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Discover Berlin’s History Through Its Architecture

This German city offers more than just remnants of its famous wall

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Photography: courtesy of the Author

Germany is a country with a war-fraught history. Half a century after the Second World War and almost 30 years since the Berlin wall came tumbling down, it has managed to reinvent itself as a progressive, forward-thinking city. The power that came with Germany’s empire is evident in every square inch of this now-modern town. With imposing structures from centuries back, museums holding some of the world’s most impressive antiquities, and structures that have become landmarks of modern design, it offers a glimpse of German culture, its past and how its future is shaping up.

Today, Berlin is a vibrant, gritty city with a youth culture that is pervasive despite the region’s omnipresent history. 

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In photo: Ostkreuz, a station on the Berlin S-Bahn suburban railway. 

With goth, punk rock and counterculture playing a big part of Berlin as we know it today, the city is a true dichotomy between old and new.

Spree River

Berlin got its beginnings as a city on the Spree River, which runs from Germany to the Czech Republic. During the Cold War, many of those who attempted to cross over the Berlin wall met their end at the river.

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In photo: “Three Girls One Boy” by Wilfried Fitzenreiter

While its sordid past remains fresh in people’s minds with the Wall still playing a big part in the city, the Spree has become home to picturesque boat tours, scenic views and installation art.

Museum Island

A must for anyone taking the tourist route through the city, Museum Island, located on the Spree River is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that plays host to a number of museums.

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Altes Museum, which was built in the 1820s and in recent years completed a year of restoration works, currently holds antiquities. Symbolic of the neoclassical architecture prevalent in Berlin, it was originally built to hold the Prussian royal family’s art collection.

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Pergamon Museum, one of the country’s largest and Germany’s most visited museum, was built between 1910 to 1930. Known for its Middle Eastern antiquities and Islamic treasures, the imposing structure holds memorable pieces such as the Ishtar Gate of Babylon and the Alhambra Dome among others.

Berlin Cathedral

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Located also at Museum Island is the imposing dome of the Berlin Cathedral. With a history that dates back all the way to the 1400s, today’s modern church is a product of changes in the city that happened in the late 1800s.

Originally fashioned from brick, the structure is now made of sandstone and was recently inaugurated in 1993 after the removal of destructions brought about by war.

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Berlin Zoological Garden and Terrassen Am Zoo

The most visited zoo in Europe, the Berlin Zoo is a 35-hectare space that’s been in operation since 1844. The train station right beside has completely rehabilitated its image from a shadier, dodgier past—it has evolved into a wholesome spot more complimentary to the family-friendly landmark in its proximity.

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City Hall

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The renaissance-style building designed by Hermann Friedrich Waesemann is a standout because of its red brick façade. Severely damaged in the Second World War, Rotes Rathaus or “Red City Hall” served as the seat of government since the German reunification.

Brandenburg Gate

This 18th century neoclassic structure is one of Germany’s most famous landmarks. Its imposing columns and pediment recall centuries of battles and wars, reminding modern-day citizens of the country’s tumultuous history and its resilience.

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Reichstag Building

Originally built in 1894, the Reichstag first housed the German Empire’s seat until it was set on fire in 1933, just as Nazi rule began. During the Cold War, the building was located within West Berlin but simultaneously very close to the East side. Today, the reconstructed building is flocked by tourists and is noted for its glass cupola.

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Berlin Wall / Topography of Terror

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There are many ways to see the Berlin Wall, as portions of it are scattered all over the city. At the Topography of Terror, an indoor outdoor museum pays tribute to the city’s turbulent past and is situated at a former Gestapo headquarters.

Checkpoint Charlie

A symbol of the Cold War, Checkpoint Charlie was the crossing point between the East and the West Berlin.

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Victory Column

A symbol of multiple victories in wars and battles in the 1800s, this is another monument that harkens back to the old city.

House of World Cultures

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Surrounded by many institutional structures and in close proximity to government buildings, this art-centric structure was designed in the 1950s and presents a strong break from the Renaissance revival that dominates the city.

Modern Architecture

There is a plethora of modern buildings throughout Berlin that all represent its move towards innovation and the future.

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A strong emphasis on green architecture now proliferates most of its buildings.

Mitte

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One of the most popular districts in Berlin, Mitte holds not just majority of the most popular tourist spots of the city, but also plays host to a bustling night life.

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