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Berlin See And Do

Architecture Walks
Berlin
Germany

Berlin boasts more new buildings designed by top international architects than perhaps any other European city. At the turn of the last century, it was, after all, presented with the unique opportunity to rebuild a modern cosmopolitan capital almost from the ground up. You can prepare for an architectural tour by reading Michael Wise's fantastic book Capital Dilemma: Germany's Search for a New Architecture of Democracy (Princeton Architectural Press), an in-depth account of the politics involved in building new symbols of national identity and historical consciousness. Many companies, among them Original Berlin Walks (49-30-301-9194; www.berlinwalks.com), offer guided tours of the city's architectural highlights, including Peter Eisenman's Holocaust Memorial, completed in 2005, Norman Foster's Reichstag, Renzo Piano's Potsdamer Platz, and Frank Gehry's DG Bank. A self-guided amble is a good leisurely alternative. Berlin Tourismus Marketing GmbH (11 Am Karlsbad, 49-30-250-025; www.berlin-tourism.de) publishes an inexpensive 36-page bilingual guide titled "Architecture in Berlin," which is available at BTM tourist information centers throughout the city or can be ordered by mail.

Art Scene
Berlin
Germany

Berlin remains a place where artists can rent studios and gallery spaces can be opened for a reasonable sum. But Mitte no longer has the lock on the gallery scene, a victim of its own success and the accompanying high rents. Though many powerhouse spaces still call Auguststrasse and Linienstrasse home, others have closed, and many have now moved to the former Western neighborhoods of Wedding and Tiergarten. In Mitte, strong players still include Contemporary Fine Arts, Eigen + Art, and Barbara Weiss. And try the Sammlung Boros in western Mitte, near the government quarter—a private collection housed in a huge WWII concrete bunker (guided tours are €10/$12). Branching out, the multi-culti, heavily Turkish neighborhood of Wedding has Galerie Max Hetzler, which deals in international superstars like Jeff Koons. Just south of the Neue Nationalgalerie on Potsdamer Strasse are former Mitte stars Klosterfelde, Matthias Arndt, and Esther Schipper. And in the newly hip Neukölln neighborhood in the south of the city, Berlin's most personality-driven gallery sits in a former industrial space— Peres Projects has had shows by James Franco and Terence Koh, and keeps the rest of Berlin guessing.—Updated by Ralph Martin

Charlottenburg
Berlin
Germany

When the Wall went up, Charlottenburg became the commercial heart of West Berlin, as it remains today. The Lehrter Bahnhof is the point of entry for many first-time visitors to Berlin. Behind it is the Helmut Newton Stiftung, a museum exhibiting the body of work donated to the city by native son and photographer Helmut Newton (2 Jebensstrasse; 49-30-3186-4856; www.helmut-newton-stiftung.org). Much of the area—especially along the main shopping drag, the Kurfürstendamm —was heavily damaged during WWII and rather unimaginatively rebuilt in the 1950s, and is now unabashedly commercial. The KaDeWe department store (the largest department store in continental Europe) remains a monument to consumer capitalism. Further west toward Savignyplatz, where there's a sophisticated enclave of cafés and bars, the situation improves, giving a glimpse of prewar Berlin. Just southeast of the Zoo on Breitscheidplatz, the burnt-out remains of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, which was bombed during the war and left unreconstructed as a monument, is a reminder of the ill fate of a totalitarian state.

Eastern Berlin
Berlin
Germany

Remnants of the Berlin Wall are few and far between these days, and most locals are happy about that. Nostalgia for the former German Democratic Republic, dubbed "Ostalgie," did linger for several years in the 1990s, and whether people considered it amusing or pathetic, the fact that films like Good Bye Lenin! can now freely comment on it is a sure sign it's over. Some interest remains in collecting iconic East German paraphernalia such as Communist logos, and books like Anna Funder's Stasiland (Granta) have been best-sellers. But however innocent these souvenirs might seem, they'll remind many here of the dark side of the not-so-long-ago Communist police state. Think twice before parading around East Berlin wearing an East German border patrol hat.

One of the final remnants of the Communist state, the Palast der Republik (Schlossplatz), is now an enormous hole in the ground. The destruction of the Palast, the parliamentary chamber of the East German government, was the subject of an odd pitched battle between conservationists and traditionalists, who pointed out that the former Hohenzollern Castle had been dynamited to make room for the Palast. Plans are now afoot to rebuild the Royal Palace and use it as a museum and library.

From Schlossplatz, walk east toward Alexanderplatz, which was rebuilt in a Communist style in the 1960s by Erich Honecker, who hoped the development would symbolize the modernity of the socialist state. In the center of the square, ascend the almost 1,200-foot-high Fernsehturm, or Television Tower, and linger in the revolving restaurant or on the observation deck for panoramic views. Next, go underground: In the Alexanderplatz U-Bahn station, there's M. Koos-Ostprodukte, a shop that stocks kitschy Communist-era products, including cosmetics, wines, and candy (49-30-242-5791).

