At some point, every new resident needs to bite the bullet and become a tourist in their city.
For us, this meant venturing out to the western edge of Mitte to see some of Berlin’s most iconic landmarks. After nearly two months of living in Berlin we were becoming a little embarrassed by our lack of sightseeing within the city. I am guilty of always thinking that we should save some of the sights to see when we have friends in town, but it probably makes more sense to see them first ourselves and decide which ones are really worth sharing.
Another reason why we haven’t done much sightseeing is due to Berlin’s size and lack of a real ‘tourist center’. Most of the famous sights are scattered throughout the city, making sightseeing in Berlin quite the excursion. However, the area in the west of Mitte between Potsdamer Platz and Moabit has quite a few attractions in close quarters, which makes it a good jumping off point for tourists, tour buses, tour boats, tour bikes…you get the idea.
We started our tour at the Hauptbahnhof to gawk at the immense building and crowds before walking south toward the Tiergarten area. Berlin continues to amaze me with its neighborhood diversity. Western Mitte is very city-like – it has large modern buildings and government offices but also has many historical monuments and parks scattered throughout. It really makes the more Eastern/Southern neighborhoods that I usually explore feel like the ‘burbs.
A short walk away from the train station you can find the impressive Reichstag building (where the German parliament meets) which presents a really cool blend of old & new architecture. The original structure opened in 1894 but underwent significant reconstruction after a fire in 1933, and the large glass dome finished construction in 1999. You can actually walk in a spiral around the dome but it requires prior registration, so we’ll have to save that for another trip.
The Brandenburg Gate is also nearby, just outside the entrance to the immense Tiergarten park. The gate is one of the most recognizable sights in Berlin. It is featured prominently on most tourism ads/guides and the outline is emblazoned on every U-Bahn train window. It stands in a big plaza flanked by foreign embassies and fancy-shmancy hotels, and even on a cold and windy day there were hundreds of tourists snapping pictures.
After taking obligatory tourist pictures at the gate, and getting a pressed penny for our collection, we strolled through the wooded grounds of the Tiergarten. The park is the second largest in Germany (520 acres) and is home to monuments, statues, a rose garden, an English garden, and the palace that houses the German president. As the name suggests (literal translation = animal + garden) there are also lots of squirrels, birds, and fish to see! I think Berlin’s parks are one of my favorite features of the city. It it nice to be able to get lost in the woods and escape the concrete jungle for a while.
Big city life has been pretty interesting thus far – I’ve never lived somewhere that was so new to me. To be fair, I have only lived in 3 cities and two of them were quite small, but still, the amount of stuff in Berlin is incredible. Living outside of Washington DC was occasionally cool but it didn’t offer me the same opportunity for discovery because I had already been there so many times growing up. I had already exhausted the Smithsonian and the other aspects of the city I pretty much despised (how many bland government buildings and $8 beers can a person tolerate?).
Needless to say, I am very happy that Berlin has so much character and even lifelong residents say they discover something new in the city every day. I’m sure that if we live here long enough the newness will wear away and Berlin will lose some of its lustre, but a city of 3.5 million people will never be boring.
So, even though it takes a little effort to haul ourselves across the city looking for tourist attractions, it is always worth our while.
Click the link below to see more photos!