Berlin has a lot to offer visitors, but the more famous attractions – the Berlin Wall, Brandenburg Gate, and TV tower – tend to get overrun with tourists. Here are five off-the-beaten path ideas, each speaking to different times from Berlin’s rich history.
Built in the 17th Century, Charlottenburg Palace stands as a testament to Berlin’s historical role as the capital of the Prussian Empire. Originally a summer house, it was expanded and served as the full time residence of the Prussian Royal Family until the late 1800s. Badly damaged during the second World War, it has since been restored to its earlier Baroque and Roccoco grandeur, with original furniture and pieces donated by other palaces and museums from around Germany. The gardens, though only recently receiving the maintenance and attention they deserve, are beautifully reminiscent of the film Last Year in Marienbad. If you’re in town in December, the Christmas market held there each year is one of Berlin’s finest.
Berlin Botanical Gardens
Visitors to Berlin’s botanical gardens are constantly amazed by the sheer size of the place – some 22,000 species are housed over 42 hectares. The gardens boast the world’s largest glass house, complete with a waterfall, and a popular cactii house. Built at the turn of the century, the collection speaks to Germany’s colonial past, having served as an exhibition of the exotic plants returned from the country’s various colonies. The glass house is maintained at 30°C, making it a good place to warm up in the winter.
Soviet War Memorial
Nestled in the middle of Treptower park is the largest and most impressive of Berlin’s three Soviet memorials, all constructed after the end of the second world war. The site serves to commemorate 5,000 of the 80,000 Red Army soldiers who fell in battle of Berlin, and further serves as the cemetery they lie. The sheer size of the sculptures makes it a particularly striking reminder of the devastation that the conflict wrought.
A leisurely 15-minute walk from the Treptower Park train station, the memorial begins with a three-metre sculpture of a mother (mother Russia) weeping for her fallen sons. The central area is guarded by two stylised granite flags, each flanked by a kneeling Red Army soldier. The subsequent central area is lined with 16 sarcophogi, eight either side, which bear quotations of Stalin in Russian and German, and reliefs depicting themes from the war. This leads to the centrepiece: a 12 metre scultptur of a soldier carrying a child, which sits atop the mausoleum, itself set upon an 18 metre memorial hill.
Listening Station at Teufelsberg
At the top of an artificial mountain in the city’s south-west is a former field station of the US’s National Security Agency that makes for a particularly unique excursion. Teufelsberg, meaning ‘Devil’s Mountain’, was built with rubble from 400,000 buildings destroyed in the war, though covered with forest and greenery you wouldn’t know it by appearances. The listening station was used to intercept radio transmissions, and comprises three distinct radar domes.
Following reunification, the station was bought with intentions of development, however these plans were abandoned in 2000, and the site fell into disrepair and vandalism. Although a popular site for urban explorers, entering the site is technically trespassing unless as part of a guidedtour. It is also particularly dangerous to visit alone, being an abandoned and derelict site with open elevator shafts and piles of debris. One particularly amazing feature is the acoustics in the highest radar dome – echoes are amplified in such a way that you hear your own voice with a millisecond delay behind your head! It’s a jarring phenomenon that must be experienced to be appreciated.
Art Mini-Golf at Tempelhof
One particularly fun way to experience Berlin’s famous and thriving art scene is to visit nutureartmini–golf in the parklands that were once Tempelhof airport. Open for Spring-Summer each year, the course is comprised of 18 holes designed by different Berlin-based and international artists. With complicated electronics, water features and airplane scrap metal, the course is a fun way to engage with Berlin’s arts scene, and makes a nice distraction during a typical Berlin afternoon in the park. In 2012, nine holes by new artists will be installed.
About the Author: Niko Sillmann is a blogger and content writer for GetYourGuide.com, a booking site for tours, attractions, excursions & activities based in Berlin, Zurich and Las Vegas.
Photo Credits – Flickr: #1 dimodi, #2 quinet