's capital – and from a dark tourism point of view the capital of the planet! Nowhere else can there be found such a wealth and wide range of sights that are of interest to the "dark tourist".
Obviously enough, this has to do with the history of the place especially over the last century or so. From Prussian imperial capital, via the Weimar Republic and the following "Third Reich" of the Nazis.
And after that it became the central hotspot of the Cold War
(if that's not a contradiction). After all, the Berlin Wall
also stood as a symbol for the division of the whole of East Germany from the West and even for the entire Western vs. Eastern Bloc
Moreover, Berlin was the capital of the socialist single party regime of the former GDR
– as well as the place of its downfall. It was here that the end of the Cold War
manifested itself in the most palpable fashion, namely through the "fall of the Berlin Wall".
These are only the major sites – there are plenty more smaller-scale ones, such as memorial plaques marking sites of Nazi
terror, or the GDR regime, e.g. Wilhelmstraße or on Karl-Liebknecht-Straße.
Or the site of the Old Reich Chancellery, at Wilhelmstraße 77, where Adolf Hitler
used to reside from 1933. Behind the building there was the infamous "Führerbunker", the massive underground air-raid-shelter that served as the dictator's final hideout and the place where he eventually committed suicide.
Most of that area was destroyed at the end of WWII
or shortly after, and given the site's location right at the East-West "Iron Curtain
" border no proper archaeological excavations were feasible for 45 years. When it finally became possible, from 1990, it was, however, decided not to make the spot a visitable site for tourists (mainly for fear of unduly attracting neo-Nazi attention). Instead the bunker remains were covered up and sealed – esp. the rediscovered 'drivers' bunker' that apparently still featured Nazi murals. Only a modest information panel marks the spot.
There are, however, remains (of sorts) of Hitler's megalomaniacally grandiose New Chancellery's red marble hall: the material was reused in part of the Soviet war memorial
complex in Treptower Park (allegedly also in the cladding of the walls of the metro station Mohrenstraße, but that is these days contested).
Moreover, moving further on into post-WWII
history, there are various relics of East Berlin's GDR
past, such as socialist realist
murals and old Eastern adverts on buildings e.g. on or near Alexanderplatz. But it remains to be seen how many of these relics will survive. The former "House of Teachers", with its massive mural of "everyday life" in the GDR, located at the north-eastern corner of Alexanderplatz, is one of the more likely candidates for being preserved, while other buildings of the era will probably fall victim to the ongoing massive reconstruction efforts in this central part of the city. The largest continuous stretch of (listed) Stalinist-style socialist architecture in East Berlin is Karl-Marx-Allee
The East's premier landmark, though, the fantastic TV Tower on Alexanderplatz with its spectacular sphere housing the observation deck, is pretty much guaranteed to remain the pinnacle (literally) of all GDR architecture … as it was intended to be, in a rather unabashed kind of propaganda statement. It's thus not without irony that it's still the tallest structure in all of Germany
, on the other hand, is the former GDR
parliament building, the "Palace of the Republic
", whose demolition has been surrounded with a good measure of controversy. In its place the reconstruction of the former Stadtschloss (city palace) is currently progressing. I must say that I find this rather dubious … in my view this is revisionist, artificial and superfluous. But so what, if the city wants fake old rather than genuine history, then so be it.
Architectural relics of the Nazi
era are few, but the former building of Göring's Aviation Ministry is a grand exception ... today housing the finance ministry of the FRG
– see also Topography of Terror
. At its north-eastern corner is a square and monument commemorating the uprisings in the GDR
of 17 June 1953, while hidden behind the colonnades is another prime example of socialist realism glorification of labour.
The contemporary architecture of political power is, however, mostly found near the Reichstag
and along the banks of the river Spree north of it, while the architectural exuberance of economic powerhouses have sprung up around Potsdamer Platz in particular.
Comparatively faded, on the other hand, are the former splendours of Jewish Berlin – with one glorious exception: the New Synagogue on Oranienburger Straße is certainly one of the finest buildings of its sort anywhere in the world. Not far from this, in contrast, can be found the shattered remains of the former Jewish cemetery on Hamburger Straße, in front of which stands a moving deportation monument. Contrasts galore!
