East Berlin’s Top 10 Things to Do

July 20, 2012 by

Europe, List Mania: Viator's Top Picks

In November, it will be 20 years since the Berlin Wall came down. In those two decades Berlin has seen incredible change. Eastern areas of the city that suffered under the old Communist regime have been revitalised, and have become the cool places to be. Many of Berlin’s most interesting attractions are in the eastern part of the city or around where the wall used to run. And we’ve picked out 10 of the best things to see and do in Berlin…

#1 – The East Side Gallery

Perhaps the most famous stretch of the Berlin Wall, the East Side Gallery was left standing and painted over by graffiti artists after the rest of the wall was pulled down. It’s a major attraction, but its glory has faded somewhat. Much of the original art has been covered over by morons who think that the world needs to know their name, and the date they visited. There is talk of the East Side Gallery being repainted – hopefully this is the case; it’d be interesting to see it turn into a regularly evolving art space.

Walking along a preserved section of the Berlin Wall

Walking along a preserved section of the Berlin Wall

#2 – Berlin Wall History Mile

Bernauerstrasse was split between east and west by the wall, which ran straight down it. Nowadays there are some remaining fragments along the street, plus the memorial and Documentation Centre. Along the path the wall once took, there are displays explaining what life was like, how buildings were destroyed and communities split. It’s all very moving, and well put together. Many of the attempts to escape from East to West were made alongside this strip, and some died in the process of trying.

Check out tours of the Berlin Wall

#3 – Kunsthaus Tacheles

When the wall was pulled down, buildings in many areas around it became squats. Very few remain, and of those that do, the Tacheles is by far the most interesting. A former department store on Oranienburgerstrasse, it is now home to a series of ultra-grungy artists’ studios and an awesome bar called Zapata. It’s a real alternative crowd hang-out, which plays cool music and makes you feel like you’re in the middle of a rather disturbed painting. It’s dirty and graffiti riddled, but the Tacheles is packed with fascinating artworks and represents a slice of history that has just about been wiped out.

#4 – Potzdamer Platz

Drinking at Zapata, Kunsthaus Tacheles

Drinking at Zapata, Kunsthaus Tacheles

This is the opposite of the Kunsthaus Tacheles – the new Berlin that the authorities would like you to see. Potzdamer Platz was once Europe’s biggest wasteland; it was bisected by the Berlin Wall, and on both sides, buildings were pulled down or fell into disrepair. After German reunification, revamping Potzdamer Platz became a multi-million euro project, and it is now a sparkling entertainment, shopping and nightlife hub. It’s undoubtedly architecturally stunning and, after initial reluctance, mainstream Berlin has largely taken to the new fun quarter.

#5 – Hackesche Hofe

A more pleasing revival is that of Hackesche Hofe. It’s a maze of courtyards that has been revitalised and filled with shops, bars and restaurants. It’s now a major Berlin nightlife hub, and is glorious fun to poke around. Each courtyard seems to have a slightly different vibe, while many of the shops are cool, unique joints rather than chain stores. Nearby on Rosenthalestrasse is the Anne Frank Zentrum, which explains the story of the famous schoolgirl and the diary she wrote whilst hiding from the Nazis.

#6 – Museum Island

Not far from Hacksesche Hofe is Museuminsel; one island packed with world class museums and galleries. Take in all of them, and it can easily eat up a day. The Pergamon Museum concentrates on ancient history and the Alte Nationalgalerie is the one for the art buffs. It contains works by many of the big names. Also thrown into the mix are the Altes Museum, Bodemuseum and Neues Museum. They all fall into the worthy rather than fun bracket, however. The island is also home to the Berliner Dom – the city’s cathedral.

#7 – DDR Museum

More entertaining is a tour of the DDR Museum, which acts as something of a nostalgia trip for the days of Communist East Germany. It’s possible to get behind the wheel of a Trabant car, check out brutal (and near useless) cleaning products and listen to popular hits that never really made it elsewhere. There are lots of drawers to open and buttons to press, whilst the displays go into aspects of life that most of us probably never considered. These include popular methods of fare dodging on public transport, nudist holidays and utterly vile coffee.

Ahh, the Trabant. On display at the DDR Museum.

Ahh, the Trabant. On display at the DDR Museum.

#8 – Stasi Museum and prison

Out further east than the main tourist haunts are two chilling reminders of the former regime. Visit the Stasi Museum, the former HQ of the secret police that has now been converted to display equipment used. This includes sneaky surveillance devices, hidden cameras and phone taps. Darker still is Gedenkstatte Hohenschonhausen. Now a memorial, this is the former Stasi prison. Conditions were not good, torture was commonplace and many prisoners were kept inside for ‘crimes’ they didn’t commit.

Tours of the complex are conducted by former prisoners – prepare for a lump in the throat.

#9 – Scheunenviertel

Berlin is a nightlife city, and there are new ‘cool’ areas springing up roughly every six minutes. But it’s hard to go wrong in Scheunenviertel. It’s one of those places where every building seems to be a bar or restaurant, every one of them looks rather enticing in a different way, and there are happy hour deals covering virtually any time on the clock. The area is roughly between Oranienburger Tor and Hackesche Hofe.

#10 – Fernsehturm

Aside from the wall, the most noticeable symbol of East Berlin was the giant TV tower. Whilst other buildings around it have been knocked down or revamped, you can still tour the Fernsehturm TV tower, standing tall in the middle of Alexanderplatz. It’s the tallest structure in Berlin at 368m (1,207ft) high, and it can be seen looming overhead from various streets around the city. It’s also possible to go up to the top of it and look out for miles around. On a sunny day, it’s well worth getting in the elevator and checking out the view.

-David Whitley

One Response to “East Berlin’s Top 10 Things to Do”

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