With a history that is both dark and light, Berlin is a city that thrives on change. It’s a place where historic buildings are restored and new districts arise, where grey concrete structures are coloured with graffiti and ‘urban stickering’, and where the old divide between East and West seems to have become blurred.
Berlin’s most famous American-controlled border crossing point alongside Glienicke Bridge, Checkpoint Charlie was the scene of Cold War showdowns and dramatic escape attempts. It was also the setting for thrillers and spy novels like Octopussy or The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.
Today, the former border crossing in Friedrichstrasse is a tourist attraction that attracts a large crowd each year. Nevertheless, no original buildings are left at Checkpoint Charlie, but faithful replicas of the watchtowers and turnpikes are available for visitors to look at.
Located at the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Zimmerstrasse, it is a reminder of divided Berlin and the Cold War. The barrier and control barrack, flag and sandbags are all based on the real site and make for an excellent photo opportunity.
East Side Gallery
The East Side Gallery is a 1.3 km stretch of the Berlin Wall in central Berlin that has been turned into an art gallery. This evocative stretch of wall is covered in more than 100 murals that document the fall of the Berlin Wall and its impact on German history.
When the Wall fell, colorful decorative painters and spray paint artists used it to create artworks that expressed their political views and their hopes for the future. These paintings, now known as the East Side Gallery, are a testament to the revolution that took place in Berlin in 1989.
However, these works of art are being threatened by graffiti, time, and Berlin’s weather. Kani Alavi, the founder of the Artists Initiative, is attempting to protect them.
The Gallery is free to visit and there are many guided tours available. You should arrive early, as it gets very busy in the middle of the day.
Kreuzberg, sometimes lovingly referred to as “Little Istanbul,” is one of Berlin’s most diverse and multicultural neighborhoods. Its residents come from over 180 nationalities, and this reflects in the neighborhood’s unique cultural offerings.
The district is also home to a number of Berlin’s top museums. The Jewish Museum, the Gropius-Bau arts venue and the acclaimed English Theatre Berlin are all located here.
Alternatively, you can head to the East Side Gallery, where you’ll find an extensive collection of art from 1870 to present day. You can also visit the enigmatic Molecule Man sculpture, or take a stroll along Oberbaumbrucke bridge, where you’ll get a great view of the city’s skyline.
For nightlife, check out Madame Claude – the former brothel has been turned into a bar and hosts a range of DJs. The club has a great selection of drinks, and the decor is bizarre. Or try Privatclub Berlin, a small space that hosts some of the best DJs in town.
The largest synagogue in Berlin, Rykestrasse has seen relatively little damage from the Nazis and war. It can still hold up to 2000 worshippers and tours are regularly offered in English and German.
The synagogue was built in 1904 by the Judische Gemeinde zu Berlin, and is one of Germany’s oldest buildings. It was designed in a neo-Romanesque style by local architect Johann Hoeniger and still retains much of its ornate interior.
A recent resurgence of anti-Semitism has led to an increase in violence attacks, and Angela Merkel has called on German citizens to defend liberal democratic values and institutions like the synagogue. The historic building is now the site of a memorial to Kristallnacht, the 1938 rampage of state-sponsored violence against Jewish communities in Germany and Austria that left more than 1,400 synagogues burning across the country.
Norwegian singer-songwriter Hanne Hukkelberg’s debut album Little Things was an endearing mosaic of intimate jazz and fractured pop miniatures, and she expands upon the themes explored here on her second album, Rykestrasse 68. The result is a melancholic record of longing and loneliness, a soundscape evocative of rain-spattered windows, lazily spent Sunday afternoons, and boredom in the city.