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Government Quarter/Tiergarten, Berlin

Germany's insider take:

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.

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