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Berlin: History and heritage

Are you traveling to Berlin? Don't have a lot of time for sightseeing but still want to see "the main thing"? Story for All recommends a route that takes you from the famous Alexanderplatz to the famous Checkpoint Charlie, past the prestigious Humboldt University, under the Brandenburg Gate and without forgetting the inevitable Reichstag. Also discover lesser-known but equally important monuments.

This pleasant walking tour is about 6 km long and lasts 1h30 to 2h for the rapids and for an indefinite period for the curious, who will stop and read the many historical and explanatory panels. Berlin is indeed a city steeped in history. No matter where your "base" is, meet at the tram / metro (U-Bahn) / express train (S-Bahn) station, Alexanderplatz.

Follow the guide…

From Alex to Unter den Linden

From Alexanderplatz you can admire the famous television tower (Fernsehturm) which rises to 368 meters high. Symbol of East Berlin, it was built from 1965 to 1969 and inaugurated by the then head of state of the GDR, Walter Ulbricht. Then head east, towards the "red town hall", City Hall (Berliner Rathaus). From here you can take a little detour walking straight through the picturesque district of Nikolaiviertel to immerse yourself in a medieval Berlin with narrow cobbled streets and admire the pretty facades of the buildings. Then walk towards "the museum island »(Museuminsel). You will pass a bridge over the Spree, on your left, a large green area where the Berliner Stadtschloss, the main residence of the princes of Hohenzollern, was once located. Severely damaged during World War II, it was destroyed in 1950 on the orders of Walter Ulbricht who decided to remove this symbol of ancient Prussia.

On your right is the Lustgarten, large place where tourists and students like to relax in green spaces. Highly prized by the Nazis for the place it offers, they made many speeches here. You will also see the berlin cathedral (Berliner Dom) and the old museum (Altes Museum). As you approach, you will see the numerous bullet holes and other fragments of bushes dating from the Second World War that dot the facades.

Unter den Linden and the Brandenburg Gate

Continue towards the Brandenburg Gate, you are now walking the famous avenue Unter den Linden. On your right, the New Guard (Neue Wache), a work considered a masterpiece of German classicism, it was transformed into a monument dedicated to the victims of fascism and militarism by the East German authorities in 1960. You then pass the historical museum on your right and the former palace of the crown prince (Kronprinz) on your left (building under renovation in 2011). A little further, the prestigious Humboldt University (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin) founded in 1809. It was here that many personalities such as A. Einstein, H. Heine, O. von Bismarck or even K. Marx! It faces the Faculty of Law, a building erected in the shape of a scale, symbolizing Justice, when viewed from an aerial view. The place in front of it is called the Bebelplatz and was the site of the Nazi autodafé of May 10, 1933. Students burned about 20,000 books that day deemed "non-German" by the Nazi authorities. The works of K. Marx, S. Freud, B. Brecht or E. M. Remarks were thrown into the flames and accompanied by the “cheers” of the students. Today, a monument recalls this painful memory, it is Micha Ullman's “Sunken Library”.

Continue on your way, always in the direction of the Brandenburg Gate. Very modern, you will pass in front of the Mercedes store which hosts the brand's concept cars and then in front of the very Soviet russian embassy (by its architecture), in front of the Madame Tussauds wax museum in Berlin and, finally, you arrive directly in front of the Brandenburg Gate. On your left, the hotel Adlon, famous palace where celebrities from all over the world stay and where, for the touch people, Michael Jackson caused a scandal in 2002 by carrying his son above the void to show it to journalists around the world. Inaugurated in 1791, the Brandenburg Gate is a very strong symbol in Germany. As a symbol of the East-West separation first, because being located in no man’s land during the construction of the Berlin Wall, it was also the symbol of reunification because it was here that hundreds of people demonstrated and climbed the wall in November 1989. Looking at it since Unter den Linden (which stops here), we notice the two French and American embassies facing each other. In the distance, we can see the victory column (Siegessäule), column erected in 1873 to symbolize the victory of Prussia over France. Located on rue du 17 Juin (Strasse des 17. Juni), this appointment is not trivial. Indeed, this name thus pays homage to the victims of the terrible repression which followed the East German demonstrations of June 16 and 17, 1953.

From the Reichstag to Postdamer Platz via the Tiergarten

From the Brandenburg Gate, you can see the Reichstag on the right. Note the paved strip that winds through the middle of the road and symbolizes the old route of the Berlin Wall. The Reichstag, it is also a strong symbol for Germany. The seat of the German Parliamentary Assembly (Bundestag) since reunification in 1990, the reconstruction of its glass dome destroyed in 1945 was an architectural challenge for Sir Norman Foster. Indeed, it is designed in such a way that the deputies' room, located below, is flooded with natural light. Likewise, it is "lined" with solar panels that tilt automatically following the sun in order to best capture its light and thus ensure more than 80% of the building's electricity consumption.