In addition to those more or less permanent sites of perhaps secondary interest to the dark tourist (compared to the main sites given separate entries), there are frequent special exhibitions that may well be of particular interest from a 'dark tourism' perspective – e.g. the "Mythos Germania" exhibition I saw in 2008, which was about the Nazis
' megalomaniacal plans for the reconstruction of Berlin. Its central exhibit, a large architectural model of the reworked city was used as a prop in the film "Der Untergang"/'Downfall', starring Bruno Ganz as an eerily realistic Hitler
at the end of his life. It is in any case more than worthwhile for any Berlin tourist to check out what's on in the area of temporary exhibitions and the like.
In general, Berlin caters comparatively overtly to a dark tourism clientele (without many people using the term dark tourism, of course), or to all those with an interest in 20th century history in general. Thus most tourist information spots and souvenir stands will have plenty of relevant information material such as books, brochures, etc. on offer.
In fact, the range of such material is so vast that it isn't so easy to sift through it and separate the wheat from the chaff. You'll have to be careful and very consciously selective … as there is a lot of crap amongst the decent efforts. A very good place to browse and compare what's on offer is the shop "Berlin Story
" on Unter den Linden. If you're not already well equipped with information and reading material, this is possibly the most worthwhile first port of call on any dark tourist's first (or even repeat) visit to Berlin.
The enormous range of sites of dark historical significance in Berlin is also reflected in the fact that the book series "PastFinder" has TWO separate volumes on Berlin, one about "Berlin 1933 – 1945" (i.e. the Nazi
era) and "Berlin 1945 – 1989" (i.e. the Cold War
era of division and communism in the East). Both volumes are recommended for a good overview and some additional background information – they are also suitably portable for having on you when exploring on foot.
In the east of Germany
, in the middle of the Brandenburg region; roughly 60 km (40 miles) west of the border with Poland
Access and costs: plenty of good transport connections, easy to get around in; relatively affordable for a capital city.
Details: Being a capital city and a hub for all kinds of transport, Berlin could hardly be more easily reachable, be it by train, coach, car or plane. There are endless connections to choose from.
Most people are likely to go either by train (arriving most probably at the modernized massive central station, Hauptbahnhof, in the Mitte district of the city) – or else by plane, either arriving at the city airport in Tegel or at the constantly expanding Schönefeld airport outside the city's boundaries to the south-east. The old historic city airport at Tempelhof
has been closed for good since 2008.
In fact Tegel airport was scheduled to close too in 2012, but the expansion/conversion of the old Schönefeld airport has so fallen behind schedule that the opening of what's to be the new "Berlin Brandenburg" airport had to be postponed. Eventually, however, it is to function as Berlin's only airport. Shame, because Tegel is so convenient (as was Tempelhof) – in what other capital cities of such size can you simply hop on a local bus and ride into the centre in 10-15 minutes for a regular bus fare when you arrive? In future the usual hassle of a long and/or expensive airport-city transfer will become necessary in Berlin too. I think they call it progress …
Costs can be kept flexible – both for getting there and for accommodation, there's the fullest range of options. Several budget airlines serve Berlin and often offer extremely cheap connections, but there are also decent offers from the more traditional airlines.
is plentiful in all categories, up to the super luxury of the famed Hotel Adlon. For those interested in the former GDR
, there are a few options that deserve special mention in the East of the city, especially the "Ostel" (literally 'Eastel'), which goes the full hog in trying to recreate bygone GDR days in its design (including many original pieces of GDR interior design). There are also a few other places that use converted flats in those typical Eastern pre-fab high-rises ("Plattenbau" in German) for hotel accommodation. And the very biggest of the former GDR's hotels (formerly the Hotel Stadt Berlin) right on the central Alexanderplatz is now part of an international hotel chain.
And those in search of something extra special could check into the extraordinary Propeller Island City Lodge where each room is an individually designed, live-in work of art. Rooms include psychedelic designs such as one that is upside-down (i.e. "furniture" is hanging from the ceiling), a padded cell, a completely mirrored "kaleidoscope" room, a prison-cell-like room and, for the really darkly minded: a "crypt", where you can sleep Dracula
-style in coffins!
Food & drink
can be remarkably affordable for a capital city of this calibre. Of course, you can spend loads in overpriced gourmet temples, but Berlin's extremely wide range of ethnic restaurants can make for delightful culinary explorations for relatively little money – some are real bargains, without compromising on quality. In fact it is in Berlin that I have eaten in more restaurants where the food was both superb and really cheap at the same time than anywhere else in the world (at least within the First World, that is).
