Located in the east of Germany, Berlin is approximately 70km (44mi) from the Polish border in what is considered a marshy terrain.
The Spree river runs from Warsaw through Berlin and down to meet the river Havel in Spandau (Berlin’s most western neighbourhood). From here the river then flows north to south through the western outskirts of Berlin. The Havel forms a chain of lakes, the largest being Wannsee. The highest elevations in Berlin are the Teufelsberg, a man-made hill that is actually a pile of rubble from the ruins of World War II, and the Müggelberg, both about 115m tall.
During WWII much of Berlin was destroyed during the bombings and of the buildings that remained, many were eradicated during the 1950s. With the decades of divide between East and West Berlin, there are many facets of the city that remind us of its history, one being the eclectic array of buildings and architecture that developed.
In the East, the neighbourhoods were developed to ensure each district had a fixed ratio of shops, schools and residential housing. Streets are cobbled and uneven and are, since the reunification, undergoing a mass of construction and beautification.
The East Side Gallery, located along the banks of the Spree in Kreuzberg (South East Berlin), is the largest remaining reminder of what divided this city – the Berlin Wall. The wall previously ran over 160 km encompassing the Allied sections of West Berlin and cutting it off from the rest of Germany.
From here heading west is row upon row of identical monumental buildings, all designed in the Socialist Classicism style lining the road of Karl Max Allee as it heads west to Alexanderplatz.
Alex – the Fernsehturm (TV tower), located at Alexanderplatz is visible throughout most of the central district, a constant reminder of communist Berlin. Built in 1969, this structure is the still the second tallest structure in the EU. West of the tower is Museum Island (Spree Island), home to many of Berlin’s museums and the Berliner Dom, a Protestant cathedral.
Unter den Linden is a beautiful tree lined avenue running west from the island. This was once Berlin’s premier promenade and is still home to many classical style buildings as well as the Humboldt University, the opera house, and the Berlin Guggenheim. Intersecting the avenue is Berlin’s legendary shopping strip – Friedrichstrasse.
The western end of Unter den Linden is marked by the Brandenburg Tor, Germany’s iconic landmark. This was a significant point in both the division and reunification of Berlin as it marked the central divide between the East and the West.
Nestled slightly north of the Tor and on the banks of the Spree, is the German House of Parliament (the Reichstag). Severely damaged during the war, this building was renovated first in 1950 and then remodeled by a British architect in 1990 shortly after the wall came down. South of the Brandenburg Tor are two of Berlin’s more recent constructions, the Holocaust Memorial followed by Potsdamer Platz nestled on the boarder of Tiergarten and home to the Sony Centre. Strasse des 17 Juni connects the Brandenburg Tor to the West, splicing the massive gardens of Tiergarten in half.
The West provides a clear reminder of the Allies post-war settlement. Kurfürstendamm is where you will find most of Berlin’s luxurious stores and the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The church was destroyed in the World War II. Nearby, to the north is Schloss Charlottenburg, the largest surviving historical palace in Berlin.
Marking the most western corner of old West Berlin is the Funktrum Berlin, a 150m (490ft) tall lattice radio tower built between 1924 and 1926.
Because of the city’s divided history, and with much of Mitte (the town centre) now dedicated to museums, government and embassies, Berlin is unusual in having three very distinct business districts (known as Stadtmitte in German). In addition to the well-established Kurfürstendamm in the West, and Alexanderplatz in the East, Potsdamer Platz is the new glamorous area for businesses in Berlin.