Covering some 60 square miles, Berlin is one of the world’s largest cities. For first-time visitors, getting a handle on this sprawling metropolis can be difficult. Even though the Wall has been down since 1989, the first and simplest way to understand Berlin is still to think in terms of the old political boundaries of West and East.
Western Berlin Neighborhoods
Western Berlin’s glitziest artery was—and remains—the 4km-long (2 1/2-mile) boulevard known as Kurfürstendamm, or Ku’Damm for short. The train station Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten (Bahnhof Zoo for short), near the Ku’Damm, is the major transportation hub on the western side of the city and a good landmark for orienting yourself.
Tiergarten The area known as Tiergarten includes Berlin’s massive Tiergarten park and a business-residential district of the same name that is located near Bahnhof Zoo. Tiergarten park, originally intended as a backdrop to the grand avenues laid out by the German kaisers, stretches east and ends at the cultural center known as the Kulturforum, home of the Philharmonie (Philharmonic Hall), the famed Gemäldegalerie (Painting Gallery), the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery), and other museums. The park contains the Berlin Zoo in its southwest corner, and the landmark Siegessäule (Victory Column). Tiergarten’s eastern border ends at the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag (Parliament) building. This is one of the best areas in western Berlin for hotels and restaurants.
Charlottenburg The Charlottenburg district is the wealthiest and most commercialized in western Berlin. Along the famous Ku’Damm, which runs through it, you find the best concentration of hotels, restaurants, theaters, cafes, nightclubs, shops, and department stores. The 22-story Europa Center, a shopping center and entertainment complex (Berlin’s first, dating from the 1960s), rises just across the plaza from the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis Kirche (Memorial Church). Charlottenburg’s regal centerpiece is Schloss Charlottenburg (Charlottenburg Palace), with its lovely gardens and nearby museums: the Bröham Museum and the Berggruen Sammlung (Collection). Charlottenburg also is the home of the Deutsche Oper Berlin (German Opera House), one of Berlin’s three opera houses. Upscale shops, restaurants, and cafes fill the neighborhood around Savignyplatz, a tree-lined square a short walk north of Kurfürstendamm. Charlottenburg, which has plenty of hotels and pensions (B&Bs), makes a convenient base for visitors.
Kreuzberg For a long time the Kreuzberg neighborhood was the poorest and most crowded of western Berlin’s districts. Today, about 35 percent of its population is composed of Gastarbeiter (guest workers) from Turkey, Greece, and the former Yugoslavia, many of whom have now lived in Kreuzberg for 40 years or more. Starting in the 1960s and 1970s, the district became home to the city’s artistic countercultural scene. Although gentrification has changed Kreuzberg’s character, the neighborhood remains funky around the edges, with lots of bars and clubs. Kreuzberg is where you find the new Jüdisches (Jewish) Museum and the Mauermuseum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, dedicated to the history of divided Berlin.
Schöneberg Like Kreuzberg, Schöneberg developed in the 19th century as an independent suburb for workers. After World War II, the area was rebuilt as a middle-class neighborhood. The borough is centrally located, close to the Ku’Damm, with good U-Bahn connections and many hotels and pensions. Berlin’s densest concentration of gay bars and clubs is in Schöneberg between Nollendorfplatz and Victoria-Luise-Platz.
Wilmersdorf The huge park called the Grünewald takes up the western portion of the borough of Wilmersdorf. This 38-sq.-km (15-sq.-mile) lake-filled forest begins just beyond the western edge of the Kurfürstendamm and is Berlin’s largest uninterrupted wooded area. Wannsee is the most popular lake for swimming and boating. Closer in, toward the Ku’Damm, Wilmersdorf is a quiet residential neighborhood filled with an assortment of hotels and pensions and plenty of low-key restaurants and cafes.
Dahlem Now the university district, Dahlem originally was established as an independent village to the southwest of Berlin’s center. You may want to come here to visit the Brücke Museum or the Ethnologisches (Ethnology) Museum.
Mitte & Eastern Berlin Neighborhoods
Mitte Called Berlin-Mitte, Stadtmitte (City Center), or just plain Mitte (Center), this is the central section of former East Berlin. Before the war and the division of the city, this area was, in fact, the center of Berlin and it has regained its former pre-eminence to such an extent that many visitors never visit the western side of the city. The oldest and most historic part of Berlin, Mitte has numerous cultural attractions and ever-expanding restaurant, club and arts scenes. If you really want to be where the action is, stay in Mitte.
Mitte symbolically begins at Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate, on the east side of Tiergarten park (the Reichstag is here, too). The grand boulevard called Unter den Linden, which starts at the Brandenburg Gate and extends east, is lined with 18th- and 19th-century palaces and monuments. (A new U-Bahn/subway line is being built on Unter den Linden, so expect construction for the next few years.) The Staatsoper Unter den Linden is the main opera house in eastern Berlin, and the Komische Oper, Berlin’s third opera house, is also located here. The elegantly proportioned, neoclassical square called Gendarmenmarkt, just off Unter den Linden, is home to the restored early-19th-century Konzerthaus am Gendarmenmarkt. Magnificent Museumsinsel (Museum Island), site of five major museums, anchors the eastern end of Unter den Linden and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At the eastern terminus of Unter den Linden stands the grandiose Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral); across from it, on the site of the demolished GDR Palast der Republik, the city is now rebuilding the Prussian City Palace.
Friedrichstrasse, which intersects Unter den Linden, has regained its prewar status as eastern Berlin’s preeminent shopping street. U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines converge at Friedrichstrasse train station, the transportation hub of eastern Berlin (equivalent to Bahnhof Zoo in western Berlin). Hauptbahnhof, Berlin’s new main train station, is just north of Mitte in the Government Quarter.
Alexanderplatz, a square named for Russian Czar Alexander I, was the center of activity in the Soviet era. It’s now in the process of being completely redone and completely commercialized. One of Berlin’s Soviet-era landmarks, the Fernsehturm (TV tower), rises from Alexanderplatz; at 368m (1,207 ft.), it is still the highest structures in Europe. The Nikolaiviertel (Nicholas Quarter), just south of Alexanderplatz along the Spree River, is a charming area restored to look as it did (with some contemporary touches) in Berlin’s medieval and baroque eras. Taverns and riverside restaurants make this quarter ideal for a leisurely and picturesque stroll.
Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain Prenzlauer Berg, northeast of Mitte, is now the hippest neighborhood in eastern Berlin, and a favored spot for young Berliners to live, with a burgeoning cafe and club scene. Friedrichshain, to the southwest of Prenzlauer Berg, is another old and formerly decrepit eastern Berlin neighborhood that is rapidly gentrifying and attracting young Berliners.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.