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Berlin and Vicinity Top Sights

Rick Steves' Germany 2010 says that five Berlin attractions are "must see": Reichstag, German History Museum, Museum of The Wall at Checkpoint Charlie, Jewish Museum Berlin and Gemäldegalerie.

My question is: Does anyone want to suggest a different set of priorities for me. We only have a short time in Berlin in June.

Thanks.

John

Posted by
8292 posts

One of the best ways to see the major sites of Berlin is to go on one of the walking tours that are on offer from several different companies. In 4 hours, you really get to see a lot, and the price of 10-12 euro is affordable for just about any tourist. Most companies also offer other themed walking tours too, like Cold War or 3rd Reich, or Jewish Experience tours.

I have taken tours to Sachsenhausen and Potsdam. Very, very well worth it in my opinion.

I was very disappointed in Checkpoint Charlie itself. Did not go in the museum there, but it tends to get mixed reviews, either people love it or they find it to be very disorganized.

Posted by
576 posts

I, too, am planning a few days in Berlin. Has anyone visited the concentration camp memorial at Sachsenhausen? Rick merely says that it's a "worthwhile" Berlin side trip, but no other information is given. My husband really wants to visit a concentration camp (we've never been to any others). Also, how long does it take to get out there and about how long should we allow to tour the camp? We will have 3 full days in Berlin and also, like John, would like advice on how to best spend our precious few days here. Also, any thoughts on the Palace at Potsdam? Would you squeeze this onto the must-see list? Thanks.

Posted by
13361 posts

If you're interested in Prussian history, I would definitely recommend going to Potsdam from Berlin for a day or two. See the historical museum, Sans Souci and especially Neues Palais, walk around the town too.

Posted by
2297 posts

Rick's list is actually pretty good. I'd put the Reichstag on No. 1 as well! However, I'm surprised that the Pergamon museum is missing. That one I wouldn't miss.

If you're tight for time make sure you don't waste it in line-ups to get into an attraction. For the Pergamon that means going right at 10 am when it opens. For the Reichstag I strongly recommend to make a reservation for a FREE English-language tour. You get a 90 min guided tour of the entire building without wait instead of standing in line for 1-2 hours to go up the elevator to the glass dome. You do need to make a reservation well ahead of time but it's very simple to send them an email. More info here:

http://www.bundestag.de/htdocs_e/visits/besgrupp/fuehr.html

Posted by
576 posts

Beatrix, thanks for the fantastic insider tip on how to get a free Reichstag tour and skip the long lines. This is not in my RS Germany guide so I never would have known about it without your help. Greatly appreciated! Anything to use our short vacation time more wisely.

Posted by
2297 posts

Some other thoughts on how to choose YOUR "must see" sites in Berlin. What have you seen in Europe before? How much do you know of European/German history?

My husband has seen Versailles only a year before we went to Berlin and wasn't really that impressed by Potsdam. I've seen many palaces and castles as well but very much enjoyed the atmoshphere of the quiet winter landscape in the park.

The German History Museum is great if you have no background knowledge of European history. A great overview from the stone age to the 20th century. But a lot of that kind of history is no different from other history museums in Europe. Personally, I enjoyed most the exhibits for the 20th century which wasn't really what my husband was interested in and he found the time up to 1800 very repetitive compared to what he's seen in other places. And due to lack of German language skills he couldn't listen to the speech the leader of the socialdemocrat party gave in 1933 after Hitler enacted the "Gleichschaltungsgesetz" that basically ended any political opposition in the country. That was my personal highlight of the entire museum and for that alone I'm glad we went. (We ended up in there because the line-ups at the Pergamon) But there are English descriptions and audio-guides available.

The Pergamon has exhibits you won't find anywhere in the world. Very unique and impressive, can't imagine anyone who would not count it among their favourite sites in Berlin - our kids put it quite on top of their list as well.

Similar with the Reichstag - its history and architecture, especially after the restaurations by Norman Foster, are very unique. It is indeed "living history"

Gemaeldegalerie is great if you're into art. Would have loved to see it and am somewhat disappointed that I didn't have time. But again, after spending several days in the Louvre a year earlier and in other art museums throughout Europe there was no way I could have dragged my husband and kids in.

Posted by
430 posts

I agree with James --

My top two are 1) Zoo, 2) Pergamon... your personal preferenced could drive it after that.

My wife does not like dwelling on some of the less savory aspects of history, so having already been to some other heavy sights we passed on Checkpoint Charlie museum the last time we were in Berlin, opting for a pipe-organ concert instead (then... we did laundry...)