Much of the sightseeing does not eat (much) into the traveller's budget either. Many of the places to visit that are listed here are free (the relics of the Berlin Wall
, for instance). Others charge more or less normal prices, a couple are excellent value for money (e.g. the guided tours of the former Hohenschönhausen prison
for the GDR
's political prisoners).
do not underestimate the size of this sprawling city, nor the sheer number of things to see. Moreover, some of the most significant dark tourist destinations require covering huge distances, so expect long journeys by public transport (e.g. to Sachsenhausen
, House of the Wannsee Conference
). As a rule of thumb I recommend: better double your initial estimate – good as the public transport system may generally be in Berlin, the connections are not always all that frequent, so that in addition to long journey times you will also have to factor in some lengthy waits on train platforms or at bus stops.
If you want to see everything, or at least most of what's listed here, you should allow at least two whole weeks! If you also want to take advantage of some of Berlin's many other attractions you'll need even more time. A mere weekend city break will only allow you to just about scratch the surface – or will require some radical prioritizing. The sheer range of sites to see can lead to sightseeing-overload – so ideally one should explore Berlin in stages and over the course of a few return visits, if possible.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
Apart from the many sites within Berlin, or just outside but easily reachable by means of the city's extensive public transport system (esp. Sachsenhausen
), there are a few other dark destinations within the relative vicinity of Berlin, e.g. the Ravensbrück
former concentration camp, or the lignite strip-mining moonscapes in the Lausitz
area towards the Polish border south-east of Berlin. If you're doing a "dark" round trip of Germany
, this obviously has to include Berlin. The proximity of Poland
also makes for good combinability with sites in that country.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Berlin is well worth a visit for all its other non-dark, cultural, architectural, even culinary attractions. There's an overwhelming range to choose from, which to list exhaustively would go way beyond the scope of this website – so I suggest you refer to standard guidebooks and/or the Internet where you'll find more than enough information.
And no round trip of Germany
would be complete without Berlin anyway.
- Berlin 01 - symbols
- Berlin 02 - the freedom of jumping
- Berlin 03 - memorial plaque in a tricky location
- Berlin 04 - inconspicuous looking Nazi relic marble
- Berlin 05 - Socialist realism surviving
- Berlin 06 - former Luftwaffe HQ, 17 June memorial square
- Berlin 07 - more socialist realism GDR glorification
- Berlin 07b - Rotes Rathaus
- Berlin 08 - TV Tower
- Berlin 09 - towers old and new
- Berlin 09b - Funkturm and Messe, eastern TV tower in the background
- Berlin 10 - modern government buildings
- Berlin 11 - modernity extravaganza on Potsdamer Platz
- Berlin 12 - Neue Synagoge from afar
- Berlin 13 - New Synagogue close up
- Berlin 14 - Hamburger Straße deportation memorial
- Berlin 15 - relics of Hamburger Straße Jewish cemetery
- Berlin 16 - hefty underground art
- Berlin 17 - Dom - cathedral
- Berlin 18 - last window pane on the Palace of the Republic reflecting the Dom
- Berlin 18b - fake palace under construction in its place
- Berlin 19 - Gendarmenmarkt
- Berlin 20 - red-eyed Berlin Buddy Bear
- Berlin 21 - iconic Brandenburg Gate
- Berlin 22 - Russian embassy
- Berlin 23 - relic from Soviet days
- Berlin 24 - war memorial on Unter den Linden
- Berlin 25 - new memorial commemorating homosexual victims of persecution
- Berlin 26 - yet more new commemoration
- Berlin 27 - they have got one of those too now
- Berlin 28 - modern architecture of the Philharmonie
- Berlin 29 - less glamorous modern architecture
- Berlin 30 - abandoned GDR-era highrise
- Berlin 31 - House of the Teacher from the rear - with TV tower
- Berlin 32 - former HQ of the HJ and SED, now a hotel
- Berlin 33 - old Cafe Moscow
- Berlin 34 - mural at the old Cafe Moscow
- Berlin 35 - old water tower in Marienpark
- Berlin 36 - overground underground station
- Berlin 37 - rail and waterway transport
- Berlin 38 - with an exclamation mark