Although the war was not quite over, the capture of the Reichstag on April 30/1er May 1945 by the Russians is one of the strong symbols of the fall of IIIe Reich. The famous photo showing a Soviet soldier hoisting the flag on the roof is a scene replayed and the soldier is a Georgian, carefully chosen to honor Stalin's origins. To our knowledge, there is no original photo of the flag hoisting, but various testimonies indicate that it was not as beautiful as it was torn in many places. He too had suffered the throes of war.

Retrace your steps, go back past the Brandenburg Gate and head south, on the Ebertstrasse. On your left, the Memorial dedicated to the murdered Jews in Europe (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas) designed by Peter Eisenmann and inaugurated in 2004. It is a field covered with stelae arranged in a narrow mesh. The stelae have the same length / width dimensions but not the same height. In addition, the terrain is not flat, it forms a sort of wave. The architect thus wanted to give an impression of "seasickness", that one is an impression of crushing, of claustrophobia. The narrow aisles are made in such a way that the visitor finds himself alone in front of himself and his reflections, thus prohibiting group visits. Only the documentation center located below allows group visits and conferences.

Find the "surface", take the Hannah-arendt Strasse and join the Gertrud-Kolmar Strasse. Continuing on this street and around the corner In den Ministergarten you come across a sign indicating the location of Hitler's old bunker, where he committed suicide on April 30, 1945. To prevent any possible Nazi pilgrimage, the bunker was demolished and transformed into a parking lot. In addition, no Berlin tourist guide mentions its location ...

From there, we can retrace our steps and find the Ebertstrasse which runs alongside the Memorial to the Murdered Jews. A little hidden by the vegetation, you can also go towards the Tiergarten, 210 hectare park, a true "lung of Berlin", to see a stele which has the shape of a concrete bunker and which actually houses a monument dedicated to homosexual victims of Nazism. A small skylight allows you to peek inside this concrete block. Here we let the visitor discover what is inside.

From Postdamer Platz to Checkpoint Charlie

We now come to the Postdamer Platz, one of Berlin's CBD (Central Business District, in geographic parlance). Very modern district with contemporary buildings bordered by luxury hotels, it is new and came out of the ground after 1990! Indeed, the no man’s land of the Berlin Wall passed right in the middle of the square. Today, nothing foreshadows this painful past, except the paved strip in the middle of the road whose significance we have already mentioned. We will then move towards the Sony Center to admire the glass and steel dome which has the particularity of resting in balance on the roofs of surrounding buildings. Attracting tens of thousands of visitors a day, this square is one of Berlin's must-see places.

Let us now go back to Berlin's Nazi past. Let's take the direction of topography of Terror (Topography of Terrors) to arrive at the site of the former headquarters of the Nazi organizations (SS and Gestapo) of the former Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse, the mere mention of which caused fear. The ruined buildings were razed to the ground after the war and today it is Niederkirchnerstrasse. Also as a souvenir, a piece of the Berlin Wall was left in place. The open-air (and free) exhibition traces the rise of the Nazi regime and the crimes perpetrated by it. A center was built on site and houses a permanent exhibition giving further information and details on the site as well as on Nazi policies of persecution and extermination.

Go straight on the Zimmerstrasse to arrive at the end of our visit: the famous Checkpoint Charlie, at the intersection with the Kochstrasse. Checkpoint Charlie is a border post which separated the districts of Mitte and Kreuzberg then respectively under Russian and American control from the capital divided between the victors since 1945. The name was not chosen in reference to something or to some event in particular, it's just the code name for the letter "C" in military language. Checkpoint Alpha being a crossing point between Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt and Checkpoint Bravo between Brandenburg and the city / state of Berlin. The immediate environment at the station Charlie has changed since reunification. Indeed, the Russians had erected watchtowers and concrete corridors and baffles to limit the speed of vehicles. It was also the scene of many daring escapes of people concealed in the most unlikely caches of vehicles and was the very symbol of the Cold War, with the two superpowers facing each other directly. The Checkpoint Museum is located next door. It traces the development of the Berlin Wall, dedicates a room to the most spectacular escapes and houses the original gatehouse.

Our Berlin "journey" ends here. As can be seen on the attached route map, most of the monuments are concentrated in the Mitte (Central district) of Berlin. However, don't assume that this is "all" there is to see. Berlin is a very rich city on all levels. Architecturally, culturally, historically ... At the risk of repeating ourselves, we have recommended here a walking route for visitors who do not have much time to devote to tourism but which has the advantage of bringing together the main Sehenswürdigkeiten (curiosities).

Brief bibliography

- DÖBLIN, Alfred, Berlin Alexanderplatz, Paris, Gallimard, 2009. (novel retracing the life of a little thug, describes Berlin life in the 1930s, atmosphere guaranteed)

- DROZ, Jacques, History of Germany, Paris, PUF, 2003.

- OUDIN, Bernard, GEORGES, Michèle, Stories from Berlin, Paris, Perrin, 2010.

Video: Berlin - Jewish History Tour. Discover Germany (November 2021).