Posted by
3149 posts

My list is similar to James:

  1. Pergamon, 2. Berlin Wall/Checkpoint Charlie, 3. KaDeWe, Adding: 4. Brandenburg Gate, 5.Egyptian Museum (bust of Queen Nefertiti), 6. Jewish Museum.
Posted by
337 posts

Terry, how long you need to get to Sachsenhausen depends of course on your starting point ;-) The S1 takes approximately 45 minutes from Friedrichstraße station to Oranienburg station. It's a stroll of just under 30 minutes by foot from Oranienburg station, but there is also a bus line.
Sachsenhausen is a quite big area with several documentations/exhibits in buildings. You could spend quite some time seeing it all, and I would spend at least two or three hours there. I never took a guided tour, so I don't know how long they are.

Re: the palace in Potsdam: for me personally the main attraction is the park, so I would only visiting during good weather in summer or spring.

Re: Zoo Berlin: I'm surprised that both James and Jim put it in first place. Surely a zoo (and a botanical garden) is basically the same the world over? And honestly I prefer the Tierpark in Friedrichsfelde over the Zoo in Tiergarten. Yes, the Zoo has more species and an aquarium, but the Tierpark has wolves, hyenas and more big cats.

On the other hand nobody included the "Naturkundemuseum"? The biggest display of a Brachiosaurus brancai and the Archaeopteryx! No paleontology geeks around?

Well, the "top five" is highly subjective.

Posted by
8292 posts

Have visited 4 zoos so far here in Europe, and if you don't have small children, I would leave it off your list. Most of the zoos here simply cannot compete with the huge zoos in the states. There are so many other things to see and do while traveling in Europe, why a zoo? (got kids? then yes, keep them on your list)

Posted by
1357 posts

I loved KaDeWe. It's the biggest department store on the continent. I think it's great to see a place where you can buy Cartier and squid in the same store. If you only have a short time, you may want to skip the day trips. I loved Sanssouci and riding bikes around Potsdam, but that's a whole day, you'll have to decide if you want to spend a day in Potsdam.

Posted by
2297 posts

Mark,

Our family is quite interested in paleontolgy. We've seen both the Natural History Museum in New York and Washington DC last year. AND we have the Royal Tyrell Museum very close by and go there pretty much once a year. It has the largest collection of dinosaur skeletons in the world. So for us a German Naturkundemuseum has to offer something very different to end up on the "must-see" list or we have extra time to waste. The latter simply never happens when you're in Berlin :-)

A "must-do" for me was a stroll on "Unter den Linden". Unfortunately the rest of my family didn't think so and got very rude to me when I tried to stop for 2 seconds to peek into the windows of the Meissen and KPM stores ...

Posted by
576 posts

Mark, we will be staying near the Tiergarten. It will probably be bitterly cold December 6-9, which seems very poetically appropriate for visiting a concentration camp. However, strolling the grounds around a palace, not so much. And Beatrix, I emailed the Reichstag Building Tour people and have received the automatic reply back and I'm just waiting to hear back from them personally. I love reading all of your comments and suggestions, including Jo's tour recommendations. You guys are great.

Also...any Berlin Christmas market recommendations from anyone out there?

Posted by
13361 posts

Taking a stroll down Unter den Linden is very nice, very satisfying...I always set aside some time for just that when I'm there. Conceptually, the German Historical Museum does a very good job in presenting a survey of modern German history from the Reformation onwards...I definitely recommend it. Also depends on what the special exhibit is.

There's also the Anti-War Museum in Berlin's Wedding district (Anti-Kriegsmuseum), I haven't gotten to that one as yet. A more specialised history museum, which I've seen a couple times since the Russians departed is that at Berlin-Karlshorst...recommend that highly.

Posted by
143 posts

It is really gratifying to get all of this wonderful advice. This forum really rocks!

Posted by
159 posts

We will be in Berlin for three days in August, so this topic has been wonderful to read.

I have set aside one day for Sachsenhausen and Ravensbreuck(sp?). It is very difficult to find info on them in guidebooks, although Jo did post their websites on another topic...thanks. I'm basically hoping I have time for both of them and time to do laundry when we return to Berlin, as we leave Berlin the following morning.

I'm also wondering about the Berlin Zoo now. We are 'regulars' at the San Diego Zoo and the Wild Animal Park, so zoos in other areas have never really been comparable. Is the Berlin Zoo really a must-see????

Posted by
337 posts

I'm confident that elephants, turtles, and tapirs look pretty much the same in San Diego as they do in Berlin. I wouldn't rate it "must see."

Posted by
9021 posts

I love the Berlin Zoo! On my last visit to Berlin I was suffering jet lag so I woke up very early, and arrived just as it opened. The elephants were the highlight, they like spraying water all over each other and the visitors. Like all Zoos the animals are most active at opening and closing, since that's when they are fed. Just because it's smaller than the average US Zoo doesn't make it inferior; As the saying goes: "Quality over Quantity". You're on vacation, IMO it's essential to do some "silly" things like visiting wax museums, theme parks, or zoos. Travel shouldn't just be art museums, and cathedrals.

http://www.zoo-berlin.de/en.html

...and the best Zoo in the world is the Bronx Zoo!