Heading east away from Alexanderplatz, you'll come to Karl-Marx-Allee. The Communists' answer to the Champs-Élysées, it's a wide, impressive boulevard built entirely in the Stalinist neoclassical style and lined with apartment buildings. In the Café Sibylle, named after East Germany's popular women's magazine, there's an exhibition about the history of the avenue, which was known as Stalinallee until 1961 (72 Karl-Marx-Allee; 49-30-2935-2203). Alternatively, you can peruse the stacks of the Karl Marx Buchhandlung for copies of the Communist Manifesto and more (78 Karl-Marx-Allee; 49-30-293-3370). Turn right at the Frankfurter Tor and walk down Warschauer Strasse until you get to the Spree River. Then turn right onto Mühlenstrasse, where you will find the East Side Gallery, one of the largest remaining segments of the Berlin Wall and now a graffiti-art open-air museum of sorts. Further east, the former headquarters of the Stasi, the East German secret police, has been turned into a museum called the Forschungs-und Gedenkstätte Normannenstrasse (103 Ruschestrasse; 49-30-553-6854; www.stasimuseum.de).

Friedrichshain
Berlin
Germany

As the true bohemians were squeezed out by the bobos taking up residence in the increasingly pricey Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg neighborhoods in the late 1990s, they migrated further east to Friedrichshain. Sections of the district alternate between "Plattenbau," depressing Communist-era high-rises now considered retro-hip, and neighborhoods where freshly renovated five-story buildings are inevitably linked to crumbling neighbors by the indiscriminate smear of graffiti. It is possible to imagine what life was like in East Germany, but the restrictions of communism are all but a distant memory for its current youthful population of punks, students, and other alternative types. Stretching east from Alexanderplatz, Karl-Marx-Allee—lined on both sides by socialist housing estates—was the Communist answer to the Champs-Élysées. Along the banks of the Spree River, the East Side Gallery on Mühlenstrasse, which hugs the north bank, is the largest remaining section of the Berlin Wall. With a young hipster population replacing the workers who once lived here, a social scene has developed around Boxhagener Platz, particularly along Simon-Dach-Strasse, where many spend their days (and nights) at the bars, cafés, and restaurants.

Government Quarter/Tiergarten
Berlin
Germany

Tiergarten, Berlin's version of Central Park, is also the name of the neighborhood that includes the Regierungsquartier (Government Quarter). Per square mile, Tiergarten has more powerhouse architecture than anywhere else in Berlin, and that's really saying something. The highlight is Sir Norman Foster's revamped Reichstag, reunified Germany's parliament building, which was completed in 1999. Its distinctive glass dome has become one of Berlin's most iconic structures and is worth a visit for both the close-up view of history (you can still spot Soviet-era graffiti on the roof) and the panoramic views of Berlin. Entrance lines are long, but you can skip them by making a reservation for breakfast, lunch, or dinner at the rooftop restaurant, Käfer (49-30-2262-990).

From the Reichstag, walk south along Ebertstrasse—look for the line of cobblestones indicating where the Berlin Wall once stood—past the Brandenburg Gate, where Ronald Reagan gave his famous "Tear down this wall" speech in 1987. One block further, on the southern side of the U.S. Embassy, is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, designed by architect Peter Eisenman and opened in 2005. The 4.7-acre, open-air site consists of large concrete slabs of varying heights arranged in a grid. Walking between the pillars, with the ground sloping up and down, evokes a chilling—and unforgettable—sense of disorientation and isolation. Eisenman's memorial has been criticized by some for referring only to Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Across the street is a smaller memorial to gays and lesbians murdered by the Nazis, which opened in 2008.

South of the Tiergarten, Potsdamer Platz, for a time Europe's largest construction site, has risen up in a barren wasteland once traversed by the Wall. Despite (or because of) buildings designed by Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers, Helmut Jahn, and Hans Kollhoff, the completed development has received mixed reviews. Potsdamer Platz is marked on its western side by the State Library, whose airy, multileveled interior featured prominently in Wim Wenders's Wings of Desire, as well as Hans Scharoun's Berlin Philharmonic Concert Hall, an early-1960s extravaganza designed around the acoustic requirements of the orchestra, resulting in a tentlike structure clad in a studded golden skin. On the other hand, it doesn't get any more minimal than Mies van der Rohe's Neue Nationalgalerie, a slab of black steel atop slender black columns, framing a glassed-in, light-flooded display space that features rotating art exhibitions.

Kreuzberg
Berlin
Germany

Boxed in on two sides on the West German side of the Wall in the years following the war, Kreuzberg was somewhat isolated from the rest of West Berlin and became a world unto itself. Packed with slightly crumbling tenements, it was affordable, if not downright cheap, and therefore popular with newly arrived Turkish immigrants as well as punks and anarchists from around the world. Always an alternative enclave, it lost some of its luster in the years after the Wall fell and eastern neighborhoods such as Prenzlauer Berg drew the crowds. But with the latter in the final phases of gentrification, local magazines are heralding the return of Kreuzberg's cool factor. Bergmannstrasse and Oranienstrasse, both lined with cafés, bars, and restaurants, are popular with students and hipsters. Meanwhile, the neighborhood has remained multicultural. The open-air Türkischer Markt (Turkish Market) stretches along the Maybachufer every Tuesday and Friday. Closer to Mitte, Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum is one of Berlin's most architecturally significant new buildings (9-14 Lindenstrasse; 49-30-2599-3300; www.juedisches-museum-berlin.de).

