at the back is accessible and a path winds its way up around the inside. You need tickets to go into the building, which you must buy in advance at a building across the road. Make sure to take your passport as you won’t be able to register for entry without it.
The Siegessäule (Victory Column)
This was one of my favourite parts of Berlin. This iconic landmark is now standing on a huge roundabout inside the Tiergarten Park. It originally stood in front of the Reichstag but under Hitler it was moved to where it stands now. It has the most beautiful decorations and a spectacular view from the top. There are many, many stairs to climb to get to the top (with stops on the way), but the view is worth it. It also houses a very interesting exhibition inside.
You can just make out the Brandenburg Gate at the end of the road when you stand at the top.
Unter den Linden
This enormous status of Frederick The Great stands almost at the head of the Unter den Linden, a huge boulevard lined with majestic buildings. The boulevard is lined with lime trees, which Marlene Dietrich famously sang about. They weren’t in blossom in January, of course, but it was still a beautiful street to walk down. There’s a lot to see on the Unter den Linden; the Humboldt University of Berlin and the German war memorial to name just two landmarks.
Checkpoint Charlie was the Allied sentry point set up when the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, and the site of many escape attempts from East Germany to the West. It was also the scene of the infamous stand off between tanks of the Soviet Union and the US. It’s hard to imagine something so terrifying, but several reminders are in place in this busy tourist zone. There’s also a remnant of the Berlin Wall alongside a fascinating exhibition about the history of Checkpoint Charlie.
Berlin Cathedral, or Berliner Dom, was a stunning sight. We were lucky enough to get sunshine on this very cold January day, and it was spectacular.
This building also underwent extensive renovations over decades. It’s on the banks of the River Spree, and on the Museuminsel, an island which houses several incredible museums. I really wanted to see the Bust of Nefertiti in the Neues Museum; unfortunately we ran out of time (so we’ll definitely have to go back to Berlin one day).
The Berlin Wall Memorial
I was ten when the Berlin Wall came down, and remember the scenes on the news. I didn’t fully understand the significance back then, of course, but those images stayed with me. We visited the Berlin Wall Memorial, which is situated on Bernauer Strasse. Sections of the wall still stands, and you can climb to a viewpoint to see how it would have looked. That people were forced to live this way for so many years within one city is just mind boggling. You get to read stories of escape attempts, both successful and unsuccessful (often resulting in death), and hear the voices of those who lived through this period.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
Only the tower remains of this once enormous church, after the rest of it was destroyed during the Allied bombing in 1943. It has been left standing as a memorial, and contains some interesting artefacts. For example, the Coventry Crucifix which is made from nails found in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral, bombed by the Luftwaffe in 1940. The building covered in scaffolding next to it is a newer church, completed in 1963.
I was surprised (and pleased) to buy some Glühwein in the Christmas Market that wound around the church. Although it was January the Christmas decorations were still going strong in Berlin which was lovely.
The Christmas decorations were dotted all over the city, and the amazing Mall of Berlin was resplendent with fairy lights!
Other Things To Do In Berlin
There is so much to see and do in Berlin, I could turn this post into ten times the size of this one. The Holocaust Memorial is a must-see, and if you have time, Schloss Charlottenburg is a beautiful palace to explore. You can just wander Berlin and come across so many hidden gems of architecture and history.
Escape From The Beast Of Berlin
Something we did which was so much fun was an escape room challenge. Neither of us had ever done one before. We went to The Room, and did The Beast Of Berlin challenge. Honestly, it was one of the most fun things I have ever done! Although I really did doubt we would actually get out, it was so hard. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a group activity and are a fan of the crystal maze and murder mysteries!
There’s plenty of shopping, eating and drinking too as you would expect in a city the size of Berlin. We saw every type of cuisine, and probably ate most of it too. There are lots of restaurants around Potsdamer Platz, as a suggestion, and plenty of bars too. We got one of those hop on, hop off bus passes which I highly recommend so you get to see all of the main sites. The tours also really open your eyes to the level of construction and rebuilding that’s going on in the city. There is so much to see and do here, a long weekend only serves to let you see the main sights. We have so many reasons to go back one day.
Lovely Sean had planned the whole trip before Christmas. He knew I found the whole ‘birthday in January’ thing a bit of a drag sometimes, so decided to plan something extra special for me. Berlin is a phenomenal place to visit for history lovers, architecture lovers, space, food and shopping. It still bears the scars of its tumultuous past but is looking always to the future. Berlin has a steady calmness to it which we found really relaxing and welcoming.
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