Berlin, the capital of Germany and the country's largest city, is also a major center of politics, culture, media, and science. Noted for its cultural flair, Berlin is home to the world famous Berlin Opera and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, while its diverse art scene encompasses hundreds of galleries, events, and museums, including those on Museum Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite the devastation of WWII and following decades of decay to the east of the infamous Berlin Wall, the city has been rebuilt in a way that celebrates its successes while acknowledging a dark past. Berlin offers an eclectic mix of new and classic architecture, dynamic entertainment, shopping, and a wide variety of sports and cultural institutions.
Topography of Terror
Also known as the Museum of the Gestapo, Topography of Terror occupies the buildings that were once the central offices and prison of the Secret State Police and the headquarters of Gestapo operations during WWII. The main exhibit focuses on the SS and police during Nazi rule, highlighting the terrible crimes that were committed and giving visitors a sense of the constant state of terror that was everyday life for Europeans under their control. Exhibits include documents, photographs, audio, and film, and explore various themes, including persecution and extermination, occupied countries, and the postwar era. Visitors are also invited to tour the historic grounds, which include remains of the Berlin Wall and the outdoor exhibition Historic Wilhelmstraße.
Berlin Zoological Gardens
Zoologischer Garten Berlin is the oldest zoo in Germany and remains one of Berlin's most popular attractions, welcoming millions of guests each year. Established in 1844 and completely rebuilt after WWII, the zoo has earned a reputation for its many successful breeding programs and is known for providing authentic habitats for the animals. The zoo is home to nearly 20,000 animals big and small, from Arctic wolves to zebras. Famous residents include a pair of giant pandas, two species of giraffe, and a flock of diminutive African penguins. The Zoological Gardens are also home to Europe's biggest aviary, as well as Aquarium Berlin, where you can watch more than 9,000 creatures swim in its 250 tanks, including reef and tiger sharks, jellyfish, tropical fish, reptiles, and insects. Another zoo of interest is Tierpark Berlin, home to some 7,250 animals from 840 different species.
The Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Garden and Museum
Originally the kitchen and herb garden of the Royal Palace, the Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Garden (Botanischer Garten Berlin-Dahlem) was built in 1679 on the instructions of the Grand Elector. Covering 126 acres, it is one of the world's largest botanical gardens, home to more than 20,000 species of plants that represent the flora of not only Europe but also tropical and subtropical environments in the Great Tropical House. There are also gardens of medicinal plants and a large pond forming the centerpiece of the biotope for marine and marsh plants. Also worth seeing is the Electoral Garden with its 17th-century garden greenery; a garden restaurant; and the excellent Botanical Museum, with its herbarium featuring more than two million plants and an extensive library.
The Nikolai Quarter
Berlin's Nikolai Quarter (Nikolaiviertel) is in the heart of the old city, and is where you'll find many of its oldest and most popular attractions, as well as plenty of things to do. This pedestrian-friendly quarter is known for its many small buildings set along narrow streets full of nooks and crannies, home to restaurants, cafés, shops, and craft workshops selling everything from basketry to wooden crafts. Highlights include the district's many old fountains, lanterns, and lattice-windows on the older houses and historic buildings such as Ephraim Palace, built in the 1760s, which has exhibits dedicated to Berlin's rich artistic and cultural history as well as an exquisite grand staircase. Also of note is Knoblauch House, built in 1760 and representative of the former homes of the city's wealthy Jewish merchants and tradesmen.
Another favorite tourist spot is Berlin's most famous street, Unter den Linden. This broad avenue stretches some 1,400 meters and connects Pariser Platz in front of the Brandenburg Gate to the Lustgarten. Today, its two car lanes are separated by a wide, central pedestrian area that extends much of the street's length and provides a wonderful place to relax and take in the bustling city around you. Popular attractions are the Gendarmenmarkt, the Opera House, and St. Hedwig's Cathedral.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
One of Berlin's most interesting landmarks, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche) is in many ways two churches: the ultra-modern new church designed in 1961, and next to it, the ruins of the original, including most of the 63-meter-high tower. Completed in 1895 in honor of Emperor Wilhelm I, the original was destroyed in 1943, but its remains were incorporated into the new complex. The result is now a major Berlin landmark that also serves as a war memorial, with exhibits installed containing mosaic remains, architectural remnants, and photos. The centerpiece is a figure of Christ from the old church and a Cross of Nails from Coventry Cathedral, destroyed by German bombs earlier in WWII. Guided tours are available, and visitors are welcome to participate in Sunday services; Evening Music Services featuring cantatas, organ recitals, and choral music; and regular weekday services.