Mitte
Berlin
Germany

At the height of Cold War tensions, the name of this neighborhood, Mitte (Middle), seemed anachronistic. Once the heart of prewar Berlin, Mitte, subsumed into East Germany, was pressed up against the Wall and marred by concrete and barbed wire. The Prussian-era Baroque and classical buildings lining the once fashionable Unter den Linden, an aristocratic boulevard leading to the iconic Brandenburg Gate, fell into disrepair, and Socialist Realist monstrosities like Alexanderplatz and the now dismantled Palace of the Republic, the Communist government's headquarters, cast a long shadow. Today, Mitte is once again Berlin's cultural and commercial heart, and it's the best place to take in the city's (sometimes uneasy) mix of old and new. The buildings along Unter den Linden have been fully restored; galleries and independent boutiques have moved into the Scheunenviertel, the turn-of-the-century Jewish quarter that's now a creative enclave; and international labels (Gucci, Escada) have established themselves down the street from Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstrasse, now one of Berlin's most stylish shopping destinations.

The Museumsinsel, or Museum Island, is a massive complex of five world-class museums in Mitte whose imposing neoclassical buildings—most of them designed by the great Prussian architects Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Friedrich August Stüler—are gradually undergoing refurbishment. With the reopening of the Neues Museum in October 2009, all five museums are once again open to visitors. The Neues Museum includes works from ancient Egypt, such as the famous bust of Nefertiti, as well as pre- and early-history collections. Classical antiquities, including an impressive Etruscan collection, can be found in the Altes Museum; Byzantine art, sculptures, and one of the world's largest numismatic collections are housed in the Bode-Museum. The Alte Nationalgalerie contains work by 19th-century artists such as Caspar David Friedrich, Adolph Menzel, and the French Impressionists. But the island's biggest spectacle is the Pergamonmuseum, whose trove of important ancient architecture includes the Hellenistic Pergamon Altar and the bright blue Ishtar Gate from Babylon.

Each of the five museums maintains separate opening hours and admission fees. More information is available on the Web site of the Berlin State Museums or by calling 49-30-266-42-4242. The master plan for reconstructing the Museumsinsel calls for its completion in 2015.

Altes Museum, Bode-Museum, and Pergamonmuseum open Fridays through Wednesdays 10 am to 6 pm, Thursdays 10 am to 10 pm.

Alte Nationalgalerie open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays through Sundays 10 am to 6 pm, Thursdays 10 am to 10 pm.

Neues Museum open Sundays through Wednesdays 10 am to 6 pm, Thursdays through Saturdays 10 am to 8 pm.

Prenzlauer Berg
Berlin
Germany

After 1989, Berlin's bohemians came to settle in this former East German working-class neighborhood of gray, unrenovated tenements, many of them with coal ovens instead of central heat. Moving into illegal squats and opening up secret unlicensed bars and clubs, so-called "Geheimtips" (secret tips), they helped define the "Wild East" days of Berlin in the 1990s. More recently, significant gentrification has taken its toll: The facades have been given a pastel-hued makeover, the interiors have been brought up to code, and now they rent for high sums. Still, "Prenzl Berg," as it's affectionately known, remains indisputably hip. The wide tree-lined boulevards, particularly those around Kollwitzplatz, Helmholzplatz, and Kastanienalle, are packed with cafes, restaurants, bars, and shops that attract the nouveau bourgeois in droves.

Schöneberg
Berlin
Germany

Ever since Christopher Isherwood wrote The Berlin Stories, which served as the inspiration for the musical Cabaret, Schöneberg has been associated with gay Berlin. Isherwood lived at Nollendorfstrasse 17, not far from Nollendorfplatz, which is now the neighborhood's nightlife hub. Marlene Dietrich called Schöneberg home in the same era, and she was buried in the Friedhof Friedenau. Heading west off Nollendorfplatz, Motzstrasse is a favorite gay stomping ground, as is Martin Luther Strasse. And south of Nollendorfplatz, Winterfeldplatz hosts a popular organic market on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin
1 Schlossfreiheit
Schlossplatz
Berlin
10178
Tel: 49 30 25 76 20 40
www.kunsthalle-berlin.com

Berlin's 1970s Palace of the Republic is no more, but while the city draws up plans to replace it with the Stadtschloss Berlin (Royal Palace), a semipermanent art exhibit has taken up residence, complete with café and bookstore. Inspired by the flow of artists from around the world to Berlin, the Kunsthalle's mission is to showcase Berlin-based international artists who normally sell their wares outside of the city. To this end, the 6,500 square feet of space will feature group and solo shows through fall 2010 (projected). The building itself, by Austrian architect Adolf Krischanitz, is a jaw-dropper: A big box in electric blue and white, it looks like a suburban retail giant gone artsy, especially when exhibits are mounted on its facade, such as a pixelated cloud display.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.